The World Nomads Podcast – São Tomé and Príncipe

It’s a destination few have heard of; two tiny islands off equatorial West Africa where the descendants of escaped slaves and shipwrecked Angolans find the pace of life in the four-street capital too hectic.

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The World Nomads Podcast – São Tomé and Príncipe

The Atlantic archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe includes two islands and several islets off the western equatorial coast of Africa. Once the largest producers of cocoa, a billionaire astronaut is turning it into a sustainable tourism hub perfect for travelers with a World Nomads mindset.

What’s in the episode

01:39 Paul’s history lesson on São Tomé and Príncipe

06:28 The Galapagos of Africa

09:44 Now we know where it is and a little about its culture – let’s take a deep dive

11:58 Ute explains why it’s worth visiting

16:04 Who is visiting?

18:30 Your Questions

22:54 How safe is São Tomé and Príncipe?

27:37 The beach where the Bacardi Rum ad was filmed

33:29 Next week

Quotes from the episode

It's kind of an unforgettable, precious island, and you realize how few places there are like that ...” – Aoife

Both islands have an amazing culture, because they have the Portuguese Christian culture, but with those kinds of African rhythms.” – Paul

“Apparently, all the cacao trees around the world that we use to make chocolates are actually hybrids. And Principe is the last place on Earth that has a population of pure cacao trees.” – Ute

I think above all, it's that castaway feel. That sense of somewhere that most people have not discovered.” - Richard

Who is in the episode

Aoife O Riordain is a travel writer and regular contributor to The Daily Telegraph travel section, Conde Nast Traveller, The London Evening Standard and various other mainly UK based publications. Aoife has written an article for World Nomads about safety in São Tomé and Príncipe. You can find it below under resources and links.

Paul Bloomfield is a writer and photographer based in England’s West Country, focusing on adventure travel, wildlife and conservation, culture and heritage. His work appears in Lonely Planet books, plus magazines and newspapers including The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Australian, BBC World Histories and Wanderlust. Read his article on Why São Tomé and Príncipe Should Be on Your Travel List.

Ute Junker worked as a magazine editor and TV and digital producer before running away to become a travel writer. She now gets to pursue her passions – including food, history, art, architecture, and wildlife – across the globe. Read the article she wrote for Traveller about Visiting the West African islands of Sao Tome and Principe: The two intriguing island destinations no one can locate on a map

Richard Mellor is a freelance travel writer who has written for Metro, The Times, The Guardian, Click, and The Mail on Sunday. Richard mostly writes about travel and/or food. His first book, Foodie City Breaks: Europe, is available on Amazon.

Resources & links

Is São Tomé and Príncipe Safe? 5 Travel Safety Tips.

Learn more about South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth.

Want to make money while you travel? Check out World Nomads Partner Program.

Learn how to capture meaningful travel stories and go on global scholarship assignments for World Nomads.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

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Kim:  Hi, Kim and Phil with you. And Phil, do you have any idea what reportedly is the fourth-least visited country in the world?

Phil:  Let me see. Does it really matter? I think you're going to tell me anyway, aren't you?

Kim:  Yes. Stay right there.

Speaker 3:  Welcome to the World Nomads Podcast, delivered by World Nomads, the travel lifestyle and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous independent traveler.

Kim:  Thank you for tuning in from wherever you get your favorite podcasts. And Phil, as you are aware, but listeners may not be, reportedly the fourth-least visited country in the world is the destination we're about to explore in this episode. Sao Tome and Principe.

Phil:  You say reportedly because you haven't counted the numbers yourself. Is that right?

Kim:  That's right. Yeah.

Phil:  Okay. Look, it's an archipelago of islands in the Atlantic. Sao Tome and Principe include two main islands and several islets in the Gulf of Guinea. That's off the Western Equatorial Coast of Africa. The population is mainly Forros, which is derived from the Portuguese word forro, which means "free man." And they're descendants of immigrant Europeans and African slaves. Another group, the Angolares, descended from runaway Angolan slaves who were shipwrecked on Sao Tome in 1540. It's fascinating.

Kim:  That's a book, isn't it?

Phil:  That's just fascinating. Can I just say, if you want to go off the beaten track, this is where you go!

