Our flight to Faial was supposed to depart at around 8:15, however there were clouds on the horizon. After an hour-long delay, the airline representative called everyone over to the counter to announce that we were going to take off and attempt to land on Faial. If that was unsuccessful, we would land on the nearest island (Pico) and they would ferry us across the channel by boat. No problem. There turned out to be nothing to worry about – we landed safely in Faial without any bumps.
Once landed however, we needed to find our car. There were indeed rental car counters in the airport, but none for Hertz. One of the drivers holding a sign for an arrival overheard us ask the other rental car people where to go and quickly pulled up our information on his cell phone. He then called someone, who showed up 20 minutes later with a folder and credit card reader. It turns out the Hertz counter is actually just some guys and some cars. With no mentions of Hertz anywhere. They “upgraded” us to a bigger car – a Peugeot station wagon with bald tires and an empty urea injection system (they told to ignore the warning light). On the Azores, driving narrow winding roads, a bigger car is more of a downgrade. Regardless, we got it sorted and were on our way into town.
Horta is the largest town on Faial – basically the only town. The harbor is protected by two small volcanic cones that wrap around the coast. Horta is best known as a yachting waypoint – being one of the only places to stop and refuel en-route across the Atlantic. As such, the entire harbor seawall is painted with bright banners representing each ship and crew to have stopped here.
Our apartment is right on the waterfront above a café and two doors down from a bakery. Apparenty it’s national donut day back home, and we did not want to go without celebrating the holiday. We refueled ourselves with some quick snacks before heading to our main destination: Capelinhos Volcano.
In 1957, a submarine eruption took place off the coast of Faial, and after 13 months of continuous activity, Capelinhos was born. The lighthouse that once stood on the coast was the perfect observation station for the geologists of the time. Now landlocked, the lighthouse stands as part of the Centro de Interpretação do Vulcão dos Capelinhos, an impressive underground complex dedicated to the geology and history of this eruption. One of the significant effects of the eruption was the emigration of the residents to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A loss for the Azores but a gain for Little Rhody.
The experience began with a 3D movie dryly detailing the origin of the Earth, atmosphere, oceans and islands. After that, the galleries focused mainly on volcanism – types of volcanoes, types of eruptions, volcanoes around the world, and of course, the details of the 1957 eruption of Capelinhos. Although the hologram animation of the eruption was out of order, there were topographic models to explain the same content. The last few galleries were dedicated to the geologic history of the different Azorean islands, ending with Faial. Although Kat wanted a T-shirt from the gift shop, we weren’t sure she’d fit into the children’s large. Kids always get the coolest stuff.
The museum ticket also included access to the lighthouse above. From the top of the lighthouse we could see trails leading up onto the flanks of Capelinhos. We tromped over to what looked to be a trail map, only to find a warning sign advising against climbing Capelinhos. We have noticed a general disregard for rules and regulations here, and the well-worn path indicated things in Capelinhos were no different. We followed the path.
Capelinhos is basically a pile of loose ash and gravel. A few tufts of grass have colonized part of the peninsula, but most of the land is still barren and scattered with scoria. We explored the various paths and found a seagull nesting site – in fact we nearly ran into a pair of fluffy gull-babies before they bobbled off behind the grass. Fully satiated with the geology, we headed back to Horta – we were on a schedule.
Earlier, we’d noticed some parking restriction signs around Horta, and a suspiciously stickered and noisy Citroen Saxo rolled past our apartment window. I’d also noticed someone on the plane with a “Rally Portugal” sweatshirt. I got to thinking, and then Googling, and discovered that Faial is hosting the “Alem Mar” rally this weekend, part of an Azores-wide rally series. By the time we made it back to town, a bunch of rally cars were staged in town, just down from our apartment. The cars were a mix of old and new – a classic Ford Escort Mk2, lots of Citroen Saxos and Peugeot 205s, along with more recent Ford Fiestas.
So, we knew the rally was happening, but we didn’t know where. More Googling, and some conversations with folks at the Peter Café Sport in town, filled in the gaps. Tonight, a super special stage was scheduled in Praia Do Almoxarife, the next town up the coast. Tomorrow, some number of stages will be run all across the island.
We hopped in the car and headed for Praia Do Almoxarife. We simply followed the traffic, assuming this was probably the most exciting thing happening on the island tonight, and therefore the place all the cars would be going. We parked and followed people to the waterline. The stage is short (less than 2km) and winds through town, around the park in front of the church, and down along the waterfront to the finish. We situated ourselves in the park, surrounded on three sides by the course, and enjoyed the festivities. There were snacks for sale, loads of children running around, and a casual attitude towards safety.
The cars ran from (roughly) slowest to fastest, with some young drivers just getting comfortable, on up through anti-lag popping, four-wheel-drifting Mitsubishi Evos and Fiests. It was a total blast, and fun to be tourists in a local event.
We finished the night with some tea and cakes at a cozy little tea shop up the street. The only downside of the rally is that the stages tomorrow cover pretty much all the best hiking trails on the island. We’re going to play it by ear – literally! If we hear cars coming, we’ll get off the path.