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  1. #1
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    Default Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Leve-Leve - a São Tomean Trip report


    The destination has been on our list for some time, but somehow, until now, was constantly deferred. Factors that have contributed for this ever lasting delay, to name a few, were the lure for other African destinations, time required to visit both islands (at least 15 days) and not least important costs. São Tomé is not inexpensive, if one is travelling independently.

    In Portugal (and in some European countries) is mainly marketed as a “tropical” beach destination, and thus, one can get acceptable “pack” prices. That was not our case. The rich history, the people and the biodiversity (one of the most biodiverse hotspots in the world, probably with more endemics per square mile than anywhere else in the world, some say) were the attractions for us. Unfortunately, the São Tomean tourism industry is also beach biased, showing little interest in promoting other forms of tourism.


    The island nation of Democratic Republic of São Tomé e Principe is located on the Guinea Golf 220km off the coast of Gabon, making part of a string of volcanic islands on the Cameroon line (Bioko, Principe, São Tomé and Annobón). The equator line crosses the archipelago at Rolas Island - a small island on the south of S. Tomé.


    Historically São Tomé, a former Portuguese colony, was discovered at the beginning of the the Portuguese Discovery Golden era. On 21st of December 1470, St.Timothy day, João de Santarém first set foot on the uninhabited island and hence the name - São Tomé. Twenty seven days later, 17th January, 1471, Pêro Escobar landed on Principe Island, named at the time São Antão (São António - now the island capital). Principe received its actual nomination in 1502.

    Earlier in the century (1431) Gil Eanes sailed past Cape Bojador - the cape of fear - where ships were believed to be overtaken by sea monsters (Boujdour, Western Sahara). This iconic breakthrough on the African coast to the European explorers, paved the way to the exploration of the African Continent and beyond. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias sailed past the Cape of Good Hope (Cabo da Boa Esperança) and in 1498 Vasco da Gama reached Calcutta, India. In 1500 Brazil was discovered.


    São Tomé served well as a trampoline (and was later, highly disputed by other European powers). Colonisation of these far flung land was not easy. The first europeans to settle were New-Born Christians (“undesirables” - Sephardic jews expelled by the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisition), priests and slaves from the western coast of Africa and later from the Indian coast (Eastern Africa Arab slave trade).Sugar cane culture was introduced and later substituted by coffee which grew well, and by cacao which thrived. By late 19th early 20th century the islands were once the world's largest producers of cacao.


    All these was supported by a complex structure in which the “Roça“ (Plantation) was the main player. Each would consist of a Main House, Living Quarters for the European workers, the Sanzalas (for the workers), storage rooms and dryers. The major Roças would have an hospital, school buildings, a church and even a sea port to drain their produce. These would harbour more than a thousand inhabitants. These big plantations were connected to smaller plantations called “Dependências” (dependancies), which would guarantee the flow of their products. Eventually the slave work became bonded labour, often recruited from Cape Verde Islands. This did not change much for 500 years.

    After independence (12 July, 1975) these Roças were occupied by the population becoming small villages. The production gradually declined almost to a complete halt. People survive by subsistence agriculture. The infrastructure used and abused, is highly neglected and in a derelict state. Examples of these in São Tomé island are Roça Água de Izé and Roça Rio do Ouro (aka Agostinho Neto). Others, either by governmental or private intervention are trying to rejuvenate: Roça Diogo Vaz (excellent cacao), and Monte Café (São Tomé arabica coffee). In Principe (not visited by us - more of this later) there are at least two more Plantations powered by foreign investment in which the main focus is upscale tourism and hospitality: Roça Belo Monte and Roça Sundi.
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    Last edited by apfac; 2023/09/11 at 08:53 AM.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report


    The trip


    We flew Tap Air Portugal, from Lisbon to São Tomé with a brief stopover in Accra, Ghana. There was no need for a visa. If one is coming from a Schengen Country or from the US or Canada, or a holder from a UN passport, there is no need for a Visa, provided one stays no longer than 15 days. We planned and stayed 15 days.

