São Tomé Guide

The beginning

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It is almost impossible to sum up São Tomé and Príncipe in a single post. Believe me – I tried. So bear with me, you can ‘fav’ this post and come back later. Come back when your day is too rainy or too cold and you just want to be taken half way across to another world. 
São Tomé, the largest of the archipelago islands (which also includes the island of Principe and some islets, like Rolas, we will get there), is just an inverted drop 50 km long and a little over 30 km wide. And yet, it goes beyond definitions and spreads itself in adjectives and details that we can’t leave behind because they are as – or more – important to its essence as the main points of visit.

We had heard almost everything about São Tomé. Mostly, that it was paradise. Friends, colleagues, travel blogs, even the guide we carried with us throughout the trip (and which barely survived): all sources gave us the same idyllic image of a destination almost untouched, with simple and friendly people, and a generous nature in all aspects. They were all right.

São Tomé is one of those places that grow into us. Slowly, they grow roots in our bodies and souls and suddenly we discover they are already ours, as we are theirs. It happens in so many ways: how we become accustomed to waking up in the warm hours of the early morning, eating fruit with names we didn’t even know, avoiding the sea urchins on the beach, shouting “bom djiá” to people passing by and smiling to kids which break into smiles as soon as we arrive.

São Tomé is an entire world. But luckily for those arriving, it is small enough (in size) so that a few days can give you a sense of the extraordinary natural wealth of the island.

In future posts, we will try to help those who, as we did, look for information and tips before their trip. For practical reasons, we will organize the trip geographically.

Rolas Islet

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You must leave what you know behind.

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Every day, a small speedboat connects São Tomé to the islet, at two different times – first, at early morning and then at the end of the day. The trip (round trip) costs 14 euros per person and includes the transfer from the airport or, for those who don’t arrive in time to catch the last boat, from Pestana São Tomé, a hotel in the city, from where we left at 7:30 am.

It is a smooth 20 minutes journey, taken with a full heart, through the ocean. They say we might see whales but we see nothing but waves. That and the huge green islet, almost totally occupied by the Pestana Equador resort, where we stayed two nights.

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The resort is the only possible accommodation (at least officially) for those who want to sleep on the islet, and exclusivity is well-paid (118 euros per night). Still, there is no way not to love the wooden bungalows or the infinity pool that seems to merge with the ocean and where you can take a free diving baptism, offered by the hotel in partnership with the Portuguese diving school — thePortuguesee entrepreneurship is still strong on the island. Here, we meet Armando, the dive master who convinces Filipe to dive in the ocean, the next day, where he has the experience that he defines as “one of the best moments of my life.” Two years ago, Armando traded his life in Portugal for the “leve-leve” in São Tomé. Another Portuguese in a world of people who come and stay with no date set for return – many small tourism units that now spread across the country belong to foreigners who simply couldn’t return home. And who can condemn them? Here, on this small islet that looks so much like an entire world, we certainly don’t.IMG_20140930_225645

Apart from the diving baptism, all guests are invited to join a guide at 9:30 am every day for a tour around the small islet. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it alone, with the perfect rhythm of those who discover a site for the first time. That’s what we do at the end of the day, when we decide to visit the Equator landmark, the only real tourist spot of the islet. Here, like all the tourists before us, we jump from hemisphere to hemisphere and pose for photographs in the company of our latest friends: Valter and Adeler, kids who joined us as soon as we left the resort and explain each leaf and flower of this forest, and Nilson, who will become our guide during this trip, long after we leave the islet.

Despite the resort’s recommendations about “gastrointestinal problems” related to the consumption of products outside their bars and restaurants, we accept Nilson’s proposal for the next day, when we visit the village “restaurant” and eat a full meal – and a real meal of São Tomé, made of fried fish and baked breadfruit – for 10 euros each, including a drink. We leave the resort doubtful, and we return delighted.

You must leave what you (think you) know behind.

See:

– The only real tourist attraction in the islet is the Equador landmark. It’s well worth the visit and the walk through the forest, required to get there, is an experience by itself, especially when accompanied by the kids who will explain the name and purpose of each leaf and tree. The best ecology lesson you can have. 

