A tour of Sāo Tomé’s interior

1043 Reviews

Star Travel Rating

4/5

Review type

Things to do

Location

Date of travel

February, 2023

Product name

Sāo Tomé - Excursion 4

Product country

Sāo Tomé and Principe

Product city

Sāo Tomé

Travelled with

Couple

Reasons for trip

Culture/Sightseeing

Whilst staying for five nights on the little-known African island of Sāo Tomé, we enjoyed a series of excursions organised by a local agency, Navetur.

Our fourth outing to the island’s interior provided a mix of history, nature and an insight into what had been one of the country’s largest industries – coffee.

Having left the district of Aqua Grande, we entered Mé-Zóchi and its capital Trinidade, the second largest city on the island. Here the wealthy would have had second homes, as due to its elevation at 400m and proximity to Sāo Tomé, land was cheaper, it was cooler and subject to less foreign attacks. A brief walk took in the derelict post office, and the unfortunately locked Igreja de Santissima Trinidade, (Church of the Holy Trinity). In 1641, clergy fleeing from Dutch invaders sheltered in the church, which was given cathedral status for a year. From here, we could see the road leading to the President’s House on the top of the hill.

After a short drive we arrived in the town of Batepá, where on 3 February 1953, hundreds of native creoles, known as forros, were massacred by the colonial administration and Portuguese landowners. A colourful mural in a small square, depicted scenes from the massacre, which as we were visiting on 1 February, was being spruced up for the commemoration of what is known as Martyrs’ Day. Batepá is also renown for the purest palm wine, and we saw an opaque liquid being poured between the type of yellow water cans more widely associated with collecting water.

A bumpy 10-minute, off-road drive led us to the St Nicholas waterfall, or Cascata de Sao Nicolau, where the trees and foliage were immense, but it was hard to capture the scale on photos. The waterfall was quite impressive with a long drop, and a slight rainbow at the bottom, and we walked down wooden steps to get nearer, but the bridge linking it with the other side had been damaged by a large fallen tree.

Our next visit was the Roça Monte Forte where we began with a tour of the Café Museum, located in a beautiful building, previously a processing house. Here we learned about the coffee production process from the arrival of the harvested beans, through to the grading and bagging for international export. Interesting exhibits included an old film projector used to show films of Portugal to the workers to entice them with false trips abroad in return for working hard, and contracts which many of the workers from Mozambique, Angola and Cabo Verde had signed with a fingerprint. Wages books from 1933 showed sums paid and deductions for food, accommodation, and clothing leaving them insufficient to build up funds to return home. Tour over, we enjoyed an espresso, presented in a beautiful cup and saucer, with the sugar jar in a bowl of water to deter ants.

We then toured the plantation which after independence in 1975, reverted to the state, and eventually became derelict. The houses varied in size depending on your hierarchy, and the road which started as smooth tiles, changed to rough cobbles near the workers’ houses which had communal cooking and laundry facilities. We also heard about the establishment of a rural eco-tourism project with a restaurant and accommodation before we strolled through the gardens and toured the old factory which included the ovens and trays used for drying the beans.

Visit over, we headed back into Sāo Tomé, stopping at the huge, new indoor market on the outskirts of town. We didn’t expect our tour of the capital, said to be the smallest in the world, to take long. The Museu Nacional at the fortress of Sāo Sebāstio was a striking yellow washed building with red and white lighthouse. We were greeted in the courtyard, by three large imposing statues including Rei Amador, a member of the King of Angolars who led a famous slave rebellion in 1595. The two floors displayed a diverse range of objects including religious artifacts, items associated with independence, furniture and crockery. From the rooftop, we had good views out to sea and the nearby Goat Island.

A short walk took us to Solidarity Square and Independence Square, the Nossa Senhora Da Graçia Cathedral, with lots of blue and white Portuguese tiles on the walls and high above the alter, and Presidential palace.

We finished what had been a varied and interesting day, with a late lunch at Filomar, only a short distance from our hotel. Despite the time and a booking, we watched as several shopping bags and a huge fish were brought up the stairs to the first-floor restaurant. Eventually the grilled fish was served, with boiled potatoes, cabbage, and mounds of fried plantain, all accompanied by an excellent salsa verde and chilli sauce.

Despite all that we had fitted into our day, we were still back at our hotel and lounging round the swimming pool by 2.30pm.

Helen Jackson

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