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Portugal

Hiking the Azores

What better way to start?

semi-overcast 58 °F

Part of what drew me to the Azores was the beautiful photos of volcanic lakes surrounded by lush green fields. The Azores boast plenty of hikes for those folks who want a little adventure and a lot of beautiful scenery. I’m sure there are other reasons to come here, but hiking was my number one.

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mountain lake

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Bird taking flight over the lake

Shortly after we landed and got our rental car, we were on the road to our first hike. The Azorian has a great website listing all of the marked trails including trail maps, length, difficulty and what you’ll see along the way. Since it was afternoon by the time we got started, we decided to start with a shorter route - The Serra Devassa trail - listed as taking 1-2 hours. I’m thinking the folks that complete this trail in 1 hour aren’t stopping to take photos or enjoy the sights.

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Above the clouds

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More mountain lakes

Along the way, there were gorgeous views of the valleys as well as extinct volcanic craters that are now mountain lakes. There are even a few antiquated aqueducts from the 1800s. One item that had me perplexed through the hike was a large hill with a ring of trees at the top. Throughout the hike, it was nearly always there. I was wondering if it could have been an ancient burial mound (I’m from Ohio, we have lots of burial mounds) or possibly an ancient fortification. Finally, as we climbed to the highest point of the hike, we could see down into the lake of this former volcano. I should have guessed that.

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Placid mountain lake

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Extinct volcano

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Part of the trail

After 3 hours, we completed the circular route and landed back at our car. After getting nearly no sleep on our flight over, we were both exhausted when we got back to the hotel. A perfect first day on Sao Miguel Island!

Posted by Jengt 14:59 Archived in Portugal Tagged #azores #hike #mountain_lake #volcano #crater #rim_walking Comments (0)

A Rim With a View

Walking along an ancient crater rim

sunny 59 °F

If you Google Image search Azores, one viewpoint comes up over and over again. That’s the view I was hoping for today. The one hike we both really wanted to do was the Mato do Canario to Sete Cidades path. It climbs quickly to a viewpoint overlooking several of the crater lakes. By climbs quickly, I mean a steep climb that seems to go on forever. But hey, at least it’s paved. In fact, neatly the entire path is along a road - sometimes paved and sometimes just dirt.

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The trail UP

The first viewpoint gave me a thrill of things to come. The weather was holding, beautiful blue skies and sun. The temperature was holding in the high 50s but the wind was whipping around me every time I’d reach a crest. I didn’t mind the wind as long as I had sunshine.

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First view of the day

In many places, the roadbed was edged by high brush so you couldn’t see either side. However once in a while, there’d be a break in the brush. Each time, I’d be gifted with a more magnificent view.

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Lagoa Azul (Bluee Lagoon)

There are two lakes divided by an embankment that is now a road. One is blue and the other green. The different colors are due to the way the light hits the algae in the smaller lake. The goal was to get a shot of both lakes lined up and to see the different water colors.

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Lagoa Verde (Green Lagoon) and Lago Azul

The rim of the crater climbs and falls and the road periodically looks out over the ocean. The deep green fields with grazing cattle could be farms anywhere. I thought several times that these cows have an amazing view every day of their lives but it’s just home for them. Just a place to eat the grass.

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The steep walls of the crater

When I finally found that spot where the lakes were lined up, the clouds started to come in. That didn’t bother me though. I may not have gotten that “perfect” photo, but I experienced the view. I still took many more photos than I needed. (Really, is there a limit on how many different views of something you’re allowed to take?).

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I lingered a while and then started to head to the town at the edge of the lake where I heard you could take a taxi back to the starting point. I hadn’t decided if I wanted to continue the next trail that would take us back to the car, but I was happy we had the option.

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The town of Sete Cidades

As I mentioned at the beginning, the road up was steep. The way up didn’t hold a candle to the road down - this time it wasn’t paved. Just a REALLY steep dirt road with lots of loose stone. I was doing amazingly well for a klutz. That is, until I was nearly to the bottom when my foot slipped and I fell. No major damage, but I did cut up my knee. So much for finishing the trail.