    Our primary intention was to visit both islands : São Tomé and Principe. The first 9-10 days would be devoted to the main Island (São Tomé) and the last 4 days to Principe. For this we would have to get an inter-island flight, for which STP Airways has regular daily flights, serviced by a single airplane!
    Unfortunately these are prone to cancelations which unfortunately happened to us, hampering us from visiting Principe. Flights were canceled for a whole week and on the day before our flight.

    Only then I could understand why most of the tours we have perused while roughly investigating for this trip, go first to Principe and finish in S.Tomé. This has a two fold advantage : in case of any impairment, gives you more time to arrange for alternative flights/ days at Principe, or if something happens while staying in Principe, STP Airways generally guarantees evacuation to the main Island, normally by ferry, if flight cancellations are superior to a few days. These has happened while we were there. People that had flown into Principe were evacuated from the island by ferry. It was an eight hour journey across the Atlantic Ocean.


    The Car


    Leve-Leve, our four wheel drive Suzuki Jimny was rented from Mucumbli a lodge where we stayed for the first 5 nights, at the northern part of the island (Ponta Figo) serving us as a suitable base to explore the Northern and Central part of the Island. People at Mucumbli were very efficient and a pleasure to deal with.

    The car was picked up at the airport with an ODO reading of 16 840 km and delivered with 18 051 km. In total we travelled 1 169km and spent 85 litre of petrol, averaging 6,9-7,3L/100km. The price of petrol was constant throughout the country: 37,00 ST Dobra /litre.

    It is amazing how we could almost drive 1200km on a island in which the main N1/N2 road that circumnavigates the island, has roughly a total of 130 km from top to bottom (Sta Catarina - Porto Alegre).

    A word of caution pertaining to fuel availability. During our stay we experienced a fuel shortage, on our last week which made us being very sparing on the drives we took. It seems that this recurs quite frequently.


    Navigation wise, our trustful Garmin GPS with T4A proved efficient, although not very complete. An update was already sent to T4A. The mobile application maps.me was often used and proved to be correct and updated.


    Pertaining to communications, we had excellent mobile coverage throughout the Island ( CST).



    The itinerary


    Due to the constraints already mentioned, we had to extend our itinerary in S. Tomé in four full days, which gave us some extra time for unplanned activities : a short hike on Obo National Park (Lagoa D. Amélia walk) and The Water Path Hike.

    So the following itinerary came up :

    Day 1-5 : Mucumbli Lodge - Ponta Figo (North)
    Day 6-8 : Praia Inhame Eco-lodge - Porto Alegre (South)
    Day 9-10 : São João dos Angolares (South Central)
    Day 11-15 : Eden Valley Eco-lodge - Madalena (Central /Town)




    1. Mucumbli Lodge



    We started the holiday by breaking the most import rule in Africa : not driving at night.

    We knew it would be like that as the flight was supposed to arrive at São Tomé International airport at 17:40. Actually at 17:30 was touching down, but the sun was already settling. By the time we got cleared from all the formalities, darkness had fallen and we still had to drive to Mucumbli, 42km away.

    The drive was securely done to the lodge through the main Road N2. The condition of the road was perfect until Guadalupe. After that it deteriorated to a pot-holed state till Neves.

    We checked in at the lodge between 19:15-19:30, and were assigned our formidable bungalow for the following 5 days. The views were just astonishing. We had opted for a half board tariff, which served us well. Although the sun would rise early in the day (5:30) breakfast would only be served from 7:30 onwards, which was limiting for us. We found this schedule is institutionalised throughout the island.

    The following five days would see us exploring the northern part of the island and some parts of the Central area.

    Generally, the roads are quite degraded with the exception for some portions of the main tarred circumnavigational N1/N2, namely on the N2( North), the portion between the airport and Guadalupe, and on the N1 (South), the portion between São Tome city and São João dos Angolares. Maintenance is non existent and one go through all the stages of road disintegration. What holds them still together is the old colonial strong infrastructure they were build upon, with good strong side shoulders and good water escape channels; the tar within those shoulders gets bit by bit broken down and the underside is gradually washed out to a gravel state and frequently and finally to dirt, when there is no more gravel to be washed out. Within the Roças, one can still see cobbled roads from the past.

    Interesting and sad to witness, was the bad state in which the roads within the main city are. The most deplorable we have driven on the whole island.