Do:

– The beach in front of the resort is quite acceptable but the islet has several beaches to discover, including one which you can’t access since there are no stairs, it is ironically named… “Stairs Beach”

– This is an incredible destination for diving, both for begginers and experienced divers. Those who are not willing to make the investment of € 70 in diving can always borrow some glasses in the resort pool and devote their time to snorkelling

Eat:

– There are two bars (although we have only seen one in operation) and a restaurant in the resort. At the snack bar, prices are more affordable but, unfortunately, the kind of cuisine has nothing to do with the destination: burgers, pizzas, salads …

– Although the resort advises you otherwise, our experience at the village restaurant was very positive. Truly typical food with great prices and the opportunity to chat with locals.

São Tomé e Príncipe – South

The third day in São Tomé, it already feels like home. For the first time since we arrived, we wake up with nothing scheduled but the transfer back to the main island at 16:30. Elsewhere in the world, perhaps it would mean sleeping until we couldn’t stay in bed any longer. Here, where night starts at 17h and day begins early at dawn, we leave the bed early.

After breakfast, we visit Miradouro do Amor – “Love Viewpoint”, overlooking the beach of Santo António, deserted like most beaches we find throughout these days, both in islet and the island. No wonder so many people choose to wear absolutely no clothes when bathing on these beaches.

We have the first taste of the famous “leve-leve” when we get to Ponta Baleia. At 17h, the sun soon begins to disappear, the bats begin to cover the trees with shouts, and our driver, Osvaldo, is nowhere to be seen. When he shows up, the justification is simple: he was painting his house and forgot about the time. You can’t help but smile. Actually, it’s the only thing you can do.

The destination is Jalé Ecolodge, a sustainable tourism project with a low environmental impact, at the immense Jalé beach, it has just reopened after the works that destroyed the old bungalows and built new homes. Since this new ecolodge is only a few weeks old, there is nobody who we can ask for trustworthy feedback. Still, there are many observations when we explain that that’s where we’re heading: we’ll stand alone in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do. Anxiety accumulates with doubts but, having paid already, we have no choice but to rely on our first choice and let ourselves be guided by Osvaldo through the dirt road, passing by Porto Alegre, the “city” where he lives and where he has a small shop and which is also the last point of civilization before we reach the Jalé beach.

When we arrive, it’s already dark and we’re greeted by a small flashlight. The ecolodge is “full”, meaning that, besides us, two other couples have ventured to stay here, “alone in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do.” Our host explains that in order to avoid disturbing the turtles, and because this is a sustainable project, we’ll only have only electricity between 17.30 and 21.30 – after that, we have candles scattered around the room. Hot water is nonexistent. And to walk the path of sand that separates our bungalow from the small building that serves as restaurant we only have that flashlight.

It could be a nightmare in the eyes of many. For us, it is a small piece of paradise, a refuge away from everything and everyone, where nature is who orders and we just manage to escape it a few times throughout the day. All steps are taken with the greatest care so we won’t step on the dozens of crabs at dusk, when they become lords and masters of the way.

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THE FAMOUS CHUCHU

Embraced in the dark with a not so great flashlight and jumping over the crabs, we get to the “restaurant”. Inside, a couple of unclear nationality is already eating and drinking. We meet Ney: chef, master, cook … call him whatever you want. Basically, he’s the responsible for some of the best meals we eat on the island, showing us each new product with passion – and trying the same with the other couple, speaking more slowly and loudly in a vain attempt to break the linguistics barrier. His efforts are useless. They smile but they cant’t understand him. Maybe it’s not important: they can understand the flavors, the textures, the love in every dish that Ney prepares, full of mata-bala, micocó, fruta-pão and other words that we quickly fall in love with.

Staying in the south is the purest definition of leve-leve. You don’t have to do anything except contemplating, eating, dreaming and bathing. And also venturing out on these dirt roads so you won’t leave anything unseen.

We rented a jeep with Adilson (45€/day), a contact we brought from Portugal, and visited all the southern beaches, including the understandably famous Piscina beach, where the clear water is full with life and there is no one else besides the two of us and a couple of fishermen that quickly disappear into the sea. At lunch, we visit Inhame Ecolodge, where we have a second experience of popular “leve-leve”: they only bring one plate to the table, believing only one of us would eat. We are the only tourists present, the only occupants in the restaurant. Suddenly, the vision of an electrical outlet (and wi-fi !!) is like an oasis in the electrical desert that is Jalé. We charge our phones, send emails to our family and assure the world that we are healthy and happy. Even without lunch.

