Today we took it easy. We didn’t climb mountains, hike around volcanoes or climb any rocks. Actually we did climb rocks but they were rather small rocks.
Our first stop of the day was a bakery in Ponta Delgada near our now familiar grocery store. We had already eaten egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches courtesy of last night’s grocery run, so we stopped in for a quick pastry and coffee. Our next priority was fresh fruit. The strawberries from the market were so delicious that we stopped back in to buy more – and another pineapple of course.
Over the past few days we’d seen a lot of amazing volcanic features related to large, explosive, caldera-forming eruptions. Known for its diverse volcanic geology, we knew we needed to see what else the island had to offer. We called the Gruta do Carvão visitor center when they opened at 10 am to book a tour for 11:30. The tour guide for the lava tube was well informed and did a wonderful job of explaining the geology of the site before our group descended the staircase into the tunnel. We all wore hairnets and helmets (for safety!) and explored a few hundred yards of cave dripping with lithified lava stalactites. The guide was efficient, enthusiastic and very informative.
After we climbed back out of the cave, we headed for a local bakery for a light lunch of sandwiches (and a pastry of course). Next stop, pineapples. The Azorean pineapples are smaller than those we see in grocery stores and take two full years to mature. They are grown in low greenhouses throughout the island but the Arruda Pineapple Plantation allows visitors to wander in and take a look for free. The plants are in various stages of growth and an information sheet in the gift shop explains the growing process.
Post pineapples, we drove to Lagoa and were a bit ahead of schedule. Luckily there are always rocks to look at. The coastline between the large volcanic complexes is dominated by basalt lava flows that sink into the ocean. Kat attempted to find interesting creatures in the tidepools but mostly just got very very wet.
Finally! It was time for the Observatorio Vulcanologico e Geotermico dos Acores. Kat had been waiting not-so-patiently for this museum visit. Mainly because it’s only open from 2:30 to 4:30 with guided tours on the hour. This is due to the fact that it’s the private museum of Victor Hugo Forjaz, the godfather of Azorean volcanology. His name appears on every publication in the bookshop associated with the museum – and yes we bought the only two publications available in English. The museum felt strongly reminiscent of Haraldur Sigurdsson’s museum in Stykkisholmur in Iceland.
Catiya, our guide from OMIC in Furnas mentioned that we would meet her colleague Nuno at the volcanology museum. Sure enough, Nuno greeted us at the door. We were joined by a Portuguese couple and their 4 year old son, Leo. Nuno led us around to each part of the exhibit, explaining everything in English and Portuguese and managing to keep Leo from dropping anything. One of the highlights for Leo was walking through a reproduction lava tube, complete with red lights and the sounds of volcanic eruption. Despite the obvious lack of funds, it was a very well curated narrative.
Scientifically satiated, we wanted to explore more of São Miguel. Browsing our guide, we came across one of our favorite indicators of fun: a “quirky” museum. The Oficina-Museu das Capelas is personal project of one man, Manuel João Melo. In the late 90s, Manuel decided he wanted to preserve village life and equipment. So he built a museum, in what was once his house and his land. It’s a recreation indoor village, with all the typical shops you’d expect – a blacksmith, radio repair, tailor, bakery, and so on. Many of the shops are functional and used to greater or lesser degree by members of the community who want to preserve skills. Manuel, who greeted us at the door, is very proud to have done the whole thing without any government funding. It’s definitely a quirky place, but we had a blast.
From the museum, we headed to the far west point of Sao Miguel, taking the northern route along the coast. Our goal was to see some of the older deposits of the Sete Cidates complex as well as to splash around in some hot water. Along the way we came across a young man holding up traffic. We briefly worried that there’d been a bad accident, which wouldn’t have been surprising on the twisty mountain roads. Instead, a heard of cattle came around the corner and totally enveloped our car. We hung out for a while to let them pass. A couple motorists in the opposing lane slowly rolled forward, encouraging the cows along. The cows mostly ignored them, stopping to munch grass by the roadside.
The switchback descent down to reach Ponta da Ferraria exposed many layers of geologic history. At the base of the cliff we were greeted by another surprise – a climbing wall bolted into the tough coastal ignimbrite. We should have brought our gear!
As this is a dormant, though still active volcano, there is geothermal activity not far beneath the surface. This manifests as hot springs, just like at Furnas. However, these warm waters flow via underground spring into the ocean. After a quick ice cream snack, we donned our swim gear and climbed over the lava flows to reach the semi-protected swimming area. An aluminum ladder and a few knotted ropes allow swimmers access to the area. At high tide, the cold ocean water overpowers the hot spring, so we waited until low tide to maximize the experience.
This is the type of thing that absolutely, positively would not be allowed in the United States. You climb down a pool ladder into the very, very cold Atlantic water. You flop in, grab a rope, and pull yourself to the back of the cove where the warm water lingers. Then you cling to the rope tightly, as the waves come in and do their very best to smash you into pieces against the rocks. Meanwhile, you alternate between delightfully warm and very, very cold as the ocean fights the spring.
We bobbed around the pool for about half an hour, and then gritted our teeth and towed ourselves back through the cold water to the ladder. Success.
We returned to Ponta Delgada and wandered the streets looking for dinner. The usual rule of “don’t eat somewhere unless it’s full of locals” doesn’t apply here, mostly because none of the restaurants are full of anyone – locals or tourists. This is a very, very quiet place this time of year. We finally settled in and Colin succeeded in ordering the trip’s first bacalhau – Portuguese salted cod. The evening was polished off with a Rottweiler puppy and some gelato. All in all, a solid day.