Kim:  As we are about to find out, our first guest is Paul Bloomfield, a writer and photographer from England who focuses on adventure travel, wildlife, and conservation, culture, and heritage. And we kick it off, obviously acknowledging that not a lot of people have heard of this country.

Paul:  You know it's the second smallest country in Africa, and I believe it's still the least visited. It's unsurprising most people don't know where it is, or what it is, or what its history is. It's a pair of volcanic islands in the Gulf of Guinea that lie a little way... The nearest part of the coast is Gabon. You can imagine these two tiny specks floating in the middle of the Gulf of Guinea, which obviously means they're quite tricky to get to. For Brits going there, pretty much the only way to get there is via Lisbon on a flight that stops in Accra in Ghana. It takes a fair while to get there. You pretty much must stay overnight in Lisbon to get there. I guess that's one of the reasons why not many people go. Something like that.

Phil:  It's Portuguese speaking then, I take it from the Lisbon connection?

Paul:  It is, yeah. Most of the people who are on the islands at the moment were brought over by the Portuguese to work the plantations. You're right in saying that Portuguese is the lingua franca across the islands. But of course, these people came from different places, mostly other Portuguese colonies in Africa. Angola and most of the people on both islands, particularly Principe, they're descended from people brought from Cape Verde. So, on Sao Tome, most people speak a dialect called Forro, which you wouldn't understand it if you spoke Portuguese because it's that mix of Cape Verdean, and Portuguese, and things that developed on the island. And then on Principe, which is the smaller island, traditionally people spoke something called Linguae, which very few people speak now. And then, on Sao Tome, there's another group of people who call themselves Angolares, who they believe that they're descended from a group of enslaved people who escaped from a shipwreck and vanished off into a quilombo, these settlements formed by escaped slaves, similar to what happened in South America. They have their own language as well, Angolares, which is different again.

Kim:  I'm getting Suriname vibes here, Phil. Suriname vibes.

Paul:  Exactly. Exactly. Like the Maroons in Suriname. It's the same kind of thing. And in Brazil. It happened in numerous places. The slaves that have a rebellion, or just runoff, and they'd form these communities, quilombos. Angolares is spoken by this community who basically if you see a fisherman around Sao Tome, it's going to be Angolares.

Phil:  West Africa, it's kind of a bit tricky really, isn't it?

Paul:  In terms of reaching it, or in terms of politics?

Phil:  Yeah, all the above.

Paul:  One of the problems we've always had is people talking or writing about travel is that places get lumped together. When you talk about West Africa, you'd say, "You don't want to mess around in the dodgier bits of Nigeria." But Sierra Leone, for example, is having a bit of a renaissance, and now is becoming very popular, certainly amongst Brits, because it was a former British colony. It's safe, we don't have a civil war, it's got beautiful beaches, so that's very popular. You sort of must balance those things.

Paul:  And similarly, in Central Africa, of course, you would need to be very careful going somewhere like DRC, whereas Congo is generally much safer. The thing about Sao Tome is, of course, it didn't have that sort of violent birth, and after independence in '75. It's had its political problems, but, it’s been largely pretty peaceful. It's a very safe, friendly kind of place, particularly Principe. Because even though it's a country, Sao Tome and Principe, they have a great deal of autonomy. And Principe's government acts very independently of Sao Tome, certainly in things like trade, and industry, and the environmental issues and tourism. It's quite progressive.

Phil:  When you say progressive, easy-going kind of people?

Paul:  Very much so. Very much. Of the two islands, Sao Tome is substantially bigger, but still pretty small. You can drive from the north end, which is where the airport and the capital of Sao Tome City is, to the south, in a couple of hours. Something like that. And the southern half of both islands are covered by a national park, called Obo National Park, which is just incredibly green. Both islands are about 30 million years old, and they're volcanic. You have these huge, quite phallic volcanic outcrops called phonolites, that sort of loom up from the jungle. The mist tends to gather around them. Very humid country. There's a lot of cloud. Even in the dry season, it's very cloudy.

Paul:  You get amazing blue skies after rain, and then clouds. The cloud swirls around the top of these phonolites. They call it [foreign language 00:06:17] I'm going to pronounce it. It's something like [foreign language 00:06:20] It's basically flying fish milk. It's hugely biodiverse. The phrase is, it's the Galapagos of Africa because it's got more endemic bird species and plant species for its size than the Galapagos. You're not going to run across a giant tortoise, or a blue-footed booby, or a marine iguana. There are lots of birds flitting around the jungle you may or may not see. It's very wild.