I hobbled into town and we found a restaurant to have a bite to eat and rest as we waited for the taxi back to the car. A cold beer never tasted better!

On the ride back, I thought about the hike. I may not have gotten an perfect photo of the lakes, but I did have a once in a lifetime experience. One that I’ll treasure for many years to come.

Posted by Jengt 14:37 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

A Gentle Walk Along Lagoa das Furnas

overcast 55 °F

Due to my iPad’s keyboard repeatedly “sticking “, this blog post will be mainly photos.

Please enjoy my photos of Lagoa das Furnas and surrounding area.

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Pilgrims walking from church to church

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Hot springs along the lake

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Locals cook in pits using the hot springs

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A stream feeding into the lake

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An unusual tree

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Sculpture along the lake

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A stand of trees (I’m afraid I don’t know the species)

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Church built in the 1800s

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Church interior

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Flowers along the path

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Sequoia tree in the woods - not sure how it got here

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Waterfall

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Overlooking the area fields

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Fungus

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Tiles on the outside wall of various homes in the town of Furnas

Posted by Jengt 13:59 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

A Whale (or dolphin) of a Time

A day on the coast of Sao Miguel Island

sunny 63 °F

I had heard that the Azores was a great place to see whales. In fact, a few weeks before my trip, CBS Sunday Morning’s final moment of nature was video of whales swimming along the coast of Sao Miguel Island. It was a sign, I was meant to see whales when in the Azores! As my trip neared, I started to research what species I would have a chance to see...if any. From April to May, the Blue whales migrate past the islands. I pinned my hopes that there would be a few early birds heading south the week I was here. I also had just purchased a new camera and wanted to see how it would perform in this type of fast-paced situation.

We checked online for the various whale watching tour companies and decided on Terra Azul. On Thursday, our final day on the island, we hopped in the rental car and headed off to Vila Franca do Campo to see the whales. The roads on Sao Miguel are of two types: relatively straight interstate-like and narrow two lane roads that twist and turn up and down the mountains and through tiny little towns. There really is no in-between. I was having a grand time slaloming around the island (I usually drive and Mike navigates). However, if you are prone to car sickness, please beware if you are visiting and driving.

At the Terra Azul office, the group received a briefing from a marine biologist and the boat captain on what to expect. From there, we all boarded the 28 passenger Zodiak boat and headed out onto the North Atlantic. The ride was a little bumpy with, thankfully, very little sea spray.

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Common dolphin

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It didn’t take long to come across a pod of Common dolphins. They were playful, swimming alongside the boat and jumping in groups all around us. I made good use of my new camera and zoom lens. It was extremely difficult to keep up with the dolphins though. Just as soon as I had one in my camera sight and hit the release, they were gone.

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After a while with this pod, we had to move on. Apparently, regulations state a boat can only linger a certain amount of time. The spotters on shore hadn’t found any whales yet, but we continued further offshore hoping to get lucky. We were told how to tell a “blow” from just splashes of water. I scanned the horizon wanting desperately to be able to yell “Thar she blows!”.

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Shortly after, I heard the radio and the captain turned the boat. Could it be? Did the lookouts find a whale? As we slowed, we found a pod of Striped dolphins. Our marine biologist was excited. He said this was only the second time he’s actually seen Striped dolphins in open water. Unlike the Common dolphins, the Striped don’t like the boat and swim extremely fast away as the boat approaches. I may have gotten one or two on film. However, I really couldn’t tell since they didn’t come very far out of the water to get a good glimpse.

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Striped dolphin? We’ll never know.

It appeared there would be no whale sighting for me today. I couldn’t be sad though. I was having an amazing time. As we headed back, the captain took us to a small island off shore called Princess Ring. I had seen it as we approached town and wondered if there was a fort or other inhabitants. Turns out, the only beings living there are terns that nest on the island. We circled the island and headed back to dock.

