Me and Fritzi got stranded on an island for 7 days. It was by choice and the island was good to us, with all its dormant volcanoes, breath-taking coasts, whales, dolphins, natural hot pools, some weird traditions, evergreen forests and sunsets of a lifetime.
It wasn’t long since we moved to Portugal that me and Fritzi got our feet itching for traveling and exploring around. And one of our first big trips was in the Azores. We took advantage of the cheap flight tickets to Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island and off we were!
Upon leaving, we were already imagining how it will be, as one does in the expectancy of a new adventure, getting excited over all the beautiful places to be seen, but little could have prepared us (and we do like to imagine things!) for the kind of surprising raw beauty to be discovered and taken in day after day, turn after turn. Better off anyway!
So we landed at Ponta Delgada, with a mind-plan to travel to other islands as well. Soon though we had to come to terms with the fact that until our flight took us back to Lisboa, we’d have to stick to just the Island of Sao Miguel, as we were a tiny bit off-season, by a week: first of all, there were no boats to other islands yet, while on the other hand, taking a plane might have been an option, but it would’ve strained our budget beyond a point of comfort. Once in Ponta Delgada, we rented a car pretty cheap.
As we were a bit nature-thirsty having been in Lisbon for the last six months, we didn’t spend a lot of time on Ponta Delgada at first, but just enough to get the taste of it: architecture this, street-art that, and a bit of local info. Moreover, as much as I love traveling, I prefer to let my mind go places and wander while looking at a mountain rather than posing for the ‘interested in local culture’ type. In the end, it’s still just people, living their lives.
We hit the road and we first made stop in Vila Franca do Campo. While having coffee, over which we decided to head then towards Furnas, as admired Ilhéu da Vila, we even saw some whales, far off the coast – a nice inviting teaser to come closer, which we did the next day. Having one more look at the ocean from up above, we left the coast behind and went over the crest, sinking our eyes in the caldera of Furnas.
Down by the lake, Lagoa das Furnas, we took our time to see the small geysers, fumaroles, boiling hot springs and mud pools. It is here where, dug in the hot surface of the earth, we also saw the local traditional stew being cooked – cozido das Furnas. We had that later back in Furnas, but wasn’t that impressed (being meat-enthusiast, one might enjoy it though). For some 3 Euros, you can even cook / warm up your own food by the lake.
It was a sunny day until then, but the upside about rain time here is that you can still do something, actually one of the best things to do when it rains: get into a hot pool! So we went to Poça da Dona Beija – for a very cheap 3 Euros. Mind you, the iron-rich water is HOT, but nothing you cannot easily adjust to. After trying out most of the hot pools there while actually enjoying the rain and the contrasting feeling on our skin, we slowly made our way towards Ribeira Grande, on the north coast. Slowly because every turn is surprising in what the eyes are treated to and it’s hard to resist all the miradouros scattered around. With no prior fixed schedule, on the way we booked ourselves in Quinta de Santana and that was a day.
The next day we started with some more hot pools, this time at Caldeira Velha. What is nice about this one is that it’s more raw, more embedded into the environment. You can even enjoy sitting in a hot pool under a small waterfall, although the water is not that hot as in the other hot pool downstream. No time to waste though, as we had our whale-watching tour booked for noon, but on the way back to Ponta Delgada we did find the time to gaze over the Lagoa do Fogo and see the lake, the mountains, the island in its whole, with the ocean on both sides, from high up above.
Now whale-watching! I must say I am even now excited and I am happy for having had the privilege to witness such gracious giant creatures, which evolved from a terrestrial origin long before the islands of Azores were even formed. Yup, whales evolution kicked off some 50 millions years ago over a period of 15 millions years, while the first eruptions to surface the middle of the Atlantic into what is now the Azores started 8 millions years ago, with the youngest island, Pico, being just 270.000 years old. That and a lot of thoughts regarding our role as humanity in all of this carried me into a place of awe. And it is beautiful when, trying to imagine the map of such a place of awe, I open my eyes and it is actually not only in my mind, but right in front of me and all around, corresponding to the very reality. And while I know that just as all the misery is still there when I turn my eyes away from, so are these monuments of beauty while I am away, it was really worth it to pay 35 Euros for the chance to see blue-whales up close. And sea-turtles and dolphins, too!
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In the evening, we took a stroll around in Ponta Delgada. Some celebration. Not about vulcanoes, not about whales, but about Jesus, brought over from mainland. Seasoned with Kebab, which on São Miguel is advertised as a novelty and for which people were queueing more than for anything else. Hot dogs are so last year, really! We had pizza, also something new on the island. The morning we spent making our way to Ferraria, through villages and pastures.
The thing to do at Ferraria is to experience a swim in the ocean in a natural hot pool. So hot is the underground there! But, as the ocean was at high-tide and also pretty rough, plus there were some jelly fish of which we knew nothing of, we decided not to do that. So we went on, miradouro after miradouro, to Sete Cidades. It was cloudy, and with the promise to come back on a sunny day, we went further on and ended up in Caloura, on the South coast. Not having booked anything for the night, we wandered then around for a while in Lagoa, good chance to see more of the awkward traditional-religious displays, before sleeping in the car at a miradouro above Lagoa das Furnas.
At sunrise, we set off for a round-trip on the East side of the island: Povoação (the very first colony on São Miguel), miradouro, Nordeste, miradouro, Gorreana (the only tea plantation in Europe, open for a free visit and a free tea!), all the way to Ribeira Grande, where we delighted ourselves to an impressive sunset over the black sand beach.
Stop!!! Don’t ever touch the bubbly jellyfish you’ll see now in the gallery, ever! They can be at least very painful. There were dozens of dead beached Portuguese man o’war. Curiosity about the weird looking creatures got us to read a lot about them. And they are as interesting as they are deadly! So much so that they aren’t actually jellyfish, but what is called a siphonophore: they are not a single multicellular organism, but a colonial organism made up of individual organisms coming together to collaborate and specialize in different tasks: reproduction, feeding, stinging and so on, while its tentacles can reach up to 30 meters! Do read about it in the link.
With this knowledge, we went to sleep at Parque de Campismo Rural Quinta das Laranjeiras. Very informative owner, with great tips an insights. A good man to meet if you ever plan to visit São Miguel! It was at his place that we came back at the remainder of our nights there.
Sunny day meant a promise to keep: back to Sete Cidades! Worth seeing in cloudy weather, but even more so with a mostly clear sky. And as I understood it from Renato, the camp owner, we were actually quite lucky to have the chance to see both Lagoa do Fogo and Sete Cidades in sunny weather in a week. As he put it, sometimes you don’t have that even in three weeks.
The following day we made it a hiking day. Goal: Salto do Cabrito waterfall. Not so easy to reach, as the way is not always obvious, but if you get a local map and trust that the yellow mark takes you there, no matter what your instinct might tell you, as you do get to walk at points at heights and over pipelines from the hydro powerplant nearby, then you’ll be in for a nice treat!
On our last full day we were back on the road. A morning to chill-out at the coast, this time at the beach at Moinhos, then back to Furnas, as we missed until then a great park there – Terra Nostra Botanical Garden. A bit pricy to get in (6 Euros), but totally worth it, hot pools included. Then some more miradouros (some have their own cats, and some have a lot of them!) and then back to the Santa Barbara beach in Ribeira Grande. The last sunset there. Thank you, beautiful island!
And that was it. We did this in 7 and a half days with a minimum budget of no more than 1.000 Euro – flights, rented car, accommodations included. We took from it memories for a lifetime and we definitely look forward for an encore.