CHA DAS CALDElRAS
The road to the volcano passes first through pleasant countryside dotted
with abandoned Portuguese farms and old volcano cones. Later the road
becomes a series of terrifyingly steep hairpin bends with views down massive
ancient lava spills to the coast and then enters the echoing silence of the
crater. Its sinister dark walls, and the vast clods of lava scattered over it, make one feel very small.
The people seem to be of a different race - light skinned, straight-haired, some
of them even blond and blue-eyed. These are said to be the descendants of the
fecund Duc de Montrond, a French nobleman who fled here in the 19th century
to escape a duel and brought the vines that began Fogo's wine production.
The people who live in the volcano are trying to improve its fragile ecology
and develop an economy. One step has been to define the crater as a nature
reserve, another has been to set up small-scale tourism. Local people now offer
beds for the night, and the best of these have been 'approved' by Ecotur. There
are several guides conversant with the natural history of the volcano, having
worked with botanists and geologists. The ones we know are Danilo, Antonio,
Joaquim and Simiano: ask for them at the Cooperativa (see below). For some
walks it is essential to have a guide. An example is climbing the Pico de Fogo,
because the path shifts with the movements of the ash - for this some charge
1,000$ per person; others charge a 1,500-2,500$ flat rate. For other walks a
guide is not essential but embellishes the experience and takes you to places
you would not otherwise find.
Getting there and away
A good plan is to take the midday or 14.00 aluguer for the three-hour journey
from Sao Filipe and ask to be deposited at the Cooperativa in the crater. There,
over a glass of Fogo wine and to the lusty music of the small band that seems
to play there permanently, you can ask around for a room. Spend the rest of
the day exploring the volcano: some ideas are given below. The next day you
can climb the Pico, then stay another night and pick up the very early aluguer
the next morning back to town (listen for the horn which sounds loudly in the
village at about 05.00).
If you prefer to walk the most hair-raising part of the journey to the volcano
then catch an aluguer from town to Achada Furna and take three hours to cover
the steep road from there.
An alternative to the above plan is to set off on the second day on foot, out
of the north of the crater and down to Mosteiros where there is an excellent pensao, taking the pre-dawn aluguer back to
Sao Filipe the next morning. A walk up the Pico followed by the descent to
Mosteiros in one day is too much for most people.
A day-trip to the volcano is tricky by public transport, though there are cars
in the crater which can be chartered as taxis for the trip back to
Sao Filipe for several thousand escudos.
There is no running water or electricity, and the accommodation is very basic
- perhaps just a windowless room made of lava blocks. But the best are clean,
and careful preparations are made for visitors, who are received with great
The best room at the time of writing is with Manuel Montrond, whose wife
prepares a delicious evening meal; double 1,000$ including breakfast and
evening meal. There are also some tourist huts-a mattress on the floor,no
toilet - which cost 1,000$ for two people. You will have to arrange your own
food with local people, but this will not be difficult - ask at the Cooperativa.
Eating and drinking
Take food with you for lunch. There are no restaurants but a villager will
prepare a meal with a few hours' notice. There is a shop and many little bars.
The hearty local Manecom wine has a spicy taste that suits the surroundings.
The coffee is delicious.
Head for the Cooperativa where there is often wine, music and dancing into the
The principal walks are the six-hour, tough, wind-blown climb up the Pico
(guide essential, see box) and the walk down to Mosteiros. You can also ascend
to the crater rim and even walk along it, or wander around the crater floor. It's
possible to scramble to the top of the still-smoking 1995 eruption. Some of
these walks are described below. For others, consult locally.
Exploring the crater
This two-hour walk starts at the Cooperativa. Head back towards the village of
Portela but as you leave the village turn off to the right following the car tracks in the grey soil. The track leads you towards the west walls of the crater and continues round the edge of the 1995 lava to the former village of Boca Fonte
- now destroyed except for the colonnaded facade of a Cooperativa which still
stands, at the edge of the flow. About 100m further on, climb up on to the lava
and clamber across it to get a view of a house marooned in the flow. A short
walk later you arrive at the vineyards - the vines look almost pitiful, straggling along the ground like weeds. Next, after curving round to the left and on to the southern side, you'll see several small agricultural and fruit farms. Their produce goes to the market in Sao Filipe. Shortly afterwards there's a chance to turn back towards the Pico and the main road back to Portela.
The 1995 peak
This is an easy, two hour round-trip, but there is a danger that you will breathe
in the acid gas that still wafts out of the volcano. The route described below is
usually upwind of the smoke but it is advisable to carry a scarf to wet and tie
over your nose and mouth should you detect whiffs of gas. Don't approach the
fumarole (the hole that emits the fumes).