    In the north we followed the N2 towards its Southern West limit - Santa Catarina, which we did not reach due to an impassable bridge. We found this drive to be one of the most pleasurable and definitely the most scenic in the island. On the way we visited Roça Ponta Figo, Roça Monte Forte (with splendid views from the balcony) and Roça Diogo Vaz (cacao producer). Before reaching the dead end we crossed the picturesque St. Catarina road tunnel (Tunel de Santa Catarina).

    Along this road and if you stop, frequently some kids approach you to sell fresh coconuts from which you can savour the fresh coconut water and its tender meat. The riper the coconut the sweeter the water is but the meat inside is harder. If the fruit is young, the water is more insipid but the meat is tender (we call it, in Mozambique - Lenho). Delicious, and a taste that made me go back in time.

    From the above a word of mention to :

    1. Roça Ponta Figo - It is the start for the Water Path hike, which we organised through Mucumbli. We left Mucumbli by car with our guide towards the old Roça Ponta Figo, now a settlement. A left diversion from the main road took us towards our departure point; the road was a surprise, an old cobbled road still preserved on a long stretch but in no time started to show signs of no maintenance and eventually went to a gravel/ rocky surface. It was a pretty and pleasant drive.

    The walk consists in reaching the main water catchment area from the waterfall rich forest. The water is conveyed into tunnels to a main catchment area from which it is funnelled into a large pipe that is directed to the hydroelectric plant that generates electricity for the region. Some of this water is also used for irrigation purposes. The old tunnels are excavated through the mountain and one happens to walk on them, either on the muddy and waterlogged sidewalk or on the proper water tunnel; for this it is advisable to wear proper shoes either wellingtons or reef shoes. Flips-flops are not advisable as the water current is strong and they are easily dislodged from one's foot.

    There were several bat colonies in the tunnels, and for that one should be careful, on touching the minimum as possible the environment around.


    2. Roça Monte Forte - another old Roça that turned settlement. The old Manor House is being rehabilitated into the hospitality business. The views from the balcony are just astonishing. At the old seaport by the seaside, there is a replica of the old Padrão dos Descobrimentos which marks the place where the Portuguese navigators João de Santarém and Pêro Escobar first set foot on the island, in 1471.


    3. Roça Diogo Vaz - A proper cacao plantation that has been rehabilitated through foreign (French) investment. On site they have a small shop with cacao tasting and from where one can organise a tour to the plantation and be shown the different phases of cacao cultivation and processing. For the first time we tasted the fresh cacao fruit which is really an unexpected but delightful tasting experience. In town by the sea promenade, they have a proper shop /coffee saloon with all the products they produce. A place we visited twice for a late afternoon treat.

    As said before, we used Mucumbli to explore the northern and central part of the Island. On the coast we visited the lovely and small sandy beaches of Lagoa Azul, Praia das Conchas and Praia dos Tamarindos. Inland, a word of mention to Roça Rio do Ouro (aka Roça Agostinho Neto) and Roça Monte Café, and the Botanical Gardens (Obo National Park).

    Lagoa Azul - A small sandy cove with turquoise waters where the vegetation is unique. One of the few parts of the island where one can find a savanna type of vegetation and ecosystem epitomising with several Baobab trees (Adansonia digitata).


    Praia dos Tamarindos - Another small sandy beach with calm waters dotted with some Tamarind trees. Pleasant.

    Roça do Rio de Ouro (aka Agostinho Neto) - One of the biggest plantations that existed in São Tomé, producing cacao and coffee. The complex infrastructure is astonishing, unfortunately completely degraded and derelict. It is now a settlement and the Old Manor House is used on some cultural/ popular events. The harbour that served the Roça, is positioned downhill at Roça Fernão Dias (a dependency of the main Roça), and where the Massacre of Batepá occurred in 1951. Nearby there is the Praia dos Governadores (Governors Beach) where one can still notice the savanna type ecosystem that exists on the northern tip of the island (the driest part of S. Tomé).

    Roça Monte Café - a old plantation that has been revitalised by the local community with some buildings being rehabilitated. The main produce of the plantation was coffee - St. Tomean Arabica. There is a Coffee Museum where visitors can take a tour on coffee processing and taste the final product at the end.

