The first time we targeted Fort São Sebastião, we found it inaccessible.
Closing time was 4:30 in the afternoon, too early for what we were going to say.
Barred from the interior of the National Museum of São Tomé and Príncipe, we found ourselves intrigued by the strange, yet familiar surroundings of the monument.
The fortress occupies a sandy section of the tip that encloses the Bay of Ana Chaves, to the south.
It is preceded by the long Av. Marginal 12 de Julho, baptized as a road commemoration of the 1975 independence of the colony archipelago.
In the case of São Tomé and Príncipe, the ties that unite the nation of the equator to the former metropolis are numerous, and are everywhere.
The Fortified Colonial Museum of Fort São Sebastião
The avenue stretches between colonial houses, shaded by African trees, and the Atlantic Ocean. On a curve that orients it to the west, it leaves us next to a historical installation.
There, in the middle of an uneven lawn, there is an obelisk, erected to commemorate the 1970 visit of the Portuguese President of the Republic to São Tomé.
On the occasion, Américo Tomás disembarked from the ship “Príncipe Perfeito”. the island of prince, had already visited her six years before.
Directly ahead, three white statues contemplate the fort.
They represent the navigators and settlers João de Santarém, Pêro Escobar and João de Paiva.
Until independence, these and other statues of Portuguese figures and personalities occupied prominent places in squares and gardens of the Sao Tome island.
In 1975, the São Toméan authorities gathered several of them in the museum. As we witnessed, the obelisk and the statues are on the loose.
They have the company of Rolotte – Beira Mar, a design expression of the Sagres brand that looks more like a box of paper napkins, with coconut trees as antennas.
Whenever the lack of customers was confirmed, the guy at the counter left the bar's gloomy and claustrophobic interior.
When a friend visits him, they chatter in the shadow of Pêro Escobar.
With a square plan, the fort is surrounded either by sand or large basaltic stones, some of which are polished and rounded by the comings and goings of the tides and waves.
At that time, low tide is in effect.
A group of students, certified by their uniforms, wander to and fro from a tree that the barrenness and salinity of the soil had tortured and defoliated.
We went around the fort, without haste, attentive to the successive expressions of Santomean history and life.
Returning to the starting point of the obelisk, we bend to the beginning of Ana Chaves Bay, where we come across small platoons of more students leaving the school.
From Beira Atlântico to the Frenetic Municipal Market of São Tomé
We walked for a walk, along the cove.
Arriving at the piers on the extension of Praça da Independência, with the pink customs house and imperial palm trees in the background, we find ourselves with an unexpected task.
At the top of the pier, armed with large buckets and bowls, several women were waiting and seemed to be fighting for the freshly caught fish, still aboard elementary speedboats.
The fishery did not seem to satisfy the demand, nor did it solve the fishmongers' growing impatience.
We cut to the heart of the city, along Travessa do Pelourinho. A short time later, we are faced with the real genesis of the problem.
The Municipal Market was packed with buyers interested in fresh products. The varinas knew the money that search could bring them. They felt frustrated to match.
The São Tomé market demonstrates an African and frenetic world of color and shapes, especially outdoors, where natural light remains intact.
It brings out the hues of tropical fruit and vegetables, the exuberant patterns in the clothes of the vendors and those of some sunshades that give you a refuge from the afternoon brazier.
The Municipal Market of São Tomé is a matriarchal domain.
It is composed of authoritarian ladies and girls who dislike the photographic incursions of visitors.
We did not expect that, even favored by the common Portuguese language, and by the experience we have dealing with such cases, we would find ourselves facing such resistance.
As we did not expect to find a nearby supermarket, called Pingo Doxi and with a brand image to emulate that of the original company.
A Walk to the Rhythm of São Tomé
With a few exceptions, the closest male workers occupy a vast area of Av. Conceição, next door.
They are the drivers of a yellow fleet of taxis, small buses and Hiace-style vans that, like the many motorcycle taxis, roam the city and connect it to the nearest towns.
With so much to discover in the capital, we continued on foot.
We walk along Av. da Independência until we identify the river flanked by vegetation that gives the name to the adjoining avenue, Água Grande.
Through the latter, again towards the ocean, we cross the urban vent in front of the Cathedral of São Tomé and the pale pink In-person Palace, also known as the People's Palace but which, for reasons of protocol and security, the people keep away.
We glimpse the choreography of presidential guards, in troop-green uniforms and white helmets and boots, beneath the nation's fluttering flag.
Without much more to appreciate that its resumption of immobility, weakened from so much walking, we crossed the Água Grande again, pointing to the grid of colonial buildings in the streets with Portuguese-African and African names by Patrice Lumumba, Angola and Mozambique.
For a brief moment, the blue-pink and youthful charm of the “Moda Ideal” Beauty Salon holds us back.
Xico's Bar and a Fish Bowl that History left on the island of São Tomé
We feel the physicists already in tatters. It is with relief that we come across Xico's Café, the self-titled “flavor of Portugal in São Tomé”, managed by a Portuguese man who has moved from Sintra.
At that time, he had lived in São Tomé for a decade, as a kind of link between the former metropolis and the stunning tropical refuge.
We installed ourselves at a table at the top, entertained with the gastronomic and convivial action below and with tasting the half Portuguese, half African snacks that we ordered.
On the way out, street vendors hand us colorful fruit.
At least until the photographic persistence with which we respond to the challenge tires them and demoralizes them.
Another woman passes them. It has a face that looks Portuguese to us and skin that is very golden in the equatorial sun. Wear a warm patterned capulana under a pink top.
On his head he carries a bowl full of fish, brought from the jetty where we had already been.
A short conversation makes us realize that he was not comfortable with the attention we devoted to his difference from conventional São Toméan citizens.
We realized, however, that any whim of history would have separated it from the more than four thousand colonial residents who, during the 70s, left the archipelago for the metropolis.
Returnees from Angola and the “City of Tchiloli”
At the same time that many hundreds of São Toméans at the time were entering the equator islands, fugitives from the post-independence political-military instability of Angola.
We intuited that, as a result of one of these urgent flows, it had become semi-out of phase in São Tomé. And that, apart from curious visitors' lenses, it lived well with its reality.
Fruit ladies share gossip. Their mouths are good-natured, almost as well-meaning.
When we go through the lenses for your banana, mango, papaya, passion fruit and even some cocoa provided. for some garden, grab loose capulanas and cover themselves completely.
Nearby, we find the headquarters of the construction company Teixeira Duarte, in the threading of an old poster that announces the exhibition “The City of Tchiloli” stretched over the worn salmon facade of a derelict, derelict building.
The exhibition displayed images of the complex but rich blend of European and African cultures, visible, obvious, throughout the city we had passed and passed through again.
The next day, we returned to Fort of São Sebastião. Hours. Again among students released from their obligations.
We examine the heritage that proves more than half a millennium inhabited, colonized, enslaved.
Finally, released and delivered to his fate of São Tomé and Principe.
At this time, São Tomé evolved what it evolved. It increased in a measured way, in a civilizational harmony that continued to dazzle us.