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Published: August 11th 2017
Cha das Caldeiras
Greetings from the Cape Verdean island of Fogo! My second of four islands that I plan to visit here in Cape Verde. I am continuing to having an amazing time in this country, perhaps these last few days have even been better than when I first arrived. I’m beginning to think that while Senegal and The Gambia are countries to be experienced, Cape Verde is a country to be enjoyed! Experience and enjoyment are both certainly objectives of my travelling career, and I understand that you can’t always have the latter without also having some of the former, but it is actually quite nice to be really enjoying my travels now! I have very much enjoyed a number of “wow” moments so far in this country, and I remain excited at the prospect of being able to visit two more islands here still.
I am currently relaxing in the beautiful little eco-retreat of “Tortuga B&B”, where I will be now for the next 24 hours, just kicking back and relaxing as I wait for my onward flight back to Praia tomorrow evening, and then another flight on to the island of Sao Vicente from there. There is
no air-conditioning here, perhaps due to its nomenclature of “eco-retreat”, though I have gotten used to at times doing without this, as long as there is a fan. There is indeed a fan here keeping me cool, particularly welcome at night, and in fact it is a really wonderful place to be. Situated a 10-minute taxi ride from the island’s capital city of Sao Filipe, or a stunning and highly enjoyable 30-minute walk along the beach, this place is run effortlessly by the tireless, yet unassuming Roberto from Italy. I believe he said he has been here for around 11 years, and has built a two-storeyed beautifully presented Bed and Breakfast right on the black-sanded beach of Fogo. There are numerous places around the grounds to relax, including hammocks and covered benches and tables, and all one can hear all day and all night are the pounding waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing onto the black-sanded beach outside. These are really powerful waves, meaning that swimming is a big no-no, the Bradt guide describing them poignantly as “evil and dumping”, though it is still mesmerising to watch them drop so powerfully onto the beach. As well as a wonderfully relaxing
place to call base and to chill in, Roberto also whips up some amazing three-course meals here, and the place is really a big hit with French tourists – over the last three days I have been the only non-French person staying here. It is a little above my budget for travelling, but I am more than happy to splash out a bit in a place like this.
So I last wrote on my final evening in Praia, before taking a flight the following morning, on Wednesday, to here, the island of Fogo. I believe I mentioned my inter-island flights were changed from TACV to Binter Caboverde, though I wouldn’t have known this if Roberto from here hadn’t told me about this in an email sent last week when I wrote to confirm my stay. Apparently TACV, perhaps also Binter, are not too good on their customer service, and are notorious for changing things without informing customers. Whilst my flight from Dakar to Praia was fine, the flight yesterday from Praia to Sao Filipe was not. Praia Airport is currently undergoing renovations. I understand from a bit of research that I have done, that the Cape Verdean government wants
Ponto da Salina
to improve its flight services, and become a more prominent international airline hub. I can see every reason for this, given its hugely strategic position halfway between Europe and South America, and the current dearth of direct flights connecting these two continents. If Cape Verde can manage to be a hub on Trans-Atlantic flights between Europe and South America, I can see huge potential there. As long as of course it gets its act together on its airline services, which is in fact seemingly the reason why the government made the snap decision of handing all domestic flight services over to the private sector. With the airport undergoing renovation, there was only a small entranceway for passengers to arrive and depart through, and then when arriving, a little further ahead, security officials only letting departing passengers through into the check-in area when their flight becomes available to check in. This made for a huge bottleneck of waiting passengers with trolleys, luggage and families in tow, and quite a lot of confusion all around. After around 45 minutes waiting there, my flight to Fogo was called, and so the Fogo-bound passengers went through only to find huge queues in the check-in
area, but nobody doing anything to check anybody in. This lasted about another hour or so, not just for my flight, but for two other inter-island flights and also a flight to Lisbon. It was getting hot, the air-conditioning wasn’t working, and a poor guy actually passed out from the heat and was taken somewhere else. Once the check-in desks opened, it still took an age for things to happen, as nobody here seems to respect the airline’s baggage requirements of one checked-in bag, and one carry-on bag. Everyone seemed to have two or three of each, which resulted in long and protracted arguments each time somebody new went to check-in, and each time after around five minutes of heated discussion, the checker-inner seemed to relent and the person was allowed the baggage through. This took another hour or so, and along with about 45 minutes waiting in the aeroplane on the runway, our flight took off two and a half hours later than scheduled. All this for a 20 minute flight!! And as if that wasn’t enough, the landing in Fogo didn’t go too well either. I have never experienced this before, and I don’t believe it’s very common
(though the flight attendant told me it was quite normal here), but the pilot, upon coming in to land, decided at the last minute that the cross-wind was too strong, and took off again before even touching down. This to me was quite scary, I’ve only ever seen this on YouTube videos. Both the flight attendant and the captain each made a subsequent announcement, each saying that the captain was going to turn around and “try to land again” – the operative word of “try” here didn’t really help my nerves. We did indeed turn around, and this time landed successfully going in the opposite direction onto the runway, though I just glimpsed for a brief second out of the right-hand window a fire engine poised ready with flashing lights. It was a most startling sight. Everyone applauded when the plane landed, and although I have always found this rather quaint in certain countries on my travels, I was actually very close to applauding myself…
Incidentally, I have been told here by Roberto and other travellers that this travel experience isn’t the norm in Cape Verde, flights are usually very efficient and on-time, so I am hoping for an
easier journey next time!
