In just a few kilometers, the route towards the northern interior of the island confirms a new journey through time.
The urgency that moved us was that of knowledge. Unexpectedly, the road to the province of Lobata leaves us at the base of a long cobbled ramp that grass was trying to invade.
It led to the old hospital building in Roça Rio do Ouro, despite the nearly half-century of degradation, still distinguished from the surrounding jungle by the salmon tone of the one-hundred-meter façade.
The hospital was built during the 20s in response to the growing population of settlers and workers of the Valle Flôr Agricultural Society, one of the largest and most influential in the archipelago.
Anyone, like us, is faced with the number of passersby who go up, down and live in the walled boulevard, are tempted to think that nothing has changed since the colonial era.
The Post-Colonial Life of Roça Rio do Ouro, now Roça Agostinho Neto
And yet, in the post-independence period of São Tomé and Príncipe, the farm was renamed in honor of the father of Angola's independence, Agostinho Neto.
Both the hospital and the farm in general lost their function and operational capacity. The hospital never recovered from the logistical abandonment that victimized it.
The garden, this one, only a few years ago showed productive signs of life, detectable, above all, by the resumption of cocoa production.
We reach the staircase of the central building. At the top, a rug spread over the front banister precedes the entrance. A patched wooden door, gaping open, serves as an invitation.
We entered. Instead of a reception of nurses, doctors and patients, we find two women who are ill-seated peeling and cutting the cassava for lunch.
They are preparing it next to a corner of the atrium adapted as a home, like so many others that we would come across, although most of the houses remain in the old shantytowns for workers and families.
We let ourselves get lost, for a while longer, in that hospital abandonment, under the gaze of the girls surprised by the intrusion.
The Santomense Bustle in the Old Sanzalas of Roça Agostinho Neto
Dismayed by the lack of other residents or interlocutors, we moved to one of the alleys of sanzalas.
Here, yes, the day-to-day life of the farm was concentrated: on clotheslines with colors that gleamed in the sun. In parents and children who shared tiny rooms and halls and each other's lives.
A young woman from São Tomé bursts out of a walled alley.
Hold us up with an unconditional smile that not even the next two generations she was carrying, one in her arms, the other in her very pregnant belly, seemed to bother.
A passerby from your neighbor, returning from the sea, shows us a freshly caught porcupine fish.
We arrived at an unobstructed courtyard, spread out in a flat area between sanzalas. From there, we observe, in panoramic format, its various levels.
The closest, added afterwards, covered by large plates. The older ones are bigger, still covered with Portuguese tile aged by the tropical sun.
And, overhanging, as was supposed in a former colony blessed by Catholicism, the church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, almost as white as the white clothes on the flowing clotheslines.
The Timely Return of the Ever Valuable Cocoa
Below this kind of playground, finally, in plastic greenhouses and dismal warehouses, we witness how, in recent times, the garden had been inspired by history, how it sought to revive the times when São Tomé and Príncipe was the world's largest producer of cocoa.
A worker spread the beans that were drying in the stifling heat. Four or five others carried large, full baskets between greenhouses and warehouses.
In a nearby store, a team of women sitting or squatting, some with children, picked cocoa from large piles, with inexhaustible patience.
In recent decades, associated with chocolate popularization and derivatives, the demand for cocoa has greatly increased.
It justified its production in São Tomé and Príncipe, even if semi-craft and in tiny quantities, if compared, for example, with the great African rival, Ghana. São Tomé and Príncipe, Ghana and Africa in general are now working on their own.
They still celebrate their independence.
A panel with a black bust dominates, highlighted on the post-colonial plaque identifying the property: “Estatal Agro-Pecuária Dr. António A. (Agostinho) Neto.”
Not far away, we come across the worn green building that houses the local school.
There takes place a fierce football match, disputed by the kids in an open land.
On the other side of the wall that delimits it, a race of tires takes place, guided downhill by four or five young men with sticks.
