Rolas Islet, São Tomé and Principe

Rolas Islet: São Tomé and Principe at Latitude Zero

Whale Point
Passengers about to board the Ponta da Baleia anchorage.
Ex-trunk canoes
Handcrafted canoes safe from the waves near the Ponta da Baleia anchorage.
View of Pico Cão Grande
Panorama of the south of the island of São Tomé with Pico Cão-Grande in the distance.
on board the ferry
Helmsman and passengers during the trip to Ilhéu das Rolas.
Porto Alegre
Palm trees above the Porto Alegre roça, in the south of the island of São Tomé.
strange navigation
Two São Toméans in boats of different categories.
Pillory II
Pillory in front of the main colonial farm of Ilhéu das Rolas.
the jetty
Boatman on the pier of Ilhéu das Rolas.
chapel of St. Francis of Xavier
São Francisco Chapel, one of the buildings that passengers see upon arrival at Ilhéu das Rolas.
the boatman
Helmsman of the ferry that connects Ponta da Baleia to Ilhéu das Rolas.
The Coconut Tree Trail
Trail of Rolas islet flanked by large coconut trees.
Dirty Pigs
Pigs roam the equatorial jungle of Ilhéu das Rolas.
the pillory
Portuguese colonial pillory next to the wharf of Ilhéu das Rolas.
shadow duo
Couple passes under a leafy tree of Ilhéu das Rolas.
Lonely Coconut
Acrobatic palm tree in a bay of Ilhéu das Rolas facing east.
tropical cove
Inlet in the south of Ilhéu das Rolas below a dense forest of coconut trees.
Beach Resting
Young resident of Ilhéu das Rolas in a rocky inlet.
Equilibrist coconut trees
Coconut trees balanced in the middle of a volcanic slope.
Ponta da Cabra
Coconut trees crown Ponta da Cabra, in the south of Ilhéu das Rolas.
ephemeral beach
Sandy coastline in the southeast of Ilhéu das Rolas.
The southernmost point of São Tomé and Príncipe, Ilhéu das Rolas is lush and volcanic. The big news and point of interest of this island extension of the second smallest African nation is the coincidence of crossing the Equator.

A Pestana Resort employee welcomes passengers.

We followed in its wake, down a stairway, under a hillside jungle from which a coconut tree with no coconuts stood out, and a nearby palm tree, which seemed to us to be one of those that give rise to palm oil.

Dark rocks of solidified lava served as a base for the ensemble and as a landing place for a prolific colony of crabs too curious to resist a peek.


A sea as green as vegetation caressed the magma. Up and down the gravel that was made of sand there, to the stern of two traditional canoes, each dug in its own trunk.

At the bottom of the stairs, we climb aboard an unobstructed rowboat and, with the sky darkening before our eyes, moments later, the host and boatman pass us to a kind of metallic nutshell.

The destination ferry was out of step with the vessel in which we thought we would relax from the two hours we had spent on the mini-bus, the time of the trip between the capital São Tomé and Ponta da Baleia.

Instead, as soon as we leave the deep bay that also welcomes Vila Malanza and Porto Alegre, the ferry is at the mercy of the Atlantic. For a mere hundred meters, the northern one.

At a certain point, in line with Porto Alegre, we see the eccentric palm trees that delimit the entrance to the homonymous garden, standing out against the sky laden with Gravana.

We could almost swear that these were bamboo arecas, their long, thin trunk is so peculiar, crowned by a tiny canopy in the shape of a feather duster.

The usual quarter of an hour of the crossing is won. The vigorous waves of the almost south Atlantic continue to agitate us, some of them so daring that they melt into the boat.

we distanced ourselves from São Tomé, between bouncing dolphins, however, in the threading of the Ilhéu das Rolas pier.

From the Porto Alegre farm, we can only see the crown of the areca palms and the top of the old mansion that served as its logistical and operational headquarters.

Above, hinted at the sharp point of Pico Cão Grande (663m altitude, 300m from the ground), the phonolite guardian of Ôbo, the jungle that coats the southwest of São Tomé with tropical mystery.

Finally, at about eleven in the morning, we disembarked for the exogenous domain of the Pestana Ecuador resort.

The opening steps in Ilhéu das Rolas confront us with the yellow and blue chapel of São Francisco de Xavier, an unfailing temple, like so many others in the archipelago.

During the XNUMXth century São Tomé and Príncipe was colonized mainly by New Christians who the Inquisition expelled from Portugal, but also by slavers and slaves who ensured the pioneering cultivation of sugarcane in the archipelago.

Over time, Brazilian sugar, much more abundant and of better quality, made São Tomé sugar unnecessary.

Simultaneously, in the image of Old Town on the island of Santiago de Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Príncipe it became a slave supply platform for Brazil.

Every afternoon, dozens of descendants of forced laborers brought in from the coasts of Africa.

Or, later, migrated from Cape Verde, play lively football matches in front of the temple, in the vicinity of the island's pillory and the restored colonial mansion that has it in a small garden.

