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Fogo Island

Fogo, Cape Verde

Fogo Island

Fogo, meaning fire in Portuguese, is an island dominated by the guardian presence of the great volcano, the symbol of life and energy, which stands at almost 3,000 metres, the highest point of Cape Verde.

The island was originally called São Filipe and only later took on the name directly associated with its natural phenomenon, even though eruptions only occur every ten years.

São Filipe is the capital of Fogo Island. Here, the enchanting architecture reflects the social strata which have marked the passage of the centuries. The dominant houses are sobrados, which are buildings of colonial influence where the aristocrats dominating the economy and local society once lived. The first floors of the sobrados, usually with carved wooden verandas, were reserved for the upper classes. Once a year, on Santa Cruz day, other classes were allowed in. The ground floors, which were very basic, were for the slaves and servants and for domestic work.

Going through these old city streets, it is well worth visiting the Casa da Memória, where artifacts related to the volcano and the traditions and culture of the island are kept.

São Filipe slopes down to the sea, stopping off near a cliff over the long Fonte de Vila Beach, with black shining sand. Here the south and west coasts of the island merge, and it is the centre of the agro­‑industrial activity which has shaped the life of Fogo Island. There is cotton, vineyards, pine trees which are all processed and packaged for export, apart from whale and cachalot oil.

The island of Fogo was originally inhabited by great land­‑owners from Santiago and by slaves brought from the coast of Guinea, whose labour was the basis for the development and progress of the whole island. From these diametrically opposed origins a community grew up that is very proud of its island, and which preserves the local riches which it has accumulated.

With its more than 5,000 inhabitants, São Filipe is a city of multifaceted cultural traditions, principally the annual festival of São Filipe on May 1st, which attracts people from all over the archipelago, as well as emigrants who now work in other parts of the world. Profoundly religious, the festival of São Filipe is marked by the church service and procession. However, there are also celebrations and shows by the local populace, such as horse racing at a track near the airport, cachupada (meaning fish stew for everybody), and popular dancing.

The festival of São João, in June, is also an interesting and typically local event, linking the sacred and the profane, with creative masks colouring the processions along the beaches of black sand, which surround the island.

As elsewhere in Cape Verde, the inhabitants enjoy the local diversions in the late afternoon, from the most simple to the most creative, often in the street, from music to games such as ouril, a board game that originated on the neighbouring continent. This requires an astuteness which always attracts curious enthusiasts.

Going towards Mosteiros on the western coast, the traveller can stop at São Lourenço church, a fine example of what has always strongly influenced the inhabitants of the islands of Cape Verde, with a deep connection to Christian traditions brought by missionaries, such as Padre António Vieira, to Cape Verde.

Mosteiros is a small town that has become famous for what is called Fogo coffee, a very aromatic local produce, grown on the side of the valley which separates this coastal region from the more than 2,000 metres high Bordeira forest surrounding the large crater of the volcano.

From the old crater, several kilometres wide, it is possible to walk to the small and isolated village of Chã das Caldeiras, at the foot of the principal cone of the volcano. The most recent eruption was the 2nd of April, 1995, a sign that the volcanic activity continues. The village was so isolated by the flow of lava that the main road was cut off in three different places.

Hikers who take this path can go to the Casa Memória, where artifacts related to the volcano are kept. The lava has, in the past, reached houses, and flows of ash and lava now cover the fields, which used to be a very fertile source of food for the inhabitants.

Under the crushing grandiosity of the volcano, where its strength and energy are tangible, the silence and isolation is impressive. Chã das Caldeiras is composed by two small villages (Portela and Bangaiera), with a handful of plain houses which the owners won’t exchange for anything, tied to this simple but hard way of living. Close to the soil, the green of the small, courageous vines, mixed with dwarf apple and quince trees, stand out from the dominant pitch black and prove that nature continues to be able to produce miracles, defying the elements, however hostile they may seem.

While to the east the lava of the eruption of 1952 has built up the central cone of the volcano, creating a single slope to the sea, to the west the large old crater closed up with a wall several kilometers long and hundreds of metres high. This is an invitation to rock climbers, with several routes already structured, either for professionals or for amateurs. At the top there is an amazing forest called Monte Velho.

Visitors who appreciate contact with raw nature should not miss the steep climb to the main lava cone at the top of the actual volcano. There are very few places in the world where one can hear the magical sound of complete silence. An unforgettable experience of isolation, a unique fusion between humankind and nature; the sky above, the cauldron still steaming to the side, the white clouds floating much further down, the black lava… and, when visibility allows, the sight not only of this island but also of all the other islands in the archipelago.

Returning from this exciting expedition, it’s worth a stop at Chã das Caldeiras. Here you will find local handicraft made from lava, for those who like souvenirs. And this is the best place to enjoy the face­‑to­‑face dancing of Talaia Baixo, while you listen to the fantastic stories of the Frenchman Armand Montrond, who left behind an important genetic and cultural heritage, mirrored in the creole­‑like blonde hair and light coloured eyes of the children.

Returning from the panoramic view over Patim, a settlement nesting in the cone of an extinct volcano, crossed with parallel rows of furrows to keep in the water, one can turn the corner of the island, from the south to the east, to take a look at Cova Figueira, a village where the creole is sung rather than spoken.

The best way to celebrate the return to São Filipe from such a unique trip, would be to taste the rare and precious manecon, the wine of the lavas, which brings to the throat the heat of the volcano, with a slight but perceptible taste of sulphur, but without any chemical additions.

And if there is a table laid nearby with a good dish of “djagacida”, the gastronomic icon of Fogo Island, and a band which plays the morna the island way, then the celebration of the visit to the Island of the Volcano will be richly complete…

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