In 1995, the volcano at the small island of Fogo, in Cabo Verde, erupted. Although nobody was killed in the eruption, the activity of the volcano, that’s been known to smoke on and off, is a certain. Yet, here I am, lilac ballerina shoes stained by the black magma and soot that’s covering this island.
Visiting Fogo is like visiting a completely different planet. This island is one of 10 islands belonging to Cabo Verde, and essentially also the highest peak of the island nation – rising 2,829 meters above sea level (9,281 ft). As you fly over the island, all you see is the black core, green patches of cultivated land and a small, sandy beach lining.
The eruption in 1995, spanning April till May, covered most of the island in black soot. The ash clouds during the eruption was said to reach up to 5km high.
20 people had to seek medical help – but nobody was killed.
Taking the tiny minivan from the airport, up towards the active crater of the volcano, I can’t help but to wonder if maybe I am suffering sunstroke. It’s an active volcano. The minibus travels at an approximate speed of about 25km/h, struggling up the winding roads. During an eruption, lava travels at an approximate speed of up to 700km/h downhill. I can outrun the minivan, if I have to, but there is no way I can outrun the lava…
“These are the houses that the German government supplied the eruption victims with in 1995” the guide tells me as we drive past shells of houses somewhere half way up the volcano, in a still green patch of the island. His skin is dark and perfect, his teeth bright white, and he keeps flashing them undisturbed. “They were occupied for about three months before being abandoned for shelters in the crater…”
I watch the landscape turn into a black moon-esque landscape while pondering over the fact that the Fogo’ans actively chose to move right back into the crater so soon after the eruption, even though they had been provided with housing at a safer distance… maybe there’s a draw, an unexplainable appeal of the crater, that I am yet to discover?
We stop for photo opportunities. Climbing out of the car, I gaze down the winding road we had spent a good couple of hours traveling upward on, realizing how far from the airport we have gotten. How the climate has changed. From a beautiful, lush airport setting, slowly through more and more barren land, up to this. The solidified magma bares witness to the latest, but not only eruption.
“Those telephone posts I keep seeing…?” I ask.
“Oh, no, those aren’t telephone posts. That’s the alarm system! If this baby erupts, we’ll be warned! Not like last time…” the guide joyfully declares. He sees apparently no problems at all, so I decide an island full of people can’t be wrong – there’s nothing to be scared of! So what, if there’s a bit of smoke coming out of the crater… and that it’s so hot, you really have to keep moving, because if you stand still, your feet will start aching…?
I have lunch – later I find out it was grilled goat’s testicles, amongst others, that I had been served. They actually tasted good. A bit chewy. More photo-ops. The guide shows me to a local winery – yes, they produce Fogo-wine, which in itself is an oxymoron. I take a look around the small winery – and honest to God, I can’t see one single vine as far as my eyes can see… but the wine tastes good, the winery offers shade and a new experience.
I see trees and flowers with apparent strong survival skills here and there. Happy children playing in a barren land. Smiling people waving as another stupid tourist drives by in a beaten, old minivan. I turn my face up, let the sun caress my cheeks, close my eyes and inhale. The air smells saturated, warm, but friendly. There’s a distinct smell I can’t really make out. Maybe that’s what contentment with life smells like?
Back to civilization, at the small town close to the airport, I see colorful houses, local shops, hole-in-the-wall cafés and restaurants and the black volcanic beach with very strong currents. Cars, music, high schoolers. Business as usual.
Eyes directed to the sky, shielded by my hand, I watch the peak of Pico de Fogo, where I just had an amazing afternoon. It wasn’t that bad – especially now, in retrospect, with my lilac ballerina shoes back on firm asphalt.
You can take the girl out of the asphalt jungle, but you can never take the asphalt jungle out of the girl! I have to admit, it was fun, interesting, inspirational and quite exciting, climbing into the crater of an active volcano. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Slightly more dangerous than a sale at Neiman Marcus.
I finally realize what that distinct smell I felt at the peak was. Personal growth. And it didn’t even hurt… much… 🙂