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It is also in the South that we have one of the most immersive experiences in São Tomé nature: a canoe trip of two hours along the Malanza river, where we even get to observe monkeys – the same monkeys which I swear I photographed, but who simply do not appear in any of photographs. A magical effect of the witches tree? Perhaps there are some things that can only exist there, in the middle of the swamp that borders the river.

As there are some things that you can only taste at Roça São João dos Angolares, one of the most famous “roças” in the country thanks to its owner, chef João Carlos Silva, best known for the television show “Na Roça com os Tachos”. We take the the trip in the rain that announces the end of the dry season – soon the rain will be constant, but the sky will also become cleaner. When we arrive, all the tables are filled by people who taste the chef’s specialties – there is no choice a la carte, only a tasting menu that costs 15 euros per person – cooked by the chef in an open kitchen in the middle of the dining room. These are modern interpretations based on local products such as the excellent fish or the many fruits of the island. Spicy, sweet, sour … the journey is made through sensations and flavors that sometimes surprise, sometimes lead us back home, with a special note to the main dish, a curry chicken and pimpernel (chayote) that we will stay in our memories as one of the best dishes of this trip.

It’s our last night in Jalé and we are the only ones in the ecolodge. At night, Ney serves us the same octopus we saw a young man catching, in the morning, just in front of our bungalow. We walk slowly back to our “home”, with the nostalgia already ingrained in us. To think how close we were to abandon the plans, to cut the ecolodge out of our map… Life, however, made us arrive. Or like Saramago said, “In the end, we always arrive at the place where we are expected”

Travel Tips

Health

The yellow fever vaccination is no longer mandatory for passengers coming from Europe. There are other vaccines that are recommended (but not mandatory), including typhoid and hepatitis A. Filipe took the first, I took the second – because we went to different travel doctors (and they helped us a lot in preparing everything). The most important is perhaps the malaria prophylaxis.

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I have heard many different opinions. In the end, for safety reasons, we have chosen to take the malaria prophylaxis with Malarone. The pills should be taken one day before the trip, every day during the trip, and for 7 days after returning home. In our case, we took the frist pill two days before, so we could predict the symptoms and deal with them still in Portugal. Filipe didn’t have any symptoms but I embarked on a journey of annoying side effects. Luckily, after two days, the effects subsided and I spent the trip much more relaxed about the possibility of contracting malaria. However, it is important to stress that it’s possible to take the malaria prophylaxis and contract it anyway. The most important is to have all possible care against mosquitoes: using mosquito repellent, especially in the worst times of the day (between dusk and dawn), covering the body with long sleeves and pants (in paradise that’s the last thing you want to do but you’ll feel much more assured), sleeping with mosquito net whenever possible (sometimes it’s not).

Another important aspect is the water: it is not drinkable. Therefore, even for brushing your teeth you need a bottle of drinking water.

My father, a physician, prepared me a travel kit that took up almost ¼ of my backpack: band-aids, adhesive (holy adhesive, which was used for repairing mosquito nets along the journey!), betadine, alcohol gel, disinfectant wipes, anti-pyretic, analgesic, antibiotic, gel for sore muscles, powder ice bag and endless medicines for intestinal problems (which, yes, were useful).

And do not forget that we are in the Ecuador: although I’ve always used a strong sunscreen, and we have not spent more than a few hours on the beach, I ended up with a tan worthy of the best summer days.

Money

The currency of São Tomé is the dobra, and although the official rate is 24.500 dobras for 1 euro, many sites calculate it to 25.000. It makes the math easier, especially when dealing with millions of dobras. It is normal that sometimes the change is not 100% accurate, especially on the street.

Featured imageMost guides, restaurants, and shops also accept euros (and dollars), but you should always carry a few dobras with you.

From my research and conversations with friends, I knew that São Tomé didn’t have an ATM network (although in town I ended up seeing at least two ATM machines, but I’m not sure if they work with every card). That meant that, except for flights and hotels, which could be paid in advance by transfer, we would have to take enough money to survive for 10 days. We took 500 euros each. In São Tomé, we exchanged 200 euros for dobras and saved the remaining money in euros. I arrived in Lisbon with 30€ in my pocket, which I used to pay the taxi home. And this happened after buying the mandatory “souvenirs”. Anyway, there are banks in the city of São Tomé where you can always withdraw money through the payment of a fee.

Guides and cars

Life in São Tomé isn’t expensive. But tourism is. The prices of the guides vary widely – we have come to pay 70 € per person for a day (with lunch and car). There are travel agencies in the city that can handle everything, but there’s also no shortage of people who will volunteer to guide you through the wonderful island. It all depends on what you are willing to risk. A jeep will cost you between 40 and 50 euros per day – more affordable but less safe when it comes, for example, to the interior of the island, where the forest takes care of the “roads” (spoiler alert: no roads here, just dirt paths) and the rain makes it even more complicated.

Sublimação

— Abra os olhos! Consegue ouvir-me?

— Raios! — pensei — Um céu branco, leitoso, num espaço fechado.
Pedalara forte, enquanto se pedala de outras coisas se ocupa o pensamento, o vento forte que bate na cara é força de outra coisa. Daí que nos limitemos a estar. Abri os braços para o rio e caí.
— Sabe onde está? Consegue dizer-me o seu nome?
Percebi que alguma coisa tinha corrido mal. Do branco, como nuvens, algumas coisas romperam. Primeiro uma cara de mulher, a mesma da voz distante, agora mais próxima. Depois algumas luzes esguias de movimento rápido. Algo grave se abateu. Voltei a cair.
Durante o vai-e-vem apercebi-me de um força interior, um sinal estranho da minha existência de que me esquecera há muito. Aquela viagem e o cheiro que senti. Aquilo que fora antes de ter nascido. Aquela presença me fez voltar um pouco mais à tona d’água. Respirei um pouco e deixei-me ficar no limiar de quem não se quer decidir.
A voz de mulher continuou:
— Homem, meia idade. Atropelamento violento. Traumatismo crânio-encefálico. Fractura da tíbia. Possíveis fracturas cervicais.
Aquele cheiro que me lembrava uma terra distante era o cheiro de um emoção verdadeira. Mergulhei mais fundo para perceber. A voz tinha sido substituída por uma outra, era eu no feminino, era eu em gato, em lince, em leão e em tigre, da copa da árvore debrucei-me. Um pouco mais e a medo, fiz-me lémur voante e saltei: da coragem ao salto está toda existência que posso ter.

 

Bruma de Perdição

No dia em que me viste partir, para lá da barreira que separa o viajante do habitante, um momento de desespero me envolveu. Nesses momentos tendo a fechar-me, cerrar-me num lugar escuro onde possa pensar como sair, como romper esse espaço ambíguo trilhando uma só direção. Agora, meu amor, vejo por que razão não consegui encontrar meu rumo. Como a maior parte dos perdidos, o meu caminho abrumou-se em idéias alheias.
O meu erro não foi ter partido, foi não ter onde chegar.

 

O Rio que deveria existir

No rio de mágoas lavadas, as pessoas costumam acorrer em lamúrios e prantos. Especialmente em ocasião de guerras ou doenças é costume ver centenas de pessoas, mulheres, na maioria, a lavarem seus prantos no pranto da montanha. Dona Dores é uma dessas mulheres. Na madrugada de uma noite fria de inverno foi quando o telegrama chegou, houve uma premonição de Dona Dores para o sucedido. Levantou-se de rompante antes mesmo de a campainha tocar. Depois de percorrer a casa escura de corredores internos, definiu um vulto no vitral da porta de entrada. Por detrás do vulto o azul escuro do crepúsculo atravessara as várias cores do vitral com o rigor de um pano de luz estranhamente colorido em redor da mancha negra. Abriu a porta.

– Telegrama, minha senhora.

Deteve-se até que os passos do carteiro se deixaram de ouvir. Rasgou o envelope que, atirado ao chão, caiu mais lento que sua postura. Dona Dores ficou prostrada no alpendre até que o vizinho a veio chamar.

– Senhora? Que se passou?

A mãe, prestes a devolver à terra do seu filho perdido, acorreu ao rio. Mergulhou bem fundo e abriu os olhos tentando ver a fronteira onde o leito acama a água. Nessa fronteira ouviu gritos e cantos, como se fosse um clamor pacífico, universal.

Gostava que o Saramago fosse vivo esta semana — ontem foram os confrontos em frente ao Parlamento amanhã comemoram-se 90 anos desde o nascimento do escritor. Certamente nos diria algo serenamente sábio como: “As pessoas transformam-se em máquinas de ganhar dinheiro. Ou de tentar ganhar dinheiro.”

Se em vez de dinheiro se falasse em liberdade, direitos, deveres, igualdade… que para a sobrevivência não é preciso dinheiro mas comida, saúde, paz, cultura, liberdade! Talvez o Homem esteja longe de se chamar “sapiens sapiens”, aquele que sabe e sabe que sabe. Talvez se devesse assumir como aquele que ainda tem muito caminho por trilhar. Haverá latim para isto?

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esboço

Ontem sonhei que tinhas morrido, meu amor. Vivia num outro tempo enrugado em mim, cara de socalcos. Apanhei o primeiro avião de um outro país para encontrar a tua amiga:- “Ela morreu não havia nada a fazer. Já estava muito doente.”
Doente? Tão pouco sabia que estavas doente. Se abateu o céu com mil pesos, esmagando-me todo aquele tempo em que julgara ter sido feliz. Vejo-me agora refletido no espelho de um rio que fiz desviar.O ar seco, frio, claro me trouxe de volta:
– “Salta!”
Do topo da cascata ao poço em baixo eram alguns dez metros. Mesmo assim, morria de medo. Tu, naquela maneira imprudente de seres bonita me agarraste a mão e te lançaste, comigo agarrado.
Vivemos aquele dia como o único das nossas vidas. Depois fechámo-lo na mais profunda da nossa memória até que hoje me voltei a recordar.

 

Adriana Xavier

Daqui por vinte ou trinta anos, se me for permitida exigência, sei que vou recordar este momento. A luta de um povo unido é uma manifestação de felicidade. Ela faz mais sentido que as contas e as finanças do estado, ela é a razão, o caminho. 

Quando este dia acabou regressei a casa muito cansado de horas em pé ou caminhando em marcha lenta. No entanto, nunca fui com tanto propósito a uma manifestação, nunca tudo aquilo fez tanto sentido. Somos mais contra a tirania do anti-amor capitalista, do que os políticos que protegem os interesses do dinheiro. Somos mais que o próprio dinheiro. Neste sábado não falámos aquela língua dos números. Neste sábado lutámos pelos nossos direitos, os direitos que nos foram tirados. Não voltaremos a trocar uma só moeda pelo direito à nossa riqueza natural. Não faz sentido, dormíamos quando esse contrato foi assinado. Ludibriaram-nos com falsas ideias. Sim, fomos enganados. A Europa uniu-se jurando respeito às suas nações. O objectivo era contrário àquilo que hoje se passa: não ser dominada por um só país – a Alemanha, claro.
Nunca se falou de forma tão séria de coisas tão absurdas, nunca os senhores da Europa, a par com Angela Merkel, estiveram tão longe da verdade com esta tecnocracia. O que eles não puderam ver, com medo de sair à rua, é que o amor enche avenidas.

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A Mulher do Sal

É do sal que salga o peixe que dona maria faz vida. Hoje o barco antecipou as seis horas e dona maria saiu cedo da outrora menos mágica Alfama. Seguiram-se as ruas. As ruas dos domingos e das segundas até aos sábados. São as ruas dos Remédios, do Cais de Santarém e, não fosse a antecipação do barco, talvez aquele degrau da Rua da Alfândega pudesse servir de luxuoso descanso.O barco tem o cheiro onde o podre se esquece. É um barco diferente dos que chegam da outra margem: traz o sal mas leva os mortos. Os mortos que assim ficam para não se oporem mais a quem lhes manda. Ou não poderem repetir o fitar à devassa mulher do ministro que, no meio de suas pernas, só não mata quem tem negócio de terra. Infelizmente, não é nos homens lavados que a mulher do ministro tem interesse. Sua alma generosa gosta dos coitados criados que, presos por ter cão e presos por não o ter, lá lhe dão alguma atenção. Por convocação de justificativa ao Paço, dona maria não chegou a ver partir, neste mesmo barco, seu marido. A viúva, que nunca tinha tido outro homem levou repreensão de puta, responsabilizando-se pelo comportamento do defunto. Até morrendo o homem tem melhor tratamento!

 

Por mais sessenta e três anos dona maria vai carregar os dez quilos de Sal do Cais do Sodré ao Bairro Alto. Hoje, dois séculos depois, a rua por onde dona maria andou chama-se Rua do Alecrim. 

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