ITS OLD CAPITAL IS AS CHARISMATIC AS CUBA’S
It’s Sunday morning in Príncipe’s main town, Santo António, and time has slowed almost to a halt. If ‘léve, léve’ is easygoing, the Príncipian equivalent, ‘móli-móli’, is virtually dormant. A boy rolls a tyre beside the dawdling Papagaio River. Stray dogs pant in the shade and passers-by greet one another with disarming smiles. Placid babies are slung low on backs in colourful wraps. For a while, the only sound is a tinny medley of Angolan kizomba music from battery-powered speakers, before a tractor rolls by carrying a troupe of trumpet players. This triangle of unpaved, potholed streets is tiny – but what it lacks in scale, Santo António makes up for in pocket-sized grandeur. Dilapidated buildings, put up when the city was both islands’ capital, line the bay in elegant pastels: a powder-blue school, pink government house and yellow post office. Neat Portuguese tiles surround a central square of weathered murals and empty benches. A traveller’s palm, its paddle-shaped leaves spanning four metres, dwarfs the government’s assembly. On the fringes of the town, mirrors hang above doorways of colourful stilt homes. They’re placed there to reflect bad energy – a sign of a Santomean culture that blends Christianity with a rich seam of local ritual and superstition; where carved votives and herbal concoctions are embraced alongside gospel choirs and beach baptisms.
The tiny island capital of Santo António, founded in the 16th century and now home to 1,200 people A tractor-based troupe of trumpeters in Santo António. LEFT AND RIGHT Portuguese architecture along the streets