It was, of course, purely coincidental that I headed out next day in Portimao for my morning on the beach at the beautiful Portuguese Riviera in the company of Dawn and Heather, the two, young, single ladies on our tour.To the right: Another of the many castle-like buildings that we passed on the tour. This one, the Fortaleza de Santa Catarina was odd in that the stone work almost looked melted on the one corner.
The Portimao Marina area and the very colourful contrast of the surrounding condos (I assume) that bordered the area. Although the air was a bit chilly, the water was rather nice on what were becoming very tired feet. It was rather eerie, though, having this huge expanse of beautiful sandy beach all to ourselves.
The last of our walk on the beach. It was time to head back to the hotel and pack up for our late day trip to the Azores Islands.
"Everyone check their suitcases. It was in my room last night, still about half-full and it was bright blue."
Many of us had grown rather fond of the Portuguese delicacies.
Most of us took the opportunity during our trip back north to Lisbon airport to nap a bit in the trucks. We were a weathered lot of people, waiting in the airport for our few hour flight to the Azores in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.Above left (right to left): Phil, John, Frank, Dawn and Greg -- Above centre (left to right): Sharon, Pete and Heather (standing) -- Above right: Carlo, Carlos and Sandra
To the lef: Waiting in the airport parking lot for transport to the hotelBack row: Don, Mike, Heather, Sharon and PeteSeated: Frank and DawnTo the right: Sabby (foreground), Frank and Mike (pulling suitcase) landing in the Azores Islands. Unfortunately, airport security made me pocket my camera.We made the trip to the hotel, checked in to the Holiday Inn (pic to the bottom right from the internet) and called it a day.
Above is the view out the hotel window first thing next morning. I could see the outline of a rather large mountain, far in the distance and decided at that point that I wanted to visit that mountain before I left these islands.
As the morning sky cleared, the mountain came more into view. This looked like a truly gorgeous place to spend the next four days. We were to play our two shows on the last two nights, so after an early breakfast, I headed out for a quick morning trip around town.
Ponta Delgada was much different than the Portuguese mainland -- distinctly much older looking. Buildings appeared to be far more 'weathered' -- no doubt, from the island's location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The streets were still very narrow, but didn't have the amount of carefully laid stone and cobblestones, as did the ones on the mainland. But as has been the case so far, everywhere were white stucco and red-tiled roofs.And far off into the distance lay the mountain. I spent the early part of the evening before we headed over to play our show figuring out how I would get there. I'd read before I left Canada that one could rent small motorcycles and scooters to tour the island. I decided to rise early tomorrow and see if my Canadian driver's license would let me.
Our stay on Sao Miguel Island was for four days. We flew in the night of the first day, and didn’t play our shows until the evenings of the final two days. That left us the second day on the island, completely to ourselves. I’d decided already that I wanted to rent one of the small motorbikes that I’d heard were available and go see the island on my own. So, right after breakfast, I headed to the centre of Ponta Delgado to find where I could rent a bike. In one of those chance things, I happened to pass an Avis Rent-a-Car office and decided to go in and ask about my Canadian Driver’s License and whether would it be acceptable to rent something to drive on the island and if they knew how to get to the motorcycle rental place.It was about 11 a.m. and the agent was just finishing up with a customer returning a car. When he finished, I found out that not only was my Driver's License acceptable here, but I could take the car that the customer had just returned if I wanted. It was sitting right out front. Without really thinking, I showed him my Driver's License, signed a rental form, gave him a $100 deposit (in Euros), sat in the car as he showed me the controls to my standard-shift, grey Daewoo Sedan, and within 10 minutes of walking into the office, I was driving west out of Ponta Delgada.As the countryside opened up in front of my steering wheel, it began to dawn on me what I had just done. I was now in a standard-shift car (something I'd not driven in a few decades) and heading away from the main city to the rural areas of an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where Portuguese was the ONLY language spoken (a language that I was not yet able to string two words together in succession). I'd reviewed the island on Google Earth before I left Canada, and I had a general layout of the island, knew there was an inactive volcano on the one end of the island that I wanted to see and there was, of course, the mountain on the other side of town that I wanted to see. I had no map with me, no English/Portuguese dictionary and was driving away from anyone who could speak my language. I decided that I'd follow the shore and take side excursions to anything that looked interesting. The island wasn't that big and I had all day to make my way back.
I could see the mountain in the distance. I decided to drive along the southern shore of the island to as far as I could go to the west and then go see the mountain.
The road wound down the mountain to the town of Feteiras. I put the parking brake on while I stopped to take a picture on a very steep hill, and wondered what I would possibly do if the brake let go and the car rolled down the hill. I was a long way from anything even remotely familiar.
As I drove along, the view was of mountain after mountain, some large, some smaller and a countryside dotted with clusters of white stucco and red-tile roofed buildings. So far, what I'd seen of Sao Miguel Island was absolutely breathtaking. I arrived at as far west as I could go at Ferreira. I was high up on an oceanside cliff. I could just barely see a rather large building at the bottom the cliff and a winding road down the hill to get to it. I had no idea if I'd be able to get back up again, but decided to try it anyway.
Once successfully down the hill, I parked the car and walked around a bit with the camera. The contrasts in colour between the ocean, the black volcanic rock and the steep brown ocean cliffs were magnificent.
After I got back up the hill, I left Ferreira and headed north along the western edge of the island, as far as Mosteiros (shown to the left from a distance) before I headed inland. To the right are the huge rocks just off shore. I would see these rocks again up close in a few days, but today, it was time to head inland.
My next destination, shown to the left, was to drive down inside an inactive volcano.The drive up the outside of the crater was gorgeous, as the beautifully sculptured grazing lands blended with the steep edges of the crater walls. The clouds hung just on the top edges of the crater.
From Wapedia.comSete Cidades ("Seven Cities") is one of the most beautiful natural settings in the Azores, composed of two lakes in the center of a volcanic crater about three miles across. Located on the west side of São Miguel Island, it is the most popular national park in the islands. The direction of the lake as of the [above] photo runs from northeast to southwest and is 5 km in length and about 1 to 2 km in width. This volcano is one of the most active in the Azores in the last 5,000 years.Looking from the edge of the crater to the lakes some 500 m (1,500 ft) below, one lake looks blue (reflecting the sky) and is called Lagoa Azul and the other appears green (reflecting the ground) and is named Lagoa Verde. According to a legend, the differently coloured lakes were created when a princess and her lover, a young shepherd, had to part from each other. The tears they shed at their farewell became the two lakes, with the water coloured like their eyes.
I'll admit, I was rather surprised to find a town and two fairly large lakes inside the crater of this inactive volcano -- but wow! What beautiful scenery.I first stopped at the 'Blue Lake' and had to get my feet in the crater lake water -- very warm and soothing. I met a young German couple and we took turns taking each others' pictures.
Start / FinishPonta Delgada
As I looked down on the Green Lake I noticed that the clouds were beginning to roll in low over the crater edges. That was my cue to leave. This would become a big problem for me very shortly.
Above left is the Blue Lake and the town of Sete Cidades from about half-way up the crater wall.And above right is the Green Lake on the left and a bit of the Blue Lake and the town on the right. Between them is the narrow road that separates them. I had driven this road a few minutes before.
Just around this last bend, I drove into the clouds. And here, I realized that things had just got a bit more serious. I was driving a strange car, on twisting mountain roads that I was unfamiliar with. The clouds formed a fog so thick that I, literally, couldn't see more than a few feet past the front of the car. There was no thought of taking pictures -- only in driving safely over the top of the crater wall and down the other side. I'll admit, that drive definitely unnerved me, somewhat.
