Driving in the Azores was just fun. It was fun to be a passenger and look around. My dad was having fun with Formula One, Mini edition. I’m looking forward to hiking in the Azores, too. I remarked at how many bicyclists and runners there were and my dad said it’s because there’s nothing else to do on an island of this size. Then he noted how every part of the island greenery was well-groomed and how there was no litter, and I said it’s because they’re bored. This theory of ours carried us a long way through the day.
Nordeste, Sao Miguel
So, now we’re wrapping around the southeast coast up the eastern edge of the island towards Nordeste. This part of the island is known for being the most rugged and remote part of the island, and of course, it’s the part I’ve been most looking forward to all day. Green, green, green, green, green. Lush, lush, lush. Trees, endless trees. And moss. All kinds of moss.
Ponta da Madrugada Miradouro
We pulled over at a lookout called Ponta da Madrugada, which basically turned out to be a f*cking religious experience, if there ever was one. Grassy, black rock cliffs dropping off into the bluest seas. The stop had a terraced garden with cobbled steps and mossy trees and stone benches… and kitties.
Did I mention it had kitties? Yes, there were maybe ten very well-fed kitties milling around. They had food and water bowls. One of the kittens took a liking to me and followed me all over the garden while I photographed. I could literally call him and he’d just come with me.
As one of my best girlfriends said, “No one could blame me if he just… made his way into my suitcase, right?” I kind of wanted both him and his sister, though. She reminded me of Esmeralda. But, no. Much to my dismay, no kittens made their way into my suitcase.
Just outside Nordeste, we found a cow blocking the road. It was bound to happen at some point. The Azoreans love their cows. And these cows have to be the happiest cows ever, right? All that green grass. And a good percent of the population is for dairy, not meat. We respectfully waited for her to move off the road while I took pictures, yelling, “Hay, girl, ha-ay!”
Nordeste and The Identical Churches
Arrived at Nordeste and grabbed some lunch. Kind of unremarkable. But I did try the local cheese. It wasn’t goat cheese this time. It was strong, but good. And you’ll never guess what sat right in the town center by the restaurant—a black and white church with a bell tower on one side.
If I could’ve seen into the future two days ago, I would’ve started a “church challenge” where I photographed every single church I passed on Sao Miguel just to prove a point. For a really good time, I’d actually try to identify them later. Maybe drunk? They. all. look. exactly. the. same. You know the church photos I posted on Facebook and the Gram two days ago? Yep. They all look like that.
Okay, minus the two neo-Gothic ones I’ve also taken photos of—Nicholas and the fairytale one today for dude’s sick wife. However, if you were dude’s sick wife and he built you just another black and white church like all the others on Sao Miguel, would you be like—just kill me now? Or exercise your dying breath on acting surprised and happy? Choices, choices…
Lagoa de Sao Bras
Every town kept arriving faster than our map would lead you to believe, so my dad pressured me to come up with another site off the cuff. I had him slam on the brakes and take a hard left turn up this stupid mountain. We went all the way up, and then all the way back down to the most boring lake ever. It was small. There were some ducks. A shitload of bugs. And some other people. So we hightailed it back over the hill to the highway. Lagoa de Sao Bras? Don’t waste your time.
Baia de Santa Iria & Ponta da Cintrao
Back to my planned and very well-researched itinerary… we stopped at Baia de Santa Iria on the north coast. More sweeping views. More kitties. Thumbs up. Ponta da Cintrao was next, a lighthouse at the tail end of a little peninsula. Had to pause for an entire herd of cows this time. Rewarded with a rainbow over the ocean. Can’t complain.
The “Long” Drive Home
We’d decided we were done for the day and better save some energy for the drive back… it was 13 kilometers. From the north coast of the island to Ponta Delgada. This turned out to be quite fantastic because I was beat and desperately needed a restroom break. Apparently, Azoreans don’t eat dinner before seven, and they don’t pee on Sundays. No restrooms were open anywhere we stopped.
