Sao Tome, Sao Tome and Principe

February 1, 2016

Today we anchored off the coast of Sao Tome, the capital city of Sao Tome and Principe.  Sao Tome, located right on the equator, was founded in 1493.  The Portuguese arrived in 1470, in search of land to grow sugar.  It is a very lush, mountainous country!

To maximize our time here, we chose a 7-hour tour, ‘East Coast to Sao Joao Plantation’.  Along the way, it was interesting to observe the housing and daily life of the local people.  Most houses are on stilts, as there’s very little level ground, and the rains are quite heavy at times.

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Many houses had ornate wood trim.

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Notice the huge roll of corrugated metal balanced on the head of the women wearing a red top and patterned skirt.

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Monday is wash day for clothes and kids here.  Many young children help with the work, and are given a bath.

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This blowhole was in a beautiful setting, but the tides didn’t allow for much of a show.

The tour included a visit to Roca Agua Ize Plantation.  Although the island no longer produces huge volumes of cocoa, the crop still dwarfs every other agricultural export, as seen at this plantation.  During our visit, no production was in process in the area where we were allowed to enter.  The people who worked and lived in the area were as curious about us as we were about them.

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Our visit to Sao Joao Plantation included a tour of some of the plants, a delicious multi-course Santomean lunch, and some music and drumming.  The purple flower (below) is a passion fruit blossom.

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The kitchen, where food for about 50 people is prepared, is very basic with wood-burning stoves.  After lunch, the chef fed the duck and enjoyed a brief stroll on the grounds.

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7 Waves beach has black sand.  Due to time constraints, we were not able to spend the planned time here.  I did get a sand sample to add to my ever-growing collection.

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It’s always interesting to watch the hard-working crew bring up the tenders at the end of the day when the ship anchors.

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Goodbye Sao Tome!

West Africa has been an amazing, eye-opening experience.  I look forward to the ports ahead!

Cotonou, Benin

January 30, 2016

Cotonou is the largest city and economic center of Benin.  The city is a major port, located on the coastal strip between Lake Nokoue and the Atlantic Ocean.  The name, “Cotonou” means “by the river of death” in the Fon language.

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Snap shot from the TV channel that show updated weather and maps throughout the cruise.

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Welcome to W. Africa

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A warm welcoming at the pier.

January 29, 2016

Lome, Togo

Lome is the capital and largest city of Togo, one of the smallest countries in Africa.  Togo is located on the Gulf of Guinea.

Our 4.5 hour ‘Traditional Togo’ tour started with a drive through Lome to the fetish market.  Here you can find local handicrafts plus a variety of skulls, porcupine skins and serpent heads.  Most of the market’s items are ingredients that traditional healers use for rituals or to make magic charms and potions, including herb-garnished animal parts.  Some people may find some of the items for sale to be shocking and, for animal lovers, offensive and disturbing.


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Locals, in their colorful clothing, at the fetish market.

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Fetish dolls

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Dried animals and animal parts.

Our visit to a Togolese village school was a highlight of the tour.

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The kids at the Togolese village school were excited to greet us.

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Anatomy lessons were drawn on the chalk board in this classroom.

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All of the kids sang songs for us.

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The kids followed us during our visit. Donation boxes were available for us to make donations of supplies and money.

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Scenes from the bus, on the way to another village:

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At the ceremonial grounds of a local village we were met by the royal court.  Some of their native ways of life and traditions were explained and a folk dance was performed to drumming music.

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Water was ceremonially poured on the ground when we arrived.


A village home.

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A very long, wide beach lines the coastline.

After the tour, mom and I took the Oceania complimentary shuttle into town and explored the bustling streets.  Thankfully, a young lady escorted us around.  We both ended up buying a batik top, with the help of several guys who lead us from shop to shop until we both found what we wanted.  It turned out to be a very fun adventure!


The downtown area was a jam-packed with people on foot, bikes, scooters, motorbikes and in cars.

The day proved to be very enlightening, stimulating, humbling and enjoyable.  I look forward to our visit to Benin, tomorrow.

