Príncipe, São Tomé and Principe

Journey to the Noble Retreat of Príncipe Island

prince of the jungle
Aerial view of Príncipe, with the usual cloud cover that drowns out its tropical climate.
Wall of Aspirations
Children of Principe lined up along the wall that closes off the city of Santo António in their best clothes because it is Children's Day.
The green valley of Santo António
Casario de Santo António, the only city and capital of the island of Principe.
in the shadow of life
Residents of Santo António occupy the pews next to the church of Nª Senhora de Conceição.
A kind of MMA
Boys from the countryside of Porto Real given to easy jokes and laughs.
Beard, hair and TV
Barber on the banks of the river Papagaio, in Santo António. In addition to being a barber, the small establishment is also used by several young men in the city to watch movies on TV there.
Colors and flavors of the equator
Detail of a market stall in Santo António, always full of fruits and vegetables produced on the island.
rehearsal time
Chico Roque and other island musicians rehearse in a room, a kind of improvised studio in the center of Santo António.
St. Anthony's Core
The church of Nª Senhora da Conceição, the religious center of Santo António, at the time accompanied by a UNITEL poster.
Tropical Banana
Praia Banana, one of the best beaches in Africa, once used by the Bacardi brand, in a promotional advertisement for its rum.
Grape Moisture
View of the historic center of Santo António with Pico Papagaio high above the town's houses.
Princely Generations
Two young inhabitants of Roça Porto Real, one of the most productive plantations in Príncipe.
An exuberant panorama
Monte Papagaio, seen from the São Joaquim farm.
A chocolate farm
Guard at the entrance to the Terreiro Velho farm, now owned by the Italian chocolate producer Claudio Corallo, who lives in São Tomé.
Home Sweet Home
Small house in Santo António, surrounded by vegetation that grows on the banks of the river Papagaio.
Mother's love
Matilde and daughter on the wall that separates Santo António from the Atlantic Ocean, during Children's Day celebrated in schools on the island of Príncipe.
Cremilda, Márcia and Eula make up Késia's Afro braids while she follows chats on her cell phone.
150 km of solitude north of the matriarch São Tomé, the island of Príncipe rises from the deep Atlantic against an abrupt and volcanic mountain-covered jungle setting. Long enclosed in its sweeping tropical nature and a contained but moving Luso-colonial past, this small African island still houses more stories to tell than visitors to listen to.

The flight lasts for forty minutes. And yet, the fact that we follow almost just ourselves in the cabin and that, down below, the deep navy blue monopolizes the scenery, makes time seem to drag on. The monotony does not take long to be rewarded. A sudden glimpse reveals to us a blanket of dense clouds and a strange sketch of what Prince's Island could be.

Principe Island, São Tomé and Principe

Aerial view of Príncipe, with the usual cloud cover that drowns out its tropical climate.

They hover over a lush patch of Earth dotted with geological outgrowths. The pilot adjusts the plane to the island. After a few minutes, we are landing our feet on the warm soil of Príncipe Island.

And the next morning, on one of the most beautiful seasides in Africa, Praia Banana. In the 80s, Bacardi rum featured it in one of its advertisements. This media credit lasts.

The coming and going of the emerald waves over the golden sand suggests a memorable bathing playground, but we didn't delay. At the same time, a viewpoint on top of a pile of large basaltic rocks attracts us.

Banana Beach, Principe Island, São Tomé and Principe

Praia Banana, one of the best beaches in Africa, once used by the Bacardi brand, in a promotional advertisement for its rum.

We find the path to its heights through the dark coconut grove of Banana. Several steep meanders later, we catch our breath leaning on its decrepit wall, contemplating the sumptuousness of what, at sea level, had already delighted us.

That viewpoint and its Belo Monte property marked the first of several visits to ancient farms on the Ilha do Príncipe. Belo Monte was, however, transformed into a hotel. We just peeked at her.

On the way to Santo António do Príncipe

Back at Bom Bom resort, we took a ride from one of the service pick ups to Santo António, the island's solitary city. Along the way, Mr. João gives a lift to most of the walkers on the side of the road. Eventually, the van has a considerable capacity.

Everyone on board knows each other. Everyone finds our presence in that metal box strange, which is normally unworthy of customers. As soon as the admiration fades, the traveling partners give in to their uncomplicated jeers and laughs. Soon, they invite us to conversations between curiosity and forced formality.

We passed a series of basic houses in which small children and pets circulate. We left the airport behind. Finally, we descend into the valley towards the bay where the capital was housed.

The flow of a river, the Parrot, carved the alluvial plain where the worn semi-colonial houses now spread, bordered on all sides by a mountain jungle, except for the west-northwest, where the black flow of the river meets a Atlantic tamed by the bay.

The green valley of Santo António, Santo António, Ilha do Principe, São Tomé and Principe

Casario de Santo António, the only city and capital of the island of Principe

We got out of the van in front of the city's yellow and red church. Right there, a poster by the Angolan operator UNITEL that shows a surfer with a cell phone glued to his ear prophesies “for the better it always changes".

