The Island That Doesn’t Speak English

This sounds like a hyperbole, but I can honestly say the only English I heard spoken in São Tomé was from our Airbnb host, Ito, the dive shop owner at Club Santana, and a smattering of staff at Pestana Hotel. The rest of the time, we got away with mixing English/Spanish/Portuguese…and I only speak the first one.

Luckily, two of the members of our group were fluent Spanish speakers and two others could ask questions in Spanish. None of us really knew Portuguese, the official language of São Tomé.

But let’s back up a moment, to an event that assured me we were going to have an interesting vacation. We hadn’t even left Accra yet, we were still in the airport. We had passed through security twice, once at the entrance and again to get to the gates.  We had walked past the first set of gates and had to round a corner to get to ours…and there stood two dudes with airport security tags.

They asked us to come to a small table so they could (yet again) search through our belongings. Chandler went first and his guy was meticulous, touching absolutely everything. That is, until he got to my swimsuit top. He pulled it out of the bag and turned his concerned face to Chandler to ask, “Sir, is this yours?” Chandler was quick to explain that it was mine and we often split our belongings up between bags. The man instantly released the swimsuit, zipped up the bag and waved us all through. Swimsuit tops save the day.

Then, we got on the plane and a torrential downpour began. We waited on the runway for 45 minutes for it to let up. The pilot announced that even though we had been held up, we’d still make it to São Tomé on time. To no one’s surprise, except maybe the pilot’s, we arrived exactly 45 minutes after our scheduled time.

Add this to the fact that despite the 28 rows of seats on the plane, I was placed directly behind the family of one of my student’s. They have three kids. We should have known this was going to be less of a vacation and more of an adventure.

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Resort Hopping in São Tomé

I learned a lot about myself this week. I learned that I’m over “roughing it.” I learned that sometimes, when I want to relax, a resort will suit me just fine.

This year, we decided to spend spring break in São Tomé. If you’ve never heard of this country, don’t feel too bad. I hadn’t either before moving to Ghana. It’s a small set of islands (São Tomé and Príncipe) located west of Gabon and south of Nigeria.

We went with four other people, and to cut down on costs, decided to share an Airbnb. We thought we’d have a low-key, quiet week at the house. For anyone who’s ever spent any time in Africa (I hate to generalize, but for me this has usually held true), something will inevitably go poorly. Whether it’s power outages in Ethiopia, a city-wide day of rest in Djibouti, or Ghanaian food that can’t be made fish-free (a moment of truth: Nothing went wrong in South Africa).

In São Tomé, it was 24 hours without running water. And as much as I’d like to blame the Airbnb for this, it’s definitely a country-wide problem. Also, for as beautiful as the house was, it had been built by the ocean in 2002 and was, 15 years later, absolutely falling apart. The downstairs hosted every kind of bug imaginable, and our bathroom was even home to a very large roach and a very small crab.

That said, the upstairs was light and airy and had wonderful views. I read three books while on vacation here : )

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Eventually, however, a girl needs some water (and light to read by in the evenings – man that house was as dark as a dungeon at night!).

We ventured to Omali Lodge on our second day in São Tomé. As you can expect, island food isn’t very vegetarian friendly, but we were able to dig into some homemade mac & cheese, rice & veggies, chips, and of course, dessert – a brownie with peanut ice cream. However, the real reason to go to Omali is for their cocktails. Their passion fruit margarita was divine.

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