Bit of a Tuff Day

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Azores 2018
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An entirely reasonable 10 hours of sleep transformed us from mad-eyed miscreants mumbling incoherently into normal-eyed miscreants mumbling incoherently.  As per usual.

I got up early to make coffee and watch the city wake up.  We’d assumed that town was so quiet yesterday because it was Sunday.  Nope, it’s just a quiet place.  A container ship steamed (well, bunker-fuel’d) into port, the doggos next door waited for their owner to wake up and fetch breakfast, and the clouds cleared out.

Our first stop was the market for some picnic supplies.  The market was surprisingly quiet around 8:30am – we’ll see tomorrow if that’s normal or an anomaly.  We picked out an Azorean pineapple, some strawberries, bread, and cheese.  Then we popped across the street for pastries and more coffee.

The goal for the day was to hike Sete Cidades, a trail around the rim of a caldera.  We jumped in the Citroen, discovered it comes equipped with Apple CarPlay (woohoo!) and hit the road.  Nothing in the Azores is a particularly long drive from anything else, so we made it to the trailhead in about 20 minutes.

Beautiful moss covered aqueducts built from native basalt flanked the road as we began our hike. The path we had chosen followed a single lane road, mostly dirt but sometimes paved. Our first clear roadcuts revealed loosely consolidated pyroclastic flow deposits – in lay terms, mounds of white pumice bits. It appeared as though the entire ridgeline was topped by a dusting of crumbly pumice. A few dark pieces of basalt were entrained throughout.

As we crested the hill we were rewarded with a view of the caldera rim with layers of pumice visible in the walls. Opposite that, the green hills rolled down to the ocean. We climbed a ridge up to a large building which does air-traffic monitoring. After a quick pineapple snack, we wandered off trail a bit, climbed/fell down a small rock face and found ourselves back on the road.

There are no native mammals on the Azores, but we did know there were some unique birds. Kat spent a good deal of time ‘practicing’ her bird photography on the more common varieties. The plants along our path were a mixture of native wildflowers, ferns and mosses, and some surprisingly familiar plants – mint and ginger. The ginger is an aggressive invasive species and forms giant hills of root bulbs. Among the wildflowers were large bumblebees with white fuzzy bottoms – Kat was in love.

We had expected the Azores to be quite forested and were unprepared for the direct sunlight we experienced for most of our hike. We found a tiny slice of shade beside the road where we stopped for lunch. Much rejuvenated, we continued our trek through the cow-dotted landscape.

The hike gives you constant “oh wow!” views of the caldera below, with the town of Sete Cidades situated on one of the lakes.  If you turn the other way, you get views out to the ocean and the sailboats designated for other Azorean islands.

By mid-afternoon, roughly 10 miles in, we were starting to get a bit tired.  Fortunately, there was a strong motivator – the trail map we downloaded mentioned a parking lot that sometimes has ice cream for sale.  With our eyes on the prize, we trundled on, and were properly rewarded.  Even better, the ice cream parking lot is situated in the shadow of a hulking abandoned hotel.  The story goes that it was built in the 80s as a five-star destination, with on-site nightclub, hairdresser, bank, and restaurants.  However, in the 80s there weren’t a lot of five-star tourists coming to the Azores, let alone folks looking to trek up to the top of an often-cloud-covered hill.  It closed within a year of opening.

Fueled by ice cream and ruins, we buckled down for the last few miles.  We did however end up making one diversion, to Lagoa do Canário, a tiny lake surrounded by pine forest.  These trees cling to the near-vertical, fragile hillsides, with dinosaur-era ferns below them.

We made it back to the car in the late afternoon, 16 miles and about 500 photos later.  Back at the apartment, we cleaned up, relaxed a bit, then walked the town in the setting sun, stopping for a coffee and some geology research.

The day ended with dinner at “Gastronomo,” a small restaurant down the street.  The friendly staff (of perhaps 3 people?) helped us pick a fish from the case, which was then grilled and served with potatoes and rice.  Admittedly, we were running on fumes and would have eaten anything, but this seemed genuinely tasty. Tomorrow we head east in search of … more volcanos.

2 thoughts on “Bit of a Tuff Day

  • Susan McFadden May 28, 2018 at 11:45 pm Reply

    Looks like a great day (except for that fish). Who built the ancient aqueduct? Romans? I know nothing of Azorian history. The abandoned 80s hotel pictures were really good—I hate atriums and will think of that the next time I’m in one of those hotels. Sort of an Ozymandias moment.

  • Judy Shekmar May 29, 2018 at 3:42 pm Reply

    Keep the fascinating commentary coming !! We love seeing the photos and experiencing the Azores with you – and most importantly – keep eating ice cream 🙂

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