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On Location: Principe Island
Written by Kevin Clement
There is something about islands. Islands are special places. The more remote and isolated they are, the more this is true. As proof, consider the exotic island of Principe, off the West Coast of Africa. It is special in several disparate and important categories.
Geopolitically: Along with a neighboring speck of land called Sao Tome, Principe is a country. One of the smallest and most oddly configured nations on earth, sensibly enough named the Republic of Sao Tome and Principe. It has its own independent government, makes its own laws, levies its own taxes, etc. It’s certainly one of the more difficult countries on earth to get to.
Geologically: Both islands are volcanic peaks that poke up out of the sea, an extension of a chain that runs across the West African mainland. Their topography is complex, with numerous overlapping craters, collapsed craters, crater walls, and volcanic plugs of varying ages.
Geographically: What this rugged and dramatic landscape has meant, however, is that the natural heritage of the islands, which it once shared with the Congolese rain forest on the mainland coast, has been preserved. The islands are simply too forbidding to farm, too distant to attract colonists, and too rough to support a dense population. So its lush forests are in a better state of preservation than perhaps anywhere on the former belt of rain forest in continental West Africa.
Biologically: Islands are hotbeds of evolution. Their isolation means that species that happen to arrive there, separated forever from their continental antecedents, tend to diverge and go their own evolutionary way. So it is that Principe harbors a number of endemic species (ones that live nowhere else on earth), most notably birds like the velvet-mantled drongo, and the Principe glossy starling, speirops, sunbird, golden weaver, and kingfisher.
All of these factors make Principe an ideal place for us to visit on this itinerary, and a place I enjoyed immensely. We based out of the surprising and gorgeous Bom-Bom Resort, situated partially on a small outlying island by that name. We hiked in the forest—glorious, rich rain forest. Many trees were in flower, notably some huge orange-flowered Erythrinas. We came across towering emergent trees, whose trunks pierced the canopy and whose branches reached into the sky, including a kapok or ceiba tree, one of the few species that lives in both Africa and the New World tropics. And we saw all the birds mentioned above.
Some of us also visited an inland village—quirky and almost forgotten, as island towns tend to be—and snorkeled from the beach on the volcanic rocks near the resort.
There is a great deal special about Principe…and all of it derives from one characteristic it possesses: isolation. To be special, a place must be different from the run of the mill, and being different requires separation, distance, and lack of contact. We at Zegrahm Expeditions seek out the Principes of the world, the difficult, remote, special places. And it just so happens many of them are on islands.