After speaking with our wonderful tour guide/taxi driver, Erneau, Corey, Judy and I were setup with a guide for the adventure of a lifetime. We all came to the island wanting to climb the mountain in Sao Tome but our expectations of the difficulty were nowhere near the requirements of the trek. Brice (Breecee) and Lucio, brothers from Monte Café, were going to take us on the trip. Brice would be our guide while Lucio would be our driver to and from the start and stop points.
We left Friday morning at 5am and headed inland to Monte Café which would be our starting point. After 30 minutes of driving we had reached our destination and met Brice before our two day trip to the top of Mount Sao Tome. After driving further up into the mountains we stopped and saw the signs toward the peak.
Brice said that he would make dinner and bring two tents and that we were responsible for lunch and breakfast. We took off on a gentle hike towards the national park passing by farmland on our way. Brice stopped a few times at different plants to explain their name and their unique properties. When we finally hit the national park the incline increased greatly and the higher altitude and climbing had me breathing hard.
After two hours or so we reached the clouds and humidity hit 100% as it somewhat rained with visibility around 20ft. Farther we climbed, not walked, on a narrow winding path with near vertical drops to our side with no ropes to protect us. The path was slippery with the high humidity and rainfall and it was evident that there had been several large landslides across our path.
As we reached above the clouds our path became even narrower as we climbed along a ridge of Mount Cavallo; we had yet to even reach Mount Sao Tome. We reached the peak of our first mountain and I was satisfied and although I still had energy, if that were the end of the trip, I would have been satisfied. We ate a quick snack and disappointingly headed down the mountain towards Mount Sao Tome. After another hour or two of climbing, we stopped and had lunch.
We stayed at the site for about 30 minutes having a bite to eat and a short nap before heading back up the mountain. This was our first real break since 6am and it was already 11. We continued up the mountain and after a particularly difficult portion Brice said to us, “Americans are very strong, this is where the Portuguese cry.” I could go for a little crying at this point.
By 1:30, after 7.5 hours of climbing we reached our campsite, 30 minutes below the peak. We were greeted by a large owl as we approached the site and I took it as a good sign; I haven’t really figured out what the sign was but it was really exciting to see such a large owl so close.
After two hours of rest we needed to refill our water supplies and headed down the mountain about 10 minutes to a natural spring. The path to the water was the most difficult section of both days and I’m glad we only needed to go once. The water was crystal clear, cool and safe as we drank it without any filtration. My fear of heights had been eliminated through the day of climbing inches from hundred foot falls and the fifty foot drop two feet from where we grabbed water no longer fazed me. Climbing back to our campsite took longer as we had to search for strong roots to grab onto and pull ourselves up. When we reached the top our guide asked if we wanted to go to the peak, we were caught a little off guard as we expected to go first thing in the morning and not knowing how far or difficult the climb would be, we declined and hung out in the sunshine and cool mountain top breeze.
As night fell, Brice prepared spaghetti and tuna (shpaghet, as he called it). The way he prepared it was unlike anything I have ever seen. He started with the sauce in one pot (homemade and canned by himself), added the tuna and let the mix come to a slight boil. He added one liter of water and let that boil (still in just one pot). He added the noodles and let it cook for about 10 minutes before the mixture was ready. He did not strain the Shpaghet but it was ready all in one pot and not soupy. It was some of the best Shpaghet I have ever had.
When the sun set, it started to get cold; I mean really cold. I was wearing jeans, wool socks and a fleece jacket and I was still cold. I expected to be alright to sleep in this outfit but I was soon regretting not insisting on Brice getting us sleeping bags. Corey, Judy and I all huddled into one tent as a way to conserver all of body heat we could.
There was a slight problem with the placement of the tent. The ground was very uneven and from how we needed to arrange our heads and feet in the tent, two of the three spaces were on a higher ground while my space was on a 30 degree angle from my right to left, away from the other two spaces. At first I started to sleep at the bottom of the ramp where it was soft but I was two feet from Corey and in much lower ground. I awoke at 2am damp and shivering and tried to climb back up the slope to reach some much needed body heat. Corey had moved to the very edge of the top of the slope and the only way I could be near him, absorbing his heat, was to try and curl up on the slope. I fell asleep near the top by Corey but woke up minutes later trying to crawl back up the slope to warm up again. This battle raged on for several hours until finally day broke and it was time to get up.
After some of the most uncomfortable sleep of my life I had a full days climbing and descending ahead of me.