Azores São Miguel Week Two
Holiday in the Azores on São Miguel island in the Atlantic ocean, week two. Hiking and more icecream.
Fogo Lake, fancy food
Fogo Lake is São Miguel's highest crater lake. According to various sources, it's often shrouded in cloud — but not today! The drive up the very windy road was worth the motion sickness for the amazing view over the enormous crater.
You hiked down into the crater to the lake where May took an hour to eat an apple. Why do kids sometime take so long to eat? The weather was great and there was no rush to be anywhere; holidays are grand! Anyway, you made the hike back up fun by frog jumping May up the steps, which left your shoulders somewhat tired.
Since you were already half way across the island, you drove down the north side to the fancy restaurant for lunch. They served up pencils and colouring-in sheets to entertain the kids while you waited for, what turned out to be, jazzed-up steak and chips. It wasn't fine dining, but it tasted good.
After coming back home you went to Praia do Pópulo beach and played in the fine black sand. The small waves churned up a little sediment near shore, but further out the water was clear with fish swimming about.
This beach had the perfect grain size to penetrate everything — cloths, towels and even your snorkelling mask's silicon seals. While some had a wonderful time smearing themselves black, you had to learn to live with sand stuck in every crevice of your being. The itchiness intensified.
Lagoa Azul, Lagoa Verde
Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagoon of the seven cities) is a twin lake in yet another Azores volcano crater. The two lakes, Azul and Verde, have distinctly different colours and are named after a folk tale of a green-eyed princess and blue-eyed shepherd. It was a tragedy and they cried at the end. Eye colour > tears > water. You get it. Phytoplankton, cyanobacteria and agricultural runoff were the alternative (less romantic) explanation.
Above the crater sat the ruins of a failed luxury hotel. The Monte Palace Hotel wasn't exactly open to visitors, but they didn't try hard to keep you out either. It has the best view of the lake from the roof.
You combined some obligatory shopping in town with a visit to the Gruta do Carvão (Grotto of Coal): a series of lava tubes near Ponta Delgada. People were excited to don helmets and venture into dark caves, even if the caves were floodlit and paved. Dopey tourists are probably not allowed to be that adventurous. Snide remarks aside, they were pretty cool holes.
Passionfruit seeds, kissing pigs
Taking a slow start to the day is something you should consciously choose to do. Both excessive experience expectations or flopping about on the couch all day are both bad holiday ideas.
Today's slow start (by choice) eventually turned towards the main town's farmers market. You wandered around the stalls and picked up some passionfruit seeds, where the seller threw in two free bananas. How nice.
Ponta Delgada waterfront is much the same as any other Portuguese island port town in the Atlantic Ocean. That is, entirely unique in some aspects but also nothing you haven't seen before. A museum? An old naval port? An art deco post office? Small cafes which appear in expensive travel guides who's yearly editions add no new information? Yeah, yeah... Seen that.
Maybe a tourist destination's only real authenticity lies in the subtitle spaces where no one cares to look. The squeaky swings in the children's park across the road from the art deco post office. The peeling paint around a random wooden archway near the naval port, once vibrant blue but now flaked and faded. The footpaths worn down on street corners by endless daily foot traffic beside the café. These were the authentic parts of the town, in your opinion.
The tinned fish shop, which sold only tinned fish, was definitely unique.
Local artists are probably also considered authentic. Ponta Delgada city streets have many huge murals painted by local artists which really add something unique. You noticed several murals with similar style (and signature) all over the island; this one bloke had painted kissing pigs, flowers and people all over the place.
Later, you hosts dropped off some home grown sweet potatoes. There was enough to last a month.
Faial da Terra, forgotten thongs
Waterfalls and abandoned villages are everywhere these days. They're either endemic to tourist destinations, or you are naturally attracted to visit places where they crop up. It is probably an amusing correlation, rather than causation. You drove north past Nordesta and on to Faial da Terra where both waterfalls and abandoned villages coincided. You parked the car under a shady tree and hiked up into the valley past many tall trees and wild chickens.
The waterfall at the top was nice. You had a quick swim and a snack, then shuffled back through the abandoned village. There sure where a lot of people mowing lawns and tending to gardens considering it was meant to be
At the bottom you had ice cream, where May went barefoot and accidentally left her Finding Nemo thongs behind. She only noticed when you got back home, so they would forever remain behind. Eating sweet potato for dinner gave her a second reason to be unhappy. What's wrong with sweet potato?
Gorreana Tea Plantation, Hydrangea overgrowth
Gorreana is Europe's oldest tea plantation, located on the north side of São Miguel. It seemed like the kind of place kids would hate visiting — walking up hills in the sun, sampling tea, urrrgh! How boring (for them). Experience has shown that low-effort activities pay off (in entertainment value), whereas high-effort outings often end in complaints and carrying sleeping kids home.
That said, if you can distract little people every few meters, you can keep them moving. Saying
Oh look, a butterfly! or singing
We're going on a bear hunt did wonders for the mood. May tickled grasshoppers with long blades of grass all the way up the hill, and sung songs all the way back down.
Taking a wiggly windy mountain road — drivers love them, passengers hate them — back across the island you passed some cows and some pretty excessive hydrangea pruning operations. The fertile soil and regular rainfall lets many plants grow wildly fast, which can choke off island pathways. May insisted in collecting the flowers to bring home. There were enough to spare.
Lagoa da Congro was a quick detour on the way which wasn't really promoted by the travel guide. Your OSM map, however, make the terrain look interesting. Wherever contour lines come together there's something to see (in your experience). This lake was inside a suspiciously deep hole.
You parked, walked and entered the forest surrounding Lagoa da Congro. The zigzag trail descended into thick, moist jungle covered in moss, mushrooms and intertwined undergrowth. May switched into adventure mode — wanting to see, touch, smell and discover everything — and happily skipped along. The lake was nice too.
Back home, everyone got busy making confetti with the flowers the collected. There were so many petals it turned into a full-on flower-shower / foliage-fight.
Pico da Vara, Ribeira Grande
Pico da Vara is São Miguel's highest peak at 1103 meters. It has some hiking trails which, according to internet sources, are a muddy mess exposed to wind and rain. You drove up in cloud, arrived in rain and finally set out in wind. Adventure!
The hike was nice enough, albeit somewhat slippery, and you really didn't want to take a tumble with a kid strapped to your back. You emerged above the treeline and continued along the ridge, where the wind and rain picked up even more. You were really enjoying yourself, but there's only so much weather one can endure so you turned back. Worth it, but wet.
Back in civilisation in Ribeira Grande — another nice seaside town — you walked about, played in a park and had some ice cream. This daily ice cream trend wasn't so bad, but it was slowly becoming ice cream tourism. As mentioned, the happy cows making lots of milk meant good ice cream. Let's call it regionally appropriate ice cream consumption.
Ribeira Grande had many narrow cobblestone roads, grand old architecture, pretty parks and kids playgrounds. For each well-kept property, there were another two derelict buildings. The town felt lived in rather than run down with people going about their business; be it working, playing or day-drinking.
Back home, the owner gave you a copy of his Azores paragliding book and some leftover cake from his daughter's birthday party. How generous.
Some research revealed that artist lived nearby, and so you wandered up the road to see his house. The walls were painted with even more flowers. The day ended listening to
mosquitoes on octane (mini 3-wheeler Piaggio trucks) zooming about.
Home time, Hurricane Lorenzo
The remaining time on the island was spent packing and going to the beach. Finding time and space to simply play should be a holiday priority, but it's often overlooked in place of adventure. That's not implying you want to travel somewhere far away and do nothing, but going to the beach to play in the waves should also be ok.
The surf has swelled significantly in the past few days. The local lifeguards warned you about ocean currents, which was fully justified. Had you not grown up on Australian beaches you may have be dumped in the rough surf. It was playful, not dangerous. You had you fun but got even more fine black sand in your mask. Damn it!
Unbeknownst to you, Hurricane Lorenzo was coming to town: the biggest storm in 20 year with 163 km/h winds, kicking up 15 m high waves and effectively shutting down all Azores islands. On 2 October 2019 (two days later) people were advised to stay home, schools and shops shut, and all flights were cancelled. The damage was severe.
You were extremely lucky all you suffered was sand in your mask. Everyone made it home safe and sound. Good holiday!