13 June 2013 | Azores
Our time in Azores has come to an end. We leave with great memories and a longing to come back. Our first island was Flores. We arrived there after 13 days at sea, more than half of that time we were going upwind - wet, slow and uncomfortable; land was looking mighty good by the end. Flores is considered Europe's most Western land. It is a beautiful volcanic island with peaceful farming villages spread around the periphery, and more cows than people. We visited impressive waterfalls, hiked on a scarily beautiful cliff trail (a narrow path next to a shear drop of several hundred feet), and took pictures of the lakes in the volcanic calderas located in the middle of the island. The island has green lush vegetation. It is beautiful, but comes with a price: it is rainy and mostly to partly cloudy most days.
Next we sailed to the island of Faial, and its famous harbor, Horta, a must- stop for sailors going across the Atlantic to Europe. Faial is bigger than Flores, has more cars, more people, and fewer cows. That said, once you leave the main town, Horta, it was pretty similar to Flores: quiet and peaceful. Many people would find these islands too quiet, but I love the simplicity of the life here. One can really relax and, at the same time, have all the perks of "civilization" (well stocked grocery shops, several restaurant choices, great coffee, excellent bread, cheap wine, access to laundry and showers, and acceptable internet access - yes, this is civilization according to Marta - the only thing lacking was movie theathers). It is here that our friends Matt and Marg joined us. We played bridge (I believe I am getting better or maybe it was the wine?), toured the volcanic caldera (every island has at least one volcano) and the new museum describing the last eruption in 1957-1958 that added a whole new cape to the island.
We also visited Pico, the island across from Faial. Pico is just about 5 miles away, and there are several commuter ferries. It took us three separate visits by ferry to cover the major touristic sites/activities in Pico. On the first visit, we hiked up the mountain of Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal (2531 m). A taxi took us to the rangers center which is about 1300m. From there we started our climb. Clouds were covering the coast and the bottom of the mountain, but once we got to the rangers center we were above the clouds. It was very sunny and windy. We could only see the valley and the sea in between the broken clouds. The hike up the mountain was hard. We climbed 1100 m on rough volcanic terrain. It took us about 3 hours. The trip down was even harder, although quicker, only 2:30 hours. We were exhausted that day. My leg muscles took the rest of the week to recover.
The second visit to Pico took us to the whaling museum and to their wine cooperative, where we got good local wine at incredibly cheap prices. On the third visit, we went to the Gruta das Torres, a horizontal lava tube that can be partially walked and where the different type of lava flows can be observed.
After Marg and Matt departed, and our repairs and to-do list was mostly completed, we left for Sao Miquel Island, the main and most developed island of the Azores. There is even a highway connecting the two major towns: Ponta Delgada and Villafranca, which are about 25 km apart. The port and the town were not very interesting, but once in the countryside, the island was full of the same Azorian charm. Flowers were everywhere, not only the blue and white hydrangeas, which the islands are famous for, but a bountiful of other colorful flowers. Roads, fences, fields and obviously houses were all lined with those flowers. We visited the blue and green lakes inside a volcanic caldera, hot springs in yet another volcanic caldera and beautiful botanic gardens that included a hot ferric pool. The pool was full of people looking like lobsters being cooked for dinner. We did not swim; the water was murky and not very appealing regardless of temperature.
I believe many cruisers would pick Azores has one of their favourite places to visit or live. In fact, there is a thriving ex-pat community. I would be back in a heart beat, although I found the lack of full sunny days challenging. Little did I know that soon I would be praying for clouds.