Author Topic: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure  (Read 38021 times)

Offline Something Fishy

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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #20 on: September 29, 2022, 11:39:17 PM »
IIRC you left out the AND NO BIRDS!!!!

ALOL

This guy actually likes birds.
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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #21 on: September 29, 2022, 11:41:44 PM »
ALOL

This guy actually likes birds.

If they are very colorful. Not because it is species number 473.
Feelings don't care about your facts

Offline Something Fishy

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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #22 on: September 29, 2022, 11:47:42 PM »
If they are very colorful. Not because it is species number 473.

Hang on, you know this guy? Because that's pretty much exactly what he told me 🤣.
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Offline Something Fishy

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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #23 on: September 30, 2022, 12:15:36 AM »
Germany and Portugal

There is only one (semi-normal) way to get to Sao Tome, our first destination. A couple of times a week, TAP Portugal flies from Lisbon to this former Portuguese colony via a quick stop in Accra, Ghana. The obvious NY to Accra flights were either sold out or absurdly priced, so the plan was to fly via Lisbon.

Coach seats on Sunday were cheap, so my friend went and booked that. But there is no way I'm sitting in coach for 16 hours and coming out normal, so I was bound to award availability which - duh! - was non-existent. Eventually I grabbed what I could, a Motzei Shabbos JFK-MUC-LIS flight in LH J. I kept on checking for a seat to open up for LIS-ACC-TMS, but come the Friday before we were supposed to leave I bit the bullet and bought a coach seat for $630. In the end I was able to upgrade at checkin for 350EUR, which was a pretty good deal for 8 hours in lay-flat J.

Lufthansa's mediocre J seat made for a mediocre night's sleep, but still better than the alternative. Even in the bulkhead, my feet barely fit:



Landed in Munich Sunday morning, and freshened up for... nothing:



Germany at that point had crazy entry rules, and there isn't much to do in Munich regardless. I had a ton of work to do in any case, so I got comfortable in the lounge for the 8ish-hour layover and got a bunch of work done:



Late afternoon flight to Lisbon was short and sweet, and the Radisson Blu Lisbon Airport was perfectly sufficient. Early morning view from my window:



I had a few minutes before my flight, so I want for a walk in the park across the street. Watched the local fire recruits training for something or other, saw a bunch of new birds, and headed back to the airport.

Here we go!



TAP flies an A320neo on this route, which many here love. But I cannot overstate how much I hated that seat; it's simply not made for people my size. The cabin was nearly empty, so I started out in the much-coveted throne. Ugh.



The seat was too short for me to stretch out in. The screen was too low and th spaces between the seats too miniscule for me to bend my knees in any direction. Simply put, if I wanted to be in any position other than ramrod-straight, there was simply no room for me at all.

I tried the window seat behind me, same deal: no room for me. The aisle seat was a lot better, but only because I could stick my feet into the aisle. Overall, maybe a good product for many, but certainly a horrible seat for me. No more TAP J, no more B6 Mint, no more of this blasted seat if I can help it.

Rant over.

On the other hand, the amenity kit bags were delightful. The FA gave me a few when they saw how much I liked it - they come in different styles:



Flying over the Atlas Mountains of Morocco:



This stunning mountain chain forms part of the border between Morocco and Algeria:



We crossed the Sahara, and before long is was time to land in Accra:





We stayed on the plane while a bunch of people got off, more people got on, and then we left the coast of West Africa behind:



Next stop: São Tomé and Príncipe, the 7th least-visited country on earth, and absolute paradise.
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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #24 on: September 30, 2022, 12:18:16 PM »
Hang on, you know this guy? Because that's pretty much exactly what he told me .
How many of your clients are actually interested in brown bird number 473?
Feelings don't care about your facts

Offline Something Fishy

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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #25 on: September 30, 2022, 01:03:46 PM »
How many of your clients are actually interested in brown bird number 473?

A lot more than you'd think lol
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Offline lakewood34

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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #26 on: September 30, 2022, 01:09:56 PM »
wow i can't fathom how many hours you must spend on researching

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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #27 on: September 30, 2022, 01:20:02 PM »
A lot more than you'd think lol

I am sure a bunch are. I would be.
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Offline Yehoshua

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Re: The Depths of Africa: Something Fishy's Insane Off The Beaten Path Adventure
« Reply #28 on: September 30, 2022, 09:00:35 PM »
Can't wait to read more! Thanks for sharing.

