Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Sightseeing at the equator

I skipped the conference today, and went sightseeing. At 7:30 (8:00 léve léve time), I caught an employee shuttle bus from one of the big resort hotels here in town. It wound for two and a half hours over bumpy roads, past some stunning beaches and volcanic landscape to the extreme southern end of the island. It was insisted that I take the passenger seat up front. Without exception, I have found the people here incredibly friendly and with time they have been willing to spend helping me find something, take me somewhere or translate! By now, waiting beside the road for fallen trees to be cleared from the road, and detours from a collapsed bridge to ford the river are old hat, and the journey went well.

From the southernmost point, we got onto an open motor boat to take us to the small Ilhéu de Rolas, which includes another resort run by the same company. I've been diligently carrying my waterproof coat everywhere with me. But of course, it was at exactly this moment, amidst the rollercoaster waves and precisely the one time I had no hope of opening my bag safely, that the heavens opened. I spent the rest of the day soaked and splashing inside my boots, feeling a little silly about the perfectly dry and rather heavy coat in my rucksack. But the rain is warm and actually rather refreshing.

Once the boat landed (and the rain abruptly stopped), I quickly headed off into the forest. Pushing overgrown leaves aside, I followed a winding trail of sorts up the side of an extinct volcano. The greens are amazing, with damp cool spots in the shade and oppressive humdity buzzing under respiring banana fronds. Occasionally, the sound of a falling coconut or a wild pig grunting under a boulder rips through the forest. At the top, the rim of the crater reveals a giant caldera, plunging back down in the centre. As the ferns give way to giant lettuce-like leaves, covered in enormous spider webs (tiny spiders), I expect dinosaurs to leap out from every other turn.

A monument marks the line of the equator, and I pause for a photo before plunging back into the forest. There animals are interesting too: lizards everywhere, dragon flies, land crabs and more pigs, wallowing in a deep pool of mud before my approach scares them off. Eventually, the forest thins, giving war to palm trees. Wary of the now more frequent sound of coconuts falling after the heavy rains, I suddenly stumble onto a deserted beach. Bright blue water crashes onto the aa rocks (good one for scrabble, that), and shoots into the air through a blowhole. Not a soul has disturbed the sand, and I sit on driftwood for a long drink in the heat.

The amazing beaches continue as I head back around the coast, hidden in little coves, some inaccessible except via the sea. It's been a few hours since I saw another person, and I eagerly hop back over the rocks to the boat to the mainland.

The boat has been cancelled. Frantic wait for another, followed by a bus that I'm allowed to ride on, and I make it back to São Tomé just in time for dinner at the Potuguese ambassador's house. See: it's not been a day off all day at all!

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