Flying into São Filipe, Fogo appears on the horizon, looming and dramatic. Even cloaked in a sea of clouds, the peak shows through. On a clear day, it is possible to see the aftermath of years of volcanic activity ripping scars of varying shades of black that pour down the steep landscape. Flying around the cone, few houses are visible and it seems miraculous that they can even exist up and down the slopes. São Filipe seems to appear out of nowhere and looks to be both large and small at the same time, a dense cluster of houses surrounded by wild, barren soil.
With around 38,000 inhabitants, Fogo is one of the more populous islands, though you wouldn’t know it by the small town feel of the capital, São Filipe. Clusters of houses along the road circling the island are just a small portion of the residences scattered about the steep hillsides. Outside of Fogo, the inhabitants of this island are notorious, referred to as loud, lively and a little bit crazy. Anywhere else in Cape Verde, “Abo é de Fogo?” (Are you from Fogo?) is synonymous for “Are you crazy?” Though eccentricity abounds, the residents are nothing short of open and welcoming.
Though each island is of volcanic origin, Fogo is unique in that it is the only currently active volcano. While each other island lies dormant, the cone of Fogo rises up from the ocean, culminating at Pico de Fogo. The most recent volcanic activity occurred on April 2, 1995 causing major destruction, but no fatality. Outside of the lava fields from this and other more recent eruptions, the soil of Chã is rich in minerals and the area itself receives more precipitation than other parts of the island and archipelago. The residents of Chã take full advantage of this fact, growing an array of fruits that includes apples, figs, pomegranates, peaches, quince and grapes used largely for production of wine.
Inside the crater of the volcano is a small village of about 1,000 that truly defy expectations. Split into two equally tiny towns of Portela (the upper zone) and Bangaeira (the lower zone), the residents have lived for generations through multiple eruptions to take advantage of two yearly cycles of harvest that yield corn and beans for subsistence and a multitude of fruits no longer existent in the increasingly arid archipelago. To visit Fogo and not visit Chã das Caldeiras would be a mistake, but hidden below the crater are endless opportunities for relaxation, excitement and a taste of the island of fire.
Possibly one of the most mystifying places in the world. The road to this remote village climbs to impossible heights, passing through a few scattered villages. In a public car, it takes almost three hours to make the climb with all the various stops and errands on the way. Once you pass through Achada Furna, you have seen the last of the houses for 30 minute switchback climb through the barren lava flows. Aside from the occasional goats and agricultural workers, the varying landscape is all there is to keep you company. Peaks and valleys of different geologic make-up are a stunning companion for the ascent.
When you think the summit could not possibly end, there is a sudden temperature drop and the soil around the road changes from windswept weeds to dark rich soil. A few houses and various plants and trees are scattered along the road along. The car will take a turn and Pico do Fogo appears as if out of nowhere. It is here that the enchantment begins, but the journey is not over. Once you enter the crater, there is close to 2 miles (approx. 3 km) of road to cover before reaching the village of 1000 that exists 5,345 feet (1629 m) above sea level.
The plain of craters has been formed over the past few hundred years. Since the late 1700’s, all eruptions have occurred within Chã das Caldeiras creating a cluster of smaller peaks and overlapping lava flows. Over the past few years the road has be repaired, fixing the damage that was caused by the 1995 eruption. It now passes smoothly through the most recent lava flows that destroyed a large percentage of the arable land. Miraculously, no one was killed in this most recent eruption. The houses are clustered on the northwest side of the caldeira and are watched over by the looming Pico do Fogo.
For a tiny village with no electricity, there is also no shortage of activities in Chã das Caldeiras. The most immediate option is climbing the almost 4000 feet (1200m) to the peak of the volcano, but there are a number of other hikes as well. If you aren’t up to the challenge of the peak, the volcanzinho (“little volcano” 1995 eruption) on the southwest side of the peak is less taxing, incredibly peaceful and has pockets of sulfur vents – a reminder of the living earth below. The park also recently installed permanent steps to climb a ways into the gaping crater.
To arrange a guide for your hike, visit the information center located in a marked funco – a traditional round house built out of volcanic rock with variably thatched or cemented peaked roofs. If you intend to climb to the peak, it is necessary to spend at least two full days in Chã das Caldeiras as cars do not arrive in the crater until mid-day/afternoon and you should begin the hike in the early morning. The ascent takes 3-5 hours (depending on pace) across loose soil and large rocks, but the descent is rapid. Loose volcanic rock covers the side of the volcano and it is possible to literally run/slide down in less than 45 minutes. Should you choose, it is possible to descend into the dormant crater and spend the night under the stars. The view from the peak is remarkable. On a clear day, you can see almost all the islands in the archipelago and the tiny village below. Standing above the clouds, you will feel that you have truly reached the top of the world.
To preview the travel guide that will show you the real Cape Verde, check out: http://www.otherplacespublishing.com/cape_verde