It was a extremely short sleep before I was up and at ’em. First up I rang Jean, the contact I have for the ‘Andrea, the cargo boat for Sao Tome that was supposed to leave last Monday but is currently still residing dockside at Port Mole here in Libreville. Jean said Monday or Tuesday.
Is he on crack? There’s a small matter of the first election without Omar Bongo (he croaked it last June) for 42 years which is being held tomorrow. He thinks the borders will be open? He thinks there will be no civil unrest, no riots, no general African-style post-election insanity? I beg to differ my good chap. That boat ain’t going NOWHERE.
Desperate for a Plan B, I managed to persuade Alex the Yank to come to town with me and hang out at Marc the Belgian Yacht Guy’s restaurant on the off chance he was in and I could stalk him, sorry, talk him into going on a jolly over to Sao Tome on his lovely little sail boat.
We had a little company – a couple of locals (a girl whom Alex has entangled himself with and one of the guys from Tatayo’s joint) who tagged along for the ride. We found the restaurant, L’Akb, fairly easily but Marc was not there. His wife, Arlotte, served us with some yummy food and surprisingly cheap drinks (oh yeah, forgot to say, Gabon is generally NOT cheap by any stretch of the imagination) and we whiled away a few hours before Marc turned up and I attempted (but no doubt failed) to impress him with my stories of high adventure on the high seas aboard The Miriam, The September Song, The Barracuda, The Melinda II, The East Pack, The Vagrant, The Mariposa, The Vivo Libre, The Costa Fortuna, The Linge Trader, The Mighty Bootlegger, The Reykjafoss, The Dettifoss, The Mustapha Sy and The Fleumel… but I’ve got to say, he didn’t look convinced! He promised to text me tomorrow and let me know if it was going to be possible.
Fingers and toes crossed.
If my experience with the f—ing ‘Micau’ in Cape Verde (BTW, it STILL hasn’t left!!) is anything to go by, there is NO WAY I can trust the damn ‘Andrea’ boat to leave any time soon. It may be fully loaded, but my word they don’t look like they are in a hurry to go ANYWHERE. Marc really is my only hope if I’m wishing to be shut of Africa by Christmas. August is nearly over. I got to Morocco in MAY. I’m not even half-way through the flaming continent and I’ve still got a bunch of awkward little islands on the right hand side of the map to get to.
He’s got to say yes. I said I’d buy him a GPS and everything.
Tonight was spent in the rather wonderful company of Alex and our new acquaintances, before we popped back to Tatayo’s joint, a little tanked up and just happy to be there, I guess! Mobengo, Justin and I sat up talking until it was decided that we had to be up early in the morning – apparently we’re taking a little excursion to the jungle – so we all hit the hay.
I’ve got to say that I’m usually pretty toxic to mosquitoes, but here I seem to be getting bitten to hell. Although I have my suspicions that it’s not the damn mozzies, it’s the infernal no-see-ums that have me down for supper.
We had a couple of things to do – first up, get some damn maps (sorry, Hugh – charts) of Sao Tome downloaded so we knew where the bally thing is. This was not a success. The GPS that I had purchased had a serial, not a USB link. Marc and I had to search high and low for a reasonably-priced converter (I was quoted €75 in one place!) and in the end the damn thing didn’t work anyway. So I downloaded maps (sorry, charts) from Wikipedia, Google Maps (sorry, charts) and the Lonely Planet site, but they were all about as much use as a sexy nun. Hell with it – we had the co-ordinates, that’s all we needed.
A final trip to the Mbolo supermarket for supplies (loads of water, fish, biscuits and bread) and we were good to go go go.
We set off on the Reol at 2pm and spent the day under sail. Marc caught a HUGE fish, too much for us to eat in one sitting. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a stove on board, so we had to pull a Gollum and eat the bugger raw. Marinate the guy in vinegar for half and hour and strangely enough – not bad.
However, the confluence of raw fish, a can of beer and attempting to sleep below deck took its usual toll on your land-lubbin’ Odysseus here. Yes I hurled a Technicolor Yawn seawards before curling up on deck with the breeze in my hair and the knowledge that if I just avoid going below decks for the duration of the journey, everything would be groovier than Soul-Glo.
