Hiking Pico de Fogo, Cape Verde West Africa
fter roaming around the laid-back island town of Sao Filipe, Fogo Island, we hop into a Collectivo for a twisty, crowded ride with many stops.
We’re heading uphill to the base of Pico de Fogo, a towering active volcano. The desert terrain transforms into black ash and volcanic cones.
At the Casa Marisa guest house/restaurant in the village of Portelo, our cement room sits atop the crust of “new lava” in the middle of Cha Das Caldeiras, a massive, ancient crater. The eruption of 2014 destroyed this village.
Marilynn runs out of the bathroom. “There’s something weird going on with the toilet and the floor’s burning my feet!”
I look in disbelief at simmering water in the toilet. The floors are too hot to walk on barefoot. “Maybe it gets cold at night and the floors are heated?”
Turns out that the floors are indeed heated. Not by design. By accident. After the 2014 eruption, they quickly rebuilt the Casa Marisa, where we will sleep the next two nights. The new lava below still produces steady heat, to the point of boiling water in the toilet. It will take about eight years for the lava below to cool.
Too hot to sleep in the room, we sit on chairs atop warm cement outside, surrounded by crusted lava. The smell of sulphur in this terrain reminds me of a steel mill. The hot African sun radiates down upon us, the ground heats up from below, and a Swiss man who hiked the volcano yesterday informs that it does not cool down at night.
We stare at the behemoth Pico de Fogo, one of the steepest volcanic cones in the world, and begin doubting our ability to hike it tomorrow. Are we chicken?
After a restless night, full of barking dogs and volcanic subterranean booms, we meet Cecelio, our English-speaking guide. “We’ll hike slow and take breaks, he says. “It’s not competition, it’s vacation. Use lots of sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and drink lots of water.”
Off we go, along with a young Swiss couple. Cecelio, who is forty-years old, explains that he has lived here his entire life and has twenty-one brothers and sisters. He’s been guiding volcano hikes since age nineteen.
We approach the volcano through scattered fig trees and individual grape vines, watered only by humidity and minimal rainfall. A small winery converts muscatel and touriga grapes into reds, whites, and rosés, but not enough to export.
Our trail turns to ash, and then shoots straight up a side of unstable stones. Cecelio makes sure that we take frequent water/rest breaks, especially after stints of scrambling on all fours. He’s an excellent guide, who knows how to find the most stable row of stones. Hiring a guide is imperative, and there’s no turning back once you begin.
About three hours later, we sit atop a massive volcanic cone that surrounds a serene monster crater that will explode again one day. The five Italian hikers already up top applaud our arrival.
Now, to get back down. After negotiating some craggy cliffs, hanging on to a cable in places, we stare straight down at a massive slope of black lapilli (ash scree). Woohoo! Jump right in, baby! Glide down the mountain with long strides in knee deep ash.
The walk back to Casa Marisa twists through a black ocean storm of solidified lava. A few rooftops of block houses show how the lava of 2014 entered through the windows and took back the territory.
Time for some well-deserved beer and wine. Tonight, we not only meet our chicken face to face, we devour it!