Category Archives: 2014 07 AZORES – Sao Miguel

It’s been awhile

With the sun staying up late, we’ve been staying up late, dining at 9:30, to bed after midnight.

Which means we’ve also been slugabeds in the morning. Where I typically would be up at the crack of dawn, now I’m lazing mightily into the morning. My family and friends wouldn’t know this creature. I’m stunned myself by my change of diurnal (big word, hope I’m using it correctly. Carol E.? :) habits.

So, it’s been awhile since I’ve been up before the sun, and today’s the day.

I’m sitting at Ponta Delgada’s airport, sipping an americano cafe with a bottle of water and a chocolate croissant (just a little treat) awaiting our crew member, Steve Palmer, to land on his overnight flight from Boston. Which is one of the best reasons to be up before the sun wakes up.

Today will be the first of several to come where I’ll be seeing the night sky before light. Because we plan to untie from the dock and head for England or close to there weather depending as soon as Steve’s aboard and we’re officially released. Max is back finishing up last minute tasks (tieing dinghy down on the foredeck, taping the v-berth hatch, getting boat papers ready for customs) while I’m R&Ring in a nice little airport cafe. Actually, he was still getting a well-deserved snooze.

Yesterday was a whirlwind of activity due to last-minute activities, you know the type, the ones like oh-god-did-I-forget-the-eggs activities. I must admit if I have to do another stowing of an apple or tuna can I’ll push myself into that crevice. At least the loads of laundry are done and stowed, head and galley cleaned, berths readied, and the pineapple carefully placed so it won’t poke the plums.

So, relaxing peacefully with nothing to do but relax is really very pleasant. So pleasant, a little sparrow inside the airport alit one table over eyeing my croissant; but, it’d have to be a much larger predatory bird before I’d give up my bread item.

As his plane is almost here, I’ll sign off. We are thrilled to have him aboard just like we loved having Ricardo (Dick) with us. Life offers up so many wonderful memories and gifts. It’s been awhile since I’ve been up before dawn. I’m thankful I have such a great reason to be so.

[photos to come when we land as camera’s battery didn’t work… otherwise, you’d know see Steve post-shower with his blue shirt on that Katie found for him. Looking like a sailor man already.]

Memories…

After a morning visit for coffee and wifi served by a lovely waitress at Doris Bar,

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we said good-bye to our friends on Chardonnay.

Martin, Arnie, and Martin’s older son Tom took off for England, and it was another sad time aboard Juanona to see more friends leave.

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Not wanting to sit around the marina, Max and I jumped in the car and headed along the northwest coast, partly to see if we could spot Chardonnay on its first leg home, and partly to see if we could find some 2002 memories from our Sete Cidades hike.

We headed out of town, taking more photos of the art scattered around Sao Miguel,with Chardonnay in the background.

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The first spot was Mosteiros where we both exclaimed ‘that’s it!’, the ‘it’ being the bench we had sat on in 2002 waiting for the bus after our Sete Cidades hike.

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We checked to make sure of the exact placement

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then asked someone to take our photo.

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From there we travelled back along the northwest coast towards Ponta Delgada, where we saw Chardonnay from a lookout point.

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With bittersweet memories we headed for home, remembering earlier times both in 2002 and in 2014.

Did you say a taxi?

Finally! Clear enough weather to hike around the rim of the caldeiras! Two lakes, the green and blue, fill the two holes left by extinct (I hope) volcanoes. We had been waiting patiently for the perfect day, and on Friday, August 1st, it dawned.

Arnie, Martin’s crew, joined us and the three of us set off to conquer the trail. Well, we set off.

Potentially a 4.5 hour hike, you can leave your car at the beginning of the trail head, hike around and then down to Sete Cidades, the village between the two lakes (with a smaller lake close by), and return by taxi to your parked vehicle; or, you could hike part way around, reverse, and hike back; or, you could hike all the way down to the coastal town of Moisterious taking a cab back to the car; OR, you could hike all the way to Sete Cidades, reverse, and hike all the way back. Or, you could just start and decide later. Get the picture?

We decided to start and decide later as it was a beautiful day, not too hot with clouds covering the sun enough to cool us off.

The first part was a steep road,

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one where Arnie, who had trained with an army ranger a few years back, tackled while talking. I just breathed.

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We made it to the top of the rim, then took the side path to the very top where, yes, we took the obligatory ‘we did it!’ photo.

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You did feel you were on top of some thing

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with views galore.

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We stopped for a picnic lunch, where Max found some not particularly pleased-to-be-photographed hikers.

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Finally, I got hold of the camera.

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We spotted some familiar seascape, the dramatic monoliths rising out of the ocean off of Moisteiros,

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as well as Bessie contentedly munching on Azorean grass.

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Other items found included remnants of the original natives,

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with Max proving two heads aren’t always better than one…

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Finally, we arrived at the end of our hike (deciding not to continue onto the coastal town of Moisteros) in Sete Cidades where we dunked a bit, Max and Arnie more than I as both had swim trunks and/or extra clothes.

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Both Max and I remembered we had done this hike in 2002 with Chris and two other cruisers; but, all of it was vague with only a few landmarks spiking our memories, one being this grassy area next to the lake. Yet, we still weren’t convinced because we also remembered our ending spot in 2002, sitting on a bench sipping beer while waiting for a bus; and, we couldn’t find anything similar in Sete Cidades.

With a bit drying in the sun, we headed for a treat at the lakeside cafe.

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Then, it was how-to-get-home time. We were hoping the bus sitting next to the town square would be our chariot but, no. The driver, though, offered to call a cab, which was hugely appreciated. By now we were looking forward to stopping walking. He returned saying our ride would be here in ten minutes.

Thirty minutes later, we’re still waiting with Max standing under the reserve the cab sign just to be sure we were the obvious waiters.

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After the thirty turned to forty, we thought we should try again. So, Max stopped in at the restaurant across from the sign and returned saying a taxi would be appearing within five to seven minutes. This time, it was closer to the stated ETA.

The three of us piled in and were dropped off at our car after being severely admonished by the driver NEVER leave our car where we left it. (We had driven to the start where our guidebook had indicated.) Evidently, crime does occur here, although, as a tourist, it feels particularly crime-free in the Azores. Probably because you think everyone knows everyone, making it difficult to get away with anything.

But, all was fine and the car untouched. With that, we waved good-bye and piled into our car to head home.

While exiting onto the main road we saw a young woman with a heavy backpack studying a map. We rolled our windows down to see if she needed a ride (having experience now with frequency of rides and knowing how far it was to a village we were sympathetic to carless hikers). Turned out she was figuring out a way to get to a village on the north coast, thinking she could always walk or hitch there.

We convinced her it would be easier to grab a ride with us, so she joined our pile and we pointed our car towards the north.

During the ride we discovered she was a biologist with a PHD studying climate change at a university in South Africa. Originally from Portugal, she had arrived just that morning for a week in the Azores. The purpose being to celebrate a friends’ tenth anniversary.

Within twenty minutes we had dropped her off in the center of Sao Vicente, and then headed home for real. All in all a day wonderfully spent.

July 31 (A warm, yellow pool): PART TWO

If you’ve seen Part One of July 31st, you’ll know our ultimate day’s destination was Furnas, the spa village of thermal pools. Martin, a huge fan, had been here two times before, to what he called the lovely yellow pool. It was our second time, having visited two days prior.

We found the changing rooms (this time I located the women’s), put on our swimming trunks and hit the water, some more slowly than others.

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Luckily Martin had told us before we went the first time that Hillary, his wife, bought a spare suit to use for these waters. Wondering why, he told us it was due to the water turning your suit the same color as it. In other words, you and whatever you’re wearing end up the same color as the water… mustardy yellow with a slight ordure of iron and sulpher.

Sure enough, when we returned home the first time, Max rinsed, and rinsed, AND rinsed our suits until the water turned from mustard to lemon to clear. (We did the same with ourselves to ensure Juanona’s cushions and bedding weren’t dyed a Furnas yellow.)

Now, we were seasoned goers and knew what to expect, and soon we were all frolicking in the warm yellow pool.

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Max headed towards his spout

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Martin tried it but, like previous attempts, he had always found it too hot.

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After an hour or so, sufficiently pruney, the three of us languidly slurped ourselves out of the pool.

Unlike the states, even though the garden (and pool) closed at 7:00p, you could remain on the property as long as you like, which Martin knew from his earlier visits. The ticket-taker told us just to exit via the hotel, which abuts Terra Nostra.

Martin also mentioned he, his wife and son had enjoyed some amazing mojitos on the hotel’s outdoor patio. Well, that perked my ears up, so off the three of us trooped to mojito-ville. After all, a bit of minty liquid would go well with the sulphorous-iron glow we all sported.

I took a self-timer, yet, it wasn’t the best…

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however, for purposes of documentation, I’ve included it. I wanted you to view the mojitos, which the bartender presented with a flourish. And, yes, they were delicious.

To end our adventure, we then decided on dinner at Tony’s. Again, Martin had previously partaken of the traditional, regional meal cooked by the thermal, surphorous waters in Furnas. He convinced Max to share a dinner

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whereas I decided on something tamer.

Now, completely sated, we headed for home, saying good-bye to one of the most relaxing days to-date in the Azores. And, I must admit, I feel quite differently if asked about swimming in a ‘warm, yellow pool…

July 31 (Honest! We did see one!): PART ONE

Two days after our initiation in Furnas’ hot springs we found ourselves heading back with Martin, a huge fan of the warm yellow pool. But, before we got there we decided to explore the northeast coast. Little villages dot the coastline, including one where we stopped for lunch, and I snapped a man photo (one where two men stand stiffly no closer than three feet apart).

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Continuing on we found another man-made, natural swimming pool

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where, in spite of a few jellyfish

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Martin took a dip

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while Max and I walked around the perimeter admiring the local phenomena.

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Refreshed from a dip and watching Martin dip, we headed to Furnas via a dirt road taking us into Parque Forestal da Cancela do Cinzeiro Pedreira-Nordeste, aka, Park of the Priolo, aka, the Azorean Bullfinch.

Roughly ten years ago there were only 300 or so of these little finches, with Sao Miguel their only habitat. Now, thanks to the work of the Centro Ambiental do Priolo, they have migrated from the critically endangered list to the endangered one.

I wanted to visit the center, so we turned in once we saw the sign

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and were greeted by a young guide,

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one who pounced on us and led us into a fifteen-minute tour that started to feel like fifteen hours. But, he was earnest (remember the tuna lady?) and kind and knowledgeable.

Fortunately, Martin knew some of the birds. I say fortunately because, unfortunately, when the guide asked ‘do you know what bird this is?’, it wasn’t a rhetorical question. He waited for an answer. Max and I did recognize one, the woodcock, thanks to staying with our friends Carol and Jim, who once took us to a woodcock mating cocktail excursion.

Glancing surreptitiously out of the corner of our six eyeballs, we saw there were several of these displays that we knew would also have non-rhetorical questions posed; so, we kept inching to our left trying to lead our gentle guide along. It worked to some degree. At one point he must have caught on, probably when I jumped from photograph two to photograph six on one linear display asking my own question ‘oh, and what is this showing?’ Alas, he answered then backtracked, but at least it was only to photograph four.

Finally we appeared to be totally versed in the birds and their habitat when both Max and Martin saw a video room. But, the gods were with us for, by then, the guide knew we were priolo-ed out and were heading to the WC and front door.

However, we politely looked at the shop’s wares, inquired about the health of their organization and took our own Priolo photograph.

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We left knowing it would be a rare day, indeed, for our spotting one of the 700+ remaining.

Yet, we did! As we meandered down the road in the Park heading towards Furnas, we did our usual stopping and snapping

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including seeing up close the heather used for brooms.

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All of a sudden Martin saw two birds flitting away from our car’s front tires as Max slowly maneuvered around some potholes. He exclaimed ‘I think those are the bullfinches!’

Sure enough, we stopped, hopped out, and caught sight of one in the trees.

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We had spotted our own Azorean bullfinch! And, you know what? If we hadn’t listened to our gentle, earnest, kind, knowledgeable Priolo guide, we wouldn’t have recognized the fella and, thus, been able to say we honestly saw an Azorean bullfinch in its native habitat.

July 29 (Tea anyone?): PART TWO

Driving back from our inaugural dip in Furnas’ warm, yellow pool, we decided to look for another Sao Miguel tourist attraction, the Gorreana tea estate, which, thanks to our inability to speak Portuguese, was quickly dubbed the ______ tea estate. (Interestingly enough, other tourists immediately understood where we had been when we used our new name for this location.)

We timed our arrival with that of a large tour bus

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and became part of a mob scene as the bus riders sampled the three types of tea, all produced without herbicides or other nasty elements.

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Women and girls use to hand-pick the leaves, which grew right around the plant;

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but now this task is performed by several men pulling a machine over the tops of the tea bushes.

Once harvested, the leaves are processed using old, but beautifully maintained, machines, such as this heater and dryer.

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Having been to a cheese cooperative and tuna factory, we expected the same level of glamorous plastic sheathing; so, we were taken aback when it seemed hairnets were the only concession to hygiene here.

Having read this industry employed a lot of manual labor, we saw women hand-sorting the leaves

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and then bagging them for sale.

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Being one of two remaining tea plantations on Sao Miguel (and, the only ones in the Azores), this began in 1874 with seeds from China. Due to the popularity of the tea, they later introduced plants from India. All are sold both here and abroad, with bags shipped to the Azoreans who emigrated.

We looked in the shop, along with the other 40+ visitors,

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but decided to stick to our coffee; yet, we enjoyed seeing this Azorean production still going strong over 100 years later.

On our way home, we saw a billboard and took a pic for Cam, Iain and Thomas,

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ending our day with dinner at our favorite Sao Miguel restaurant, Tasca, shared with Martin and Arnie with our waiter Bart.

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The guide book said it was open?

These past few days we’ve hopped in the car to explore more of Sao Miguel. Promising museums that Max had circled in the guidebook popped up on our radar as we headed towards some small villages, both inland and along the coast.

We decided to check out the yellow swimming pool other cruisers had described as glorious. Located in the spa village Furnas, which is in the mountains, the pool eluded us; but, we did find the steaming, burping mud holes at Lagoa das Furnas

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where they cooked one of the regional meals, cozido has caldeiras, by placing a pot in a hole

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and covering it up for several hours. (Martin said it did have a tinge of sulphor, something this gooey mud and hot steam promised in its discharge.)

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We didn’t try that but Max, a corn-on-the-cob aficionado, did succumb to an ear also cooked geothermally.

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We also spotted some of the famous oranges, an export crop until the late 1800s.

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Leaving Furnas after driving around and around in search of the yellow swimming pool, we headed out of town saving our hot dips for another day.

We ended up in Provoacao watching the constructing of either a new or a rebuilt seawall.

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All of a sudden we noticed a little head appearing next to the gigantic claw of the crane.

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Thinking, no, it can’t be, we continued staring only to see the little head become a frogman directing this mechanical arm with hand signals.

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One appeared a bit frantic, although that’s our interpretation and not necessarily the frogman’s meaning…

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He repeatedly dove

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and surfaced.

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All in all, pretty impressive.

Our cultural destination, Museu de Trigo (Wheat Museum), was on the road heading out of Provoacau; and, you wouldn’t think it would be difficult to find in such a small town. Hah! Numerous wrong turns including driving for 15 minutes behind a farmer and his tractor until he stopped, got out and pointed downhill when we pointed to “Museu de Trigo” in the book.

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Described as ‘a splendid watermill… skillfully restored in a glorious setting of pastures and hedgerows’, this museum seemed destination-worthy.

Well, it certainly was splendid…

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what we could see of it…

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which wasn’t much.

The book said it was open 10:30-12:30 and 12:30-18:00 Tue-Sun, but just not today.

Back in the car, we still enjoyed our day in spite of no Museu de Trigo interior.

We figured we could try another cultural destination the next day (Saturday, July 26), which was when we decided to head up the north coast to see the Oficina-Museu M j Melo located in Capelas. Filled with artifacts and displays of bygone days, this jewel of a museum had been created and funded by a retired school teacher. Hours were Mon-Sat 09:00-12:00 and 13:00-18:00.

We had a leisurely poke along the roads, including behind another farmer but this time in his horse-drawn cart.

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The ever-changing sea provided dramatic contrast to the black cliffs

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from which we spotted a pool.

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Drawing us down the road from the miradoura, we found this Punta Ferraria offered both a natural hot spring located in the ocean (at low tide)

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as well as a manmade swimming pool (not tide dependent). These warm waters served as another spa treatment for those folk who couldn’t afford to travel to Furnas.

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The parking lot also gave us another opportunity to exclaim over the clever paving, similar to the one we saw in Graciosa with Tricia and David.

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Knowing our destination was still an hour away, we hopped back in the car and meandered through small coastal villages where, it seemed, many were sprucing up their homes.

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The fact that the streets are amazingly narrow didn’t faze them as they perched their ladders as cars whizzed by (not us, but the locals).

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We saw some monoliths rising from the ocean reminding us of the film starring Kurt Douglas as Uylsses,

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another restored windmill where some emigres from Brittany settled way back when,

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tiny chapels,

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beautiful picnic areas,

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lovely homes,

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and, finally, our destination of the day, the Oficina-Museu M J Melo.

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WHICH is where we found, no, it’s NOT open, you touristy fools… at which point Max did his usual viewing of the exhibits.

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So, when the book says when a museum is open it means it’s open unless it’s not open. Go figure.