06 July 2015 | Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores 37’44.29N 25’39.94W – Vila Franca do Campo, Sao Miguel, Azores 37’43.01N 25’25.75W
Guide books can only tell you so much about a place. They tell you what to see and what to expect, but the beauty of travelling is the spectacle of the unexpected. The Azores have provided us with many spectacles from the volcano in Pico, to the bulls of Terceira, but in Sao Miguel we have not only had the spectacle of the expected but also the joy of the unexpected.
The expected cold front blew over us Iain thought that this was the perfect time to take Fiona on a well researched ‘city tour’. The wind whipped our soaked hair into knots usually only found on unkept ships as Iain took Fiona to sight after sight. When we say sight after sight we mean, closed church after closed church and anonymous derelict building after derelict building. This was one tour never to be found in a guide book and deservedly so.
Saying goodbye to the thriving metropolis that was Ponta Delgada we made for the tiniest of fishing ports, with a population of about 3 and a space barely big enough to fit Ruffian. This was off the beaten track, where it, and indeed the festivities that occurred there, appeared nowhere in print.
Venturing into this sleepy little fishing port we found the unexpected. All the buildings were vibrating to the sound of throbbing engines and the central square had been transformed with scenes reminiscent of F1 pitlanes. Drivers in logo’d clothing wandered around while their mechanics worked their magic under the bonnets of their cars. We’d stumbled on a stage of ‘Rally Azores’, where cars boast more horses than exist on the islands and then blast around barely under control along the paths that we’ve been serenely hiking.
Taking their cue from the official timer their engines crackled into life, screamed like banshee’s and the cars disappeared in clouds of burning rubber and ethanol fumes. These were no normal cars and stumbling on them was no normal experience.
One of the expected sights that the guide book describes as a ‘must do’ was the shimmering saltwater pool at the off-lying island of Ilheu da Vila. The guidebook goes on to say you can take the inexpensive ferry to enjoy its delights. Our thinking was why take a ferry when we have trusty Thug who is more than happy to take us offshore.
Donning wetsuits for the wet trip we crashed through the waves making our way to the island. As we neared it we were under the gaze of the 100’s of poor tourists who had to wait for the ferry to take them home and we felt particularly special arriving by our own transportation. We felt much less special once we entered, as from the shore, we had a proper telling off from the islands custodian.
We were told in no uncertain terms that the ferry, and only the ferry, was allowed to land people. Under the gaze of the 100’s of tourists we turned tail and felt much less special. If only the guide book had given us this gem of information.
Deciding to take in yet more expected sights outlined by the guidebook we hiked off to a lake high in the hills. The detailed directions told us to ‘ascend the hill until you reach the lake’, what they didn’t describe were the amazing levada’s that bring water to irrigate the fields or the beautiful dappled light where we could watch birds of prey pluck fish from the narrow stream.
Nearing the lake the shill sounds of 1000’s of seagulls, far from the sea, took us by surprise and then the view took our breath away. High in the clouds, the flat blue water reflected the green of the hills and the water invited us in. Instead of getting a thermal shock our feet were gently cooled by the warmed water and then shoals of tiny fish took it upon themselves to give us a pedicure. This was unexpected beyond belief.
Our time in the Azores has now drawn to a close and we now really hope for the expected and not the unexpected. The forecast looks goods for heading offshore and after 3 years away we’ll be hoping to hit mainland Europe in the days to come.
It’s not all sun, sun, sun.
Iain takes Fiona on one of his infamous ‘city tours’.
Banksy Azorian style.
Fiona in her element.
It’s great to be part of a proper working port.
Offshore islands, inshore rocks.
Ohhh. That’s all rather tight parking.
A good day to go high.
The site of the red bull cliff diving champs.
A picnic in the pasture.
Finally at the start of the trail. Time for some more ‘up’.
Levada. Just like Madeira.
Fish pedicure anyone?
Another day, another lake.
It’s got to be getting cold. The bimini gets put away for the first time in 3 years.
That’s as good as it gets and we have no idea where we’ll end up.