    The Botanical Gardens - the entrance to Obo National Park, or at least from where all the trails depart from. It is situated on the buffer zone of the actual park. Apart from the small garden where some examples of endemics are shown there is not much to see. Walks into Obo can be organised from here, if the walk is short. Longer walks (including to the peak) should be organised in advance probably through a tour operator.
    We did take a short walk to the Lagoa St. Amélia (St. Amélia Lagoon) - a dry and bogged crater lagoon.
    We were actually expecting more from this place. The existent infra-structure is neglected and a relative sign of indifference was perceived.
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  5. #3
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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    South - Praia Inhame and S. João dos Angolares



    After the initial five days we had to move South and we drove all the way to the most southern point of the island - Porto Alegre - Praia Inhame Eco-lodge.

    This was our longest drive in the island - 110 km, in 4 hrs.

    The road is acceptable until S. João dos Angolares and then progressively deteriorates to a notorious bad state, beyond repair I believe. The state is so bad that a major and only hotel in Rolas Island has closed due to the impossibility of bringing guests in. There is a spreading word that it will be repaired, soon!

    We stayed at Praia Inhame for 3 nights and again on a half board basis. During our stay we visited Rolas Island where we visited the Equator Landmark, and enjoyed a walk around the islet, finishing at the Praia Café having a fish bean stew for lunch. On our second day we did another walk around the southern part of the island going as far as Praia Jalé.

    On the way south we passed Água d’Izé (old Plantation), Praia das Sete Ondas, Praia Miconde, S. João dos Angolares and finally the iconic Pico do Cão Grande, before reaching Porto Alegre.

    Água d’Izé was the biggest Roça in São Tomé and unfortunately is now a settlement with architectural remnants of the past.

    Santana - is worth to mention for two reasons: it is the last refuelling point heading south and for those interested there is Club Santana (all inclusive resort) with its surf school which is said to be one of the best spots for surfing in São Tomé.

    São João dos Angolares - now a small town with its eponymous Roça, is known for the Angolares uprising by the end of XVI century (a slave rebellion against the Portuguese ruling).

    The Roça is now devoted to tourism, mainly for the catering /restaurant where an extended degustation menu is served at lunch time under the supervision of a famous chef. For this one should book in advance. We did not try the menu, but instead preferred to stay at Manor House which balcony has extended and beautiful views over the Angolares bay.

    We stayed here coming up from Praia Inhame towards São Tomé hoping to embark in a two days for Principe. Later in the day we learnt about the flight cancelations due to a bird strike.

    Coming up from Praia Inhame we stopped at the Malanza River Mouth where a pristine mangrove forest exists and where you can do a boat trip into the channels.

    The day had risen cloudy and dark; after the boat ride started to clear and as we moved north it cleared enough to see the Pico do Cão Grande - a monolithic volcanic plug; It come into view as one passes Monte Mario and the palm plantation starts; Pico do Cão Grande is already situated within the Obo NP, and unfortunately one can already see the palm plantation encroaching the NP lush vegetation.

    The last four days were spent within the central part of the island - Madalena - just on the hills above the main city. This served us very well for revisiting places doing extra activities that were not planned.

    We stayed at Eden Valley eco lodge - a real gem hidden in the middle of nowhere. Excellent bungalows, excellent and friendly people always eager to help, and with excellent food. Although they do not have a restaurant they do serve dinners if booked in advance. A Chef goes there in the evenings to cook for guests that have booked on the day before. Superb food.




    Food Matters:


    São Tomean food is delicious. Fish is the main ingredient. Meat very seldomly is served unless you are in a hotel or similar. So do not expect to eat a sirloin steak, but instead a utterly delicious fresh tuna steak or swordfish steak or even a freshly caught spider carb or lobster. They really mastered the art of grilling fish. This is normally accompanied with banana chips, rice or even beans mixed with some indigenous spicy herbs. We have never thought of having a bean stew (Feijoada in Portuguese) with fish, and we did, and it was delicious.

    Nevertheless eating in São Tomé is not inexpensive (and easily done).

    The main reason for this is this touristic tendency of serving you a “Degustation Menu” and you are charged accordingly. There is no “in-between”.

