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An Azorean Adventure: Part 1

Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal. 

Driving into Sete Cidades

Have I been living under an igneous rock? How had I never been to the Azores until last week? The facility of the whole thing was boggling. To think that one moment I could be cruising along the Boston harbor front and not 7 hours later plunging into a natural hot spring pool in a jungle in EUROPE…well that would just be asking too much of the universe. Turns out it’s not at all  an outlandish request, it’s entirely possible and even better than I had imagined. This paradise is readily accessible, dynamic and beautiful, cheap and cheerful, and what’s more, the people there speak the most intoxicating language in the world: a very shwishy European Portuguese.

Sete Cidades

A 4 hr and 20 minute direct and painless flight from Boston carried my adventurous friend Char and me to Ponta Delgada, capitol of the Azorean archipelago, located on the largest of its islands, Sao Miguel. Within 20 minutes of landing, we were snugly strapped into our rental Peugeot, weaving towards Sete Cidades, a sleepy town on the banks of a teal green lagoon that lines the bottom of a volcanic crater. Where the water ends, the hydrangeas begin, blanketing the steep crater walls in a dense flush of blues, pinks, purples, and greens. It seemed our Peugeot had lept off the road and into a snow globe that sprinkled with berry-hued hydrangea petals. In lieu of traditional fencing, thick hedges of blue hydrangeas carved up the hillsides. I couldn’t imagine a lovelier way of enclosing one’s livestock, and I mused as to whether this level of horticultural form and function would be feasible back in Virginia.

Hydrangea hedges separate paddocks

We pulled over at what appeared to be the only restaurant in town in hopes of finding breakfast. Their morning selection was scarce, just coffee, beer, and pastries, so we opted for all of the above while we spread out our road map on a patio table. Our plan was to seek higher ground in order to catch a better view of the lagoon. Confident in our navigational skills, we clambered back into the car to tackle the ascent. The car rolled along smoothly on a well-maintained road, that is until the pavement abruptly ended and we found ourselves skidding and bottoming out on loose gravel and deep trenches. To make matters worse, a heavy fog set in, dashing any hope of seeing the lagoon from above. Not that we were too concerned with sightseeing at this point. Our leisurely Sunday cruise had morphed into a white knuckled fight to stay on the road and return our wheezing little car back to the crater base in one piece. When at one point Char was forced to pop the right side wheels onto a 3 foot high embankment to avoid a wide gully that gashed through the center of road, I clenched my eyes shut and silently cursed my foolhardiness in declining additional rental insurance.

A very foggy crater ridge, Sete Cidades

Our car kept climbing and we gleaned from our map that  we must have somehow picked up a tertiary road used only by the local tractor-equipped farmers. Every once in a while a lone horse would emerge from the fog as an ominous reminder of our solitude up there on the ridge. Graciously and gradually the angle of the road tipped in our favor and we began a delicate descent. As the fog slowly lifted our car nosed its way into a mossy pine forest reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. What a bizarre transition, we thought….happy green lagoon to terrifying road in the clouds to peaceful pine forest in the span of 30 minutes.

Pavement ho!

Over the next four days we would discover that Sao Miguel is abounding with such curious topographical and meteorological shifts. We would also learn that the only other people crazy enough to drive the crater-top road around Sete Cidades are professional rally car drivers in the annual SATA Rally Azores. Our reaction to this news fell somewhere between horror and smugness, as you’d expect of two young blonde American tourist chicks who got lost and were too stubborn and stupid to turn around like sane people.

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53 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stan Meador #

    Sounds like a fun adventure! I found the part about the hydrangeas most interesting. I live in south Brazil where descendants of Azorean immigrants live along the coast. In the interior, where the descendants of German immigrants live, they decorate with a lot of hydrangeas. Up to know I thought this to be more indicative of the German culture, but now know it has a place in the Azorean culture too. Stay safe on your adventures!