Offline Something Fishy

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Sao Tome
Part 1

Finally, after nearly 40 hours in transit, here we are!



So where the heck is Sao Tome and why did we come here?

São Tomé and Príncipe is a tiny island nation off the coast of West Africa. If you've ever clicked on a bad Google Maps link and ended up somewhere in Africa's armpit, that would be us:



...more or less, at least. That error happens when the map defaults to 0° latitude and 0° longitude, which is right near Sao Tome. The equator suns through the country, and just a few degrees west lies the Prime Meridian.

The island was colonized by Portugal in the 1400s, and to this day Portuguese is still the most spoken language here. Some of the first Europeans on the islands were around 2000 Jewish children under the age of 8 who were exiled by the Portuguese Inquisition to work the sugar plantations and left to die. If you've ever read The Exiles of Crocodile Island, that takes place on Sao Tome and is based on historical fact. Unfortunately there is nothing left from these Jews now, as apparently none of them survived to adulthood.

There are rumors of a Jewish cemetery here, but I was unable to find any concrete information and nobody I spoke to on the ground had ever heard of anything like that.

Ana Chaves Bay, the main bay around the capital, is actually named after a Jewish woman but she came into the picture centuries later. There isn't too much information out there, but it seems the was a Portuguese or Brazilian woman who invested a lot of money in the country in the 19th century. So other than that, there is essentially no remnant of anything Jewish in Sao tome.

And as for why we're here, I've long been intrigued by West Africa's island nations, and being that my friend wanted to go "somewhere people have never heard of", Sao Tome jumped out as a top contender. It's the 7th least-visited country on earth, so it definitely fit that bill. But equally as important, Sao Tome is a beautiful and quite fascinating place - so we're actually going to experience the country, not merely to check off a place.

Anyway, back to Sao Tome!

We were quickly welcomed to the third world when not five minutes after landing half of the airport lost power:



The power came back on after a few sweltering minutes, and after a quick pass though Covid control and customs we were met by our driver and our guide. Sao Tome is not a place you'd do on your own - the roads (when they exist) are horrid, tour arrangements are nearly impossible to make, and of course there's nothing like a local's perspective when traveling in such a unique place.

Our house was about half an hour from the airport, but first we stopped at a local supermarket for drinks and such. The store was surprisingly fairly well-stocked and had everything we needed.

Jackpot!:



Blackout again? Blackout again.



This was becoming a theme.

Continuing to our house, it was evident that electricity here, fickle as it may be, is a definite luxury.  The vast majority of the population had neither electricity not running water. Darkness reigned, and here and there a flickering candle was noticeable through a window or in front of a house.

It wasn't long before we got to our house, sitting precariously on the edge of a stunning cliff overlooking the ocean. Not that we saw any of this in the pitch dark now; we used flashlights to guide our way from the road all the way down a long path while the house's caretakers hauled our bags. We had been traveling for a mighty long time, and all we cared about now was dinner and a good night's sleep.

Our house was apparently built and designed by some famous French chef who went off to Sao Tome to live a slower lifestyle. It's hard to put a finger on it exactly, but the place is so totally African. This is something I've seen a lot throughout the 14 countries I've been in here so far. On the one hand it was absolutely stunning (at least during the day, when you could, you know, actually see stuff). But if you look closer - or step away from the main room and outdoor spaces - it's as third world as they come.

For example, the fan in my room (I'm not convinced that there's a single air conditioning unit in the entire country). It was permanently mounted on the wall, with a standard wire hanging down to a wall plug. Good plan, right? Maybe it would be, if the wire wasn't exactly 12 inches too short to reach... It goes without saying that an extension cord is about as common as a blizzard here, so my fan alternated between being decorative and yet another thing I'd bang by head on constantly. (All that being said, all rooms had giant, ocean-facing floor-to-ceiling windows on at least two sides so it was actually quite cool and pleasant in the end after all.)

And the kitchen.... oh man that was something. The entire oven was missing, the stove took an entire pack of matches to light and had only one power setting ("Hiroshima"), the full-size fridge was full-size for a particularly short pygmy, and I'm pretty certain we would've died of carbon monoxide poisoning had we not had an entire wall of windows.

