Saturday, July 23, 2005

Very much not dead: a calm week in paradise

Just as the blender masters at Smoothie King are always able to get just the right amount of bananas, strawberries and yogurt to make an Angel Food the best tasting thing in the world on a hungover Sunday morning ride to Long Island, Sao Tome exists as an ideal blend of the Caribbean, Africa and Portugal to break up an at times arduous journey in Central Africa.

Sao Tome and Principe are a pair of small small islands off the West coast of Africa in the Atlantic. The second smallest country in Africa and only 30 years independent from Portugal, they couldn´t find the beaten path with a GPS. The people are completely guileless and incredibly helpful, and the scenery is beautiful. Even the Nigerians here are honest, one drove us in from the airport for free!

So we set up camp here in Sao Tome town. We rented a little house and a motorcycle (though we never did figure out the Portuguese word for "helmet"). The house came with a dog named Jimmy. Jimmy isn´t very smart and likes to bark. But other than that the house is great. It is an old colonial right on the beach. 15 foot high ceilings, two bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, porch, bathroom bigger than most of my college dorm rooms, if only it were in Boston... We have spend the days scuba diving (hanging out with sea turtles and sharks and whatnot) and running around the island on the bike. The coastal roads are incredible, jungle rising on one side, black sands beaches with crashing waves on the other, twists and turns the whole way. Little villages to stop and eat bivalve brochettes (and bananas). Climbing up the mountain to the old overgrown plantations. (Historical background: The Portuguese found these volcanic islands uninhabited and completely covered in jungle in 1480-something. They landed, looked around, said looks good, go get the slaves, and started clearing the land for plantations. They cleared about 25% of it and started growing coffee, cocoa, vanilla, sugar cane, etc. When the Sao Tomeans got there independence - in 1975 - they looked around, said looks good, high fived Karl Marx, and nationalized everything. At which time the Portuguese left and the jungle came back. Things have since swung back the capitalist direction, greatly helped by the discovery of oil.)

The scuba diving has been great. It isn´t the best in the world, but there are NO other divers. In addition to the usual assortment of little colorful things, there are big sand sharks (6 feet or so long) and sea turtles.

Other than that not too much is new. We hang out with the small expat community here (they are SO excited to have someone new to talk to here) and go to their parties. We went to the American party. Boring. I forgot how dull these things can be in countries where proselytizing isn´t punishable with something primeval. The ambassador gave some long and boring speech because the crew of the USS Bear - some Coast Guard boat we sent over here - was in town to help "preserve the Sao Tomean and Principean national integrity" - layman´s translation - keep the Nigerians´ fucking hands off the oil that rightly belongs to Chevron.

That's pretty much it. I am headed back to the mainland tomorrow to look for gorillas. I will be home in less than two weeks.

No comments: