The Azores, Sao Miguel-Portugal

On the 14th, our ship docked in the city of Ponta Delgada in the Azorean island of Sao Miguel. My father and I decided to go to sleep earlier the night before, so that we can get up at a good time, have a quick breakfast and head out into the city center. After breakfast, we go towards the gangway to exit the ship and picked up a map of the entire island. At an ATM nearby we withdraw some euros and make our way up some stairs out of the port, passing some locals on the way trying to sell us some tours of the island. We decide to walk around the town first, since it was still early and quiet. We make our way up the main street of Rua de Sao Pedro and pass by a small church by the same name. We mosey around for a bit aimlessly, passing by another church, cafes and small stores that have yet to open up. We then come across the Portas da Cidade, which is a gate with three arches fairly high and made out of black and white volcanic rocks; like most of the citys’ buildings and streets. We take some photos and passed under the arches, which according to local legend, if you pass through under them it’ll ensure that you will one day return to the island. We continued walking through the sleepy town, barely seeing anyone out and about. We pass by a small park and the Cultural Center that had some local kids artwork on display expressing the dangers of global warming but was also closed. Being that there wasn’t much to do, we head back to where the tour guides where and decide to take one around the island. We knew that there was some natural beauty to be seen on the island, but we had no idea to what extent. And to be honest, I’m really glad we did.

My dad went back to the ship quickly to get his sunglasses that he forgot, and I stayed to haggle around with the guides to find a good deal. I first spoke with a man named Thiago and he was offering a tour for 35 euros to see Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde, next to Sete Cidades in the north-western part of the island, along with some other points of interest on the way. I thanked him and began to walk away, when he then offered me 30 euros if we could get six people together. I then spoke with three other guides and they all more or less offered me the same price but to see other parts of the island, like Ribera Grande, Lagoa, Lagoa do Fogo and Lagoa das Furnas. When my old man came back with his sunglasses, I saw two old American couples talking with Thiago. I led my dad to the guide and decided in my head that if we don’t leave quickly we may lose the day, since we only had about 6 to 7 hours till the ship left. After settling on the 30 euro price, we introduce ourselves to our new group and find out that they were all from Florida like us. We all climb into Thiago’s van and take off towards the caldera, with Thiago telling us facts about his island in very decent English.

In the Azores there are 9 islands in total: Flores, Corvo, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Graciosa, Terceira, Sao Miguel and Santa Maria, with Sao Miguel being the largest and most populated at 744.7 sq. km and 139,699 respectively. And at length from east to west, Sao Miguel is 62 km long. The islands are west of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean and are part of Portugal, yet there is a distinct Azorean identity. The island of Sao Miguel has lots of churchs, unique volcanic architecture, lakes and lots of very green natural beauty, filled with pastures, high rolling hills, peaks and pine forests throughout. From Ponta Delgada we first head northwest passing some forests and other lush flora as we climb higher and higher to our first view of the caldera facing Lagoa Verde at Vista do Rei. The view of the two lakes caused by the volcano was breathtaking. One was green and the other one was completely blue and here we where at one of the highest viewpoints in the island and surrounded by fairy-tale like greenery, with ferns of different species, hydrangeas, towering trees and large rocks covered in bright green moss. The day was crisp and chilly with the sun poking in and out warming our faces and a slight sea breeze that would flow all around our bodies. It was a really peaceful place to be and I was amazed with how beautiful and vibrant the island truly was, it was almost idyllic. And now that I think of it, it really shouldn’t have surprised me, since I know how enchanting Portugal can be from my prior travels. After Vista do Rei, we make our way to some other viewpoints, passing pastures filled with grazing black and white cows and small parks with stone tables and chairs. We see another side of the lakes from Sete Cidades and then walk into a small church with little works of art depicting Christ on the wall. Afterwards, we all go into a small cafe nearby and take the chance to have a quick coffee and use the wifi available. I have an espresso and text my sister and some friends back in Miami and talk with my brother; since we had been without internet for the seven days when we were out at sea.

From there we go to another viewpoint. It was inside a park with some walking trails throughout and a high steep path leading to another gorgeous view along the ridge to a fantastic viewpoint. I then began to think about of how special and remote this corner of the world really was… It being an island and belonging to a small group of other islands, alone in the Atlantic and surrounded by insanely beautiful vegetation and calderas; and many people don’t even know that they exist…

After taking many photos of the lookout point ( I went by myself because the others found it to high) we then go to Lagoas Empadadas, which strangely enough also had two lakes, yet was covered in blooming azaleas. We then pass by Lagoa do Carvao and go through the town of Covoada. We stop by a pineapple plantation, where they show us some greenhouses used to grow the Ananas, which is a local and much smaller and cuter pineapple. Not like the big ones that we all know, which they call Abacaxi. We make our way back to the port and thank and pay our knowledgeable guide. At this time there were a lot of people out and about, but they were mainly tourists. We all split ways but my dad and I walked into a small restaurant to grab a quick bite. There we had something called Bolos Levedos, which was like a Portuguese-style hamburger, yet with an airy and sweet bread and garlic mayonnaise; and typical of the Azores. I order one for each of us and a round of Imperial beer using my shitty Portuguese. Afterwards we get back on the ship, and head for Spain…

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