How would you sum up your Sao Tome experience?
Tamsin: Coffee, chocolate and beaches, plus situated in my favourite continent of Africa – what more could you want!
Jayne: You simply can’t compare it to any other Explore trip.
What were your highlights?
Jayne: It might make me sound hysterical, but when I tasted chocolate made by a local chocolatier, Claudio, I almost cried. The flavour was incredible and seeing the attention to detail throughout the process – even removing the small part of the bean that makes it slightly bitter - made the experience even more memorable. After spotting a Santomean chocolate torte in Sainsbury’s many years ago I knew I had to go to experience it for real!
Tamsin: I think the friendliness of the people really took us by surprise and added a whole new dimension to the trip. The children were content just walking along beside us and chatting, even giving us hilarious nicknames – I left my snorkel so they could carry on exploring.
Jayne: Yes the interactions really brought the history and local culture to life. For example we visited a few rocas – or plantations, that were made up of derelict buildings but still operated and it was fascinating see and understand how small scale production happens in the middle of the rainforest.
Tamsin: As an animal lover I was expecting to see a variety, but the sheer un-spoilt nature of the island made wildlife spotting even better. We floated through the mangroves, the only boat around with just the sound of the paddles dipping into the water, monkeys and birds darting around the canopy. The place is really untouched; it’s difficult to find places that can offer an experience like that!
What was it like having expert Explore Leader Kathleen Becker as your leader?
Tamsin: Kathleen definitely added to the trip – she must know everyone on Sao Tome! She’s always interacting and bringing you into the heart local’s lives. She can give you a broad perspective on the life and history of the island.
Jayne: Kathleen was amazing and what’s more we also had a local guide, Cesaltinao, who told us personal stories and highlighted the Portuguese influence on the island.
How was the accommodation and food – apart from the chocolate!
Jayne: There’s a great combination of accommodation giving you opportunities to see all parts of the island. At the start you get to see the local town and street vendors, plus the hotel is opposite the presidential palace – very fancy! Then half way through your stay you move to the other end of the island with individual stilted houses. Cue morning dips in the sea and falling asleep to the sounds of waves. Unlike many other Explore trips there aren’t any early starts so you have time to snorkel or swim before breakfast.
Tamsin: Yes those cabins were so peaceful, we definitely enjoyed sitting out on the veranda enjoy a passionfruit caiprinha, with un-interrupted views of the horizon and the locals out fishing. Take us back!
Jayne: We were both pleasantly surprised with the food – all fresh fish and vegetables plus a surprising amount of cabbage! Obviously the chocolate, but the coffee and ice cream is also sensational.
Tamsin: Breadfruit was also a firm favourite and every rainforest walk we were treated to various fruit plucked straight from the trees by our local guides. We even learnt how you’re supposed to correctly cut a mango up.
Jayne: it’s not really a surprise if you consider the size of the island but the short driving distances means you’ve got more time to see the island. Most people (maybe not our well-travelled customers!) haven’t heard of Sao Tome either so as a group we were virtually the only tourists around which made our interactions with the locals even more authentic.
Tamsin: The rugged beauty. A lot of the island is taken up by the Obo National Park with no roads so everywhere you look it’s breath-taking. We also stood astride the equator; we missed it initially so we had to back track with our GPS but it’s definitely one to tick off the bucket list!