'It is all of it one large mountain of a good
 height, out of the top whereof issues Flames of 
 Fire, yet only discerned in the Night: and then
 it may be seen a great way at Sea.'
                            William Dampier, 1683

Cape Verde Islands
The BRADT Travel Guide

Aisling Irwing - Colum Wilson

with contributions from Simon Day

Fogo rises steeply from the ocean, pokes through the clouds and towers above them. From the coast of Santiago or the peaks of Sao Nicolau it is as forbidding as a fortress. Fogo is a volcano, still active, and inside the crater the latest eruption still smokes gently.
Fogo is a menacing place: dark lava flows from centuries of eruptions to reach down its eastern side to the ocean. But it has a soft heart. Amongst the clods of cold lava that have covered much of the floor of the crater are fertile fields. Spilling over its northeast side are woods of eucalyptus and cool valleys in which grow coffee and vines. Inside the crater lives a race of people who have defied government orders to evacuate and instead live and farm below the smouldering peak that last erupted in 1995.

The crater is a highlight of the archipelago, its drama matched only by the mountains of Santo Antao. Fogo is thus one of the principal hiking islands but it is also fascinating for its anthropology and its natural history. Much of the island's splendour can be reached by vehicle. There are caves to explore and modest swimming but virtually no white beaches and no watersports. The capital is quiet.


Geologists have done intricate work to piece together the volcano's history by extrapolating from the directions of lava flows of different ages and combining that information with literary descriptions of the appearance of the volcano at different times.
Fogo erupted from the sea a few hundred thousand years ago, a single volcano reaching a mighty 3.5km high. Its walls were steep and unstable and so, sometime within the last 10,000 years, a great section in the east collapsed towards the sea - reducing the height of its walls by about 300m in one giant avalanche. After the first eruption there were numerous smaller ones, all making craters in the floor of the original large crater, which is now about 10km long and 7km wide.
Volcanoes are fertile places and Fogo's agricultural potential was harnessed from early on - it had acquired a population of 2,000 within the first 120 years of its discovery. It was the second island of the archipelago to be settled and was populated with slaves who grew cotton and developed the skill of weaving - the island was famed for its pano preta, or deep indigo cloth. The cloth was shipped to Santiago, and because of this the island remained remote from the trans-oceanic ship trade. But it did not escape attack: the Dutch had a four-day spree there in 1655. Lisbon's response to the ensuing plea for more Portuguese settlers was to dispatch convicts. Fogo was regarded as a hardship posting and, though it is only 50km from Santiago, it was the threatened place of exile for the people of the greater island. For much of this time the volcano in the background was growing: it appears to have put on several hundred metres between 1450 and 1750, and in the early 1600s black clouds swathed its heights. An eruption in 1680 was savage and gave the island its name, which means fire - before that it had been called, as usual, after the saint's day on which it was discovered. Much fertile land was ruined in that 1680 eruption and many people emigrated permanently to neighbouring Brava. From the end of the 1600s into the 1700s the fire of Fogo could be seen from afar and was used by ships to aid their navigation.
It was into the open space left by the ancient giant collapse that, in 1785, Pico de Fogo erupted. Lava spewed down the north-eastern slopes creating the bulge on which the town of Mosteiros is situated today and the Pico became the highest point of the archipelago.
Against this tempestuous background the people of Fogo welcomed the crews of American whaling ships who came ashore in search of supplies and personnel, as they were doing on Brava. Thus began the emigration to the United States and the creation of the great Cape Verdean diaspora.
Since 1785 all eruptions have been inside the old crater. There was one in 1799 and three in the following century, in 1847, 1852 and 1857, after which there was a century's gap. Each eruption leaves cones in the crater floor which is how it earned its name, Cha das Caldeiras or Plain of Craters. In 1847 there were fatalities, caused not by lava flows but by the associated earthquakes.The eruption of 1852 created the cone known as Monte Preto de Baixo.
In the 20th century there were two eruptions. Lava spewed from one of the two chimneys on the southern side of the volcano in 1951 and also created cones to the north and south of the Pico - such as Monte Orlando, Monte Rendall and Monte Preto de Cima. These eruptions all began along a line of volcanic fissures extending from the flank of the Pico de Fogo summit cone across the floor of Cha das Caldeiras. The lava flows that issued from these vents spread over the northern and southern parts of Cha das Caldeiras and down the eastern flank of the island.
It was just a few years ago that the last eruption occurred, on the night of April 2 1995. For a week before, the villages had been shaken with small but increasingly powerful earthquakes. Just after midnight the flank of the Pico split apart as a line of fissures opened. It was as if the Pico had been 'cut by a knife', said one villager. The eruption began and a curtain of fire issued from the volcano and poured down into the crater. Thousands of inhabitants fled.
By daylight the whole island was covered by a thick cloud of dark ash extending 5km into the sky; lava bombs up to 4m wide landed half a kilometre from the eruption and a day later lava fountains were spurting 400m high: it is estimated that at its height the volcano ejected between four and 8.5 million cubic metres per day.
One month later the lava had thickened but was still flowing at 15cm per hour. It was another month before the flow stopped. Miraculously nobody died; perhaps the luckiest escape was made by two guitarists who are said to have climbed the Pico the day before the eruption, to make music and enjoy the view.
The 1995 eruption was different from the others. Unusually, it occurred southwest of the Pico, through a system of fissures that lay in a broadly south- to-west orientation. As a result the lava flows spread west and then north, covering an area of fertile volcanic soils and ultimately much of the small village of Boca Fonte. Today, shells of its houses remain, invaded by monstrous clumps of lava as high as their roofs.
Alternative housing was quickly built on the southern slopes - it can be seen from the road as you ascend to the crater. It was assumed that the people would move there permanently but most of them have returned to their crater homes to cultivate whatever land escaped the lava flow. The road across Cha has been rebuilt.
For most of the duration of the eruption (from April 10 to the end of May) the only active vent was at the north eastern end of the fissure system and it is here that the largest volcanic cone of the eruption grew - the yellow-streaked, smoking black slope that lies at the foot of the Pico de Fogo. You pass it on the right soon after entering the crater by road.
Today Fogo has been boosted by development work, much of it funded by Germany. It has a fine new harbour, and acres of terracing, catchment dams and reafforestation.

