#22 – Exploring the natural wonder São Tomé
Flying with a bike, what a stressful business. Especially in the inimitable Africa. Every person on the airport with the least bit of authority wanted to steer me in some direction. It resulted in some confusing, frustrating and happy moments.
I wrapped the bike and bags in plastic, checked them in, and paid only half the price extra of what they told me a few days ago. Once in the airplane I could finally lay down and I had to hope for the best that my travel mate would arrive at the same destination as me.
While the plane was only a few metres flying above the ocean, we were about to land at the tiny island of Sao Tome. I reunited with the bike, pumped up the tires and cycled towards my hotel. It was dark already, but I was hungry, so after checking in I walked to a restaurant. Not my best decission so far, it seemed.
On my way back, just about a 100 m away from the hotel, a motor passed me and suddenly stoped. A guy steped off and walk fast towards me. He shined a weak LED torch towards me, probably to blind me. But for me, the suspicious moment now promoted to a dangerous one and I started running away and screamed for help twice, till I looked backwards and saw the man and the motor fleeing.
It’s the worst and only real bad experience I’ve had so far. I should have been more carefully, but I’m glad everything went all right. And I’m sure that the upcoming two weeks on this island, I am going to share some amazing experiences!
Sao Tome and Principe, one country, two main islands and 8 smaller islets. Back in the 15th century, the volcanic hills got discovered and inhabited by Portuguese shippers. From that moment, till today, a lot of shady things have happened. But also, they grow two of the finest products in the world: coffee and cocoa.
I’m just visiting the largest island Sao Tome and one or two of the small ones. From tomorrow I’ll go around the island with my bike for a week. I’m really excited to see what pearls I can find and what adventures I’m going to witness.
Cut down the amount of bags by half, I started my trip around the island. I could leave the other bags at the hotel for the entire week I will be on the road. I follow the tortuous boulebard, with its once so glorious stone fence, which now crumbled down due to the lack of attention.
Cycling here felt different immediately. It got me thinking what the reason could be. There is clearly a mix of African and Portuguese styles and cultures. Another aspect was the absence of red soil. For months I’ve been looking at oxidized gravel tracks, and now I was somehow relieved to see grey/brown earth.
After quite a short, but hilly ride I arrived at my new host, another hotel for which I can make drone footage. Even though I couldn’t speak Portuguese and the hotel staff not English, we managed to make make each other happy. And yeah, I’m also starting to look forward to camp again as these hotel days feel a little soulless.
Today I continued following the coastline. The steep roads made me walk uphill and hit my brakes many times, but the coastal scenery was all worth it. At one golden beach, I take a break and swam for a while.
It appears that every of the 200 thousand locals is infused with both African and Portuguese blood. One of the people I met on the road, a guard of the boss of a large plantation, clearly shows a mixed appearance.
Suddenly a giant rock called Pico Cão appeared. As a true skyscraper, it reminded me of a huge building. The 300 m towering rock appears to be a volcanic plug – hardened magma. The softer outer shell has been long gone due to erosian.
And there it was, the equitor. 52° north latitude I’ve covered to reach this point. One part of my body on the Southern Hamisphere, and the other on the Northern one, just because it’s what everyone would do. If my long term plan becomes truth, I will have four more pictures like this.
While a hermit crab starts hiding in its shell, I, Edmundo and a guide walk over the beaches of the Rolas island, which lies on the equitor. Edmundo is a Portuguese tourist and we met by accident, and spend the day together to visit the small island.
We walked around the island, along the golden beaches and turquoise ocean, between hundreds of coconut trees, on top of lava stones and a coconut shell graveyard.
I changed my mind this morning. Instead of trying to do the Volta a Ilha trail, which connects the two ends of Sao Tome’s main roads with each other. A tour operator strongly advised not to go there with a bicycle, since the track is in bad condition, even for hikers.
This means that I had to cycle back towards the capital, the same road as I took two days ago. On the road I met a Portuguese English teacher and he told me about a nice waterfall nearby. We went there together and it truly was a small paradise. I even jumped off the waterfall.
At the end of the day I passed a surf school, run by Silva and Sis, two locals. They told me I could camp here, and they even had a restaurant at which they prepared a delicious dinner. When it was dark, I put up my tent, but then they told me it was not really safe here, and they invited me to their house. After hesitating a bit, I packed my tent and went with these two gentlemen to their house, which is a house on stilts, a typical building style due to the hilly landscape.
My tent occupied almost all space from the living room of the wooden house from Silva and Sis, my hosts of last night. They are surf teachers at the nearby beach. It was a pleasure to meet these two guys, as they restored my damaged trust from a few days ago.
Today I cycled from the East side to the West side of the island. I even passed my base hotel – where I got all my other stuff stored for a week – to pick up some things. Having arrived at the other side, I was glad not to have to cycle over the hills, but along them.
I went to hotel Mucumbli, apparently one of the best ones in the country, at which I’d have to ‘work’ to get my bed. The lodges looking over the empty ocean, some 50 m above the surface, created a very meditative atmosphere.
Cycling in São Tomé is like cycling in a huge supermarket with fresh products. Everything here, seems to be about food and drink. Everywhere you go, you can see banana, coconut, palmoil, casave, cocoa and coffee beans growing. An old coffee rooster shows me that this business is going on for a while.
That makes it hard to believe that I have trouble with finding affordable local food, like I have been able to do in the previous countries. It seems that people here either eat in ridiculously expensive restaurants, or at home. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. But when there appears a rooster with some golden corn on it, I’m as happy as a kid in a candy store.
The same difficulty I experience with water. It’s either drinking from expensive bottles, or drinking free local water. The cheap water pads I used before, are not around anymore. It’s thus that I use my water filter again to drink local water, or when I’m lucky, I can drink straight from the source.
Chocolate! I can’t get enough of the sweet, brown, melting-in-your-mounth substance. And it appeared that one of the finest factories was based a few hundred meters away from where I was staying.
Perhaps a factory is not the right word for the place, where they produce absolute fairtrade and 100% pure cocoa. The architect himself, Claudio Corallo, explainded the principles of growing and producing pure cocoa, and they let us taste twisted recipes with ginger, salt & white pepper, 3 months liquor drenched raisins, coffee beans and organge.
Watching the passionate Italian talking about his product was a pleasure to see for itself. I couldn’t understand a word of what he said, but an English translator made it all clear.
After visiting the chocolate factory, it was time to learn more about coffee. With a morortaxi I went to a small village up in the mountains, where coffee has been produced since the colonial times.
“Peel off the first skin, dry the bean, peel of the second skin, roast and finally grind the bean”, a well English speaking guide summarises the proces.
On my way back to the capital I pay a visit to Artur, the guy I met on the road a week ago, who led me to the amazing waterfalls. It turned out he had quite an amazing story, from having set up a school in Sao Tome to living different lives in different places. It’s one of those irregular people I might stay in contact with for a while.
For weeks I’ve been trying to contact the airline I was flying with to Gabon today, to find out if I could bring a bike. The only response I got back from the tiny company, was that the email inbox was full. I was left with only one option, wait till the moment and see what happens.
“It’s not possible”, the man behind the airline desk said, without any doubt. “It’s too big, and the airplane is just small”. An unpleasant wave of terror went through my body. I told him I could take of the bags and relocate the handlebar. “Ok, do it, and deflate the tires too”.
Even though a small airline has some disadvantages, being able to see the bike loaded in front of the airplane was a big advantage. An hour later I looked down my window and obtained the view of my drone, as the plane seemed to float just a few tens of meters above the city. I arrived in Gabon, a new country with new adventures and I can’t wait to hit the pedals for real again.