Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pico de Sao Tome – Day 2 of 2

As Judy, Corey and I climbed out of our tent into the bright and chilly morning, Brice got the fire started again. We munched on some bread and bananas that we had brought for breakfast and just as we were starting to warm up Brice announced that we would go to the peak now. It was still 50 degrees and about 6:40 and he started to change into his t-shirt and told us we would want to do the same. I didn’t fully believe that I would get hot but I took his word and followed suit.

We set off for the peak and my legs finally felt refreshed. The cold air woke me up and I was excited to reach the peak. 15 minutes into the climb and I was warm as we stopped to look out across the mountains. In the distance Brice pointed toward a mountain and said it was Mt. Cavallo, the peak we had crossed the previous day. I was stunned to see how far we had walked knowing that the path was anything but straight.

After 15 more minutes of near vertical climbing we reached a clearing and a small monument marking the peak! The view was incredible and we could see most of the north half of the island. To the south vegetation was blocking our view but it gave me a sense of pride to know that I had made it to the top. We were standing at 6,640 ft when the previous morning and that night we would be at maybe 15 ft above sea level.

Although there were no artifacts left behind by previous climbers (Brice explained as few as one group a month reaches the top) we scrambled to find the first Illinois memorabilia we could find. We decided to leave Corey’s hat behind, affixed to the pole after all signing and dating the bill. We returned to our campsite after a few minutes of glory and were back within an hour to prepare the last of the remaining Shpaghet and some tea brewed from the bark of a tree we passed while climbing.

After packing up our tent and gear we left our campsite and headed down a different route headed towards Neves, a city on the northwest side of the island. Walking down was much easier than climbing up however it was still difficult trying to keep your feet from sliding out beneath you, keeping your toes from jamming too hard into the front of your shoe, and trying to keep yourself from moving too fast down the hill.

We passed by new plants and trees and Brice explained them to us; my favorite was the petrol tree. The petrol tree produces a highly flammable sap that will burn for quite a while when lit on fire. He also showed us two holes in the ground with spider webs around the area; with one word he had me on my way, “tarantula.” We continued our path down and eventually met the ruins of an old abandoned plantation circa 1800s. I expected we were close to the coast because there were the remains of a path which had been cleared for a train to travel along the mountain. We started to follow the path and it was much easier than cutting through the dense jungle.

Back and forth we switched down the mountain, it was an easier slope but it slowed our progress. I can’t believe how any colonists found this high place and designed plans to lay this much track while moving huge quantities of earth to create flat land for the tracks.

After another hour or two of walking the tracks we reached an active area of cropland. We rested for a few minutes and Brice asked if we wanted to walk to a waterfall only 5 minutes away. Of course I wanted to walk to a waterfall… until I saw what we had to go through. Much of the area’s natural streams are channeled into aqueducts which carry the water to a hydroelectric plant. We walked on top of an aqueduct and reached a tunnel.

The tunnel was a narrow rounded arch only five feet across at the base. The tunnel had a concrete divider in the middle which allowed for the aqueduct to channel the water on one half while allowing access to the other side of the mountain. We took a few steps and it was sticky three inch deep mud. After twenty feet Brice stopped and said, “Agua, querem ir?” Water, you want to go? I figured water could only clean me at this point and we pressed on. The light at the end of the tunnel seemed infinitely far and it quickly became pitch black in the tunnel. Using my hands on the divider and the arch wall to my left we pressed through; I was thankful I couldn’t see my shoes, socks and jeans and expecting them to be ruined.

When we reached the end I looked left to see a 300 foot high waterfall; it was beautiful. We washed our faces off in the water and took lots of photos before we had to trek back through the tunnel. There are two ways to get to the waterfall, a 300 yard tunnel or a 200 yard tunnel; we took the 200 yard tunnel. After reaching the end I stuck my feet in the aqueduct to let the rushing water rinse my shoes, socks and jeans.

After another five minute journey we reached our rendezvous point and were told our ride would arrive in 20 minutes with some snacks. Lucio and his buddy arrived with some beers, sodas and cookies. It was good to finally be done with the trip and during the 45 minute drive back to the city I passed out, bobbing my head back and forth, intermittently waking up during a big bump. When we arrived at home I already wanted to schedule another trip the following weekend.

Brice and Lucio laughed at how much we loved the Shpaghet and invited us back to Monte Café to have dinner with them in the future. We exchanged numbers and I went into the house to fall asleep.

-XO Mike


  1. What an adventure. Thanks for painting such a complete picture of everything you saw and did. I felt like I was on the trail with you! Are you planning to go up again before you leave?

  2. I want to but the grad students and Martin planned with another guide to go the week after I leave.

  3. This brings back *great* memories! I want to go again, too. <-- amazed to be saying this

  4. I did this hike last summer. It was me and 2 other girls....we spoke no portuguese and our two guides didn't speak about a language barrier for the trip! I was told it was a fairly easy walk..then I started and realized we were NOT prepared for the trip. we ended up reaching the summit but that was one of the hardest yet most spectacular things I have ever done in my short 19 years.

  5. Awesome Carls! I wish the photos were still linked so that you could see. Do you have any pictures from your trek?