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São Tomé and Príncipe: Santo Antonio

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Santo Antonio | São Tomé and Príncipe | Africa

[Visited: September 2014]

When we arrived in São Tomé, we heard that the morning flight of the next day was fully booked. We still preferred to leave the next day, and thanks to our welcoming host and honorary consul, found out that there would be a cargo boat leaving the next afternoon. When we took a look the next morning, the boat was nowhere near full, but the problem was that our names were not on the passenger list. The boat was supposed to leave five hours later, and it surprised me that this would be a problem in Africa. It turned out that accidents with other boats (my brand new travel guide said that one of the two ships that used to sail between São Tomé and Príncipe sank, while the other exploded) had finally resulted in stricter safety measures. When we came back after a couple of hours, and the names of the passenger list were checked by an official, our names were announced as well, and so it was we stepped aboard the vessel that was built and had sailed in Germany. We watched the sun setting the sky aflame, and were offered to lie on two benches downstairs where we slept more than we had expected. When daylight was back, we saw the jagged mountains of the island of Príncipe sticking right into the low lying clouds, but still waited for a long time before docking, making the sailing time add up to fourteen hours.

Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Silhouet of Nossa Senhora da Conceição church at sunset over Santo Antonio

Our first sight of Santo Antonio, the capital of the island, was the reflection of colourful hours in the calm water of the bay. This is supposedly the smallest city in the world, and when we walked through it to the other side of the river Papagaio, it took us less than fifteen minutes. After leaving our stuff in an old people's home, the sun seemed to be gaining ground and it was time to explore the island. The next couple of days, we made long walking tours, using Santo Antonio as our convenient base. We quickly grew accustomed to the streets, the central square where people were trying to catch the weak wifi signal and connect to the outside world, the many stray dogs roaming the city, and of course, its inhabitants who never failed to greet or smile at us. Some of the streets had wrecked cars slowly rusting away, or were lined by ruined houses, but somehow, it gave the city a charming touch instead of a feel of neglect. There was the old church, inevitably dedicated to Santo Antonio, the patron of (among others) animals, fishermen and lost items, standing proudly at the head of the main square. But also a small market, shops, the river running through it.

Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Ruins overgrown by vegetation in Santo Antonio

One other thing making Santo Antonio stand out, is that it is surrounded by spectacularly green mountains: its backdrop of pointy peaks like Pico Papagaio and others is fantastic, also because they are all so close and ready to explore. Our stay in Santo Antonio was very enjoyable indeed. The only thing: no one seemed to know when there would be a flight back to São Tomé. Some believed that there would be two daily flights as compared to the regular one flight, because of the election campaigns. Others claimed the flights were shifted to the afternoon. Without an office, and with the representative of STP Airways in São Tomé, and without a ticket, it was hard to decide when to show up at the airfield. When the French teacher of the city came around our house for old people to tell us that he found a reliable source saying there would be a morning and an afternoon flight the next day, we decided to believe him. The next day, we chartered to motorbike guys to take us to the airfield, where we soon met the guy working in the tower. He got confused, too, but after he called his colleagues in São Tomé, he told us there would surely be no morning plane. We were lucky enough to get on the afternoon flight after exploring more of north of the island.

Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Pico Papagaio reflected in the Papagaio river in Santo Antonio
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): View of the Nossa Senhora da Conceição church in Santo Antonio
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): White house in the small capital city of Santo Antonio on Príncipe island
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): The banks of the Papagaio river are lined with colourful houses
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): View of the main square of Santo Antonio
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Wrecks are a common sight in the streets of Santo Antonio
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Rain showers over the mountains of Príncipe with Santo Antonio in the foreground
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Street in the small city of Santo Antonio
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): Pico Papagaio looming in the background of Santo Antonio, with the main square in the foreground
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): One of the calm streets of Santo Antonio
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): View of the interior of the Nossa Senhora da Conceição church
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): One of the typical houses with veranda in Santo Antonio
Picture of Santo Antonio (São Tomé and Príncipe): One of the houses in Santo Antonio surrounded by vegetation

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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