Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Guardian: Seychelles aren't the only idyllic African island

The Seychelles aren't the only idyllic African island. São Tomé and Príncipe makes a more adventurous destination
Two young guards stood astride the entrance of the presidential palace in São Tomé town, resplendent in white gaiters and BMX-style helmets. They stepped forward in unison, clapped their rifles to their shoulders, caught each other's eye, and collapsed into laughter. They didn't cut very convincing figures as guards, but then military pomp seems a bit superfluous in São Tomé and Príncipe, arguably Africa's most peaceful country.

This twin-island nation tucked in the Gulf of Guinea, off Africa's Atlantic coast, seems to be a secret largely confined to purveyors of cocoa – São Toméan chocolate graces the shelves of Fortnum & Mason – and naturalists, who flock here for its rare birds and butterflies. But any visitor to Africa's second-smallest country would be bewitched by its vivid natural beauty, dilapidated architectural grandeur and disarmingly friendly people.
São Toméans' renowned "ease of being" is enshrined in the local watchword, leve-leve, meaning something like "easy, easy" – which they say when you try to hurry things along. In this informal island culture, more Caribbean than African, where fruit flops off the trees and the sea is jumping with fish, the question always seems to be, "What's the rush?"