Wandering around the island's leisurely capital

An hour of walking is enough for us to realize that, with few exceptions, Santo António was slowly evolving. Next to the church, seated on four park benches, an equal number of residents watch the day slip away, undaunted and serene, in the shade of a leafy tree.

The church of Nª Senhora da Conceição, in Santo António, island of Principe, São Tomé and Principe

The church of Nª Senhora da Conceição, the religious center of Santo António, at the time accompanied by a UNITEL poster

Only the main road has real urban animation, around its untidy grocery stores, clothing stores, the central motorcycle taxi park and, further down, the secondary school.

There, between classes, Cremilda, Márcia and Eula compose Kélsia's Afro braids. She, with her eyes on her cell phone, remains in multichat mode with online friends and fellow “hairdressers”.

Students from Santo António, Ilha de Príncipe, São Tomé and Principe

Cremilda, Márcia and Eula make up Késia's Afro braids while she follows chats on her cell phone

On the opposite side of the avenue, the old headquarters of Sporting Clube de Príncipe has had better days. Only a tree that emerges from the mossy concrete of one of its corners shows signs of healthy greenery. On the facade of the tiled building, a health prevention panel advises: “Prolong your life by drinking treated water”.

We examine him when, from the middle of the road, Chico Roque confronts us. The time is morning. After a drawn-out introduction, he promotes himself as a musician. He convinces us to record a musical show for him and a colleague.

We set up at two hours from then to two days in Marcelo da Veiga square, the administrative heart of Santo António, one of its pleasant gardens and playful retreats.

Life on the banks of the river Papagaio

Until then, we wander through what became the capital and seat of the diocese of the colony of São Tomé and Príncipe, from 1753 to 1852, three centuries after the discovery of the archipelago in 1471, a few years before King João II baptized it in honor of Prince Afonso, his favorite son, who would die, at just 16 years old, fallen from a horse in the vicinity of the Tagus.

When we returned to the banks of the Parrot, contradicted by the beach-sea, the local river flowed towards the homonymous Pico that has always been imposing on the city. We stuck our nose in a barbershop overlooking the bank. Even surprised, the owner hair artist welcomes us and continues to beautify the client of the moment.

Barbershop and mini-cinema in Santo António de Principe, São Tomé and Principe

Barber on the banks of the river Papagaio, in Santo António. In addition to being a barber, the small establishment is also used by several young men in the city to watch movies on TV there.

Farther into the sky-blue wooden establishment, a squat of kids sitting on a long bench, barely taking their eyes off a movie on TV from that well-developed “Cinema Paradise” of theirs. On a parallel street, we come across Dª Juditinha's restaurant. It is there that we avoid the worst of the afternoon embers and replenish energy.

Children's Day. Not all Days are Days like this

During the meal, we see parents pass by with their children by the hand, loaded with cakes and other desserts. As elegant as possible, they go to a school on that street. "You know, today is Children's Day!" informs us Dª Juditinha while she serves us Rosema beers that we tasted for the first time, to the detriment of the usual Portuguese brands. “Here on the island of Príncipe, we treat the date with affection.”

Another of the celebrating schools faced the long white wall that separates the city from the Atlantic. There, as the setting sets in, the adults and their children fraternize, some leaning over, others sitting on the wall, all of them with the hypnotic view of the lush bay ahead.

Balcony of Santo António, Ilha do Principe, São Tomé and Principe

Children of Principe lined up along the wall that closes off the city of Santo António in their best clothes because it is Children's Day

During lunch, we had received a call from the Regional Secretary for the Economy. He summoned us to his office, half-walled with the post office in the city that seemed to have been taken from a Portuguese village in the 50s.

Enthusiastic, Silvino Palmer explains projects for the future of the island of Príncipe and the obstacles to its development, in particular, the dwarf scale of the economy, victim of isolation and of the nation being the second smallest in Africa, only behind Seychelles .

Silvino also has faith in our publicizing mission. Arrest us with the use of your pick up service and with the help of two guides. At eight o'clock on the new day, we greeted conductor Armandinho, Francisco Ambrósio and Eduardo. We aim south of the island.

Through the Jungle of Príncipe Island Above

The jungle that surrounds the Parrot smothers the winding path opened in the depths of colonial times. Even so, it proves to be much less closed than the one below on the map, this one, part of the Biosphere Reserve of Ilha do Príncipe. Throughout history, it has admitted farms and villages, today, some relics more decadent than others.

Like what remains of the mansion and property of Maria Correia, daughter of a native of the island of Príncipe and a Brazilian emigrant who went down in history as the owner and mistress of her two husbands and hundreds of servants.

Despite the British blockade of Portuguese slavery in the archipelago popularly addressed by Miguel Sousa Tavares in “Equador”, Maria Correia will have cheated her checks over and over again.