Anyway – whilst the trip to Fogo wasn’t too wonderful, my time here has been just amazing! A taxi driver met me at the airport and brought me to this wonderful eco-retreat, and I have been mesmerised ever since by the black sand and the crashing waves here. The black sand indicates a volcanic island, as its name suggests. After settling into my room and having a lovely pasta and pesto lunch, I walked the blissful 30 minutes along the beach to the island’s capital, Sao Filipe. I then spent a really enjoyable three hours or so exploring this cute little Portuguese colonial town, filled with cobbled streets and old Portuguese houses known as “sobrados”, all making a sweeping swoop down to the vertiginous cliffs at the bottom of town, themselves around 50 metres or so above the black sand and the crashing waves below. It is a spectacular place, and I enjoyed wandering around, stopping off in various places to see some souvenirs, have a refreshing Coke, and find out some information about local tours here.
Unfortunately, although this is indeed tourist season here in Cape Verde, tourists are still seemingly few and
Sao Filipe, Fogo
far between, and the nascent tourist industry on these islands, away from the package holiday destinations of Sal and Boavista it seems, do not seem to organise group tours that you pay as an individual to join. Instead, you book a tour yourself, and pay a price per person depending on the size of your group. So as a solo traveller I am thoroughly disadvantaged here, as a trip to the island crater would have cost me around £110, as opposed to around £20 if I was in a group of six or so. The travel agencies don’t seem to create groups themselves, as they do in other countries I’ve been to, but expect you to find yourself a group if that’s what you want. This is rather frustrating. However, given that I’ll probably only be here once in my life, and that the crater of Fogo is not to be missed, I resigned myself to having to book a tour up there and shelling out a fortune for it. No sooner had I resigned myself to this fate, however, than I found a travel agency which was already sending a minibus up to the crater the next day (yesterday)
Sao Filipe, Fogo
to collect a French couple who went there the day before, and would take me along for the ride and return me the same day for a bargain £35 – I jumped at the opportunity, and was most grateful for it.
And so it is that yesterday morning, at 9am, I found myself boarding a minibus by myself, to be given a private transfer up to the crater, at a fraction of the cost – I felt very fortunate. And this was probably indeed the best day of my travels so far this summer. The minibus, with its driver Claudio, drove first of all a little around the island, and then journeyed up the spectacular zig-zagged road up the side of the island’s crater. Within around an hour or so, we entered what is known as the “Parc Natural De Fogo”, a region also referred to as Cha das Caldeiras, or the Valley of the Craters. It was like entering Mordor. The island of Fogo is dominated by the main peak of Pico de Fogo, at 2829m, although this itself is situated within a huge caldera, a circular area around 9km across at its widest point, and ringed on
its western edge by huge, near-vertical looking mountains. The caldera is filled mainly with black ash and solidified lava flows, and is called the Valley of the Craters, as everytime the volcano erupts, it erupts from a new place, forming a new peak within the Valley. It really felt like another world up there, and as mentioned, like the land of Mordor, which itself is also surrounded by stark, forboding mountains. What made it even more spectacular, though of course a devastating event for the locals, was that the volcano actually last erupted around two and a half years ago at the end of 2014. This eruption formed a new peak, called “Pico Novo”, and its lava flow completely destroyed the two side-by-side villages up there of Portela and Bangaeira. Having solidified, you can still see this huge lava flow, coming out of the Pico Novo, and extending all the way along the valley and straight through the villages. It was quite a sad sight to see the old buildings completely covered, with only their roofs visible, by huge, dark and jagged black rock. What was even more impressive, however, was that most people in the villages continue to live
Sao Filipe, Fogo
there, having only evacuated temporarily during the eruption. They have returned to re-build their houses and buildings directly on top of the solidified lava flow, itself directly on top of their old houses and buildings. Almost everyone we saw in town as we drove through was involved in some form of construction there – it was a busy place, as people were simply re-building their village again. My Lonely Planet guide to West Africa was published before this eruption, whilst my Bradt guide was published after, so to see the difference was actually quite astounding – there seem to be just as many accommodation and eating options now as there were before. What remarkable people!