Did make a random observation as we pulled into the public parking lot next to our hotel (prior to requesting free valet, that is). There’s a very high, very thick brick wall with razor wire on the far side of the lot. …Is this why they have valet at this five-star hotel? And… why it’s free? …Is that a jail? Or a prison? Just connecting these dots. A peruse through the hotel’s reviews would be interesting.
Anyhow, it’s been real, folks. We’ll be visiting more lakes tomorrow in the center of Sao Miguel and doing some actual hiking in the Azores. I’ll circle back.
A Day Of Hiking In The Azores
Today was another great day. I didn’t sleep very well last night, so that sucked, but today… today was good, so… we’ll just act like last night didn’t happen. Disregard it. Just super tired now is all. Had mandatory vacation breakfast and, as planned, headed towards the center of the island for some hiking in the Azores.
Barrosa & Lagoa do Fogo
I didn’t realize our first lake was going to be up “in the mountains.” I put that in quotes because it’s really just in the mountains for Sao Miguel. Like a 3,500-foot elevation. Which, rethinking, I guess is like the Appalachians, right? Anyhow. Climbed and climbed and climbed in our tiny car. At one point, you could literally see the coast on both sides of the island.
We stopped at a recommended lookout point called Barrosa where you can get a great view of this, but it was even higher up and too early, too foggy still, to get much out of it. We kept crawling and finally arrived at Lagoa do Fogo and wow. Quite spectacular. So much green foliage, the water is teal, the ocean serves as a backdrop. It was a special treat. Take a look at my feed from earlier today. This is why I travel. A photograph is just not a substitute, I’d hate to break it to you. You must see this for yourself.
Down to Lagoa do Congro
Our next stop would be Lagoa do Congro. I know, I know—if you’re asking yourself if there are 29,000 lakes on Sao Miguel, you’d be right. There are a bagillion lakes here. And almost all of them are awesome. Except the one from hell with all the bugs yesterday. And the one I’m going to tell you about now. I preface this tale by saying that I’m sure many other folks, including the Azorean blogger who wrote the blog recommending this lake, have had great experiences here, but I didn’t. At all. My expectations versus my reality were not at all in sync on this one.
I read that it’s about a half hour hike to the lake one way. And I’m excited to actually be taking the time to do some hiking in the Azores because I’m usually pretty impatient with sightseeing. …What they don’t tell you is it’s a half hour hike straight down. Steep. A solid half hour at a healthy pace. It’s also really muddy. And not well-marked. It’s really hard to see the lake at all on the way down because the trees are so dense.
Where’s The Lagoa, Yo?
So we get down there, knowing full well we have to make the insane trek back up. (Which, by the way, will definitely take more than a half hour.) You really can’t get a good view of the lake, even though you think you’re at the end of the trail at the lake’s edge. The trail kind of goes around the edge of the lake, so you follow it, thinking the foliage will open up any minute now.
…Okay. Any minute now. No? Um… okay… It never opens up. And you’ve basically walked a quarter of the way around the lake. (It’s not small.) I have zero idea what angle this blogger took his photo for this article from! He’s standing on some sort of man-made stone platform on the lake’s edge. Yep—never found it. Never ended up taking a photo. My whole “I went hiking in the Azores” vision was a bit of a bust, sadly. And I don’t even have any evidence.
Hiking In The Azores Disaster
The return was even better. I knew it was going to suck no matter how we went about it so, as I so often do when it comes to things that suck, I just made up my mind to get it over with as fast as humanly possible. Um… apparently, I took a wrong turn somewhere.
(Minor aside—my husband would laugh hysterically at this because, generally speaking, I can’t even exit a store at the mall in the right direction without his assistance and, here I am, navigating an entire road trip for my dad and I. Which I have done very well to this point, I might add.)
The trail got really brushy in front of me and I realized this was not the way we came. There were a lot of forks, so this was… not so good. We also hadn’t seen people in a while. I turned around and looked at my dad and said matter-of-factly, “This wasn’t the way we came.” He’s like, “Oh, yeah, no—you took a wrong turn a ways back.”…
Lost In The Middle Of A Jungle Island
*Both turn, looking in either direction.* Dad continues casually, “Let’s just keep going this way for five minutes. It’ll be fine.” So we hike another five in the wrong direction. Still nothing, no people. My dad stops to catch his breath, which also makes me nervous. He just turned sixty.
I’m like, “I think we should turn back. We’re just wasting valuable energy and we have no water (which we didn’t). The weather here is super unpredictable (which it is) and we haven’t seen anyone for a while (which we hadn’t). There’s no cell signal (Dad takes his phone out and confirms)…” I point out this is exactly the way every bad horror movie starts out.
Dad argues we keep walking for another five to ten minutes; he’s sure this leads somewhere back. “You said that five to ten minutes ago.” *Takes a look around.* “Fine. But have you ever seen the movie “Green Inferno” where people get kidnapped in the Amazon by an undiscovered Brazilian tribe? Or “Wrong Turn” where…?” Those of you that know me know that I am a horror movie aficionado. (Just look at my favorite travel movies list.) But this diatribe filled however long it took for us to get from wherever we were to… the back of a farmer’s field somewhere.
We were finally able to hike across the field and find the road, which happened to be the road to the trailhead. And we happened to pick the right direction to walk on that road to get back to our car. Yes, folks, it’s true—I got lost hiking in the Azores. And I have no idea how long I was lost, but that f*cking trail was not a half hour each way. Lies.
More Hiking In The Azores… In Furnas
Needless to say, I’d worked up quite the appetite. We drove back to the tourist town of Furnas from yesterday to get lunch. We also wanted to go back to that lake with the chapel, Lagoa das Furnas, and visit the waterfall. Stopped at a super mercado and grabbed water. Tried to use the restroom at the park before beginning the hike to the waterfall, but evidently, the Portuguese don’t pee on Mondays either. (Am I being punked? This is a joke they play on tourists, right?)
The waterfall, Salto do Rosal, was an easy hike. Supposed to be thirty minutes each way, though it was longer. It really was super tranquil upon arrival. Small, but tall. Worth the walk, and a nice follow-up to the disaster that occurred just prior, fortunately.
Of note, there was also a completely random sequoia on the way. It was grand and lovely and so… present. My dad swore it was a couple hundred years old. Strangely, it was the only one. A single sequoia in the middle of the Azores. It was the kind of tree whose giant, gnarled roots you’d rest comfortably on to read a book or take a nap. A Giving Tree. I’m not sure why, but I fell in love with it. If you can fall in love with a tree.
Praia da Amora & Azorean Cows
We took a shortcut back to the paved road and to the car. We decided we were done hiking in the Azores, but could still drive. Wanted to take the coastal road back to the hotel and check out Praia da Amora (I’m pretty sure “praia” means “beach”). Drove some crazy steep, windy roads to get there, only to discover that the trail was closed. We kind of observed the sign. Me more so than my dad. It was a really nice black sand beach, but we could only see it from the top of the cliff. Too bad. We were exhausted anyway.
I do need to make one more mention about the Azorean cows here again before I go. These cows… they’re all grazing on the greenest pastures you’ve ever seen with prime seaside real estate. Ocean views, my friends. And they’re dairy cows; they literally have mobile milking stations here. No threat to the good life in the Azores. People would [otherwise] kill for that real estate. They just mill around like it’s no big deal. Reminds me of the sheep in New Zealand. Or the Faroe Islands. They’d just stand on these amazing seaside cliffs with the wind blowing beneath their wool. I don’t even think their little baa-baa-brains are big enough to register how good they’ve got it.
Anyhow, this completes Volume 3 of my Azores series. (Find Volume 1 and Volume 2 here.) Tomorrow, sadly, we head out. It’s been a gorgeous, fun adventure. And I can now say I’m an official Azores lover.