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São Tomé and Príncipe: Pico Papagaio

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Pico Papagaio | São Tomé and Príncipe | Africa

[Visited: October 2014]

Ever since its peak appeared before me on that first day of my stay on the island of Príncipe, I wanted to climb it. One morning, which started out sunny, looked like the perfect time to scale the pinnacle-shaped peak. I walk the road to Porto Real, which first climbs gradually, then more steeply. At the end, it is a potholed road, and when I reach a turnoff to the right and see the peak to my left, I am happy to see a local guy come out of the bush. He tells me to go ahead, and then turn left, and go straight to the top. That sounds easy: though I had read that taking a guide is necessary to climb to Pico Papagaio, I prefer to do it alone. I find a dirt track, which leads west, but which slowly deteriorates, until I have to wrestle myself through thick vegetation. After a while, I can see the Pico straight above me: I now am on its western side. But there is no trail to be seen, and I realize that this cannot be the right way. With some difficulty, I find my way back to the track, cross what looks like a trail, but also this one strangely ends in the middle of nowhere. I now decide to make my way back to Porto Real. At the square, men are making furniture, and when I ask them about climbing the Pico Papagaio, they ask me to wait. After a while, a pickup truck arrives, and the men call out at the passengers in the back. A strong looking young man with a chicken and a machete in his hands, and boots on his legs, jumps out and asks me to wait. When he comes back, he summons me to follow him, and we walk the other way.

Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Clouds whirling around Pico Papagaio

He pushes on with a steady pace while rain starts to fall on us. After climbing through the rainforest, we reach an open space where we find a crumbling house. Once a plantation, this is now completely abandoned, although I had read that it would be possible to sleep here and use it as a base for exploring the interior of the island. Even the guide needs time to find the trail to the Pico Papagaio now, and he hacks his way through the thick vegetation of the tropical jungle. I am happy to have him here: it would have taken me a lot of time to find the right way here. Once we are on the trail again, it is easy to follow. We are still pretty low, and the trail quickly takes us higher on a steep and slippery slope. We have to use our arms on roots, carefully tread on a narrow path along an abyss, and pull ourselves up a rope. The guide asks if we should pause, but I enjoy this fast pace. When we reach the top, we have hiked just over one hour, including our short search for the way.

Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Guide at the summit of Pico Papagaio in the rain

However, the rain is relentless, and when we reach an open space, we can only vaguely see the sea and some of the surrounding mountains. My guide was pointing in directions, and telling the names of the peaks that are visible on a better day. We walked along the ridge, through the vegetation, for a couple of minutes, until we reached another opening. Here, he told me, you are right above Porto Real and Santo Antonio. Now, however, we were just seeing an impenetrable grey cloud. We waited, and waited a little more, but after waiting for more than forty-five minutes, nothing improved, and we decided to go down the mountain. I was not looking forward to this: I was sure it would be a slippery, muddy affair; combined with the steepness of the mountain, and the fact that it had rained considerably since we climbed, I knew my legs would suffer. The going was faster than I thought, but when we arrived back at the abandoned plantation, my legs were hurting all the same. The sun was shining on us, and to my horror, when I turned around, the Pico Papagaio was almost completely visible. We should have waited just a little more... My guide asked me to wait, and while mosquitoes were taking advantage of this stroke of luck, I walked around the wet grass and flowers. After a while, he came back with a papaya for me, and two big branches full of bananas for himself. We walked down, I got presented to his kids, wife, and new-born baby, and he accompanied me to the crossroads where I took the road back to Santo Antonio. I was dirty, wet, and my legs were hurting, but when I crossed a bridge in Santo Antonio and looked back, the view of Pico Papagaio over the river of the same name filled me with pride: I had been on the top, even though the view has been zero. The views would come upon our departure from the island - and were spectacular.

Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): View from the top in the rain: Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Dirt track at the foot of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Remarkable roots of a tree on the flanks of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Red flower on the flanks of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Boulders towering high above us on the flanks of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): A rope is used to assist getting up one steep section of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Trunk of tree on the flanks of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Tree on the flanks of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): The trail leading up Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Reflection of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Pico Papagaio and other mountains on Príncipe island
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Summit of Pico Papagaio
Picture of Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Dirt track at the foot of Pico Papagaio covered by plants and trees

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Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Pico Papagaio (São Tomé and Príncipe). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Pico Papagaio.
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