Before arriving in the village though, and although I didn’t do the main hike that many tourists do, to the Pico de Fogo, taking around 5 hours or so, I did do a wonderful hike to the Pico Novo, as well as a crater and peak formed by a 1995 eruption. The driver took me to the end of the crater road (literally the end of it, as before it used to go right through the crater, but now half of it has been
Sao Filipe, Fogo
destroyed by the 2014 lava flow). From here, he pointed out a very distant and faint “path” through the volcanic ash and rocks which ran up the side of the volcano and onto a very distant peak. I was to free-wheel it through open terrain to the path, follow it up to the peak, and from there follow another “path” down to the village which I’d be able to see in the distance. He would meet me on the other side. I was a little weary of this as my guidebook warns against hiking alone, though the driver assured me that is a very easy walk, and he wouldn’t advise me of it if he didn’t think me fit enough to complete it on my own. He also said it wasn’t too windy that day, so there shouldn’t be that many rocks tumbling down the side of the volcano. So off I set, into the vacant and black nothingness of volcanic Armageddon in the distance, as the driver turned around the way he came, to take the much more circular route around the rim of the crater to the village.
I was left quite completely alone, and I thoroughly
Sao Filipe, Fogo
enjoyed it! The walk took about two hours in total, at times scrambling up and down sand-like surfaces, at times following vague hikers’ trails. It was just me, the silence, the huge expanse of the crater behind me, and the looming tower of the Pico de Fogo in front of me. It was just wonderful. There did seem to be a voice somewhere in my head, sounding remarkably like Samwise Gamgee, and repeating words along the lines of “I can’t carry the ring for you Mr Frodo, but I can carry you”! I half expected to see the opening to the cave of Mount Doom ahead of me. But that didn’t happen. I did eventually walk past a sulphurous crater to my right though, and then a much larger one to my left, which bore a narrow walkway along its side and up to its peak. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I only followed the driver’s directions and hadn’t referred to my travel guide, these two craters were the 2014 and 1995 craters respectively. I wish I had known this at the time, as apparently with the 2014 crater you can still drop a tissue into it
and it will spontaneously combust on its way down! From here, I spotted way up towards the summit of Pico de Fogo four hikers coming down the side of the volcanic peak – they were almost running, kicking up the volcanic sand behind them – it was most haunting to watch these silent figures making their way down the side of the volcano, with plumes of ash flying behind each one. From here, it was a 2km walk onto the village that I could see in the distance, and the minibus which was waiting for me there just outside it. Whilst I had been walking, Claudio had ordered lunch for me at the village’s first lodge to re-construct itself after the eruption, the Casa Marisa, whose hot water is heated by the lava, whose floor tiles are actually hot to the touch because of it, and where you can apparently still here the lava setting with deep booms from below every now and then. Claudio also took me on a drive through the village, comparing the old buildings devastated by the lava flow, and the new buildings the people are building on top of them. The village’s population was around
The Day's Catch
Sao Filipe, Fogo
1,200 before the eruption, 800 of whom are continuing to live there despite. Quite a remarkable place really. After lunch, we picked up the two French tourists, as well as a local guy hitching a lift, and travelled back across the crater floor and then down the side of the mountain before returning to the beautiful Tortuga once more, and its crashing waves. What a wonderful day, wrapped up wonderfully also by Roberto’s delightful cooking.
And this morning, quite a different tour. This time a much “cheaper” (still, £35) tour to a nearby coastal swimming spot, passing through some remarkably lush cloud forest on the way. As noted so far, Cape Verde is in fact, not quite as it name suggests, really quite dry, barren and brown. Either it was named “Green Cape” because when it was first settled 500 years ago, the climate was different to the dryness of today, or because the Portuguese colonials wanted to encourage people to move here. Either way, it is certainly not green today. It rains very little here, sometimes not at all, and thus has sometimes led to drought even as recently as 1968, when no rain fell at all for
The Day's Catch
Sao Filipe, Fogo
12 years. I am currently here in the rainy season, from August to October, but I have only so far seen a smidgen of drizzle as it tried to rain briefly during our drive back from the volcano yesterday afternoon. I do wonder how the country has enough fresh water. However, the region we drove through, myself and the taxi driver called Edmar, was actually quite well-forested and damp. I presumed that this was a cloud forest, as it was completely foggy when we were up there, so perhaps the vegetation there was more consistently watered by morning dew and general dampness. After a drive through the comparative lushness, we went down back towards the coast, to a local swimming spot called Ponto da Salina, where I took a quick dip in the tranquil waters, the ocean waves softened by offshore breakers. It is one of the few places on the island where swimming is safe. Still, it was just me and a couple of local fishermen. Quite pleasant and refreshing. After a quick dip, we drove back to Sao Filipe, and I’m currently holed up in Tortuga, where I plan to stay for the next 24 hours, chilling, relaxing,
Beach Walk to Sao Filipe
and just hanging about this place which is just meant to be hanged out in.
I have really enjoyed my time on the island of Fogo. Whilst the tours haven’t been too cheap, I feel very fortunate to have found the first one at such a good price, and I am quite happy to splash out on such things as these days have really been very enjoyable, reminding me once more that there is enjoyment to be had in travel as well as experience.
Tomorrow evening I fly back to Praia, and then change there to a flight towards the northern island of Sao Vicente. I plan to spend just one evening there as I head by boat over to its neighbour, the island of Santo Antao, for three nights, before returning to spend two more nights on Sao Vicente.
I will of course update my travel blog in due course, and I’m looking forward very much to exploring more of the Cape Verde islands over the coming days.
Thank you for reading, and until the next time!
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