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Monday, October 3, 2022

Sao Tome and Principe’s Pristine and Picture Perfect Islands

The entire island of Principe has been designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO

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Raghu Gururaj
Raghu Gururaj
Ambassador of India to the Republic of Sao Tome and Principe

SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: The islands of Sao Tome and Principe are home to a number of breathtaking natural physical characteristics that rival the best in the world.

Its tropical beaches are as clean as the Caribbean’s sun-kissed beaches, the thick jungle-covered mountains are reminiscent of Jurassic Park, and Pico de Grande, the natural volcanic mountain, is as imposing as the Burj Khalifa. Its chocolates are as fine as the Swiss ones and its alluring Euro-African culture has a special appeal.

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Sao Tome and Principe (together with the Galapagos Islands) is unrivalled in terms of biodiversity and endemic species.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

A trip through the lush Sao Tome Forest may be an unforgettable experience, especially when accompanied by a knowledgeable local English-speaking guide who can teach you about biology as you go.

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The tropical rainforests of Sao Tome and Principe have been designated by the international scientific community as the most precious among Africa’s forests. They’re considered one of Africa’s most valuable biodiversity hotspots. The entire island of Principe has been designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

Because to their isolation and remoteness, these islands feature high endemism rates that are rarely observed elsewhere. They are home to around 60 unique bird species, 166 highly valued endemic plant species, over 300 herb species, and 28 uncommon animal and reptile species.

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Many of the fruits and plants that grow on these islands are alien, and bore little resemblance to those found in most countries’ fruit markets.

A classic example is the Sape-Sape, which is a prickly fruit that looks like a thorny custard apple. This variety of Soursop with white flesh inside, can be found all over the jungles of these islands.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The Sao Tome Peach, or Pessego de So Tomé, is a fruit that grows on a tiny tree native to the islands of So Tomé and Principe. The tree grows in the natural in the archipelago’s wet zones, but it’s rare and endangered, according to the IUCN.

The fruits have a trapezoidal form and a velvety violet peel. In the local markets, this fruit is hard to get by.

Safou (African pear or plum), sometimes known as butter fruit, is a fruit native to Africa, specifically the Gulf of Guinea. This dark blue or purple fruit is served after being prepared like a vegetable (boiled or grilled).
It has a buttery flavour yet has no fat and is even advised for weight loss. Fruits such as Safu help to ensure the food and nutritional security of countries in this region.

Safou. Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The iconic and towering Baybao tree bears a fruit that is packed with natural vitamins and resembles a hard shelled coconut.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

Alongside these exotic fruits, familiar fruits such as banana, plantain, guava, breadfruit (fruta pao), jackfruit (jaca) mango (manga), pineapple, cashew, almonds, small orange and pomegranate and raspberries, grow nonchalantly all across these twin super fertile islands.

It is a common sight to see the cheerful mothers with babies slung on their backsides, busily tending to their roadside fruit marts. Wild raspberries are expertly packed in porcelain rose leaves and Jack fruits are deftly fleshed out and arranged in neat packs of 12 or 24 pieces.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

Two important fruits, fruta-pão, or breadfruit and banana, play a critical role in the daily nutrition of the people of Sao Tome and Principe. Seven varieties of banana are processed and consumed in all possible ways – raw, fried, ripened, fried, boiled, dried roasted and even grilled.

The bread fruit is fried, boiled, roasted or milled into flour. High in carbs, protein and vitamins, one ball of breadfruit has enough nutrients to feed a large family. It is also fried as fritters and sticky puddings are made. Small coconuts grow everywhere across the islands, providing a cheap source of nutrition and a cool beverage.

Though Sao Tome has not achieved food security for its citizens, the bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, not only keeps the population healthy and sturdy, but also enables limited exports.

Also Read: The Mythical Boca do Inferno of Sao Tome

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