G Adventures West Africa. Day 11: São Tomé

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pics: Monte Cafe coffee plant, more smiles, old Portuguese fort now national


More contrasts! From smiling Angola to sullen Congo and back to another

cheerful land, São Tomé. Some wag suggested that life under Portuguese

colonial rulers left the locals the freedom to smile, as opposed to the

French in Congo. Compared to what we have at home in Australia – and still

want more – the ready welcomes from locals in São Tomé is a resounding

testament to the strength of the African character, forged over centuries of


Both the rich volcanic São Tomé and its minor sibling, Principe, were

uninhabited prior to the 15th Century arrival of Portuguese traders but soon

a booming industry in sugar, coffee and cocoa developed. The labour,

naturally, had to be imported, so the fields and factories were stocked with

slaves from other Portuguese colonies like Mozambique and Angola. That, with

the regular traffic of trade and slave vessels over the centuries has turned

these little islands into something of an African melting pot with dances,

songs and customs from all over the equatorial nations and tribes.

The obligatory town tour displayed fading colonial buildings resisting the

onslaught of modern development. Churches, municipal offices and some

commercial buildings still bore the hallmarks of their former Portuguese

masters. In particular the national museum, built into an old coastal fort,

held artefacts, weapons and cultural items of some considerable value. That

fact, of course, did not stop me from trying out an old, smooth bore musket

for size.

Lunch is always a feature and the modest Hotel Bigodes presented us with the

most magnificent grilled swordfish. And there was time for an extra local

lager while our driver changed a flat tyre amid a monsoonal downpour. He

earned his tip that day.

Up in the lush mountains, we luxuriate in the spray from superb waterfall

before stopping at a historic coffee factory, Monte Cafe, looking very

pre-Industrial Revolution but still turning out fine Robusta and Arabica

coffee. The workers staged an impromptu song and dance while giggling

schoolchildren on their way home from morning class swarmed over us like

ants turning the whole scene into something of a fête.

The rain kept coming down but there was time for a glimpse at the chaotic

market and quick mission to the post office. Did I say quick? Correction.

Negotiations for five postcards and stamps seemed to take an eternity

despite us being the only customers in the place. Welcome to Africa!

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