Portugal - Sao Miguel / Azore Islands
The Azores Islands.... We have never thought of visiting these islands in the Atlantic Ocean. But when Paramahamsa Vishwananda, our spiritual master, announced that he was giving Darshan on Sao Miguel, we immediately looked for flights. Whenever we can make it, we try to travel and see him wherever he is in this world. And here it was, a big possibility. We had to take it :-). And we were surprised, with some low cost carriers flying there, it is quite a cheap affair. By approaching the islands the shaking of our plane made it obvious. There is lots of wind here. And I mean - LOTS! To be honest, during our 4 days the wind was constantly blowing with about 4 Beaufort. Anyway, our plane landed safely at midnight in Ponta Delgada, the main city on Sao Miguel, the only island we were visiting on this trip. With the aerobus it was an easy affair to reach the town (just a 10 minute drive away from the airport). The bus stopped just in front of our homestay which was bang in the center of Ponta Delgada. We were happy, stuff was incredably friendly. And, although everyhting was old, it was really clean and our room was spacious with a little balcony overlooking one of the main streets (which was fine, as there was no traffic at night). So nothing to complain about Hospedería Jomafreitas.
In our first night we already got a taste of the climate on the Azores. It was not really cold at night, about 10 degrees C. But it was very humid with daily rainshowers (which sometimes last longer). Therefore, the humidity just "sits" in every corner of a house/room. We had to put on our jumpers and take 2 other blankets till we finally could sleep. As we discovered, this is a common problem when travelling in may here - maybe summer is better, but winter although not really cold, will be rather chilly. In the morning we got up, had an included decent basic breakfast and then went in search for a car for the day. We had heard that our spiritual master Paramahamsa Vishwananda was about to arrive on the island late at night that day, so we had the full day to explore the island. By 11 am we were ready in our little Skoda and left Ponta Delgada behind us. It is a city with oneways only, so we made some extra loops till we found the way out of town :-).
We passed the little towns of Arrifes and Covoada close to Ponta Delgada and continued up in the mountains inland. We made some stops on the way to enjoy the beautiful views over the island by slowly driving up the mountain range. Everything is so very green (no wonder when itis raining every day) and the air is cristal clear. No pollution here. We stopped at Lagoa Empadadas, but a hale storm prevented us from climbing Pico do Carvao. The small lakes were beautiful anyway. Next came Lagoa de Canário - a dream of a remote lake in the forest. The only thing we could here and see was birds - and of course, the wind. There is such a diversity of bushes, trees and other plant. Simply AMAZING! And we highly recommend not only going down to the lake, but take the car and drive to the very end of the road. Here is the most beautiful lookout over Lagoa Azul, Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Santiago. And we were so lucky - we could enjoy the views with sunshine! We continued to the most famous point on the Azores Islands, the viewpoint Vista de Rei. And there, on tha car park, 2 friends of us from Spain and the Cap Verde Islands got off their car when we just drove on the carpark. What a great surprise!!!!! Of course, both were also on the island to see our spiritual master. But what a timing to meet at the viewpoint. We enjoyed the views together but then split up again as they planned to go north and we had planned to go westward. After taking in some spectacular views and loving every minute of our trip we drove down to the village of Sete Cidades. This remote village mainly lives of the tourists who want to visit the lake or do some hiking. The main restaurants did not look inviting for us, as they offered the typical fish/meat menu. Nothing for vegetarians. But then we spotted a lovely, modern looking homestay with an organic caffee. Unfortunately we have forgotten the name. It had just opened 2 month earlier. Everyhting was brand new and really tasteful. This kind of organic farm with modern accomodation and a lovely cafe. We loved it even more when they offered us nicely homemade tea and sandwiches made with their own fresh cheese. This cheese was simply haven. We have never tasted a better cheese before (and we live in a cheese country like Switzerland).
We visited the church of the village and were surprised by a sudden downpour. The sund was shining when we parked the car. It was a 5 minute walk to the church. And well, we really were wet by the time we entered the church. So much about the weather and the winds on the Azores. We waited inside the lovely church for 10 minutes and the sun was out again and we were back on the road. We took a shortcut over the crater rim of the lake. This turned out to be quite adventures as there was no tarred road. Well, a rented car takes you everywhere...... And finally, we had just stunning views over the western hills of the island down to the village of Mosteiros. On the sea, one could see the every changing clouds and rain and sunshine. The coast was green, white houses of the village and the sand and stones were black (because of the volcanic activity). It was one of the most picturesque things we have seen since a very long time. What a beautiful spot. We slowly drove down to the village, explored the sleepy streets of Mosteiros, enjoyed the rough see along the coast and let us nearly blown away with the wind. Stunning.
After a while we continued up the hill again to our next destination, Ponta da Ferraria. Unfortumately, we had fogotten to bring our swimming suits with us. Just next to the ocean there is a wonderful hot pool. One can also swim in hot pools which are always flood by the ocean, but only at low tide. When we arrived high tide was coming in and it was to dangerous to go for a swim anyway. But we enjoyed "dos meias de leite" (2 milk coffee) to warm us up a bit. The wind and the sea breeze was getting under the skin. Finally we made our way back along the beautiful coast to Ponta Delgada, stopping at some point just to enjoy the views. What a start on these remote islands! And what amazed us even more - the people we met here had been the friendliest people we have met all over Europe so far. It was really amazing.
