It’s time to come clean: Kat and I have a horrible disease. More on that in a moment.
We got up early again to enjoy the sun and the view and the coffee pot. Since we wanted to get an early start on our day, we scrounged breakfast from the apartment – some of the local griddled bread (bolo) with cheese, and some crackers with jam. Then we hopped in the car and set out for adventure.
Our first stop was the last remaining ceramics factory in the Azores, Ceramica Viera in Lagoa. This was a bit like when we went to the Cheese Palace in mainland Portugal. You show up at a place that is notionally a tourist destination, and they act a bit confused about what you’re doing there. Then you wander around wherever you’d like. In this case, we saw the whole production process from clay (imported from other islands or mainland Portugal) through glazing and customization. We selected a ridiculous butter tray for our house.
From Lagoa, we went inland to the Rota da Água – Janela do Inferno trail. This trail caught our attention early on because the guidebook says to bring headlamps. Any trail that needs headlamps is bound to be fun. It starts out with a wander through bucolic fields of dairy cows munching away. But then, about two miles in, we were struck by our aforementioned terrible affliction: doggo blindness. You see, when there’s a doggo within eyesight, we totally lose the ability to see anything else. There’s no known cure. In this case, our doggo blindness caused us to miss the trail marker that was literally right in front of the doggo. We went off course. Way off course.
When we finally arrived at a junction with the actual trail, we realized we’d made a mistake and plotted a new course. We nearly missed all the cool bits of the hike by following a route that would have taken us back to the car, but Kat did some clever map reading and sorted us out. It was time for the headlamps!
The trail follows ancient aqueducts back to what was once an alcohol factory at a waterfall. Some of the aqueducts are now used as tunnels on the trail. You duck through tunnels or walk on narrow bridges back into the forest, following the sound of water. The trail actually passes over itself as it winds up the river valley. Eventually you reach the waterfall, a small trickle pouring out of a cave.
The water is incredibly clear, and within it you can see the local newts, which are highly endangered. We spent a while admiring the newts and the sounds, before beginning the return loop. Some Dutch folks warned us that there might be some cows blocking one of the tunnels ahead. In fact, that ended up being the longest and most interesting tunnel, dug through a hill and delivering a geology tour of its own.
Emerging from the tunnel, we did indeed find some cows, but they were nonplussed by our appearance. And then we were back at the place where we made our original mistake. The guard doggo was gone, so we could clearly see the trail marker. In our (slight) defense, a second trail marker was lying on the ground, presumably knocked over by an excited cow.
We made it back to the car, happy and hungry, and set the GPS to snack. We dropped into Vila Franco Do Campo for some queijadas at one of the more famous queijada bakeries (Vila Franco is the supposed origin of these). Snacked up, we set out further east for our main destination of the day: Furnas.
Furnas is the second volcano on São Miguel (Sete Cidades being the first). At one point, they were two separate islands. Furnas is still very active with bubbling vents and steaming ground. It’s very Iceland. One of the ways the locals embrace the geology is by cooking in the heat of the ground – in particular, a dish called cozido. Basically it’s a bunch of meat and potatoes in a pot, buried in the ground for a good chunk of the day. By the time we go to Furnas, we were ready for lunch, so we decided to give cozido a try.
It turns out that a massive plate of meat and potatoes and carrots is more than enough food for two people. And we ordered two of them. It defeated us. Humbled and meat-drunk, we stumbled to the geothermal area in town, the Recinto das Caldeiras.
At these hot springs, there’s stinking bubbling water all around – there are purported to be something like 22 different flavors of water here. Presumably that was before we knew what heavy metals were. We wandered in the mist for a bit before stopping at the real highlight, the Furnas Microbial Observatory. Run by a small team of four people, it tells the story of the microbiology of the vents. One of the team members gave us a guided tour of the small museum and prepared some fresh samples for us to look at in the microscopes.
Science nerds on the island are apparently a small community – once Kat mentioned that she was a geologist, we were told to visit another museum to talk to Nunu. As an added perk, they make drinks with water from one of the springs – I had a coffee, and Kat had a special tea with local liquor. We also made sure to try the natural fizzy water out of another of the many taps around the hot springs.
We lingered at the Microbial Observatory for quite a while, and then realized we had only a few minutes to make it to our next science outing, the Furnas Monitoring and Research Center. We sprinted to the Citroen, which huffed and puffed its way out to Lagoa Furnas, home of the monitoring center. While walking the last kilometer from the parking, we got caught in a sudden rainstorm, but we made it. And then discovered that their hours have changed, and we needn’t have rushed.
The site has undergone a major update since our guidebook was published (including becoming the headquarters for the Azores Geopark), with beautiful exhibits on the geological and environmental history of the area, along with a film about the importance of the diversity of Furnas waters.
We ended our visit with an ice cream and decided we had just enough time to make it to the Terra Nostra Gardens. We set out on foot, walking around Lake Furnas and past the Caldeiras where the cozidos are actually cooked. We dropped into a deep ravine and emerged in town, then made it to the park. Only to discover that it was closed. Turns out the guidebook was wrong. Bummer. We moped for a moment, and then set course for the car. Google decided that the best way to get there was to climb a ~40% grade up to the top of a ridge, and then immediately drop back down to the lake.
Thoroughly exhausted, we headed back to Ponta Delagada for a quick grocery store stop and a quiet evening of work.