    July 4, 2012
    • Sophie #

      Stan, I was in Gramado, Rio Grande do Sul this past fall and was amazed at the masses of hydrangeas there. I spend time on Nantucket island, Massachusetts in the summer, which shares a whaling history with the Azores, and it too is covered in fat hydrangea blooms. It’s fascinating to see how the Portuguese spread this plant through colonization and whaling trade relations all over the world!

      July 4, 2012
      • Stan Meador #

        It is definitely amazing! I lived in Nova Petropolis just 40 km from Gramado. It is a beautiful region!

        I live on Florianopolis, Santa Catarina now. I found a book here in Portuguese entitled Florianopolis: The 10th Iland of the Azores. It compares many aspects of life (architecture, fishing, religion) on Florianopolis with that on the Azores. The top 2/3 of each page shows photos from Florianopolis and the bottom 1/3 of each page shows photos from the Azores. The Azorean immigrants have, and continue to, leave their cultural imprint on this island too.

        November 11, 2012
  2. keithrossiter #

    Good piece, and good photos. I spent a few weeks there and on Santa Maria in 1987 and it sounds as though not too much has changed.

    July 4, 2012
    • Eduardo Almeida #

      How mistaken you are! So much, but sooo much has changed.

      July 5, 2012
  3. Nice post.

    July 4, 2012
  4. I love that you continued “stubbornly” on the crazy road.
    It reminds me of a trip my sister and I took to Ireland and the wild roads we encountered up on the Inishowen Peninsula.
    Beautiful photographs! Thank you for sharing.
    http://dyefeltsool.com

    July 4, 2012
    • Sophie #

      By the time you realize you’ve made a huge mistake, it’s usually too late to turn back!

      July 4, 2012
  5. Looks marvelous!

    July 4, 2012
  6. De AnDA #

    Nice post. Cute car.

    July 4, 2012
  7. I love this :-)) gorgeous place…

    July 4, 2012
  8. What fun!

    July 4, 2012
  9. fun read and great use of language. Funny enough today my girlfriend linked me to a travel package to Sao Miguel.

    July 4, 2012
    • Sophie #

      You two HAVE to go!!

      July 4, 2012
  10. My favorite place of all time you captured it well

    July 4, 2012
    • Sophie #

      I’m so glad! It’s my new favorite place of all time too.

      July 4, 2012
  11. Wow absolutely love this! The photos are gorgeous! Did you really take a beer for breakfast? 😛
    Katie
    http://katieraspberry.wordpress.com/
    MontrealDSL

    July 4, 2012
    • Sophie #

      Oh yeah. Breakfast of champions.

      July 4, 2012
  12. Congratulation on being freshly pressed!

    July 4, 2012
    • Sophie #

      Thanks gene!

      July 4, 2012
  13. Unlike Stan, above, MY Azorean ancestors migrated to Boston (ironic, no?) and California. I am from the California branch although I have visited the family in Lexington, Mass. I always wondered why we ALWAYS had hydrangeas. Every place we lived, everyone we visited — hydrangeas. Now I know.

    July 4, 2012
    • Sophie #

      You’re too right. There is a HUGE Portuguese population in and around Boston. I actually like listening to the Portuguese language radio station when Im in the area, though it sounds more Brazilian, which is equally dreamy in my opinion!

      July 4, 2012
  14. Awesome, It is great to learn about other places.

    July 4, 2012
  15. really nice!!

    July 4, 2012
  16. WOW! I didn’t know Portugal was so GREEN! Gorgeous shots!

    July 4, 2012
    • Sophie #

      It’s like the Scottish highlands there! Incredibly lush.

      July 4, 2012
  17. ZACHARiAS #

    Really hope u like my countru (:

    July 5, 2012
  18. Reblogged this on nintendorick and commented:
    Everyone loves Portugal and it’s islands…

    July 5, 2012
  19. love it! what an adventure 🙂

    July 5, 2012
  20. Nice photos! 🙂

    July 5, 2012
  21. debatedashit #

    wow that place looks nice! great post!

    July 5, 2012
  22. