And the cloud clears!

28th Sept. Crater wandering.

For the first time, we woke to a bright sunny day instead of heavy rain. After breakfast, we were soon on our way to explore the highlands. The surrounding mountains/volcanoes were clear of clouds and it promised good visibility for those willing to risk the unpredictability of Azorean weather.

We were off to see the wonder of Sete Cidades, a small town in the crater of a huge volcano and also containing two lakes; the beautiful Lagoa Azul and the smaller and very green Lagoa Verde. Perched on the rim of the crater is an abandoned hotel. I had been intrigued by this sad concrete monolith on an earlier visit, so parking up nearby I intended to explore its innards. First, we took photos from the tourist viewpoint of the panorama, taking in the town, crater and lakes before burgling our way into the derelict hulk by way of clambering up one of the walls which gave access into one of the rooms. We were not alone, we came across several others nosing around the building, using the added height of the structure to take a unique angle of a photograph of Sete Cidades. The hotel had been gutted, but its once splendour could still be gauged as we sploshed through its dark, rubble-strewn corridors, investigated its rather palatial rooms and posed for selfies on its roof terrace. What a shame that its original owners hadn’t considered the impact of being in a near-permanent cloud would have on its guests. An expensive mistake!

The drive into the crater is steep and winding, with plenty of viewpoints for yet more photos. Reaching the causeway separating the two lakes we again took photos before driving on into the settlement. Parking up next to the little church we gave it a brief once over before stepping across the road and having coffee in a little cafe that Sue and I had also done, quite a few years ago.

Thirst quenched, we drove to the lake and took the cobbled causeway towards a tunnel that on a previous visit we had discovered was cut through the base of the rim of the crater to the outside world, seen as a single dot of light through its darkness far into the distance. You can walk through it, but not today! The heavy rain we experienced on the day of our arrival had been much worse than we had imagined. We have come across several mudslides on our journeys since that have been cleared away by the authorities, but here on the little road along the edge of the lake, trees and mounds of brown earth blocked our way. Abandoning the car we set off on foot, passing several workmen with a small digger, labouring to clear the way. They will be here several more days I  fear.

After much scrambling and muddy feet we reached the tunnel, peered inside and with rumbling tummies set off back to the car. A very pleasant lunch was taken at the Green Love restaurant, situated by the side of the lake in the company of some very choosy cats.

We intended to circumnavigate the top of the rim of the volcano following a road built for that purpose, however as we began our adventure we came across more workmen and several diggers which did not bode well. After bouncing and careering along a recently scraped surface for several miles, we eventually had to give up and return to the main road. Heading back to Ponta Delgada we made our way down the coast, again stopping to explore several rocky harbours and viewpoints. Plan B was to visit the cave of Gruta do Cavao on the outskirts of the capital, but on attempting to buy tickets we were informed that we had to book online and the next slots were in two days.

We parked the car at the hotel and made our way on foot to the Jardin do Jose Canto, a large nearby botanical garden. They are now just a shadow of what they had been in the past. The trees, pathways and borders are very unkempt and I don’t think they can blame Covid for that, just two years ago Sue and I visited and it was a joy to walk around.

Carrying on into town we found a couple of seats in the sunshine outside a bar and passed the time away chatting and people watching. Jamie noticed a very poorly pigeon slumped on the pavement and kindly picked it up and placed it in the sun, in a large flower tub near our table. Miraculously, some twenty minutes later, its limp little body twitched and it attempted to peck at the surrounding flowers. Then over the next few minutes, it gradually became more animated, until it took off and flew in a circle around the square in which we were sat, returning to land next to Jamie’s chair. Over the next half hour, it strutted around our table pecking for dropped scraps until it eventually flew off to land on a water fountain to drink with others of its kind. Over drinks, we discussed at length whether Jamie has healing hands or not. As a test I got him to hold my wrist for a while (I had hurt it during a previous unplanned dive into a stream), and the pain disappeared! Another miracle!

To celebrate we had our evening meal in a rather exclusive harbourside restaurant before returning to the bar of our First night to watch Liverpool thrash Porto 5:1.

29th Sept. A brush with the police.

Again we woke to a bright morning. The plan today was to drive to Nordeste at the furthest end of the island and under a scorching sun we set off with side windows fully wound down. All went well until we reached the township of Lagoa when we took a wrong turn and in attempting to do a ‘U-turn in the road, Jamie hadn’t noticed a police van behind us. We got pulled over. After checking his license and questioning why he didn’t have his passport on him, he eventually let us go with a warning to ‘follow the road signs more carefully.

We arrived in Nordeste without further incident but only stayed long enough to walk over and under its picturesque bridge. There was nothing of further interest for us to stay longer.

We moved on to Ponta do Arnel lighthouse, it is a precariously situated building reached by an equally steep and dangerous road. We spent some time at the tiny harbour directly below and was entertained by one of the locals catching fish, it seemed every time he dropped his lure into the choppy waters he caught a fish.

The next stop was on Pria do Lambo Gordo beach. We had thought that down to the lighthouse was on quite a hazardous route, but to reach this sand and a rocky bit of coast easily outshone it on near-vertical turns and frightening drops. After a brief clamber across the rocks to discover one other soul foolhardy enough to risk life, limb and hire car we left him to his solitude and did it all again in reverse.

Heading for Povoacoa we came across more mudslides which had unfortunately taken the road away, we were forced to take a very long diversion via the pretty fishing village of Faial da Terra.   On arrival, we ordered drinks at one of its bars but were disappointed to find they didn’t provide food. With drinks suitably quaffed we made our way to a small restaurant across the river opposite, followed by a friendly little dog resembling more like the head of a mop than ‘man’s best friend’. He remained with us while we ate, and yes it did get some of my tuna.

On leaving the village we spotted a sign for the waterfall, so parking up we set off to find it. It was a two-kilometre arduous climb along a trail that wound its way through dense forest vegetation. We were not alone, besides passing several pairs of descending ‘serious’ German hikers, we came across little flocks of wild chickens. They had no fear of us and seemed unconcerned about the passing human traffic.

The waterfall was worth the effort (just), we could hear the thunder of the falling water from quite a way, I shudder to think what it must have been like during the downpour that ripped trees and ground away so violently.

Returning exhausted to the car it wasn’t surprising that on reaching Povoacoa, drinks were sunk in the first bar we found off the town square before returning to Ponta Delgada. That evening we had our meal in a small café just down the road from the hotel and watched  Benfica beat Barcelona 3:1.

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