Kim:  There is a great [inaudible 00:06:47] in the article that you wrote for us of those phonolite rocks that you spoke about, and they very much are phallic looking.

Paul:  It's hard to get away from it. I don't think you need to be a teenager to see that comparison.

Kim:  Nature aside, you went there at a time when they had this vibrant festival. For a place that people pretty much don't know anything about, how is it on the festival calendar?

Paul:  Actually, both islands have an amazing culture, because they have the Portuguese Christian culture, but with those kinds of African rhythms, particularly Cape Verde. You probably know Cape Verde has a unique musical culture. On Sao Tome, they have a festival called the [foreign language 00:07:33] which is again related to an old Christian story. But on Principe, there are only I think about 6000 people living on Principe, and pretty much everyone's involved in this festival. You can imagine the streets of what they call the main city, Santo Antonio, which is tiny. It's about one church, a couple of shops, and a couple of bars. That's about it.

Paul:  Once a year, every day on the Feast of San Lorenzo, on the 10th of August, everybody gets together, and basically, it's a re-enactment of a medieval play, a French chanson about the character they call Don Carlo Magna, who is Charlemagne, and a [inaudible 00:08:14] Admiral [inaudible 00:08:16] who according to the story, stole a Christian relic, and Charlemagne has to go and fetch it back. Obviously, this was during the time when the Moors ruled Andalusia, and one of the Christian knights falls in love with the Moorish admiral's daughter, [inaudible 00:08:32] which is why the festival is called [foreign language 00:08:34]

Paul:  Basically, the whole thing is a bunch of guys dressed up in red and yellow clothes, banging drums and whistling. They're the Moors. And then, more sedate guys dressed in blue, and white, and green, who are the Christians. There's a lot of marching, and banging drums, and shouting at the others saying, "Give us back our daughter! Give us back our relic!" And then they have a few fights. And this goes on for about 14 hours. But it's just incredible.

Kim:  That is sensational. The article is all about why you should travel there. If you could sum it up, why would a nomad want to visit?

Paul:  I think the first thing is the culture. As I say, the festival is just one part of it. But the people, particularly on Principe, are friendly and peaceful. And considering 45 years ago, these people, weren't slaves before independence. They were what were called [foreign language 00:09:24] They were contract workers, but they were pretty much treated as slaves. And they're living in these plantations, which are ready-made communities. But they're so lively and friendly and full of joy.

Kim:  Thanks, Paul. Now we know where it is, Phil. A little of its history and culture. Let's take a deep dive. [inaudible 00:09:45] worked as a magazine editor and TV and digital producer before she ran away to become a travel writer. Lots of people listening will either be inspired by that or get exactly where she's coming from. And she agrees, this country is off the beaten track, but it has so much to offer.

Aoife:  What these two tiny islands, the definition of remote, they are. They float off the coast of West Africa, they're 200 kilometers from Gabon. No one goes to Gabon anyway. And then, the two islands are 200 kilometers apart. First, you must know where they are. Secondly, you must know what you're going to do when you get there, which admittedly is not an awful lot, but that can be pleasurable. What I find fascinating is, you think of somewhere like French Polynesia, which again, is remote islands in the middle of nowhere, not a whole lot to do, but they are super touristy and super visited.

Aoife:  And why is that? That's because they were colonized by the French. And so, you have painters going out, live there like Gauguin. You've got French administrators, and they're all singing the praises, and it builds up to a thing. Poor little Sao Tome and Principe have been sitting there, the Portuguese owned it, didn't do a whole lot. And then, they got independence, and no one's done anything, and it's only now that there's starting to be some investment in tourism. Hopefully, we're going to see some people go and discover that these places are beautiful.

Phil:  You say there's not a lot to do there. Is that part of the attraction of it?

Aoife:  Totally. I spent most of my time on Principe, which is the smaller island. It's hilarious. You go to Sao Tome, and you go, "Okay, this is easy going." A place where not a lot happens. And then you go to Principe, and this is a place where literally in the main town, Santo Antonio, they dry their washing on the streets because there is so little traffic that you can do that. And you talk to the locals and you go, "You know, I've just come from Sao Tome." And they go, "Sao Tome, way too busy there." The thing about Principe, why it's worth visiting, first, it has beautiful beaches, which is for me always justifies the trip. But it's also a UNESCO listed biosphere. It's covered in this magnificent old-growth forest. You can do great hikes to waterfalls, you can lie on the beach, you can go snorkeling. It's a chilled, laid-back thing.

Aoife:  They do these great bio walks where you discover all these really interesting plants, and it's just chill time. We all take holidays where the whole aim is to disconnect, right? And this is an amazing place to do it. One of the other things about it is because it is a place that is so largely without tourism, things happen differently there. I was saying in a resort on Principe, and they said to me, "Do you want to have lunch in town one day?" And I was like, "Okay." We drove to town, and I didn't see anywhere to have lunch. And they're like, "No, we have four restaurants." And I went, "Okay, great. Let's go to one of the four restaurants." And the restaurant was literally indistinguishable from someone's house because, in fact, it was someone's house. And so, you just walk up, you sit on someone's balcony. Razina was in charge of the restaurant that we went to. And there's no menu either. She just brings you whatever she's cooking. That's not an experience you can get anywhere. That's part of the joy of it.

Phil:  You say they're encouraging tourism. Hopefully, they're going to keep that vibe.

Aoife:  Yeah, I think they're fine because basically, all the tourism is being led by one person. Literally, Principe has one investor, and he's a guy called Mark Shuttleworth. His nickname, I love this, he's called the Afronaut, because he was the first African in space. He's a South African venture capitalist, essentially. And the story that the locals love to tell you is that when he was up in space, and he looked down on the globe, and he saw these two tiny islands, and he went, "I've never heard of those places. I have no idea where they are. I want to go there." Now look, I don't know, gut instinct tells me they're probably too small to be seen from space, but let's work with the story.

Aoife:  Shuttleworth, good to his word, comes down, and he's opened three properties there. Best guess is, a lot of people have thrown guesses around, he's invested somewhere between $95 and $135 million in Principe. One local told me that out of 10 jobs on the island can be traced back to this one guy, because it's building the resorts, it's working in the resorts, it's the farmers who are growing food for the resorts. He's set up things like, he's got an eye on sustainability. One of the resorts, they've got a big rubbish recycling center so that they can rescue from the rubbish whatever can be used, to make jewelry, or trinkets, or whatever. It is done with a whole of life approach. His aim is not to create a huge thriving tourism industry that has resorts on every corner. He just wants to show the world that this place exists and to have the locals to have the opportunity to have jobs.

Aoife:  If you're staying in any of the resorts on these islands, they're not cheap, because they're so far away, and so capital-intensive. But he's got an entry-level option. He's got a gorgeous tented kind of camp on the beach, [foreign language 00:15:30] and then he's got the plantation house, [foreign language 00:15:33] And that's also really interesting because the way these things worked was there was a plantation house surrounded by a quadrangle, and then you'd have the workers' dormitories around this side. And all of that is preserved. You can go and see how these plantations once would have worked.

Kim:  Who's it attracting, then? If you've got this high-end accommodation options, and you've got a city that's four streets, with three of them full of washing, and then you've got your entry-level accommodation, it's hard to get to, not a lot of people know about it, who is going there?

Aoife:  You've got a handful of very intrepid backpackers. But overall, certainly, in terms of the people I met on the plane and in the resorts, there were a lot of Portuguese coming for a long weekend, which as the former colonial power, they've got the awareness of the place. And there's also apparently quite good connections from Dubai. A lot of ex-pats who want to do something different are headed there. There's another great little story on Principe, that they have the world's oldest cacao trees, and they have a chocolate maker there. Funnily enough, when I was there, and I posted on Instagram, a chef friend of mine replied to my post and said, "Oh my God, have you met [inaudible 00:16:50]?" I'm like, "Who?" And it turns out he is one of the most revered chocolate makers in the world because he went to Principe and found... Apparently, all the cacao trees around the world that we use to make chocolates are actually hybrids. And Principe is the last place on Earth that has a population of pure cacao trees, because the Portuguese when they decided to try transplanting some of the trees from Brazil to Principe to see how it worked, and it worked, but they lost interest.