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Princess Ring Island

Since we still had half the day left, Mike did some quick research for another site to see on this end of the island. Along the northeast coastline is the oldest lighthouse on Sao Miguel Island. The reviews said it was beautiful so we headed off to see it. Luckily, the reviews also mentioned that the lighthouse is down a very steep road (of course) and they recommended we park at the top and walk down to see it. They weren’t kidding. The road is a 35 degree incline!

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At least they warned us.

Near the bottom of the road, the lighthouse sits on a point overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean. As I walked down the road I came across a few couples heading back up. Each huffing and periodically stopping to take a breath. Each also commenting that the climb was worth it. They were right. The lighthouse and view were both grand!

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Farol Ponta do Arnel

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The drive back to Ponta Delgada was along the northern coast. This was all new scenery for me. Occasionally, there were scenic overlooks which I felt obligated to check out. Some were better than others, but all worth the stop.

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As the day ended and I looked through my photos of the day, I reflected on my day. I may not have seen a blue whale, but I did have a whale of a time.

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Posted by Jengt 16:19 Archived in Portugal Tagged #azores #dolphins #terraazul #lighthouse #sao_miguel Comments (1)

A Last Half Day in the Azores

Checking our Ponta Delgada on foot

sunny 65 °F

For once, my flight home from a European destination didn’t leave before dawn. My flight from Sao Miguel didn’t leave until 4pm which left another half day for sightseeing. We decided to use this time to walk around Ponta Delgada and check out a few places in town.

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Igreja Matriz de Sao Sebastião

The first stop was the church at the end of our street, Igreja Matriz de Sao Sebastião, which is the largest church on the island. As I approached, I heard chanting. I rounded the corner and saw a group of pilgrims standing outside the church. These pilgrims are called the Romeria. These men walk the entire island, going from church to church. They eat only what they carry or are given. They sleep in the churches or homes of parishioners. The “tour” of the island takes them three weeks.

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Romeria praying outside the church

After a few minutes, the men entered the church with several of us following behind. They sat down along the side of the chapel and continued to chant. It was a beautiful experience. After a few minutes, when their prayers were completed, they filed back out. As the men walked past me, I could tell though their bodies were weary, each one felt uplifted by their pilgrimage. I was moved by their devotion.

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Walking sticks left outside the church by the Romeria

From here, I wandered past the old town gates. In front of the gates is a square with a beautiful mosaic on the ground. In fact, all of the sidewalks on the island have this patterned mosaic of light colored rock and volcanic black basalt. It’s an artistic walk wherever you go.

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City Gates

Of course, if there’s a fort in town, you know I have to check it out. The fort in Ponta Delgada is the last standing fort in the island. They had some military equipment from the 60s and 70s which geeked Mike out. There were some interesting items, but I was more interested with walking along the walls of the fort which allowed for some good views of the city.

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Ramparts in the fort

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View of Ponta Delgada from the fort

After the fort, I just wandered about the city, checking out some of the narrow roads and other buildings we found interesting. The other churches we saw were beautiful, but after that first experience today, I just wasn’t as excited as I usually am at the intricately carved naves.

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Beautiful tiles along the wall of the chapel in the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca

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Nave in Igreja de Sao Jose

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Narrow, twisty roads in Ponta Delgada

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Gorgeous architecture - by the way, that is a two lane road that cars drive on next to the parked cars

Shortly after one, it was back to the hotel to pick up the car and head to the airport. My time in the Azores was drawing to a close. Although I only had a short stay on Sao Miguel Island, I will cherish so many new experiences. I can’t choose one that is my favorite. How can I ever compare hiking in the mountains, overlooking a peaceful lake in the sunshine, having dolphins play in the ocean alongside me and standing in a beautiful church listening to the prayers of devoted pilgrims?

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The coastline of Sao Miguel as my plane takes off

I can only suggest you visit the Azores and experience it for yourself.

Posted by Jengt 18:32 Archived in Portugal Tagged #azores #ponta_delgada #romeria Comments (0)

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