Sao Tome. Wow. What a place. We pulled in at around 5pm, without proper charts we had no idea where. It turned out to be a place called Agua-Tzi about halfway down the island. We didn’t want to pull into the capital (also called Sao Tome) as there would have been visas and stamps and paperwork we could have done without – so we sailed into a little bay and anchored down.
The dingy trip to land resulted in me getting my shoes utterly drenched, but AT LAST I was on dry land. It’s taken me three weeks to get here. Three weeks of the paltry 20 I had left of the year. Best not dwell on that, I had given up thinking I would do this thing in a year back in that other ex-Portuguese island, Cape Verde.
Talking of Cape Verde, Sao Tome is EVERYTHING that dreadful place isn’t – it’s GREEN (oh so GREEN), it’s beautiful, the people are wonderful, the beaches are clean, deserted and WHITE, the faded colonial architecture still manages to inspire… A tall, narrow volcano stands proud in the middle of the island like something from the Flintstones. It just looks and feels great.
Upon our unorthodox arrival, the locals of Agua-Tzi came racing out to meet us. One guy, Molo, offered to store the dingy in his home, which we accepted, before we headed into the capital for some nosh.
Sao Tome & Principe is really undeveloped, even for African standards. Its population of 193,000 scrapes by with just $25 million of foreign aid and $5 million from cocoa exports. It has no ATMs, no electricity, no sewage system – the fact that all visitors require a visa just beggars belief. Sao Tome needs tourists like George Lucas needs a neck. But unlike Cape Verde, Sao Tome could easily sustain itself – not only is the soil rich and fertile (and, unlike Cape Verde it rains more than once a year) there are oil deposits within the national boundaries. Result!
On top of that, I for one would warmly recommend a holiday here – the miles and miles of palm fringed beaches are ALL YOURS, trekking the lush green interior would fulfil all of your Lost fantasies (except ones involving Sawyer or Kate) and it has a most agreeable climate.
Just a few thousand tourists a year would double this place’s GDP – it currently gets a paltry 20 visitors per week – so I’m making it my mission to help put Sao Tome on the map, especially after we returned to the boat to find that the tide had gone out, marooning the Reol on the beach – and BLESS THEM the locals from the village (led by Molo) had run over to the boat and lifted the outboard motor out of the water to prevent it being damaged. What champs!!
Contrast that with Cape Verde – brown, barren and inhospitable. And that’s just the people.
Sao Tome – you get a massive tick in my book. I like you and I’ll be back.
We waited for the tide to come in, and at about 2am Marc and I pushed the Reol back into the brine. We both got sodden wet, but we made it out. Thank heavens for removable keels.
That night we made tremendous progress back to Gabon. I really liked Sao Tome, but there was no sense in hanging about – I’ve still got another 92 countries to visit this year AND IT’S BLOOMING SEPTEMBER!!
Now the Reol, bless her, is a simple craft – a manual rudder, no engine (just a little outboard) and sails that are a little past their sell-by date. That being said, we covered over 60 nautical miles before noon, which was awesome going. We were a little off tack, though – managing to plunge down into the dreaded Southern Hemisphere (oh NO!) but managed to fend off the krakens, the hydras and the giant squid that populate the lower uncharted regions of the Earth.
I for my part spent the day getting ridiculously sunburnt, the equatorial sun devouring my lashings of factor 30 like some kind of flesh-eating bug. The dilemma was this – go below deck out of the sun and promptly call Hughie, or stay on deck and glow like the kid in the Ready Brek commercials. I chose the latter. Ouch.
That afternoon we attempted to use a spinnaker sail – a big blowy kite of a thing that you use when the wind and waves are pushing from the rear. Marc’s method of installing it was a little unorthodox (he had never done it before) but it worked a treat and by nightfall we were back on track. I was a little worried about putting it away after the nightmare we had on The Bootlegger (the unruly spinnaker went under the boat) but it was no biggie – I suggested taking it down halyard-first and would-you-Adam-and-Eve it, Marc managed to get it back in the bag quicker than you could say Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat.
All was well aboard the good ship Reol.
Tune Of The Day: Ain’t It The Life by Foo Fighters