Lagoa Azul, a Dazzling Piece of the North Atlantic
Turn after turn, we had been circling the farm for over an hour. The itinerary to the north of the island that we were supposed to follow by the end of the day comes to mind. We return to the jeep.
We point to the north coast of São Tomé.
We pass through Guadeloupe. Then, we cut to Lagoa Azul, a cove embedded in a peculiar earth appendage, enclosed by a grassy promontory from which a miniature lighthouse of the same name emerges.
At the same time, the beach we unveiled there is stunning and cozy, with its sample of sand revealed by the low tide, below an environment of pebbles and rocks of volcanic origin.
Translucent Atlantic waters bathe the beach, with an intense turquoise tone, more resplendent than the greens of grass and tamarinds and other surrounding trees. A portentous baobab also faces the beach and, until the fall came, leafy.
Some expats were enjoying themselves in the tepid lagoon, taking time off from the missions that took them to São Tomé. Meanwhile, they were joined by a family from São Tomé, who arrived from the stall that serves grilled fish and bananas there.
Let's catch up with a short break for bathing delight. Under the almost equatorial sun - the Equator line passes over Ilhéu das Rolas, we dry ourselves in three times. We return to the road.
We point to Neves, the capital of the district of Lembá. There we stopped for a few moments to buy snacks. We proceeded southwest.
The Roça Monte Forte Hotel Project
In the next village, we visited Roça Monte Forte, at the time, an accommodation project in which a Mr. Jerónimo Mota was engaged, who welcomes us with open arms, dressed in a jersey of the national team, commemorating his defeat by Greece in the final of Euro 2004.
Jerónimo shows us the main building, all of it made of wood, except for the roof, once again made of classic Portuguese tile.
The host makes us sit in the lobby on Super Bock terrace chairs. Serves us natural juices.
When the refreshments are over, he leads us to the porch and balconies, each with privileged views over the green slope and the edge of the North Atlantic.
Jerónimo hands us an agenda sheet, with the address and contacts scribbled in a contortionist handwriting that, no matter how hard we tried, we would always fail to imitate.
After saying goodbye, he accompanied us back to the asphalt.
The road from Monteforte to Anambó
Next comes Esprainha. And Monteforte, the village, now with the name all together.
As we passed the bridge over the Água Monte Forte river, we saw a herd of cows stretched out over the shallow stream, torn between drinking the water and devouring the tender leaves of newly fallen trees.
The cowboy who guards them, with an easy smile, approaches.
He informs us that the herd is from Roça Diogo Vaz and he laughs aloud when we jokingly alert him that, spending so much time in the river, the animals would turn into hippos.
The road becomes even more winding.
It is surrounded by a dense blanket of dry leaves with an autumnal look, even if autumn is yet to visit São Tomé. It slips into a dense tropical forest that insinuates itself into the sea.
From the Monument to the Discoveries of Anambó to the End of the Road
On the verdant, humid and volcanic seaside of Anambó we find the pattern of the discoveries that marks the place where, in 1470, João de Santarém and Pêro Escobar, the Portuguese discoverers of São Tomé, disembarked.
We went down the entire coast of Santa Clotilde and, in the meantime, that of Santa Catarina.
There, the road advances at the base of a steep slope, just over two meters above sea level.
We go through a picturesque tunnel that an advance on the cliff imposed on the itinerary.
A few more kilometers to the south, crossing the river Bindá, the road faces the wild vastness of the Obo Natural Park and give up.
Force us to reverse path.
With the sun already gone to the opposite side of the island, we only interrupted our return to Ribeira Funda.
We did it dazzled by the joy with which some kids, in a ball, repeated acrobatic dives into the deep river, covered by ducks. More than that, of suspicious color.
All the action and fun taking place in front of the colonial mansion of an old farm. Somewhere in the north, exuberant northwest of São Tomé. opposite end of the island.