Friday 19 April 2013

G Adventures West Africa. Day 11: São Tomé

pics: Monte Cafe coffee plant, more smiles, old Portuguese fort now national

More contrasts! From smiling Angola to sullen Congo and back to another
cheerful land, São Tomé. Some wag suggested that life under Portuguese
colonial rulers left the locals the freedom to smile, as opposed to the
French in Congo. Compared to what we have at home in Australia – and still
want more – the ready welcomes from locals in São Tomé is a resounding
testament to the strength of the African character, forged over centuries of

Both the rich volcanic São Tomé and its minor sibling, Principe, were
uninhabited prior to the 15th Century arrival of Portuguese traders but soon
a booming industry in sugar, coffee and cocoa developed. The labour,
naturally, had to be imported, so the fields and factories were stocked with
slaves from other Portuguese colonies like Mozambique and Angola. That, with
the regular traffic of trade and slave vessels over the centuries has turned
these little islands into something of an African melting pot with dances,
songs and customs from all over the equatorial nations and tribes.

The obligatory town tour displayed fading colonial buildings resisting the
onslaught of modern development. Churches, municipal offices and some
commercial buildings still bore the hallmarks of their former Portuguese
masters. In particular the national museum, built into an old coastal fort,
held artefacts, weapons and cultural items of some considerable value. That
fact, of course, did not stop me from trying out an old, smooth bore musket
for size.

Lunch is always a feature and the modest Hotel Bigodes presented us with the
most magnificent grilled swordfish. And there was time for an extra local
lager while our driver changed a flat tyre amid a monsoonal downpour. He
earned his tip that day.

Up in the lush mountains, we luxuriate in the spray from superb waterfall
before stopping at a historic coffee factory, Monte Cafe, looking very
pre-Industrial Revolution but still turning out fine Robusta and Arabica
coffee. The workers staged an impromptu song and dance while giggling
schoolchildren on their way home from morning class swarmed over us like
ants turning the whole scene into something of a fête.

The rain kept coming down but there was time for a glimpse at the chaotic
market and quick mission to the post office. Did I say quick? Correction.
Negotiations for five postcards and stamps seemed to take an eternity
despite us being the only customers in the place. Welcome to Africa!

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