Monday, October 14, 2019

Azores: Sao Miguel

Sao Miguel was last on our itinerary, but it was also inadvertently first on mine. When I wasn't allowed to board the connecting flight to Flores, I walked to Ponta Delgada. These greeted me as I neared town.
I popped into the tourist info center and then Vodafone, and then I went to the botanical garden.

I climbed up one clock tower and found a view of another.
Then I went to the military museum.

Before heading back to the airport to proceed to Flores. I was in a bad mood (I would have liked to spend the day in Flores, although it rained all day there, it turned out). I was hungry, and the restaurant in the airport for which Sata gave me a voucher had only a salad among its vegetarian offerings. I was still checking work email, and I received one that made me angry (as I did when I was in Romania), at which point I was determined to check only to delete superfluous messages and not to have to react to anything.

Anyway, a week later, we were back on Sao Miguel. We got our car--which we'd opted to rent because it was so inexpensive that it would be practically worth it even if it sat most of the time, and which turned out to be the apparently epitome-of-basic Fiat 500. I didn't remember whether I'd ever been in a convertible and couldn't wait to get our bandanas out so we could ride 'topless,' but Kiera insisted that she have a chance to figure out how the gears worked and what not before 'shit starts flying in our faces.' So I directed her to a parking lot near our hostel, and then directed us to said hostel. Later, we'd know we were close when we saw the plaques for the nearby strip clubs.

Our hosts were adorable and super helpful. They explained that we shouldn't make any plans until the forecast is in, at which point they'd tell us which parts of the island are literally visible. The next day the weather wasn't great, so K opted to work and I caught a ride with a mainland-Portuguese couple staying at the same place. They were heading to Furnas, and dropped me in Villa Franca. I walked up the very big hill to the church, but the fog didn't clear in time for me to get a view of the surroundings.

I got drenched on the way down (I was wearing raingear), but I stumbled upon the marina just in time to catch a speedboat to the island. And on that speedboat, I got super-drenched by the waves that it generated. I followed the others to the beach part of the inlet, secured my stuff to some rocks, and set about snorkeling.

I surfaced just in time to catch the boat back an hour later, which was a good thing, because I'd covered all the (ocean) ground there was, and it wasn't pleasant out of the water. When I got to the mainland, I had an hour before the bus back to Ponta Delgada. I was starving (despite tearing through my supply of granola bars). I found a food truck that had a vegetarian crepe on the menu, but the vendor said it would take her an hour to make it and asked if she could interest me in a hot dog. I popped into a market and asked if the pizza and other like offerings were vegetarian and was told that they weren't. At the cafe at the bus station, I ordered a vegetarian sandwich that was essentially a baguette with mayonnaise and (mind you, very fresh) tomatoes.

I was about to WhatsApp Kiera to let her know I was heading back, but I found my phone unresponsive to touch. The wave had taken it out. It was alive, but couldn't be unlocked. I had no way of getting in touch with anyone, and I didn't particularly know where I was going. From the bus, I saw us pass the street where we'd parked, and got off at the next stop. The hostel was just over a block from there, but which block? Should I veer right or left at the V? I thought I remembered veering right the day before. And there they were: the strip-club plaques across the street a few doors down. I was in the right place. The next challenge was getting in; there was no permanent reception, and I had no way of reaching K, who might well have been asleep. But our balcony door was open, so I serenaded her from the street. That didn't seem to work, so I went back to knocking, in the hope that someone would hear me. But a few minutes later, she did come down, having heard me through the balcony door. All was well, but it was the first reminder in three days about being mindful of your surroundings.

We went to dinner and explored Ponta Delgada as the sun set.

The next day, we--together will almost literally everyone else on the island--tried to go to Sete Cidades. It was impassible, so we drove on, to Ponta da Ferraria, and then to Moisteros.

At Ponta da Ferraira, we took a tip in a thermal hot spot in the ocean.

At Moisteros, we admired more cliffs. I went for a swim in a protected spot, but the protection was no match for the waves, which knocked me away from the ladder I was holding onto. I managed to get my head above water and swim back to the ladder and get out.

On our way back to Ponta Delgada, we passed through a much more pleasant, emptied out Sete Cidades.

K and I agreed that our minds weren't blown. I thought it might be beauty saturation, but she thought the reality didn't live up to the hype.

The  next day I again set off on my own, via cab, to Lagoa de Fogo. I got there just in time to get this spectacular view (I heard on my way down to the lake, from people coming up, that the cliffs hadn't been visible 15 minutes earlier; they wouldn't be visible 15 minutes later, either).

As I wandered around the lake, a fog set in.

 I could see very little.

In fact, I couldn't find the trailhead 90 minutes later, when I'd come back around. I pre-panicked, but then I saw a couple of people who'd walked the other way find the trailhead, and I followed them up.

I walked down the road to Caldeira Velha until a nice Italian couple took pity on me and gave me a ride (they were going to the same place). I progressed from coolest (literally and figuratively) hotspring
to the warmest, where, as I was getting ready to head out, I chatted with an American couple, who offered me a ride to Ribeira Grande (from which I'd take the bus back to Ponta Delgada).

It was very kind of them. It would've been a longer walk than I thought.

I once again had an hour to explore town and search fruitlessly for non-granola fare. It was worth it, to get this picture of the cat with zero f*s to give. It could've come straight out of NatGeo.

Once again, back to the hostel, except this time I had a key (and I had my non-burner phone--the burner was drying out in a bag of rice--so I could at least find a cafe with WiFi if I had to). However, that phone, though waterproof, can't be charged when the port is wet, so I put it away to conserve battery (I'd need to call my dad on it upon arrival in Boston the next day). K and I grabbed an earlyish dinner and went back to pack. It was bittersweet; we were ready to go, but we weren't.

The next day, she took off on an earlier flight and I went to a pineapple plantation,

and then to the beach.

I lounged and swam, thinking, "this time tomorrow, I'll be at work." That made the beach time that much more enjoyable.

From there, I headed back to the hostel to pick up my stuff and waited for the bus to the airport. It wasn't much less expensive than a cab, but no cabs went by. Just when I texted our hosts to ask them to call me one, the bus came. I got to the airport *just* in time to check in, recover my lost sunglasses from Customs (because that's how they do it), and board.

My dad picked me up in Boston and took me back to the airport the next morning. I spoke at an event a couple of days later, and collected my new cats over the weekend. They hid while I processed the pictures. The pictures looked unimpressive and disappointing when I was there, because the actuality of it was so much more beautiful, but now they seem really beautiful to me. It's a magical place.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Azores: Sao Jorge

Sao Jorge is where our weather mojo really started to run out. As with the other islands, we made a great choice for lodging, and as with Flores, we picked the hotel that housed the best restaurant on the island. Also as with Flores, there was exactly one vegetarian special, but sadly unlike on Flores, they didn't change it up, so it was roasted potatoes with veg every night.

Our first day was low-key; we needed to recover from the hike. Still, I got a bit antsy. The next day, we headed out for a hike. For the first stretch, we couldn't see a thing.

Ultimately, it cleared up.

And we stumbled upon quite the natural swimming hole.

We got into some cow traffic on the way back. There are many more cows than people on Sao Jorge. It's isolated, but the residents essentially subsistence farm. We saw all kinds of crops in just about every yard we passed.

The next day, Kiera had to work, so I hired a cab driver to give me a mini-tour of the island.

 We stopped at a very old church, and then at the only coffee plantation in Europe.

Where they dry the coffee beans
 Then we saw a bunch of fajas.

 We grabbed a quick lunch near the airport just before our flight to Sao Miguel.

 And said goodbye to Sao Jorge.