Aoife:  And then, everyone forgot them, and the jungle went wild. But they were still in the jungle. And this guy who was in chocolate production sort of went on a sort of Raiders of the Lost Ark quest, except what was Raiders of the Lost Cacao Trees. And he actually found them and has set up a plantation. You can go visit him. He's quite happy to meet visitors and chat with them. And it was hilarious, because the house he lives in, which is another old plantation house, and it's just moldering so elegantly. There's no glass left in the windows, but it looks fantastic. And he said to me, "Yeah, the local people were out here the other day. They think I should be a tourist attraction. But they want me to paint the house. I'm not painting the house."

Phil:  That's fascinating. I love it.

Aoife:  I know. I know. So beautiful.

Phil:  And the story [inaudible 00:18:14] wrote for the Australian publication, Traveler, also includes a list of other destinations you may not have heard of before, stuff like Kyrgyzstan, which we're covering in an upcoming episode, I'm glad to say.

Kim:  Yeah, we're doing the Stans. All right, time to pause and get your questions about Sao Tome and Principe. These are the most searched questions about this destination, apart from, "Where is it?" Which we're discovering, hence the episode. But Phil, is it expensive?

Phil:  Look, according to our wonderful partners, Lonely Planet, a double room in a mid-range hotel will cost between 60 and 85 Euros. That's about $75 U.S. Lunch and dinner in a local restaurant, which sounds like a fantastic experience, about 20 Euros, which is about $22 U.S. Also, at the time of recording this in February 2020, there were no ATMs, and certainly, only high-end hotels and only some of them were accepting credit cards. Two of them offer a limited cash-out facility there as well, so take some cash in Euros to make sure you can get some of that lovely lunch when you're traveling. Travelers also want to know what Sao Tome and Principe are famous for. As we heard with [inaudible 00:19:25], the best chocolate in the world is there. Isn't that enough? End of story. Here's a fun fact. 45 miles, that's about 75 Ks south of Sao Tome City at Rolas Island, you can cross the equator. You can straddle the equator there. There's a marker there and a map of the world to help you put all where you are into context.

Kim:  Yeah, very cool. Do you need vaccinations, though?

Phil:  Yeah, you do. You've got to have the yellow fever vaccination, not that it's endemic there, but if you're traveling to another country, and you're in a yellow fever zone, you need to have had a vaccination. You've got to carry the yellow fever vaccination book with you as well because you might not even be allowed on the plane if you haven't got that. And Aiofe who we're about to chat with, suggests malaria tablets are a good idea. No cases have been reported of visitors getting malaria, but she says some of the locals do have it.

Kim:  Cheers for that. All good information. Let's get into the chat with Aiofe and find out some more practical points for traveling to this destination, from the safety article that she's written for us. But given Sao Tome and Principe's remoteness Phil, and the degree of difficulty getting there, we've got to find out how she found herself on these islands.

Afa:  I found myself there because I was really interested in the sustainable tourism project that's going on, predominantly on Principe now. Well, now it's kind of a very long-term project, which is run by a company called Here Be Dragons, which was established by a tech billionaire, for want of a better word.

Kim:  We've been introduced to Mark. He's probably the sole investor.

Afa:  Yeah, pretty much I think he spent tens of millions, from what I'm told. So yeah, I was there writing a piece for another publication. But it was somewhere that I've always, for quite a while, since I learned about what was going on there, I was really interested to go and see it for myself.

Kim:  Being interested in sustainable travel, we're introducing this place to the world, and people are starting to enjoy it, you don't want it to be overrun though, do we?

Afa:  No, we don't. From what I saw there, I think obviously particularly the government in Principe is quite mindful of how somewhere like that needs to be developed. Also, with the inputs from HBD, I think they're trying to take a more sensitive approach to what they have, and, pretty much all of the island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, Principe, the second island. That obviously plays a big factor in how it can be developed, or how much it can be developed. At the end of the day, it's still a third world country, so the infrastructure doesn't really exist anyway now. They've got one plane, which goes between the two islands. When that's not working, nobody goes anywhere. I think people are very cognizant of the fact that it is very precious what they have. It remains to be seen what will happen.

