Day 04: Sao Miguel, the Land of Chlorophyll

I slept like a baby overnight, Jim not so much, and we awoke to rain. As such, the decision was made to have a lazy morning, and we didn’t get going until noon. It wasn’t until later in the day that we realized we never set our watches back an hour when we landed, which came as a complete bonus and explained a few things.

Azorean traffic jam

Azorean traffic jam

Today was to be our first driving adventure around the island. I’d learned that the island is approximately 39 miles (63km) long by 10 miles (16km) wide, and thought, hey, we could go ‘round-n-‘round and see it all twice in our 4 days here. Turns out this would only work if we had wings, as I’d failed to notice many of the main roads were as squiggly as a polygraph.

We set out eastbound along the south side of the island in a driving rain, with our sights set on the Furnas Lake area. The road, an expressway, was a beaut at first, but then it suddenly ended and from there on out, it was a twisty piece of business. And by twisty, I mean take a pen and try drawing your EKG results with your non-dominant hand. I think the single most important feature of any car here is good brakes.

Do Not Touch. Maybe Just a Little.

Do Not Touch. Maybe Just a Little.

There has been a great deal of volcanic activity over the years on Sao Miguel, and a result is a bunch of crater lakes and “volcanic phenomenon,” as our local island guidebook says, aka geysers and hot springs. Our first stop was to a large array of such phenomenon, called Caldeiras, which are on the shore of Furnas Lake. We arrived to them during a particularly vigorous and spirited rainfall, and it was at the point Jim announced he’d left his raincoat safely in the hotel room. We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then, miraculously, the rain slowed, then stopped, and we never saw a drop the rest of the day. This saved Jim from a vigorous and spirited round of I Told You So.

Volcanic food

Volcanic food

The Caldeiras (€0.50/person, plus €0.20/car for each 15 minutes) are super cool. Super smelly, too, with that characteristic rotten-egg-sulphur smell brewing from the bowels of the volcano, but I loved them immensely and was mesmerized. In fact, I had an overwhelming urge to touch the boiling water, and Jim said go ahead, as he thought there probably was a First Aid Station nearby with a line of people all holding up a bright pink finger. I never did touch the water, but instead, we sat and watched a couple of men pulling up big pots of food from concrete pipes that had been shoved deep into the ground. This is where many restaurants cook their food, using the hot steam from the earth, but it just seemed a bit unsavory and hard to believe the food doesn’t taste like ripe socks.

Moving on from the Caldeiras, we headed into the nearby town of Furnas. Now, these towns on Sao Miguel aren’t large, but most of the streets are one-way and it can be difficult to navigate through. We found a parking spot, however, and walked up and down the 2 main streets of town, stopping for a coffee.

Lush, green, secretive, Terra Nostra Park

Lush, green, secretive, Terra Nostra Park

There is also a rather large garden in Furnas, called Terra Nostra Park, and we were aiming to see it. We retrieved the car and set out, and I’ll just cut to the chase to say we joyride-d around Furnas for quite a while. Eventually we parked the car again by the impenetrable walls to the park, set out on foot to find the entrance, walked up a hill in the wrong direction before 2 elderly ladies set us straight, accidentally went into someone’s private garden, and then, completely exasperated, went into a fancy place called Terra Nostra Hotel to ask for directions. The unbelievably nice lady at the front desk took complete pity on us, and made our day by saying their hotel had a private entrance for guest use only, but she would make an exception for us instead of making us walk all the way down and around to the main entrance. God bless. I truly believe ole’ Vasco da Gama had an easier time finding South Africa in a row boat.

Green for days

Green for days

It turns out Terra Nostra Park (€6/ea) was worth the expedition to get there, as it was a complete tropical paradise. There is a giant natural hot springs pool in which you can swim, with reddish water from iron oxide, scores of specialty garden plots, pathways going off in every direction, ducks, and it was a few degrees cooler in the park under the vast canopies of trees. It is very worthwhile, but they would likely prosper a bit more if it wasn’t so secret garden-like.

Hydrangeas with a bonus

Hydrangeas with a bonus

We hated to leave, but we had a lot of ground to cover. Back in the car we went, and kept heading east along the main island ring road (the R1-1), stopping at many viewpoints along the way to marvel at the great big blue Atlantic Ocean in front of us and the great big green terrain behind us. Along our drive, we also noticed that this island is dripping in hydrangeas, and there are lots of cows, many of whom graze on steep hillsides. I’m convinced they must produce the leanest meat in the world.

One of the waterfalls at Ribeira dos Caldeiroes

One of the waterfalls at Ribeira dos Caldeiroes

We rounded the very eastern edge of the island, which was quite an adventure due to the roads not going more than straight for 50 meters at a time, and then continued west along the northern part before reaching our next big stop, the Ribeira dos Caldeiroes Park. Here there is a short loop hike that took us past a few waterfalls that, unsurprisingly, were set against lush greenery.

As it was getting late in the day, it was time to start heading back to the barn. We were able to pick up the expressway again and were back in Ponta Delgada in no time. After a brief rest in the room, we headed out for a pizza dinner at a joint called Ponsi, which hit the spot, and slowly strolled back to the room before turning in for the best night’s sleep of the trip so far.

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