The fourth largest island, with an area of 480km2, Fogo's highest point is the Pico de Fogo which reaches 2,829m. Fogo has a population of 40,000. Sao Filipe is the third largest town in Cape Verde.
On the volcano there is little short of an ecological crisis. Locals cut down the wood for fuel and rake in the vegetation for fodder. Goats kill even the trees by chewing away their bark. The entire island could be barren within a couple of years except for deliberate plantations. There are six plant species endemic only to Fogo. Two to watch out for are lingua de vaca (Echium vulcanorum), a white flower with a broad leaf, which is confined not just to Fogo volcano but only to the volcano's rim; and cravo-babo (Erysimum caboverdeanum), a delicate pink flower with long pointed leaves, which is found only inside the crater.
The islanders grow coffee and produce wine. The coffee is grown in the crater by digging pits amongst the little black pieces of basaltic rock known as lapilli and planting a vine in each: at night the moisture condenses on the rock and dribbles into the holes.
Fogo is thought to have potential for geothermal energy for electricity production. Rainwater filters through the permeable volcanic rock and reaches underground reservoirs. Volcanic activity means that water samples taken during investigations have had temperatures of 200-300C.

Agriculture is the main activity, though fishing occupies a small number of people. There's plenty of water underground but hoisting it to the surface is expensive, and directing it higher - to the slopes that carry much of the agriculture - is even more costly.


By air
Flights arrive from and depart for Praia at least once a day and there are weekly flights to and from Sao Vicente and Sal. At the time of writing Mosteiros airport was closed, theoretically for ever, and all flights were landing near the capital on the west coast, Sao Filipe. Flying over the flanks of this volcano and landing on a sliver of flat land between the grey slopes and the blue sea is one of the most spectacular experiences you will have on the archipelago. Coming from Praia, sit on the right hand side.
It's 2km into the capital. A shared aluguer from the airport to Sao Filipe should not cost more than 50$. Residencial Las Vegas and Hotel Xaguate collect their guests if they have booked in advance. Taxis cost 250$, and there is an aluguer for Mosteiros which meets every Sao Filipe flight.

By ferry
The Furna plies between Praia, Brava and Fogo, making about two circuits a week. Sometimes it calls at Brava before Fogo, sometimes Fogo before Brava, sometimes it omits Fogo. The Furna always leaves Praia for Brava and/or Fogo at 22.00 and takes 7-12 hours to reach the first island. On the way back from Brava and Fogo it leaves the first of the two islands at midday and quits the second for Praia at 18.00. The port lies to the north of Sao Filipe, within walking distance.
Sometimes the Barlavento or Sotavento travel from Sao Vicente to Fogo. It is a 14-hour journey. Check with the Agencia Nacional de Viagens or with Arca Verde.
TACV is setting up a thrice-weekly boat from Fogo to Brava.

By yacht
Fogo is bathed in a swell that can only be avoided by anchoring at the harbour to the north of the capital. The ground drops away too steeply from the capital itself for anchoring there.

There are hotels only in Sao Filipe and Mosteiros and accommodation in the crater, in local houses or huts.

Aluguers leave Mosteiros, the villages in the crater and other outlying villages between 04.00 and 05.30, arriving in Sao Filipe about an hour and a half later. They depart from Sao Filipe mid-morning and also at midday and at 14.00 for the crater (250$). There are no aluguers to and from the crater on a Sunday. An aluguer leaves Sao Filipe for Sao Jorge sometime between 09.30 and 11.00 and one returns to Sao Filipe at 13.00.
Car hire is possible from Rent-a-Car (tel: 811818) and from Discount Auto Rent and Parts Company (tel: 811715) for about 4,000$ per day, although this may be negotiable. For ecological reasons, driving into the region of Monte Velha requires authorisation - ask at the town hall.
A car plus driver can be hired for about 5,000$ for the day (for example to drive you up to the volcano, hang around and drive you back at the end of the day). This can rise to 6,000$ on a Sunday.
Hitching should be easy on the Sao Filipe to Mosteiros road but there is little traffic into the crater except at aluguer time.
Bicycles may be available for hire soon from Residencial Las Vegas.
The owner of Residencial Las Vegas, or the agency Qualitour can arrange transport.

Ecotur, near the fruit and vegetable market, offers guided walks in and around the crater, and elsewhere on the island, as well as arranging local accommodation.


Cape Verde Islands

by Aisling Irwin and Colum Wilson
published in UK and USA

Home Fogo essays