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.
Written and photographs by Jack Grove
Greetings from Palau!
The Palau Aggressor II sailed away from the Koror dock in the pre-dawn hours and we arrived at the Rock Islands in the early morning. The weather is perfect and the expedition is off to a marvelous start. Our first snorkeling and diving programs went perfectly. Please enjoy these incredible pictures of the Rock Islands' Coral Gardens.
Written by Rich Pagen
We awoke to the bustling port city of Cotonou, with the sun rising over numerous tanker ships awaiting their opportunity to offload. We drove through morning traffic, dominated by large trucks and motorcycles, including the abundant motorcycle-taxis called Zémidjans. Vegetable stands lined the side of the road, as did vendors selling jugs of smuggled gasoline from Nigeria, a practice accepted by Benin’s government as they cannot supply nearly enough to meet the demands of the country.
We stopped at a Sacred Forest outside the city of Ouidah, where towering trees hosted roosting straw-colored fruit bats, whose screeches carried far across this impressive place. We were led through a series of Vodun (Voodoo) statues representing several of the religion’s spirits, as well as a museum housed in the Fort of São João Baptista de Ajudá, the former center of the Portuguese and African slave trade in this area. We also stopped along an exposed sandy beach at the Door of No Return, the site from which slaves had been shipped across the Atlantic.
After lunch on a beautiful hotel patio along the coast, we drove out to the shore of marshy Lake Nokoué and boarded small covered boats for the ride out to the lake village of Ganvie. The name of this community of 30,000 people, situated far from the shore, translates to “free at last," and refers to the fact that this place was a safe haven from slave traders.
Dugout canoes with sails plied past us with the breeze, while long wooden poles were used to move the canoes back up against the wind. Fish traps and nets were everywhere, and the marsh vegetation seemed to go on forever in all directions. Stilted houses sat perched above the water, and we got out to watch a traditional Voodoo mask dance. As the dancers in bright costumes spun and gyrated to the drumbeats, we had no doubt that we were at the epicenter of West Africa’s Voodoo religion.
Ornithologist Pepper Trail was so inspired by his time on our Jungle Rivers of South America expedition, he wrote a poem during his time in Guyana.
Night comes on, beyond
The black ragged palms
Behind the fading sky
Mango, and near the horizon, lime
Two by two, the parrots
Fly to the safety of their islands
In the Zodiac, talk falls quiet
Talk of mangroves, orchids, caimans
As darkness takes us, we fold in and
Open out, complicated flowers
Under the moon and her companions
The river is never silent
Another typical day in the Galápagos. We started the day nestled between Isabela and Fernandina looking for whales and watching the sun rise. After finding a few whales, we continued with our daily activities of hiking, snorkeling, and exploration. At the end of the day, we had our customary cocktail party hosted by Zegrahm. Everyone was looking forward to a tasty beverage, when Jack announced that he had a little something special up his sleeve. Robert and Karin were going to be married at the equator, onboard the Isabela II, and in about 15 minutes! Jack and the captain performed the ceremony with Karin's extended family in attendance. As the sun set at the equator, we witnessed a lovely ceremony with many toasts to the bride and groom.