Santo Antão’s coastal route along the north of the island is one of its most popular hiking trials. Our guide Mar chose this route knowing we wanted to take it easy on our first trek. Hiking on the coast of Santo Antão on our first full day on the island served as a great introduction for what we could expect in the coming week. Its route hugs the coast of the island, overlooking cliffs that rise out from the Atlantic. It joins the towns of Cruzinha da Garça, Formiguinhas and Fontainhas, and continues on, all the way to Ponta do Sol. Cut into the steep, black volcanic rock which makes up much of Santo Antão, this trail has views unlike any other.
The First Half of the Hike (2 hours)
This ancient coast, with its steep bluffs and rugged cliffs facing the Atlantic, was absolutely breathtaking. Our path clung onto the winding contours of age-old lava flows and ocean rock, features unique to volcanic islands and the islands of Cape Verde. Occasionally, the road took a detour, cutting into deep valleys that are occupied by charming, small, villages. It was exciting to walk so close to the edge, with huge, crashing waves lapping the rocky shore below. Miles and miles of steep black cliffs stretched out ahead, contrasted by the turquoise blue ocean fanning out left from the cliffs, reaching into the horizon.
It was windy when we set out, and Mar mentioned that a storm might be brewing. This worried me, but she said it was likely to hold until our trek was over. Also, most of the road was paved and well used by the surrounding villages. A bit of rain would not make it any harder going. Golden shafts of sunlight burst through dramatic clouds looming over the horizon, and the air was cool and wet with moisture – we couldn’t have asked for better weather for this breathtaking hike.
The Hiking Trail
For almost the entire way, our path was well maintained and paved with cobblestones, which made the hike rather easy. The route, of course, was not just used by tourists, but also by the people living in the many villages along it. For them, this road was the only way to get to the bigger cities where they could sell and buy food, and where the children could go to school. Most of the road was built in the 19th century, by slaves brought in by the Portuguese, who were the colonial masters of the Cape Verdean islands. They are still in good condition today, maintained by the villagers that live in the towns on the coast. Some of it is also new, built by the villagers in more recent times.
Lunch in Forminguinhas
Half-way, we stopped for lunch in the hamlet of Formiguinhas, in the house of Isabel. By buying lunches from women who lived in villages along popular trekking routes, Nobai (the company that made our travel arrangements for us) did their part in bringing in what they could of tourist money to these most remote of places. I thought it was an excellent solution, as I disliked carrying a heavy lunch for half of my hike. Also, this lunch in particular was very good. It was a chicken stew with fava beans, all of which were locally produced and freshly made.
The Second Half of the Hike (2 hours)
After the lunch, we continued onto the village of Fontainhas, descending first into the hamlet of Corvo. When I first saw Corvo, I couldn’t believe my eyes. (Truth be told, when I first saw many things on Santo Antão, I couldn’t believe my eyes.) It appeared over a bend around the cliffs, steep terraces cut into the valley with small, colourful homes scattered over the steps. Through it ran a stream with a small bridge, around which a few children were playing tag.
The ascent to the rim of the valley was steep. At one point, I remember feeling incredulous that we weren’t falling into the valley below. Our hard work was rewarded immensely however, as the path on the other side swooped gently into the breath taking valley of Fontainhas. Two girls were walking along this stretch of road, returning home from school. I was shocked to find out this trek and that taxing climb was something the children here do everyday – education is certainly not something the kids take for granted here.
Now, I have an unfortunate habit of associating things in real life with things I have seen in movies, and remarked that this whole scene felt like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. Mar pointed out then, that Fontainhas had existed a good century or two before Middle-Earth was even conceived by Tolkien.
The village of Fontainhas was built and arranged in a completely unique fashion, its houses with foundations carved from the volcanic rock below. In fact, one of its main streets is built right on top of what seems to be a lava flow, frozen in mid track eons ago. This view was the perfect payoff for what was already, an incredibly, rewarding hike. For us, Fontainhas was a place out of a fairy tale, for Mar, it was actually home.