São Filipe, the capital of Fogo that has been welcoming us for days, is the starting point.
We left it as soon as we could, still ground from the early awakening in Chã das Caldeiras, the painful ascent to the summit of Fogo volcano and the no less erosive descent from Chã to the shore of Mosteiros.
It's a little after nine in the morning. The almost dry haze characteristic of the island's winter remains in an embryonic state. The ephemeral clarity and freshness encourage us to set out on the path.
We skirted around the airfield where we had taken the inaugural steps on the island. We continue along the road that surrounds Fogo, not along its seafront, as would be expected, there, on the south coast, for a level above, flatter and more stable, to which the old cobblestone of the road clung with redoubled rigor and better resisted to the successive geological and tectonic whims of the place.
Fogo Island Above, Towards the Great Caldera del Volcão
The initial plan was to progress east. We do it passing through Talho and Vicente Dias. We cross the hamlet of Penteada and approach Patim, from where a road branch embedded between the Patim and Fundo streams, climbs towards Monte Grande, then to Monte Largo and, at Achada Furna, it gains momentum to reach the heights of the caldera volcano fire.
The climb to the caldera a few days earlier had been nocturnal. The dark had robbed us of the privilege of admiring the blackened majesty of its entrance, the walls, rocks and furrows of abrasive lava and the polished basalt that compose it, like a Dantesque monument.
We reach the famous sign that welcomes you to the Fogo Natural Park, on the side of a meander of the road, at the apparent bottom of the volcano's almost-perfect cone. Moments after we leave the pick-up, a group of artisans approaches us with a very Cape Verdean gentleness.
Mini-Lava Houses: the Caldeira's Creative Craftsmanship
We are shown a series of traditional caldera houses made of magma, straw and seeds to decorate the conical roof. Some are elementary. Others have two floors and more complex structures.
We know that they evoke the genuine and picturesque buildings that the lava from the last eruptions of Fire has buried. We are aware of how much the destruction caused by these eruptions has weakened its inhabitants.
For this reason, and because we would like to offer as much Cape Verdean gifts as possible to family and friends, we find ourselves admiring the collection they offer us, and buying five thousand shields of lava houses, part of a hand-picked mini-architectural assortment.
From this administrative preamble, we proceed up the slope and around the initial arch of the caldera. To and fro, intimidated by the tenebrous oppression of the volcanic domain. When we see ourselves at the entrance to our well-known Portela, we revert to the boiler entrance.
Descending from the Caldeira, to the East, towards Cova Figueira
Residents on foot abound in these parts. As we descend through scorch and dry secondary craters, we give them a first ride. Then another. And yet another.
Eventually, we have five passengers in the pick up.
With fuel running down too low, we take advantage of your knowledge of the area. We let ourselves be guided to a small roadside dealer who sells us bottled fuel. Enough until we got to the bomb that was the closest.
Shortly after Figueira Pavão, even before Cova Figueira – Kóba Figuera, in Creole – the circular roads of different dimensions merge into the Circular do Fogo.
Its dusty cobblestones lead us to the bright houses of the last of the villages, stretched down the withered slope below, in the same direction that any new lava flow would.
After twenty kilometers covered without any sign of its cone, behold, the volcano returns to insinuate. We detected it, as towering as it's supposed to be, since it's Cape Verde's ceiling.
Above the houses, the earthy slope, and even the sulphurous mist that kept around it.
At the level of Kóba Figuera, the day warmed up and unfolded smoothly. A young couple was waiting for the Hiace responsible for the Praia da Fajã route.
An old man was pulling a donkey by a rope.
Vendors of biscuits, sweets, and other packaged snacks stood at their makeshift stall, against an old lavastone house, in the shade of providential beach hats.
After Cova Figueira, Circular do Fogo enters the eastern slope of the island and the volcano, which is known to have collapsed over the Atlantic 73 years ago.
Passing through the eastern and monumental slope of the Fogo Volcano
And that thus generated a tidal wave of more than 150 meters in height that hit the west of neighboring Santiago with enormous impact. In such a way that huge stones coming from Fogo can be found on the coast of Santiago.
Despite the scale of the geological event, both the island of Fogo and Santiago survived and are to last. On the imminent border of the municipalities of São Filipe and Santa Catarina do Fogo, the Circular zigzags along a half-slope covered with lush agaves, a resplendent green that contrasts with the blue of the Atlantic.
There, the cone of Fire rises and approaches the Atlantic more than ever. It smokes to match and produces a grayish haze that blurs the sky blue.