There was no path up to the top when I visited it in early 1997 but there
may be by now. Most of the walk is over a gently inclined slope covered in
lapilli so a precise path is not necessary.
The best view from the road of the eruptions of 1995 is just after it enters the
volcano from the southeast. The main vent through which the eruption
happened is about 150m high above the floor of Cha das Caldeiras: it's on the
right, between the road and the Pico de Fogo, and it can often still be seen
smoking. You can see into the vent from the road because it runs northeast to
southwest and is open at the southwestern end. Most of the mass of lava you
can see around you, stretching for about 9km2, issued from this breach.
Looking up at the cone you will see it is made of black, chilled fragments of
lava, known as scoria. These have been turned a rusty red by exposure to the hot
sulphur dioxide that still issues, mainly from a fumarole on the eastern rim of
the crater. The yellow patches are sulphur, precipitated from the gas as it cools.
The cone is steep and unstable on its southern and western sides, but the
northern rim can be reached from the east. The path first crosses a field of very
fresh scoria scattered with larger fragments of lava - 'cowpat bombs' - that were
liquid as they fell and spattered on impact. When climbing up to the rim, aim
first for the saddle between the northeast end of the 1995 main cone and the
slope of Pico de Fogo, then turn right (for the sulphur-coated explosion pits)
or left (for the rim of the main crater) when you get to the top of the slope.
The pits were formed by explosions at various stages of the eruption; they
rapidly filled with scoria ejected from the main vent and with rubble which
rolled down the Pico de Fogo, but they continued to emit sulphur dioxide for
some time and they are presently coated with yellow crusts. Similar but thicker
encrustations can be seen along the northern rim of the main crater. They
cluster around the fissures which formed as the magma drained back into the
depths at the end of the eruption and the crater partially collapsed into itself
A five-hour journey there and back on foot, three hours by car, this trip takes
you up to the rim of the volcano for a stunning bird's-eye view of the crater.
To hire a local guide to take you by jeep costs about 3,000$. A foot guide will
charge about 2,000$ and is not essential if you follow the road, but is necessary
if you want to go by short-cut footpaths.
From the Cooperativa go down the hill, into Portela and out the other side.
Continue along the track and on to a cobbled road. On the right are what
were, until 1995, the agricultural areas - now covered by lava. At the manned
checkpoint (people on foot and local guides in cars can go through) continue
down the road for about 15 minutes to a fork. The road to the right leads to
Mosteiros. Follow the left-hand road which becomes a dirt track, quite
precarious in places. It winds its way up the side of the volcano. Soon you
find yourself above the low cloud, gazing at a superb view of
road eventually climbs steeply upwards to a large white building used to
store rice and grain: this is where cars must stop. Walk past the front of the
storehouse and on to a path running along the left-hand side of the building
and up towards the volcano rim. It's a steep climb and the path is slippery in
places but it shouldn't take longer than half an hour to get to the top.
This part of the crater is very green and you will see women from the
villages gathering firewood. Recent eruptions are 'mapped out' in the vast area
below, covered by lava, which pushes right up to the edge of the villages of
Bangaeiro and Portela to the right. The darkest lava is from the most recent
1995 eruption. Closer to you, the slightly lighter coloured lava is from 1951;
the lightest coloured lava, directly in front of you, is oldest of all. It is possible to continue walking round the rim - take a guide.
This three-hour 40-minute walk involves quite steep descents. Begin with a
5km walk north along the road through the crater which takes you out, past
a road barrier that marks the protected forest and on past a road to the left
that goes to Montinho. Two minutes after this turning there is a steep little
path down to the right. You can stick with the road or follow this short-cut
in which case you will rejoin the road after ten minutes, turning right. Some
15 minutes past this point you arrive in Monte Velho. The road bends to the
right over the bridge where there are a few small houses. After crossing the
bridge leave the road and turn right, down the right hand side of the first
house. The path takes you down the side of a ravine, across which can be
seen the president's house. Giant carapate plants stack the sides of the path.
Descend through Pede Pranta, after which the ban on farming expires. You
enter little valleys planted with coffee, mango and orange plants.
Mist drifts upwards and the view of the ocean through the vegetation is
beautiful. After a while, descending past little dwellings built on terraces of
lava rock you reach the first region of Mosteiros - Montebarro - and the air is
filled with the scents of oranges and fires and the noise of children and
cockerels. Three hours into the walk you reach Pai Antonio, with a steeply
cobbled street, from where it is a 40-minute walk down the cobbled road
(ignoring the left turning to Feijoal) to the centre of