While having breakfast, we decide that the plan for the day is to rent a motorbike and go to the largest plantation of Príncipe island, Sundy, in the northwest. There are plenty of motorbikes around Santo Antonio, and it turns out that you can rent one near the small market. We ask around for a fair price before heading there. I myself am sure I cannot drive a motorbike; my only experience with motorized cycles is on a scooter in Italy, but my travel companion claims she is able to steer us over the roads. Then, when we have a closer look at one, she realizes that it looks a bit more complicated than the motorbikes she once drove. She goes for a test ride with the owner, and when they come back, I see him shake his head, and know we are in for another long walk. A pickup truck offers us a ride to the crossroads, which means we don't have to climb the steep road out of Santo Antonio again. Right after the turnoff, the road becomes a dirt track, and we still have to walk uphill. A car passes, stops a little further on, and out comes the president of the island. It is election time, and Agriculture Day, so he is up for a happening, but makes time for a short chat with us. A most amiable man, and we are not surprised when, the following days, people turn out to be very happy with him.
The dirt track turns out to be a great way to explore more of Príncipe. While walking on the track, with some muddy parts and pools, we are happy we did not take the motorbike. This dirt track is certainly only for experienced drivers. Moreover, walking it gives more opportunity to enjoy the sounds of the tropical forest through which we move, the small streams we cross, and the birds flying overhead. When the forest opens, we know we are coming close to our destination, and soon enough, we see a big building slowly crumbling away on our left: the former hospital. When we have a closer look at the street, we see old rails leading to the very end of the street. A pickup truck passes us, and starts sticking posters to the wooden walls of shacks along the road: the frenzy of the election campaign has reached this older plantation, too. The guard of the plantation agrees to let us in, lifts the boom, and accompanies us. With a soft, uncertain voice, he tells us about the history of the buildings we are seeing - his Portuguese is not difficult to understand. We reach the president's house, and at the back, find a memorial for the tests run during an eclipse of the sun by Englishman Arthur Eddington to find empirical proof for the theory of relativity of Einstein.
Then, as we walk back to the rectangular park-like space with lines of trees in the middle, he tells us that we are free to wander about, but that he cannot accompany us, because doing so would risk his job. I put some money into his hand, and we walk off. More crumbling buildings, stairs that still ooze some kind of elegance, train tracks overgrown by roots. At the end of the square, we find a small church, and a wall with turrets in typical Portuguese style. Women sit in fron of the church is closed; we walk to the other side. Here we find an old locomotive that once pulled one of the trains on the extensive railroad network of this largest plantation estate of Príncipe island. Chicken are picking at the ground around it; lines with laundry are attached to it. A drunk woman staggers at us, and tries to say something, but it is impossible to understand her. We still have time on our sleeve, and decide to walk down to the beach, a mere 15-minute walk. We find a small village right on the beach, and just as we arrive, it starts to rain heavily. One of the young women invites us in; quickly, a small crowd of curious kids gathers around us. When the rain stops, a few of them join us for a walk on the beach, on which colourful boats are parked. We leave the small fishing community behind, and walk the steep path back to Sundy. When we pass the gate, the guard tells us with a smile on his face that thanks to our small contribution, he has been able to buy rice, which will feed his family for a couple of days. We walk to the hospital once again, and now, sneak inside, where we find empty rooms without a roof, and a building in decay. In one room, what looks like a dentist chair lies on the floor - this hospital has seen better days. A light drizzle accompanies us on the walk back to Santo Antonio.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Sundy (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 Sundy.
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