Kim:  Fingers crossed. We just covered a few points in the podcast that people want to know about Sao Tome and Principe. And you've written an article for us on just how safe it is.

Afa:  My experience has been very positive. I would say, obviously you must use your common sense and presuming if you're going somewhere like Sao Tome, you've traveled fairly extensively or you're aware of where you're going. It's a third world country and everything that goes along with that still kind of holds. It's a safe country, there's very little crime. The natural world is the biggest danger to anyone, and if you keep your wits about you, that's not such a big problem.

Kim:  There are many types of things you have to consider in regard to safety, and our minds go straight to crime. Am I going to be safe on the street? But you've also written some tips for us on jungle safety.

Afa:  Yes. That was kind of interesting. Until you get there, you don't quite appreciate how unbelievably fertile and lush the country is. Pretty much, I don't know the exact statistics, but something like 95% or 98% is covered in jungle, which is impenetrable. Yes, I suppose aspects like driving is challenging. There's not that many paved roads once you get off the main drag from the air force.

Kim:  Does jungle safety kind of morph into animal safety? Are there no real nasties there?

Afa:  There aren't really any nasty, scary animals. There are two snakes, but they're not venomous, from what I understand. So yeah, it's about keeping yourself safe, and not going off the tracks. Getting lost basically, that's the main thing I think people need to worry about there.

Kim:  Not quite like Australia then.

Afa:  Yeah. No scary spiders. I heard this story about a boy who had gotten lost in the jungle in Principe. He was nine years old and somehow managed to have the wherewithal to go and find one of the rivers and follow the river down to one of the beaches, which are still very remote. He was picked up six months later, still alive and well.

Kim:  Oh, come on.

Afa:  Yeah. He survived. It's incredibly fertile, so there are bananas, and plants, fruit everywhere you look. He survived in the jungle for six months, and now he's a guide at one of the hotels in Principe.

Kim:  That is the best story. And you know what? That would make a fabulous movie, one of those ones where there's no dialog. You just follow...

Afa:  Yeah, he's in his early 20s now. He was working at one of the hotels at one stage as one of the guides. They employ locals at all the hotels that HBD operates. They try and train them up. He obviously didn't need any training, by the sounds of it.

Kim:  All right. Let's wrap up with one thing we haven't addressed yet in the podcast, and that is, do we need visas for Sao Tome and Principe?

Afa:  You need a visa, but it's issued on arrival if you're staying for less than 15 days. If you're staying longer, you need to apply to the relevant consulate closest to your country.

Kim:  We've established Aiofe that it's an incredibly difficult destination to get to. Is it worth it?

Afa:  Yeah, I would absolutely say it's worth it. I guess it depends where you're coming from, but yeah, it's kind of an unforgettable, precious island, and you realize how few places there are like that that really exist in the world at this stage. Obviously, it's at a point in its evolution in terms of visitors where it could go either way, but now, it is the kind of real deal, unspoiled, a tropical idyll that you hope [inaudible 00:27:12].

Kim:  I am in love with this country, Phil. In love. And something else I love is Bacardi Rum.

Phil:  No, I can't drink it. You know when you're young, and you get badly drunk? It's Bacardi for me. I'm sorry.

Kim:  Oh no. No, no, no. I love it. I was thrilled to discover the TV commercial for it was filmed in Principe. To wrap up this episode, freelance travel writer Richard Miller fills us in on the amazing beaches, including Banana Beach, where the Bacardi ad was filmed.

Richard:  Sao Tome, I can't say too much regarding the beaches, because I only saw a couple. And I believe there are a lot, lot more than I saw. From what I hear, from what I gather, the beaches are, some of them are even black sand. Both islands are volcanic, so some beaches are black sand. Some are your classic postcard white sand, and some are yellow, or some shade in between. What they are is busier, and just less virgin in feel. When you go to Principe, I'm reliably told by Wikipedia, I looked this up because I was curious, that there are 17 beaches on Principe. I'm not 100% sure I trust that, but that sounds about right. I would say I saw 10 of them perhaps, and all but one was completely empty of people.