    The only places we have eaten what we chose and were good value for the money were : In the North the Mucumbli restaurant (Ponta Figo) and the Petisqueira Santola (Neves) where Spider Crab is king and was absolutely delicious;
    In town Papa Figo (a good traditional restaurant with extremely good food and reasonable prices) , and the Pirata with a lesser choice but with generous and tasty portions.

    The only place we have eaten a degustation menu and found that it was good value for the Money was at Almada Negreiros Museum Restaurant in Saudade. Exceptional food with a very good service and presentation.

    Southwards we really do not have a choice. In S. João dos Angolares we have eaten at the famous Roça restaurant and at Miónga restaurant and both have favoured the Degustation Menu, which in our opinion are not worth the price they charge. Nevertheless the food was delicious.




    Final remarks:


    For long we wanted to visit São Tomé and Principe, but at the time we planned to do it jointly with Gabon - the trilogy São Tomé & Principe and Gabon.

    The articles from Nick Nichols surfing hippos always seduced us to visit Gabon. At the time a Dutch company - Africa's Eden had their own programmes and their own aviation company for transfer easiness. It was not cheap and we always deferred it.

    Meanwhile visiting Gabon became more difficult for known reasons, and we had to change our focus: Just São Tomé & Principe. Principe was imperative as it was the least developed of the two islands and we could enjoy the pristine forest.

    Unfortunately it was written somewhere that we would not be able to do it. Probably next time.

    Thank you .

    AP.


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  7. #4
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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Thank you, apfac, for this informative report. Real pitty you weren't able to explore Principe island also.

    To be honest, except for the name, I didn't know anything about São Tomé and Principe. I wouldn't even be able to locate them on the world map. So, if nothing else, I've gained some geographic knowledge, thanks to your report.
    24 hours in a day.... 24 beer in a case.... Coincidence?
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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Something different, thanks for sharing! Would love to try the cuisine...
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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Hi apfac
    Thank you for writing up this report about your trip to Sao Tome. Had been looking forward to it and must say am a bit surprised how laid back the inland is. Real pity you weren't able to complete your itinerary.
    best regards LL
    and safe travels in Kenya!!!
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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Quote Originally Posted by La Leona View Post
    "... must say am a bit surprised how laid back the inland is...."
    hence the title "Leve-Leve "

    Thank you LL.

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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    I had missed this, thank you for your report of this little visited destination! And thank you for sending in your data to T4A. I would love to see more info on T4A further north, but for now, I'm not in a position to contribute.
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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Hi Caldriver,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Actually just a few days ago I realised this report has been incorrectly placed in the wrong section (West Africa) instead of Central Africa, which I now apologise to all Forum members.

    Pertaining to T4A, I did send the data to them but they still persist in naming St.Tomé, Mayotte!

    Safe travels into the CKGR.

    AP

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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Thanks afpac for your detailed report.

    Interesting the historical background which, I guess for many of us, was a welcome enrichment to African knowledge.

    I often dreamed of visiting St. Helena by mail boat from Cape Town, now that's not being possible anymore, Sao Tome might become an alternative destination.
    Love the exotic cuisine, so another motivator.
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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Thank you KS.

    If you plan a visit to the islands seriously consider Principe, which we highly regret not being able to visit for the reasons aforementioned.
    Pertaining to the cuisine, it is indeed very tasty but be prepared for a " fresh out of the sea" menu. Only in the main cities (St. Tomé and possibly Sto. António ) you may find a choice of meats.
    I believe that they can be easily reachable from SA /Namibia via Luanda.

    AP.

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    Default Re: Leve - Leve - a St. Tomean Trip Report

    Quote Originally Posted by apfac View Post
    Thank you KS.

    If you plan a visit to the islands seriously consider Principe, which we highly regret not being able to visit for the reasons aforementioned.
    Pertaining to the cuisine, it is indeed very tasty but be prepared for a " fresh out of the sea" menu. Only in the main cities (St. Tomé and possibly Sto. António ) you may find a choice of meats.
    I believe that they can be easily reachable from SA /Namibia via Luanda.

    AP.
    Seems like a good proposal, definitely on the bucket list now

    Like seafood but as based inland most of the time, I only eat it in view of the ocean, wherever that might be.
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