Its solidified lava lists the landscape in green and vegetable yellow, strips interspersed with other areas toasted by the torrents of successive eruptions that forced the same number of reconstructions of the road along which we were progressing.
After another curve, already between the sharp agaves, we were above a huge drop in the slope. A multicolored herd of goats is amazed by our presence in such mountain territory.
For a moment, we admire its acrobatic balance. In a flash, the magnificence of the Fire regains our attention to the blackness that the volcano had made of the village below, to the dark ash that continued to slide from the crater and to the countless layers of stratified lava that even repeated until on top of the colossus.
With effort, we broke the spell that held us captive to that view. We proceeded north. We stopped again in the village of Tinteira.
We are amazed by the sight of a group of children engaged in games and mischief, on solid lava, between huge basaltic stones and with the intimidating sulfur mist hovering in the background.
Cyclic Emigration from the Island of Fire to the Eastern United States
We are also surprised by the real mirage of US flags waving in the wind, even if the phenomenon of strangeness has little.
There are more Cape Verdeans expatriates than those living in their archipelago. The instability generated by the potential for further eruptions of Fogo contributes to many of the island's natives going overseas.
The Boston and New Bedford regions, where there are already around 250.000 Cape Verdeans, are favorite destinations for the Foguenses, even more than Portugal and The Netherlands. The people who stay from Fogu are subject to the aridity and the whims not only of the volcano but also of the weather.
Even if in the area of Mosteiros, in the shade of the island's only forest, Fogo provides fertile plantations of tropical vegetables and fruits, even coffee and wine, Fogo goes through distressing periods of drought. Throughout history, several of these styles have proven to be more harmful than the volcano itself.
The road enters the greatest of lava rivers that Fire made reach the sea. At spaces, it sinks and gains huge lateral walls of that same lava.
A cyclist rides in the opposite direction, protected from the afternoon sun and dust by a cap and mask that give him a shabby Tuareg look.
Soon, the Circular sidewalk crosses the imaginary line that separates the domains of Santa Catarina do Fogo from those of Mosteiros. We pass Grass and Crow. With Corvo behind, we crossed the last lava flow left by the volcano, still inhospitable.
Monasteries: a village in Paredes-Meias with Lava from the Volcano
We make our way to the houses of Fonsaco and arrive at the back of Mosteiros, a village unmistakable for its houses installed, sometimes on a vast lava fajã, sometimes on another lined by a green meadow, at the foot of the Monte Velha Forest.
As we had seen in Cova Figueira, the inhabitants with the means to do so, plaster and paint their houses in bright colors, we intuited that in order to fight the black dictatorship imposed by the volcano.
When color is unaffordable, their homes remain in cement blocks, largely made from the island's sand and volcanic ash.
There are almost ten thousand inhabitants of Mosteiros, farmers, fishermen, if the opportunity permits, small businessmen who take advantage of visits from curious people like us.
Suffice it to say that one of the most popular hikes on the island of Fogo is the descent from Chã das Caldeiras to Monasteries.
That many of the hikers complete it already after having climbed, in effort, to the Pico from Fogo and arriving at Mosteiros painful, both by the overwhelming rise to the thighs, and by the descent that punishes the knees. We too went through that ordeal.
From Mosteiros, despite an obvious intensification of those on the road, it took a little while to reach the north of Fogo, between Fajãzinha and Atalaia.
The End of the Island Tour, with a stopover in Ponta da Salina
With the afternoon drawing to a close, in this stretch, several communities of friends and neighbors indulged in roadside gatherings, animated by Cape Verdean popularucha music, washed down with beer and wine from the island. As we pass, they wave and greet us.
When we reach São Jorge, we cut to Ponta da Salina. There we take a look at the small natural harbor, shaped by lava and animated by a dozen small fishing boats, each with the right to a dedicated utensils warehouse.
A man washes a brown horse with seawater that he keeps tied to a telephone pole. Right next door, in a mini-cove of black sand, the only sandy stretch of beach, a group of friends for picnics and conversation indifferent to the imminent rise of the tide.
More back, less back, we come across another of Salina's historical curiosities, its small cemetery, with small towers crowned with crosses as tombstones, facing the sea.
On one of them, poorly cemented, a small angel of eternity contemplates the endless Atlantic.
From Ponta da Salina, always zigzag and ups and downs, we completed the 20km that separated us from returning to the capital.
Saint Philip. In this last stretch, as night fell, we saw the small lights on the island to the west of the channel light up and form incandescent lines.
A Brava called for us. Three more days of rounds through the Fire and we would give in to his appeal.