Even a mulatto, until she died in 1862, she was one of the biggest slave owners on the island.

Over time, he became a legendary character, worthy of thorough investigation, or whatever, from a good movie.

The First Roças: Porto Real and São Joaquim

The next farm as we passed, that of Porto Real, holds much more of its auspicious era. It was developed by the Sociedade Agrícola Colonial, with work areas, housing, a hospital and a 30km railway that transported diverse agricultural production, including a prodigious palm oil.

Now, it houses a community that, far from being able to recover and exploit it, is limited to subsisting on much of what the land and domestic animals provide.

In the same itinerary, we come across São Joaquim, a former dependency of Porto Real. We find it ruined, then handed over to women and children who share the old sanzalas and the grassy courtyard with a herd of cows, spotted pigs and other domestic animals. Our unexpected visit, for more, in a government vehicle intrigues them.

“Come here! You'll like this.” Francisco Ambrósio, a teacher on the island that the children we come across provoke to call a vampire (with the long and heavy errs, in good native fashion) appeals to us because of his resemblance to the Wesley Snipes that haunts them, in “Blade”, on TVs in the city.

View of Monte Papagaio, Principe Island, São Tomé and Principe

Monte Papagaio, seen from the São Joaquim farm.

In the distance, between the jungle that covered Monte Papagaio and part of the clouds that we had seen from the plane, there were two granite rocks. Erosion had carved the smallest one like a pillar.

The Old Chocolate Farm in Terreiro Velho

At that distance, the megalithic duo glowed, projected from the strange chlorophyll panorama. He encouraged us to go to Terreiro Velho, still a garden full of cocoa, stories and coastal views to delight. We only returned to the city at dusk. The next journey, we dedicate it to the extreme northwest of the island.

It was there, west of the Bom Bom islet, that the Portuguese discoverers founded Ribeira Izé, the first settlement on the island of Príncipe. We explore the ruins of the forerunner church that blessed it and that the centuries-old predation of the prickly pear trees involved an enigma.

Roça de Terreiro Velho, Príncipe island, São Tomé and Príncipe

Guard at the entrance of the Terreiro Velho farm, now owned by the Italian chocolate producer Claudio Corallo, resident in São Tomé

Then mr. Armandinho takes us on a shortcut up the slope, so submerged in the vegetation and in the waterlogged ground that he claims all its power from the pick up. Even so, it leads us to the desired destination: the Sundy farm.

Originally, Sundy emerged as another plantation of cocoa and island coffee. In a certain golden period, its profits determined expansion and greater organic complexity. Sundy, too, has succumbed to less expensive and larger-scale production from other parts of the world. The farm ended up as a holiday home for Portuguese royalty. It would not be the new owners who would contribute most to its notoriety.

Roça Sundy and the Confirmation of the Theory of Relativity

In 1919, British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington estimated the island of Príncipe as an ideal place to examine a predicted eclipse. It aimed to exemplify that starlight was deflected by solar gravity and thus prove Einstein's Theory of Relativity on Newton's long-standing Law of Gravity.

Eddington certified the expected curvature of the light, installed in the Sundy garden. This honor remains marked on one of the terraced balconies of the main building which, at the time we looked at it, was undergoing – like the one completed in the Belo Monte farm – a serious conversion into a historic hotel.

It was hoped that the project would contribute to improving the life of the real village that Sundy has become, with dozens of families living side by side in small and Spartan sambalas, others in recent houses, installed around it.

Return to Santo António

We traverse its gray alleys to and fro, then the walls to its nooks and crannies in the colonial and functional heart of the huge farm. We do it with the fascination of those who watch History recycle and shuffle some of its almost forgotten variables. Until we remember our commitment to Chico Roque and anticipate returning to Santo António.

Chico Roque and other musicians from Santo António, Príncipe island, São Tomé and Principe

Chico Roque and other island musicians rehearse in a room, a kind of improvised studio in the center of Santo António

It was just past the agreed time and the two musicians were waiting for us seated by the cannons that protect the image of Marcelo da Veiga. At our signal, a repertoire of songs, sometimes popular, sometimes of his authorship, parade. We watch and record their performance when a group of kids playing in the garden approaches and leans over the cannons. The duo rejoices.

They then sing an ecological theme popular in São Tomé and recruit the children to choir. It's with this child-eared soundtrack of “Biosfera” in the head (sung Biosferrrrrrra) that we say goodbye to Santo António. The following afternoon, from the as or more memorable island of Príncipe.

historic center of Santo António, island of Principe, São Tomé and Principe

View of the historic center of Santo António with Pico Papagaio high above the town's houses.

TAP flies to São Tomé on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays departing Lisbon at 09:35 am and arriving at 17:35 pm. The trip from São Tomé to Lisbon is on Tuesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Thursdays with departures at 20:04 and arrival at 10:XNUMX the following day. 

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