30th Sept. A testing day.
Before breakfast, we had to ‘virtually’ test ourselves for Covid underwater -19. It is a UK government requirement for entry back into the UK. The test itself is pretty straightforward, ‘officially’ we were supposed to stream video of our test, but our ‘Fit to Fly’ organiser only required us to send a photo of the completed cassette alongside our passport. We left our tests to ‘time-out’ in the room while we took breakfast in the hotel restaurant. On return. the result was a satisfying negative and we sent off the required photos. I backed this up with a phone call to assure myself they had arrived and the appropriate certificates would be sent. They duly arrived by 11 am. While we waited, Jamie spent the morning on a beach by the harbour while I completed my UK Location form using the hotels’ WiFi and then took a walk to the small church on a hill, visible from most parts of the town but had eluded us on the three occasions that Sue and I had visited the island.
We met up again just before midday to continue our exploration of those bits of the island not yet visited. The first stop was to Sao Roque, just 0utside Ponta Delgada and where part of an extinct submerged volcano can be seen emerging from the shoreline. Nothing much can be seen other than a jagged slab of basalt angling skywards, the rest of the crater rim is below the surface and not visible as the sea was quite rough. We spent some time scrambling over the rocks to acquire a better angle for our photos before moving on.
A little way along the coast road we stopped at a small bar in the hope of having some lunch but had to satisfy ourselves with just refreshments, we sat outside enjoying the heat of the sun with a group of workmen who were repairing the road on which we were travelling. We have yet to see any work being done by those who maintain the highways, they seem to have the ‘British’ disease, the symptoms being; staring into holes, leaning on shovels, sitting in vehicles munching snacks. Finishing up our drinks we left them to their conversations and drove to the Volcanological and Geothermal Observatory of the Azores on the edge of Lagoa.
We were fortunate in that we were the only visitors and its curator offered to give us a tour of the facilities and exhibits. His explanations of the volcanic origin of the islands were excellent and I think he was quite impressed by the number of volcanic regions around the world we had visited and offered to show us the centres’ unique collection of minerals. I thought it was a shame that Sue wasn’t with us as she would have been in her element and it would have extended our visit by several hours.
Our route along this coast road took us past several sandy beaches inviting us to dip our toes into the clear Atlantic breakers, pulling into a public carpark the smell from the restaurant across the road reminded us that it was lunchtime and the waves would have to wait a while. Overzealous in ordering the ‘extras’ of garlic bread and French fries meant lunchtime was extended as we valiantly attempted to reduce the mountain of food that arrived. Only in the USA and Canada have we experienced such quantities of food arrive at the table as normal. As we crossed the road and changed into swimming gear to take our first and much-delayed dip, a rumble of thunder drew our attention to the angry, dark cloud rapidly approaching from the mountains behind. The rain came as we arrived at the water’s edge and necessitated a swift dash to the sanctuary of the car as the monsoon arrived.
In diminishing rain we drove onto Vila Franco do Campo, venturing to scramble over more of the Azorean coastline as our fancy took us, before stopping awhile in a bar for more refreshments. The bar had been made out entirely of wooden pallets; fencing, tables, seats and a platform area. A few years ago, Sarah had gone through a phase of utilising this medium in various seating and garden structures, I think she would have loved some of the ideas employed by this resourceful barkeeper.
Returning to the hotel we dined out that night in one of the narrow cobbled alleyway restaurants. Tables in these establishments are at a premium, especially in the evenings as Azorean culture seems to dictate that everybody must reserve a table to eat out, which you will occupy for the entire evening. For the second time on our road trip, we managed to acquire a table by promising to only be seated for 1.5 hours! It was a memorable meal. As he had never had one before I persuaded Jamie to order soup in a loaf for a starter. Expecting the hollowed-out loaf to be only half full of fish soup, it arrived full to the brim, we had one each. Of course, it was delicious, but after emptying the loaf of its contents, finishing our main course turned out to be a major challenge which I am afraid I couldn’t rise to. We completed the evening with a visit to one of the harbour sidebars to watch Premier Division soccer on the obligatory large screen for such establishments. As we made our way back to the hotel it was around 11.30 pm and the locals were still streaming out of their apartment blocks heading for the town bars and restaurants, many with children eager to play on the fairground rides and amusements that had magically appeared. This lifestyle surely must impact on the children’s performance in school?
1st Oct. A visit to a winery.
Our target today was to sample the wines of the only winery in the Azores, Quinta Da Jardinete it is located 35 minutes away on the opposite side of the island near Fenais da Luz. It wasn’t open until 10.30 pm so after breakfast we took a leisure drive over the central highlands to the coast and spent time rocky inlet scrambling for yet more photos of waves crashing over jagged basalt lava flows.