The house was actually connected to the power grid, and by my count we lost power seven times before bed. Thankfully we had a generator, so after a minute or two we'd have our lights and fans back.

Anyways, after heating up my packed-for-the-oven dinner on a blech over that inferno of a furnace and - shockingly - not burning it, we sat down to a fantastic diner before showering and collapsing into bed.

... and then for some reason, we were up with the sun.

The views in the morning were simply stunning:







The locals were out in their tiny boats with homemade sails catching breakfast:







This Yellow-billed Kite was out fishing as well:



He was getting his breakfast is a significantly different manner:



We couldn't see it last night, but this is the lovely walk down to our house. Thankfully, the angle of the cliff meant that we couldn't see exactly just how precariously perched our own house was. Some things are better left unknown.



A Southern Masked-Weaver sitting on a tree in front of the house:



And this is why they're called weavers... here he is heading into his elaborately-woven nest:



A lovely White-tailed Tropicbird overhead:



Our crew was back to pick us up after breakfast, and we headed into town for the first of many, many Covid tests. This one was scheduled to get us through Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Malawi... don't ask. Anyways, wasted an hour on yet another annoying test, and then off we went to our next stop: meeting the person who's going to be performing our baptism.

To be continued....
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Offline Yehoshua

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Wow, great story so far. While I love visiting cool places, a place where the lower goes out multiple time a day and no AC may be a bit much for me, but at least you visited a cool place.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2022, 10:56:09 PM by Something Fishy »

Offline Something Fishy

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Sao Tome
Part 2

Sao Tome is famous for its diving. Considering that neither of us are certified, we were going for what's normally called an introductory dive: max 33 feet down, easy conditions, and a vigilant divemaster keeping an eye on us at all times.

In Africa however, and introductory dive is called a baptismal dive. Don't ask me why.

So off to our baptism we drove, right at the edge of town. Considering the type of country Sao Tome is, we were able to choose from a great variety of outfitters as long as it was Dive Tribe. Pedro from Portugal runs the only dive center in the country, and he has since moved away to Cabo Verde.

Pedro got us all outfitted (all gear was surprisingly new-looking and in great condition). I brought my own fins, as nobody actually stocks my size, and the only wetsuit I fit into was a shorty. Not a problem - the water is warm enough.

Pedro told us that it's "just a short boat ride" to the dive site, so we left our water, snacks, sunscreen, and various other bits and bobs back on shore.

Big mistake.

It ended up being more than an hour each way to the dive site, on a tiny metal boat with absolutely zero shade. Have you ever gotten a 3rd-degree sunburn? Yeah, I didn't even know that was an option. But it was included for free with this dive trip! I got back to shore with literal blisters popping up all over my nose. And if you've ever met me, you'd know that my nose harbors an ample amount of real estate for them blisters.

Anyways... off we go, in good spirits. The water is a shocking shade of blue, the breeze is in our hair, and Pedro is teaching us Diving 101. He did a splendid job explaining how everything works, what to do if something should not, how to communicate underwater, and so on. I was relieved to discover that there's an easy mechanism to clear your mouth of seawater should your regulator fall out and you don't have breath enough to blow it out yourself - which had been one of my secret fears of diving.

Finally, after an hour, our boat driver Nelson (I called him Admiral Nelson but nobody got my joke. Philistines.) announced that we're nearly there. Around one more headland, and we anchored in an absolutely stunning and quiet bay. We were in about 50 feet of water, and we could clearly see the bottom - and the countless fish in between.



I had planned on taking my big DSLR along, but as I was getting it into my underwater housing I got some sand in the seal. Deciding not to risk flooding a $5,000 camera, I left the whole contraption behind on dry land. All pictures from the dive were consequently taken by the other person along with us, who had an antique GoPro. The pictures are really lousy, and don't come close to portraying what we saw... but it's all I've got.

Getting suited up:





Down we go!





Taking our first tentative steps along the bottom:



As the dive went on and Pedro saw that we're doing good, he allowed us to separate a bit and explore on our own so long as we stayed in a loose group.

It's a real pite the camera quality is so bad... the colors, the water clarity, the coral and marine life were just out of this world:









All too soon it was time to return to the surface, and we reluctantly left the underwater world behind.

I've snorkeled countless times, and it's probably my favorite vacation activity (I literally plan family vacations around snorkeling experiences), but that just pales in comparison to diving. You're not looking at the fish, you are a fish. You're able to move like them, among them, while breathing comfortably... It's just magical.

Sitting in a boiling metal boat and slowly burning up, a bit less magical. I tried taking a nap...



Finally back on dry land an hour later, after a cold shower and a gallon of sunscreen, it was time to continue. We said goodbye to the hot, hot coast and slowly climbed into the cool, misty, center of the island:



Up here is where coffee and cacao grows, fueling the country's main exports of coffee and chocolate. Life is a lot more rural here, and even more impoverished than in the city - something we wouldn't have believed possible.

The roads gave us the first of many "African massages" we were to experience in the coming 10 days:



Building a house:



There no such concept as electricity or running water here Instead, each village or two had a communal water pump where people would come to fill up for the day or wash their dishes in:







We stopped at remains one of the largest coffee factories for a quick tour:





Coffee beans on the tree:



The local women carry 50-pound baskets of coffee beans between buildings - on their heads.

I couldn't even keep an empty basket balanced, to general amusement:





Have a look at these ferns - they have a defensive mechanism where as soon as you touch them they close up and pretend to be dead:



After seeing the factory we were invited into a shady-looking basement to taste the famous final product. It was quite disgusting.

Moving on...

We stopped at the side of the road to check out some wild-growing cacao:



Chocolate is truly quite fascinating. Underneath the hard rind is a stack of soft, pulpy pods, each containing a rock-hard cacao bean:



I tasted one right out off the tree - the pulp tastes somewhat sweet and is reminiscent of vanilla. I found it quite enjoyable despite the rather slimy feel. The cacao seed inside on the other hand is extremely bitter and quite inedible.

A bit further down the road we came across a small chocolate co-op and stopped in to see the rest of the process.

The beans are cleaned, piled into bins, and covered in a sack:



On top of all this the pile on banana leaves, and let the whole thing ferment for a week or so:



The fermenting beans give off so much heat that even standing outside a window you're just hit with it (and not just with heat - let's just say that a million fermenting beans in a tiny hot room don't smell too good):



The co-op officials doing the bookkeeping in the dark outside the fermenting house:



In many places in Africa (aka those with lots of Western tourists), children are taught from an early age that the white man means money, and it can be quite the uncomfortable experience trying to go somewhere with fifty children following you begging, shouting, and sometimes grabbing your stuff.

But in truth the vast, vast majority of kids in Africa are beyond friendly and more than a little curious. The children in Sao Tome were an absolute delight to interact with:











By now it had gotten dark, and it was time to head back home.

Check out these houses:



Like I mentioned in the last segment, with no electricity people put a candle in a bottle and it becomes an impromptu neighborhood gossip session:



Finally we were home, and it was time to pay the piper: time to take care of those massive sunburns. And what better way to do it than the natural way? Let's skirt the million land crabs and cut down some aloe vera leaves...







Oh man did it sting........ But after a few minutes the burning stopped and the soothing began, and it was time for dinner and bed.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2022, 12:58:45 AM by Something Fishy »
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Offline Moshe123

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Amazing trip report!!!

Offline Yehoshua

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Cool place, great TR so far. Too bad we couldn't see your sorely sunburned face.

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Did you have any pressure in your ears by the scuba diving, if yes how do you deal with it.

I get such pain that I gave up on scuba

Offline 1avigrun

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Did you have any pressure in your ears by the scuba diving, if yes how do you deal with it.

I get such pain that I gave up on scuba
you have to hold your nose closed and blow to release the pressure

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you have to hold your nose closed and blow to release the pressure

doesn't help for me

Offline Something Fishy

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It really depends on the person. It worked great for me, but the other guy could only get one ear to equalize and was in pain for a few days afterwards.
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Offline justmeha

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I'm really interested in how you go about finding a guide in a place so off the beaten path like Sao tome.

Do you actually know people from there, do you use forums, just plain Google, or something else entirely?

Offline Something Fishy

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I'm really interested in how you go about finding a guide in a place so off the beaten path like Sao tome.

Do you actually know people from there, do you use forums, just plain Google, or something else entirely?

Loooots of research, talking to guides and feeling them out, speaking to people who've been there, and a good dose of experience. I also rely on my gut to eliminate options - I have lots of red flag indicators. BH it's very rare that I have a guide I wouldn't be happy to use again.
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