Life Continues in the Ashes of Pico de Fogo

Our sojourn through the Cape Verde Islands continued with a visit to Fogo. The volcanic island is home to Pico de Fogo, a 9,840-foot volcano that dominates the island’s landscape.

The translation of Fogo is “fire” and the name has been very appropriate in recent years. Volcanic activity in December 2014 continued into January 2015 and has all but destroyed the villages of Cha das Caldeiras, which were located in direct proximity of the volcano. Over 200 families were displaced as two different types of lava swallowed their homes and businesses. Even today, the volcano spews sulphur vapor through hot fumaroles in an impressive spectacle of nature.
Due to the high mountains on Fogo and the corresponding formation of clouds, the island tends to be damp which results in fertile conditions in which a wide variety of plants thrive. Among these are hundreds of grape vines. As we drove to the volcano we could see these bright green grape vines sprouting up through the black lava.

It took nearly an hour of driving through winding, hilly roads to reach the entrance of the national park and get a good view of Pico de Fogo.

As we continued up the hill we encountered the road that had been re-routed because of the volcano. As the lava spread out the road had to be moved accordingly. We stopped once along the way to get out, look at the hardened lava and marvel at the fact that we were in the crater of a volcano.

A bit farther up the road we came upon the ruined villages. It was hard to imagine what it used to look like when all we could see were the tops of buildings peeking out.

The government distributed tents for the displaced families that were set up further down the valley.  But these people are farmers and want to return to their land.  Many have begun to rebuild with help from their neighbors. Our guide, Musti, once had two hotels up here – both destroyed. Apparently the area is a mecca for hikers and many people spend up to 6 hours climbing to the rim of Pico de Fogo. Due to the recent eruption the hill is still considered unsafe so for now it is closed to hikers.

When the lava began to flow during the last eruption, neighbors from lower villages came up to help people move their belongings up the hill. The hillsides were filled with furniture, appliances, tools, vehicles, etc.  Most are now gone but there are a few poignant reminders of what these resilient people have endured.

Someone asked why people would continue to rebuild here, and Musti replied that this is their life and heritage. They have a love-hate relationship with the volcano and don’t want to leave. The last major eruption was 20 years ago so they probably figure the odds are in their favor. These are very determined folks.

We spent about an hour in the crater and left with a new appreciation of the power of Mother Nature and the determination of human nature. Further along down the valley we stopped for some local wine and snacks of goat cheese and fresh bread. The wine industry was pretty much destroyed but there were a few bottles left and Musti and his family were happy to share them with us.

While there, we had a chance to marvel at the flowers and succulents thriving in a harsh environment.


And then there are the artisans who fashion very interesting things from the lava. Some people decorate their houses with what look like guardian spirits.

The roadside vendors have even more varieties to offer:

From the top of the mountain we could see that the sea looked particularly angry and wondered about the Zodiac trip back to the Ship. Before heading out, we donned some plastic ponchos and were glad we had them as it was a wet and wild ride.

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