Posts Tagged ‘sao tome’

Dispatches from Africa, Part 3: São Tomé

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Francisco Dallmeier has been a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Institution for the past 24 years. Dr. Dallmeier is the director of Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability (CCES), part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). CCES provides research and conservation approaches for sustainable development and world-class professional and academic programs for conservation practitioners. Here, he shares some more dispatches from Into Africa: From Namibia to Ghana. Read the other dispatches from this journey.

Monday March 7, 2011. São Tomé

We arrived in São Tomé around 6:00 and with an early rain. Several dolphins welcomed the ship and a beautiful mist and clouds covered the island. The archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe comprises the two main islands and dozens of tiny islets scattered about 180 miles off the west coast of Gabon. The islet of Rolas straddles the Equator. After disembarking via Zodiacs, we traveled through the densely vegetated slopes of the island’s mountain. The volcanic island has a very fertile soil and altitudinal gradient that makes it very favorable to all kind of tropical plants including coffee and cocoa. The steep slopes have extensive coffee plantations shaded with very tall trees. The São Nicolao waterfall is a beautiful sight surrounded with a large variety of ferns, mosses and many other plant species thriving in the humid environment. Buffet lunch at the “Pestana Hotel” was excellent with a variety of tropical fruits.

At the Mote Café plantation, once a prolific colonial agricultural state, we visited the complex building and machinery to transport, dry and grind the coffee beans. Several local people performed colorful local dances with music from traditional instruments. In the afternoon we visited the cathedral while a musical funeral drove by.

The national museum has a wealth of colonial artifacts from the colonial times including European furniture and weapons used during that time. The fort that hosts the museum has a magnificent view of the bay and contains several old cannons. From the museum we continued our visit to the fishing village of Panfuto where dozens of large dugout canoes in all conditions filled the shore line. Many fishermen were preparing the nets for the night fishing and others played cards while waiting for the right time for departure. On the way back from the fishing village we enjoyed the “Danza Congo” at the “Plaza of Independence.” Men and women dressed with masks and colorful costumes performed an artistic and complex carnival dance.

Tuesday March 8, 2011. Príncipe

Príncipe is the smaller of the two major islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. It has an area of 136 square kilometers and a population of around 5000 people. Its highest peak is the Pico de Príncipe that rises to 948m in a dense forest area that is part of the Obo National Park. The northern and center part of the island were formerly coffee and cocoa plantations and have now reverted to forest. The town of Santo Antonio is the capital of Príncipe with an estimated population of 1500 people.

We arrived in Príncipe very early in the morning and soon after several fishing dugout canoes began to arrive after night fishing. Several of the villagers installed their canoes by the M/V Corinthian IIwith loads of fresh fish, coconuts, bananas, and many other fruits.  Disembarkation was by Zodiacs and we had the opportunity to observe all different lava formations partially eroded over years from the ocean. We arrived at the beautiful Bom Bom island resort and large beach to drive to Santo Antonio. The town has colorful houses from the colonial times and a lively market with fresh fish and vegetables. This day was the last day of carnival and also International Women’s Day  and celebrated with colorful dances, food and drinks. We also visited the once magnificent colonial housing and coffee processing building that supported the economy of that time. The buildings have been abandoned and overgrown by vegetation.

In the evening I presented the lecture on “Smithsonian’s Ten Years of Biodiversity Research and Conservation Program in Gabon”.

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Memories of São Tomé

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Patrick Wagner is Senior Program Manager for U.S. and Canada tours and has been with Smithsonian Journeys since 2000. Here, he describes his visit to verdant São Tomé, located off the western coast of Africa. Click here for more on Patrick.

The beautiful landscape of Sao Tome. Photo: Flickr Joao Maximo

The beautiful landscape of Sao Tome. Photo: Flickr user Joao Maximo

After disembarking our ship the Corinithian II in the morning, we made our way by zodiac to the seaside town of  São Tomé. We drove up into the cool, lush mountains at the interior of the island, enjoying the vibrant greens and the calls of some of the 135 species of birds that call the island home. Tucked into a beautiful mountain valley was a coffee plantation straight out of a Victorian novel.

We walked the short distance up a stone path to take a look at the current crop. At the top of the hill, ripe red beans burst from the profusion of dark green coffee plants. Next, we walked to the preparation area, a metal covered porch, to greet the workers. They welcomed us in Portugese, calling “Bom Dia! Bom Dia!” (Good morning! Good morning!) and held out bowls of chocolate covered coffee beans…an immediate hit with our group.

We watched as local São Toméian women pulled the hulls off the beans and prepared them for washing, and then walked further along the porch, lured by the smell of what many of us could only describe as heavenfresh coffee beans roasting over an open fire. As we looked on, a worker raked the beans back and forth to be sure that they roasted evenly. We stood there transfixed as the workers described the traditional roasting methods they’d always used to create perfectly roasted beans. Finally, we had a chance to sample some of the most delicious coffee we’d ever tasted! It was well worth the journey up the mountain and through the jungle.

Close-up of coffee beans. Photo: Flickr Jeff Kubina

Close-up of coffee beans. Photo: Flickr user Jeff Kubina

As we were getting ready to leave, the clouds literally descended on the valley and a hard rain began to fall. I sat with a group of Smithsonian travelers waiting out the deluge. We looked out on the pouring rain, the steep stand of coffee plants, the green mountain ridges in the distance, the palms slick with rain, the air fragrant with roasting coffee, the warm cups in our hands…no one said a word, we all just smiled and listened to the falling rain.

Click here for more information on travel to São Tomé.

Click here for more information on other travel to Africa.

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