Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Terceira: the island hopping continues

Another day.  Another island.  From the balmy breezes of the Caribbean to the "is it ever going to stop raining?" of the mid-Atlantic. Goodbye sunscreen, hello umbrella.  Adios, Mojitos. Bom dia, caipirinhas.

What I'm trying to say is that this was a pretty dramatic island hop..an island long jump, really. I had just gotten off a tropical southern Caribbean cruise and was now flying to Terceira. Located in the Azores, a remote Portuguese archipelago, miles and miles from anything,  this was certain to provide an interesting contrast to everything I'd just seen.

For starters, when I looked up the 5 day forecast, every single day showed an angry rain cloud. I appealed to the 10 day forecast and got double the pissy cumuli.  This was going to be a wet one.

As expected, it was raining the night we arrived.  This was not enough to prevent us from running across the street to a nearby bar and after a couple of drinks, formulating the plan to climb a pretty substantial hill to a scenic lookout point. In the rain. In the dark.  In heels.  There were about a dozen off us scrambling up a rocky path, using the lights from our cell phones and yelling back things like "Be careful, there is a big drop off here", "It's ok, we're are almost there," (this was usually a lie) and "Oh shit.  I think I just heard a bull."(This one...probably not a lie).

We had set up a tour of the entire island for the next day through the very helpful Fernando Simoes. Come morning, we tried to explain our late night hike to the driver, which thoroughly perplexed him, not because we did it, but because had we just walked another 100 feet or so, there was a gently sloping road- with no drop offs- that would have gotten us to the same point.  The more you know...

We took this road to start our tour at the very same lookout point, which we now realized provided views of both the ocean and the airport.

And cows, lots of cows.  Everywhere we went, there was a bevy of bovines...meaning those bulls we thought we heard were most likely real.

During our tour, we circumnavigated the entire island and saw countless places to stop for photos but due to the weather, we ended up just doing a lot of drive-bys instead.  As a result,  almost every photo I have has an accompanying raindrop or two.

Mother Nature was not a total jerk, though.  By the time we got to the biggest city, Angro do Heroismo, the rain had finally let up enough for us to do a bit of exploration.  The city, a UNESCO world heritage site, was so cute and quaint and cobble-stoned that I wanted to pick it up and snuggle it like a puppy.

It was absolutely charming, but not in the cloying way that some "too-perfect" little towns can be. This was place that was clearly lived-in and meant to be enjoyed.  I wanted more time here. (Note: I always want more time somewhere.  If I were to take all the time I want in every place I want it, I would need to live at least a century + to fit it all in.  Call it travelers' greed.)

Is it possible to photo bomb someone's lunchtime?

But we still had a lot of island to explore.  Climbing up the nearby hill, we stopped at TripAdvisor's #2 attraction, Monte Brasil.  A combination park, look-out point and military installation (I think- we had to go through a very official looking guard point to get in), it provides great views of Angra do Heroismo and beyond.

One thing you can say for that non-stop rain, it sure does lead to a green landscape.

I noticed there were plenty of walking trails within the park and on that one day a year, when it stops raining, I'll bet they are really popular.  We instead opted to drive from one point to the next.

If we were going to be walking around, it was going to be somewhere a bit dryer...like a volcanic cave.  To be clear, "dryer" is relative and we were still constantly getting dripped on it the Algar do Carvao, but holy hell, was it worth it.

Once inside the cave, you are walking through a lava tube.  This occurs when a volcano erupts but the lava that is intent on spewing onto the outside world (and in this case, onto a lot of cows) is rebuffed by the dense rock of the volcano itself.  Since it could not break through the rock, it flows backwards, returning onto itself, forming a vertical cave.

The patterns created by all this volcanic back and forth are simply amazing.  It felt like we had entered a giant Jackson Pollack painting.  Who knew Mother Nature was also an accomplished abstract expressionist?  Seriously, this has to be the coolest cave I have ever seen.

We thought we were done and on our way home after the cave, so it came as a surprise when we came to a stop at a wine museum.  Our driver had called ahead and asked them to remain open past closing time for us..and they had!  It would have been rude of us to decline.

We had begun our tour at 10am, by now it was almost 7pm, so were sure we were heading home. Nope.  Next up, was a visit to a cheese museum- makes sense after stopping at the wine museum- but which resulted in us carrying around blocks of cheese for the next week.

Finally we came to the last stop, that due to exhaustion and cheese funk, we almost skipped out on. We sat in the van staring at each other, not knowing what lay ahead.  It looked like another lookout point.  Thankfully, my FOMO kicked in and off we went to explore.  

We were at a series of crystal clear rock pools.  It was Mother Nature's water park and it rocked (pun so totally intended).  Had I brought my swimsuit -or partaken a bit more at the wine museum- I would have jumped right in.  

Much like on the cruise, our time was limited and this was to be just a preview, an idea of what to return to with more time.  Next time, I would bring a swimsuit, a flashlight for any impromptu night hikes and hopefully some better weather.  No need to bring cows, though.  I think they have plenty of those.

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