Shipboard Life

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Captain Dimitrios Flokos hosts a cocktail celebration at the beginning of each cruise segment.

People often ask me what I like about days at sea, while cruising :  in one word, EVERYTHING!

In the case of this cruise, the 5 sea days to sail from Recife, Brazil, to Lome, Togo, were a welcomed break in a very full itinerary.

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Recife, Brazil

January 23, 2016

Named for the surrounding coastal recifes (reefs) offshore, Recife is perched on Brazil’s northeast coast. The busy seaport is known as the “Venice of Brazil”, thanks to its many waterways, bridges, and small islands. The city has an interesting mix of new high-rises and old colonial structures. One of the highlights is the charming town of nearby Olinda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 1530 by the Portuguese.

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Natal, Brazil

Our time today in port was just over four hours, so we decided to take the complimentary shuttle to the Centro do Turismo (open daily, free entrance).  This former prison has been converted into a handicraft market, and the cells that once housed prisoners have been transformed into shop that display the best artisans’ workmanship.  Continue reading

Belem, Brazil


January 19, 2016

Belem is the gateway to the River Amazon and lies approximately 60 miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean. It is the 11th most populous city in Brazil. Founded in 1616 by the Kingdom of Portugal, Belem was the first European colony on the Amazon, but did not become part of Brazil until 1775.

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Devil’s Island, French Guiana

January 17, 2016
Ile due Diable – better known as Devil’s Island – is one of three closely spaced, small islands lying 9 miles off the coast of French Guiana. The group is known as the Salvation Islands; together they formed part of the infamous penal colony that functioned in French Guiana from 1852 to 1946.

Although “Devil’s Island” is the more evocative and well-known name for the penal colony, it was actually Ile Royale that served as the main administrative center for the prison, and this is where the vast majority of the surviving buildings have been preserved and maintained. Ilse Royale, with a length of ¾ mile, is the largest and most diverse of the islands, and the one we visited today.

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Totally Taken by Tobagans

January 15, 2016

Having previously visited Trinidad quite a few years ago, I was very happy to see that our itinerary included Tobago. Scarborough is the largest town and capital of the island of Tobago, part of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Since the cruise port in Scarborough is very conveniently located adjacent to the town center, I decided to explore the area on foot.

First stop was the Botanic Garden (open daily, free entrance), located on Gardenside St., 3 blocks northeast of the cruise terminal.  Native plants and flowers are featured in this fairly large garden.  It was a good place to play with a couple of different lenses.

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This photo was taken with a Lensbaby circular fish-eye lens on a Canon 70D

The following 2 photos were taken with my new Tamron 90mm macro lens:

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Built in 1777, Fort King George (open daily, free entrance) is the best preserved fort in Tobago. The fort is located just over .6 miles southeast of the cruise terminal, at the top of the hill. The walk up the hill proved to be sweat-producing, but worth the effort!

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The fort is located at the highest point of the hill. The photo is a 180 degree panorama taken from deck 5 of the ship.  The T+T Ferry, that connects Trinidad and Tobago, is entering the view on the right.

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The punishment cells, commonly called, “The Hangman Cells”, were built in 1848. This photo was taken from the inside of one of the 5 cells.

Scenes along the way:

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The town had very little litter.

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An abandoned shack.

Strolling through the market and town center gave me the opportunity to interact with the locals.  A couple of very friendly people struck up conversations with me along the way.  One fellow taught me the local way to show that you love someone as a friend (you fist bump each other with your right hand, then place your fist over your heart). While some of the shop keepers invited me to view their wares, none were pushy or aggressive.

A few arts and craft booths were setup close to the pier.

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The artist is holding a mask I bought from him. He thoughtfully signed and inscribed the inside, so I will always remember where and when it was purchased.

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Another friendly face.

The highlight of the day was meeting two of the guys working on the T+T ferry, while it was docked across the pier from our ship.  We had a great conversation and worked hard at perfecting our selfie skills.

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Ahday is 6’5″!

Tobago has beautiful beaches, reefs, waterfalls, forest preserves, fishing villages, gardens and more, but what will bring me back is the people.