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São Tomé and Príncipe: Roça Monteforte

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Roça Monteforte | São Tomé and Príncipe | Africa

[Visited: October 2014]

After the exciting hike on the slopes of São Tomé mountain in the morning, we decide to head south and see some more of the western side of the island. Our first stop is Roça Monteforte, an old, and still functioning, cocoa plantation. Shortly after leaving the main road and driving up a steep track, we arrive at an open space, where we find what looks like a plaza on our left. In a horseshoe-shape, white colonial buildings with red roofs are built around the plaza. On the other side, we see a much more modern small school, and our presence of course attracts the attention of people in the Roça. Kids surround us, just out of curiosity, and walk with us as a young man takes us on an improvised tour of the plantation.

Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): Cocoa driers at Roça Monteforte

An entire building is dedicated to drying the cocoa fruits, but it has since long broken down, and is closed. We are allowed inside, and see the very long oven under the plateau where the cocoa fruits were placed to dry. We have seen a functioning oven at Roça Ize, on the other side of the island. But, the guide explains, there is a better way to dry the cocoa than putting it on an oven. He takes us to a terrain with long wooden tables, with plastic roofs. The tables are full of cocoa. Here, it takes one week to dry the cocoa beans sufficiently for further processing. We see women carrying bucket loads of beans to lay them on one of the tables. Each table has a big wooden fork, used to periodically move the beans around. The process is closely watched, and when beans have dried for a week, they are taken away, and replaced by fresh beans.

Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): Cocoa fruits in various colours

We walk a little up the hill, and see the place where the beans arrive, and are put into the buckets. Women constantly walk to this place, fill their buckets, put them on their heads, and deposit the contents on one of the tables. We now are curious about the whole process. Cocoa fruits are harvested around the plantation, their husk removed, the beans are then taken from the white tissue in which they sit, and those beans need to dry before they can be taken away, by trucks, to the port of São Tomé where they will be shipped to Europe to be made into chocolate. Knowing that in some parts of Africa, cocoa farmers have no clue what they are actually growing, we ask them if they ever tasted chocolate, and they all smile with sparkling eyes. But, they say, they also like to eat the beans themselves, and give us some to taste. There definitely is a hint of chocolate in it. We visit the small hotel of Roça Monteforte, housed in a colonial building, and chat with some more locals - as friendly as all people we met on this beautiful island, before we move on further south - to the end of the road. Eating chocolate will never be the same.

Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): The white colonial buildings of Roça Monteforte
Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): Shutter windows at the hotel of Roça Monteforte
Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): Women carrying bucket loads of cocoa to the drying tables
Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): Large wooden tables with drying cocoa at Roça Monteforte
Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): Cocoa drying section of Roça Monteforte with laundry drying on the ground
Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): Building of Roça Monteforte containing the oven in which cocoa used to be dried
Picture of Roça Monteforte (São Tomé and Príncipe): The broken oven of Roça Monteforte, in which cocoa used to be dried

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