Saturday, 23 August 2014

The slope of the sea

After a long morning of work, as my trustworthy guide and I were returning to base camp, we passed through the smallest of villages, Oque Daniel. There I was ever so kindly, and albeit somewhat forcefully, offered a drink. Out of politeness and weakness I accepted a beer, as the strong-smelling crystal-clear liquid they were drinking didn't exactly look like something you doctor would advise you to have on an empty stomach as a mean of rehydration. Seconds after the first sip my fellow drinkers were deep into a number of lively discussions on a variety of topics ranging from whales to drinking, from dogs to fishing. Partially numbed by a combination of alcohol, intense heat, fatigue and boredom I let my attention come and go as the topics unfolded. Moreover the speed and excitement with which they were debating were putting a strain on my weak knowledge of Portuguese. But at a certain point the excitement obviously escalated of an order of magnitude. Shaken out of my apathy, I summoned all my Lusophone skills to understand what the new discussion was about. It took a while for the penny to drop, and retrospectively I can’t blame only my linguistic deficiencies, as it took me some extra time to believe what I was hearing. They were discussing the slope of the sea. 

Is the sea between Príncipe and São Tomé uphill or down hill? If you
ask the local  fishermen they all seem to have a different answer...

The subject of the dispute was not the depth of the waves on a stormy day as opposed to a calm one, but if the stretch of sea between the islands of Príncipe and São Tomé is, as a matter of fact, uphill or downhill! My astonishment grew as participants came forward presenting their unequivocal evidence supporting one or other theory (flatness didn't seem to be worth considering). One observant speaker reminded everyone how navigating away from Príncipe you would gradually see the island disappear in the distance starting from its base till the highest peak was the last thing you would glimpse. Clearly a sign you were ascending a slope. Others, instead, were accurately accounting for the difference in petrol needed to go either way.  As abruptly as it had started, and far from being settled, the pre-Columbian debate was brought to a halt and abandoned. It was time for them to play a game of cards, and for us to move on. As we resumed our walk to base camp I thought that if only they could go and ask the port authority, their doubts would certainly be put to rest at once …after all everyone knows that the stretch of sea to São Tomé is uphill.

Oque Daniel, Príncipe, 20th August 2014

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