Richard:  The one that wasn't had three or four locals on it. They just had the feel of a castaway island, essentially. Palm trees at the back, green water, sand with no footprints on it unless you happened to walk on them. Coconuts rolling down the beach from the palm trees. That kind of thing. They were a vision of perfection. As compared to say, what you might see in [inaudible 00:28:57] or the Caribbean, or Maldives, I think the ones I saw mostly were yellower, like butterscotch-colored sand rather than totally white, like that.

Kim:  I like that description. Butterscotch sand. I don't think I've ever read that or heard that.

Richard:  Honestly, writing about beaches is the hardest thing as a travel writer, because it's sort of all been said before. Really, what can you say? There's sand, there's the clear sea. Everything you can say has been said before. It's so difficult to come up with something you don't immediately read back to yourself and shout out, "Cliché!"

Kim:  How do you describe that?

Richard:  The first thing I do is panic because how on Earth do I describe this in a way that I haven't described the last 10 beaches? If there's anything unique about it, I don't know, it could be the gradient of the beach is slightly higher than usual, flatter than usual, or perhaps the sheer size of the beach is bigger than normal. We have some here in the UK where especially when the tide is out, the actual area of the beach is vast. I would look for a difference like that, someway that if I could describe it to someone else, it would make sense to imagine. And failing that, if it's just your archetypal perfect beach, then almost I think the trick is to go into the cliché. Personally, if you try and describe it in a beautiful way, you just end up sounding like 10 other people before you.

Kim:  Okay, so taking your British hat off and enjoying those beaches in Principe, what would you rate them out of 10?

Richard:  The first one I went to was Banana Beach, the one of the Bacardi advert fame. I knew that. And I also had been told by this eminent British travel writer, Stanley Stewart, he'd told me, and I'd later read in his article that he'd written saying, thinking that it was the best beach he'd ever seen. When somewhere is built up to that degree, it almost can't fail but underwhelm? It was beautiful, but it wasn't quite as long and quite as curvy as I'd imagined in my Photoshopped head.

Kim:  A bit like a blind date.

Richard:  Yeah, basically what struck me about it, what struck me about all the rest that I saw, were just how empty they were. There were no locals. Principe only has, the last stats I heard, it had a population of about 7000. I think that may have gone up slightly as people move there to work in tourism. But certainly, under 10,000. Most of them are working and they've just got no time to go to the beach. And, a lot of the beaches are even not accessible by road at all, or accessible by roads that are really rutted and hard. They're a tough job to get to. You maybe need a boat. So, the ones I saw were either empty or had the occasional fisherman.

Richard:  I've been to a fair few beaches in my time, but when they've been that good, they've never been that empty. It's just remarkable. It was just the case again and again. We went to one after Praia Banana, called Praia Boi, B-O-I, which was just sublime in every way, right down to the water is warm. And then after an hour or so, I was traveling around by boat, the skipper of our boat suggested we go to another one, almost just because we could. So, then we went around the bay and went to another one, and guess what? It was just as good.

Kim:  What type of beach lover does it appeal to?

Richard:  I feel that was a great question, because there's a kind of beach lover here in the UK, and I'm sure there's the same kind in Australia, everywhere else, who likes facilities. They like there to be a place that has showers, gives them a meal, and has towels. They like there to be loungers on the beach, that kind of thing. There is absolutely none of that in Principe. I'm pretty sure that's the case. Certainly, it wasn't at any of the beaches I went to. Playa Banana, for instance, which is the most famous, unless things have drastically changed since I went there, there's nothing on that beach. No shops, no restaurants, no buildings of any kind. Just the beach.

Richard:  I think if you're someone who likes a lot of facilities, then it's not going to be for you. Equally, if you're someone who doesn't like people, then it's very much for you. And if you're someone who just wants to have a perfect beach pretty much to themselves most likely all day, to have warm waters, to have soft sand, all of that, it's sheer heaven. I think above all, it's that castaway feel. That sense of somewhere that most people have not discovered.

Kim:  Now I need a Bacardi. And that [inaudible 00:33:24] Sao Tome.

Phil:  Sorry.

Kim:  And Principe. Links in show notes to all our guests.

Kim:  Next week, Sylvia Longmire, a service-disabled veteran, author, consultant, entrepreneur, and world traveler. Bye.

Phil:  Bye.

Speaker 3:  The World Nomads Podcast. Explore your boundaries.

 

 

 

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