When I told people I was going to São Tomé and Príncipe, they looked at me blankly. No one knew where or what it was. Some thought it was a palm-fringed corner of Brazil. For everyone, the islands were a lost world. Which was how Príncipe looked, from the heights overlooking the Bay of Agulhas — a lost kingdom, a Tolkienesque Middle-earth, a few kilometres from the intersection of zero degrees longitude and latitude. It was sunset, and white tropical birds with long tails were banking majestically over a pink Atlantic. Beyond the bay, clouds swirled and parted to reveal spectacular volcanic towers, phonolite outcrops piercing the jungle canopy and rising 100m above the treetops. Away to the right, sheer-sided Table Mountain was remote, cloud-strewn and fantastical. One of the world’s smallest countries, São Tomé and Príncipe consists of two green equatorial islands, about 150km apart and 250km off the west coast of Africa. Marooned in the Atlantic, with a tiny population and a trick...

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