We went back and looked around for a restaurant. There is only one vegetarian restaurant on all 9 islands. It was just around the corner of our homestay - but you need a booking in the evening about 2 days beforehand. We found another place with few veg options. It was ok, better than nothing and vegetarian. So nothing to complain about. Next time we will definitely stay in an appartment here. In the supermarkets you can perfectly stock up on all vegetarian and vegan delights - just in the restaurants, it is hard to get veg food. Late in the evening we picked up our friends from Prag who stayed in an airbnb and together we drove to the airport to welcome our spiritual master. There, we also met our friends again which we had seen at the viewpoint. It was amazing, a group of about 40-50 people welcoming our master by singing very loud in the middle of the night on the nearly deserted airport (it was the last flight of the day with which he arrived). What a sweet welcome and how happy we were when he finally arrived!
Next morning, we still had the car till 11 am. We took the chance to drive to Lagoa do Fogo in the middle of the island. Again, we had to drive up on the a crater rim, this time a tarred road. When we arrived on top, it was really foggy. But as the wind was, of course, blowing strongly, we just waited for about 20 minutes. And the views we got later were really a great treat. This lagoon was even more beautiful than the once we had seen the day before. We walked half way down to the lake through dense bushes, great vegetation only accompanied by birds singing loud. This is a peaceful and natural stretch of land! But then we had to hurry back to town to leave the car. For lunch we were lucky enough to get a spot at the vegetarian restaurant called Rotas. They even made a vegan option for us. And we really had a fantastiv meal: tomatoe soup, a vegan veggy pie with rice and salad and a delicious and huge vegan cheesecake, including free Rooibos tea. We were full and happy and this for only 10€ per person. For this price, in Switzerland, you hardly get a coffee and a small sliece of cake. Afterwards, we went through the small but beautiful city of Ponta Delgada, visited some churches and walked along the marina. And then it was time to get ready and dressed for Darshan with Paramahamsa Vishwananda. This blessing was open to everyone and was held in the Marina Hotel at the seafront. It was a beautiful event with about 200-300 people. Very intimate. Paramahamsa Vishwananda gave a beautiful speech to the people about how to open their hearts and he sang a lot of nice songs (bhajans) with all of us before he gave the individual blessings.
Next morning, we had to hurry up to pick up our for the day. We packed everything, got our car and drove to our next destination for the night: Ponta Garca. This is a small fishing village on the south coast east of Ponta Delgada (about 30 minutes drive on the highway). It is remote, peaceful and the perfect spot to watch whales. Unfortunately, that day was really stormy and bad weather was about to come - so no whales or dolfins to watch for us. That was a shame because we could have seen them from the window of our room in the Homestay Bem Estar Dona Adelina. This homestay was a fantastic choice with a fully equipped kitchen, washing machine and dryer, a lovely balcony with sweeping views over the atlantic ocean and comfy rooms. And this for a low price. Well, if you look for action, stay away. This is a place for people looking for some quiet time. A car is also helpful here - it is remote. But it was perfect for us. We walked through the wide spread village and down to the beautiful farol. We enjoyed a coffee with nice views before we took the car to explore one last region of the island. We drove uphill to Lagoa das Furnas, another beautiful crater lake. We made a nice walk along the border of the lake passing by some amazing eucalyptus trees. the trees and their smell reminded me of my time in Chile about 22 years ago. The landscape again was stunning. The whole island is just a huge botanical garden. A nature lover's paradies - just with lots of wind. We were in love with the island. We continued to the caldeiras at the other end of the lagoon. The geothermical activities are most obvious here. Some local restaurants cook there special food here in the earth. Nothing for us at the dish is made with meat. But still interesting to observe. Furnas is a quiet oasis in the midth of nature. Just hordes of tourist buses come here every day. The reason: wonderful thermal baths. We went to the Terra Nostra Botanical Park. For an entrance of 7€ per person you can visit the park and have free entry to different thermal pools. Changing possibilities and showers are limited. We chose to hide behind some bushes and change quickly. With light rain and 14 degrees C this was a quick affair. To be honest, the brownish water does not look inviting at all. It has this colour due to the high amount of iron. But once you put one toe in the water, it feels like haven. It has between 37-42 degrees C depending how near you swim to the source. We did not want to leave and were hanging around for a looooong time. Getting out in the rain and wind to get dressed was not helpful either. Finally we managed to leave the waters behind us and got dressed quickly. One advice! If you come here for a swim, never wear white things! All will be brownish afterwards. And it is hard to get rid off it again (needs several washes).
We spend the evening in our kitchen by cooking something on our own. For vegetarians in this region, this is definitely the only option. After a wonderful night it was time to drive back to the airport. Our flight back to Lisbon was in the early morning.
The island has surprised us. We are curious to explore also other islands. But next time, we will bring warmer clothes and big hiking boots with us. Enjoy the pics - and sorry to bother you with many many pics of lagoons and nature. But this is what the Azores is all about and we loved it!
Our Portugal trip continuous.... We are following Paramahamsa Sri Swami Vishwananda to Fátima.