The trip out of the crater at Sete Cidades was scary, indeed. I was on the north shore of the island at Santa Barbara before I thought to take out my camera again. In the picture to the right, the mountain I had just survived can be seen far off in the distance. The ocean here seemed ever bluer -- country completely raw and unspoiled. I followed the north shore of the island for about a half hour until I reached Capelas. From there, I headed inland toward my next destination -- the mountain that I had seen that first morning.
The middle of the island was covered with medium-size mountains/hills. It reminded me of how I'd envision a lunar landscape, except of course, for the lush green colour. It was like this right through the entire middle portion of the island. I slowly climbed higher, making my way toward the mountain.The farther I drove, the higher up I went and the more the scenery improved. I will admit, that knowing that I'm driving around on an island in the mid-Atlantic, full of inactive volcanoes and seeing a cloud formation like in the picture to the left, did cause me to pause a moment and go 'hmmm' .Some of the scenes outside both sides of the car as I made my way higher on the twisting road heading up the mountain were stunning -- even a little eerie, at times. The climate of the Azores was such that the clouds would roll in quickly, without warning (as I found out a few hours ago), then just as quickly be blown out to sea and the other side of the island. It was a little hard to get used to this.Finally, after what seemed like a long drive, I reached the top edge of the crater. I didn't feel too comfortable leaving my rental car parked where it was (much steeper than it looks in the picture) with just the parking brake on, while I stopped to stretch my legs a bit. But I had to stop once in a while and this place was definitely scenic.
When viewing any information about Sao Miguel island or any tourism package of the Azores Islands, Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) is often the one shown. This lake is in the centre of a now-dormant volcano that last erupted back in 1534. All construction was halted in this area back in 1974 when it was declared a protected Natural Reserve. From the point where the narrow roadway crests the side of the crater, one can see both the ocean to the north and to the south, as well as nearly to the east and west ends of the island. In a word, the view from this point was spectacular.Unfortunately, I had to take many of these pictures from my knees, because as soon as I stopped the car and got out, my fear of heights kicked in. There was no railing or wall at all and beside the road, 3 feet in front of me was a sheer drop of about 1000 feet. My stomach was getting a severe workout, standing on the lip of this volcanic crater.I stayed at this spot for quite a while, admiring the beauty of this place. In it's own way, this island truly was a paradise. The beach visible on the left of the lake is said to be the nicest white sandy beach on the entire island chain.
It was very difficult to get in the car and drive away, but I knew I still had a long drive and it was getting late in the day. I headed toward the shore. I’m not sure how I did it, but somehow I came down the mountain, back on the north shore of the island at Ribiera Grande. The only problem with this was that my hotel room was on the south shore and it was getting very late in the day. I realized that there wouldn't be time to circle the east end of the island today and I remembered the two mountains that I'd climbed already and how they were both in the middle of the island. I realized what might be the result if I ended up having to cross another one of them in the dark. So I set out to find the quickest way through the island to the southern shore.
I reached the southern shore at Sao Bras, a little under an hour later. I could drive easy now and, once again, watch the beautiful scenery unfold in front of me.
Ponta Delgado was down there somewhere and the terrain along the shore looked flat. I was no longer worried if I didn't make it back before dark.
Vila Franca do Campo (above and below). The roads were still ridiculously narrow but I was becoming rather skilled at squeezing my rental car by parked vehicles and on-coming traffic.
Different camera stops along the shore as I drove west along the southern shore of the island -- these huge rocks, just off-shore, were found everywhere on the island.. It was about here that it dawned on me that I had not stopped to eat or drink anything since before I rented my car at 11 a.m. this morning.
I made only a few scenic stops that last little ways along the shore, for I realized that I was quite hungry, getting a bit tired of driving and I sure could use a drink.
In what was, perhaps, the most fitting ending to this truly remarkable day, I drove into Ponta Delgado about 15 or 20 minutes after the sun dipped below the horizon in front of me.