Nov. 9, 2016:
After spending most of the night awake last night waiting for election returns, and then getting sick when they came in, I was much in need of something to get my mind off the election. Jim just went back to bed and pulled the covers over his head.
São Tomé and Principe is basically a two-island country located just a few miles north of the equator. This was the first stop of our cruise where we didn’t dock, and instead had to tender into the port. We tendered into the port of São Tomé which is on the island of São Tomé. The population of the whole country is 56,935, and about 43,000 of them live on the island of São Tomé.
The islands were discovered by the Portuguese around 1470 and stayed under Portuguese control (with a few minor Dutch incursions) until 1975 when they were granted their independence by Portugal. STP (as it is commonly abbreviated) is the smallest Portuguese-speaking country in Africa.
Again, we came to rest about 8 a.m. off the shore of São Tomé, and prepared to board the tenders to go ashore. Our excursion du jour was to journey along the east coast of São Tomé, visiting cacao and coffee plantations and a blow hole off the coast along the way.
One thing you notice immediately about São Tomé is that it is incredibly lush with vegetation growing all over the volcanic base of the island. You also notice that different from most of the rest of west Africa, the houses are constructed of wood instead of concrete block. On our drive out of town, we passed the transmission towers for the Voice of America broadcasters, relocated to São Tomé when their base in other African countries became too dangerous.
On our way, we passed many rivers running through the island, in which, village women regularly wash their clothes.
Our first stop was at the cacao collective where they buy and process cacao beans. The factory is a hold over from colonial times, but provides the villagers a very real financial lifeline. With some support from the government, any farmer of cacao can bring his/her harvest of beans here to be purchased and processed for final sale around the world. The cacao quality is very high, so many of the beans go directly to Belgium and other European markets to be made into chocolate. Yum!
We drove from the plantation along the coast to stop at a blow hole formed from the lava at the sea shore. We are greeted by local men offering us freshly opened coconuts so we could get refreshed by the coconut water. The scenes were breath-taking!
We continued our journey along the winding coast of São Tomé, and drove inland and upwards to our next stop, a beautiful coffee plantation called Roça de São João. The plantation is now owned by a famous chef who has competed on the Portuguese version of “Top Chef”. We arrived and were ushered into a huge open air room looking all the way down to the coast. There was a huge buffet of Santomean specialties re-interpreted through modern eyes. The cuisine is largely fish based, but there were also many dishes based on bananas and other local produce, including yucca, cassava, plantains and chocolate. After lunch, a super great band of Bulawe drum musicians. Their music was so infectious, even the kitchen staff came out to dance! Finally, the dancing moved outdoors as we prepared to drive away, while all the plantation chickens and ducks got fed.
After we left the coffee plantation, we drove back down the coast for our drive back to the ship. Still, São Tomé had one last wonder in store for us: Seven Wave Beach. We stopped for some great photos of this classically tropical beach and then headed back to catch our tender to the Navigator.
Tonight, shortly after we set sail, we’ll cross the equator, and will be as close as one possibly can be to 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude.