Day 05: Taking a Chunk Out of the Center

Since we conquered the eastern part of the island yesterday, today’s agenda was to focus on the center bits. We were up and out at a respectable time, and headed northeast out of Ponta Delgada toward the town of Ribeira Grande, which is located on the northern central coast.

Sample roadway of our travels

Sample roadway of our travels

It was an overcast morning, and the super nice lady at the hotel’s front desk was a bit concerned because it was “cloudy upstairs,” and visibility could be an issue since we were planning on seeing another crater lake up in the hills. As such, we took our time in Ribeira Grande, stopping for a coffee break, lollygagged at a couple of viewpoints that cropped up along the way, and then went to the Cha Gorreana tea plantation.

This was a worthwhile stop, as first of all, a friendly cat greeted us when we arrived. They were winning points already. Next up, we learned that they used to grow miles of oranges on Sao Miguel, until sometime in the late 1800s when “the orange disease” wiped everything out. Being resourceful, someone came up with the idea to invite two Chinese tea masters over to teach the ins-and-outs of growing tea. A few plantations have come and gone over the years, but since 1883 the Gorreana estate has been pumping out tea by the cuppa.

Rows of green tea

Rows of green tea

We toured the machines they use to separate and process the leaves, had a taste of both the Pekoe and Green teas (which, to our coffee-sensitized palates, tasted awfully similar), and then went outside to put eyes on the crops. As with just about everything else on this island, they were rows and rows of green.

Getting back into the car, we headed straight down the innards of the island to our next stop, Caldeira Velha (€2/ea). This is another tropical oasis, where waterfalls combine with hot natural springs to form warm baths in which you can soak. While we had the foresight to bring along swimsuits, we did not have towels and we didn’t want to either a) wait forever to drip dry, or b) put our clothes right back on and look like we just peed our pants. Nonetheless, the area was beautiful, full of lush greenery, many water features, and a perplexing situation where many people were all stuffed into one small thermal bath while a larger, more serene (and completely empty one) was located nearby. As Jim said, it was all a little close for his taste.

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Would you take a dip here? You’d be the only one.

We drove up the road a bit more to a viewpoint to enjoy our lunch of sandwiches we’d brought along before determining the clouds upstairs had thinned and the sun had come out enough so it was a fine time to survey Lagoa do Fago, another of the crater lakes on Sao Miguel.

There are many viewpoints for this lake, each one giving a similar but just different enough birds-eye view. One of them (Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo) even had a path from which you can hike down to the water, but it sure looked a long way down from where we stood and there was no need to get carried away and be all sweaty. The lake, however, is gorgeous and in a gorgeous setting, and although the photos really don’t do it justice, they should speak for themselves.

Lagoa do Fago

Lagoa do Fogo

Next we continued our drive to the southern coast and headed east a little bit with the intention of finding Ponta da Galeria (a protected seaside bird habitat) in the municipality of Caloura. What we found was the actual town of Caloura, and it was nice, and all, but it was not exactly what we were looking for. One thing we’ve noticed is that signage comes at a premium on Sao Miguel, and we likely should have splurged for an actual road map instead of relying on the island map the Tourist Information Office gave us. Who knew?

After driving around a bit we decided to scrub the mission and thought we’d head back west toward Ponta Delgada to check out the town of Lagoa. This turned out to be a colossal mistake. It was Sunday, and not only did it appear there was some sort of football (soccer) match going on with half the town in attendance, there was also a parade going through town, at which the other half of town found themselves. Completely oblivious, we drove toward the center of town until it was too late. There were throngs of people about, many roads were closed off, and once we got in, we could not find our way out through the maze of one-way streets. We went round and round, passing the same people so many times they started to feel like family.

Oh, good, Nana crossed the road safely, assisted by her youngest son. He’s such a good boy, unlike his older brother, who now lives15 minutes away. And there goes young Afonso and Shirley on their first date. Yes, Shirley’s parents were fans of old Hollywood. Wait, did Emilio finally buy that new wallet? He’s been talking about it forever. And…

This was now the third time in as many days that we found ourselves lost in one of these towns and we were experiencing some serious déjà vu.

This grocery store had a milk for any occasion

This grocery store had a milk for any occasion

Jim was a complete champ at navigating the sometimes hilly and always narrow streets full of people on one side and row of tightly parked cars on the other. I was not quite so helpful, either by asking Jim to look at the map while he was most focused on driving or by repeating, “it’s just hard to say… “ (where we are). On about the 8th go-around, we took a left onto what looked like a cobble-stoned sidewalk, and it turned out to be the key to this labyrinth. We drove as far away from the fray as possible, not caring that we were going east and our beloved hotel room was west. Eventually, we found the expressway and made it back in one piece, making a brief grocery store stop.

After that odyssey we deserved a rest before going out to dinner. We went to a restaurant called O’Corsico for a supremely mediocre meal, and one which I just really don’t want to talk about. Let’s just say it involved a small hamster-sized cockroach-like animal, a deft waiter and his shoe, and a swift kick under the table in the hopes no one saw. But we saw. Oh, we saw.

We bee-lined straight back to the room after dinner and had a glass of wine on our terrace before heading to bed and sleeping well. Jetlag, it would appear, is now in the rear view mirror.

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