Even walled, the chapel's sandy atrium fails to sustain a few misdirected or ricocheting balls. Retrieving them comes with the reward of a dip in the emerald sea below.

Let's also hook up with some. Not so brief, yet, rushed by the urge to unravel the real island beyond the hotel.

Once upon a time, Ilhéu das Rolas welcomed more than 600 people from São Tomé, supported by the local school, a series of small businesses, some arable land and easy and guaranteed fishing.

From 2004, however, Pestana Ecuador occupied the north of the islet.

It is true that it employed some of the residents.

But it will also be that it increasingly sought insular exclusivity, through evictions compensated for compensation that the local community classified as meager and malicious.

Today, out of almost 700 São Toméans, one tenth of those who continue to resist the offers of the Pestana Group, the largest investor in São Tomé and Príncipe, generating more than 600 jobs across the country, remain.

Truth be told, resort employees aside, during the discovery walk of Ilhéu das Rolas, we didn't find a single resident.

By helping the party, we managed to misread the map.

In search of the alleged ruins of the old fort, we get lost along unusual paths, with the vegetation around the nearest volcano crater dense and tall.

We became disoriented, in fact, for so long that we were convinced that the term islander would be inappropriate. We came across a herd of pigs, muddy and frightened by our appearance in a land, normally, theirs alone.

We got even more lost, until we decided to plug in the phone data and pay a roaring racket, the price of knowing where we'd gone and how we'd get out.

On the way back to the starting point, we find ourselves on another path, coastal and easy to follow. It followed the sections of the east coast of the island, when we entered it, between the Miradouro do Amor and the rugged, dramatic south of Ponta Cabra.

There, there were deep coves with large cliffs of solidified lava in shades of black and ocher that highlighted the green of the tropical forest.

Different patterns and orientations revealed different lava layers. From the earth and dust accumulated among some, acrobatic coconut trees sprang up, freed from the fierce competition that their counterparts lived on top of the cliffs.

The Atlantic invades these coves with a concentrated fury.

It invests with waves of a bluish-white that roll and thunder large stones of basalt polished by millenary friction. Indifferent and busy, specimens of orange-billed strawtails flew over the suddenness of the elements, tireless fishing trips and returning to their nests.

The waves of waves almost completely disappeared the sandy beaches of Escada and Joana beaches, which, under a more favorable weather, shine, as if embedded in the jungle, and are one of the most picturesque and seductive of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Accordingly, we inaugurated the return to the northern tip, passing by the island's lighthouse, erected in 1929.

Without even thinking about it, we had already crossed the Equator, once up, once down.

In this third passage, we go straight to the landmark that marks it, the supreme monument of Ilhéu das Rolas, also known as the Center of the World.

At the turn of the second decade of the XNUMXth century, the geographical and topographical notions of the archipelago were precarious.

They were limited to measurements with the aim of establishing the limits of the gardens that, in tiny islands, at a certain point, came into conflict.

These measurements and surveys lacked a geodetic network and its rigor.

By that time, in addition to being a naval officer, Carlos Viegas Gago Coutinho, was already an aviator, cartographer and a pilot with all the qualifications and anything else to carry the recently delineated geodesic mission of São Tomé, the materialize between 1915 and 1918.

In 1916, Gago Coutinho disembarked in charge of carrying out the geodesic triangulation of São Tomé, in order to make a topographical map of the archipelago at 1/25.000 scale feasible.

His measurements and establishment of twenty-two major marks and nineteen minor landmarks continued into 1917.

Despite the existence of unmistakable references that served as vertex points, such as the Cigar, the Big Dog and the Small Dog, among others, the almost resident cloudiness that surrounded them forced Gago Coutinho and his team to camp in these places for several days.

Eleven, twelve and even fifteen, always soaked in humidity, or drenched by frequent rains, as happened around Pico Cantagalo (848m).

The resulting accounts, these, had to be done until 1919. Two years after his arrival, Gago Coutinho provided the final letter and the Geodesic Mission Report, considered to be the first complete geodesy work in one of the Portuguese colonies.

Of the vertices it reached, the highlight was that of Ilhéu das Rolas, measured from the equator.

With this primordial vertex, Gago Coutinho proved that latitude zero crossed the north of Ilhéu das Rolas instead of passing between the islet and São Tomé, as had been previously supposed.

In 1936, the monument that celebrates the passage of the equator line and the work of Gago Coutinho, with a white armillary sphere based on a graphic and gaudy world map, as we find it, however, surrounded by coconut trees, banana trees, overlooking the North Atlantic and a glimpse of São Tomé.

Well admired the monument and the panorama, we sat down on the small bench, recovering from the hours of walking we took on our legs.

Composed again, we make our photos. Some already expected, with one foot in each of the hemispheres of the Terra. Others, according to other photographic vertices that come to mind.

About Latitude Zero and Ilhéu das Rolas, every day lasts the same. This one was a long one, with the sunset and the time of all the stings imminent.

We abbreviated the return to the resort's refuge, already in lands of the Northern Hemisphere.

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