At the allotted time we got Google to take us to our intended destination, but on arrival, we annoyingly couldn’t see it. Was Google having a joke? Deciding to turn into a nearby farm track we realised our error when the surface became very rutted and the walls on either side gave no room for manoeuvre, forcing us to travel further until we reached a small field gap and make a careful about-turn. Returning to where Google informed us, “You have reached your destination”, we decided to ring the winery, only then to notice a wine bottle hanging from high up on the wall of the building we were parked next to!!!! It did take a phone call for someone to appear, but as the only visitors, we were treated to a personal tour of the vineyard and its distillery. The winery is a family concern and has a monopoly in the Azores, being the only one. It is a venture started in 1989 and it is still experimenting with its grape varieties and blending. We sampled a few of the wines which seem to be mainly dry but pleasant to the taste. If we had visited earlier in our trip we would have purchased a few bottles to consume in the hotel, but our ‘carry-on’ is too small for purchases to take home.
With lunchtime nearly upon us and stomachs craving for company, we headed back to the coast to discover an interesting harbour Lido where through a small gap in the natural rock wall the waves came thundering through from the ocean beyond. Local swimmers seemed to be having great fun in the turbulent water. The day was hot, the sun was out, we were not going to repeat the previous days’ mistake. Quickly changed we were in the water enjoying the coolness of the crystal clear seawater before any dark clouds could sneak up and spoil the moment. Thoroughly refreshed and invigorated we showered off under a stream of fresh water gushing from a rock next to the harbour wall. We had another ‘filling’ lunch in a café overlooking the Lido, after which Jamie opted to take another dip while I chose the more arduous activity of sunbathing on the concrete retaining wall.
Moving on we instructed Google maps to take us to ‘Elephant Trunk’, it could be seen from the Lido and a distance looked an interesting cliff feature. It didn’t take us long to get there along another farm track, this time leading to an ancient lookout station on the highest section of the cliff. The building we parked next to was where a whaler would watch for passing whales, whereby he would light a fire to alert the whaling rowing boat crew and then direct them to the unfortunate whale by way of a flag. A trail from here led us through fields to the very edge of the cliff some quarter of a mile away. It was marked by a rudimentary concrete block, to see the trunk one would have to lean out over the fearsome drop and neither of them was brave enough to risk that. We returned to the car after exploring a small abandoned farmhouse.
Back in the hotel, we downloaded our boarding cards and necessary certificates onto our mobiles in readiness for tomorrows flight home. We had our evening meal at a restaurant next to the port, this time we ordered sensible portions before returning to the hotel’s bar to watch another soccer match and an earlier night.
2nd Oct. Journey home.
Our flight wasn’t until 6.10 pm so we strived to make the most of our last few hours on the island. Just 500m from the hotel was a small pineapple plantation, we determined to check it out on foot. It opened at 9 am and even though we went straight after breakfast we were not among the first to arrive. There was a free self-conducted tour of the greenhouses and a small building where you could purchase pineapples and its juice, but surprisingly they didn’t appear to sell any pineapple derived spirits as in similar concerns I have visited around the globe. Returning to the hotel we checked out then drove in the rain down the coast past the airport to the small cliffside village of Relva to see some stone washing tubs fed by a spring, set in the cliff and used by the wives of fishermen. Parking up in the village we were surprised to find that the tubs were at the base of the cliff down a treacherous and very steep path. What a task it must have been to do the washing, the women must have been extremely fit to carry wet clothing back to the top, I was exhausted carrying just a stomach full of breakfast. At the base of the precipice were two anglers balancing precariously on the rocks, seemingly to catch a fish on every cast as the waves crashed around them.
As we returned to the car the heavens opened up in a deluge, so we sheltered in a small village café for coffees and to watch Manchester United draw with Everton 1:1. As the match finished, the sun appeared and we moved on to the restaurant located on road alongside the airport running parallel to the coast. Our quite substantial meal had to last us until the following day so we did it justice.
We dropped the car off where we picked it up and caught the complimentary coach to the airport, successfully navigating passport control into the departure lounges by 4 pm. After showing the certificate (on our phone) of Covid Testing we boarded the aircraft 20 minutes late but arrived on time at Stansted Airport at 11.50 pm. The queue through immigration was horrendously long and when eventually reaching border control, all that was looked at was my passport. What was the point of paying for and gathering all the documentation???
I dropped Jamie off at home by 2.10 am and was fast asleep in my bed by 2.30 am. A wonderful trip to a very scenic, peaceful and exotic island. Sssssssshhhh! Don’t tell anyone about it, they might all want to go and spoil it!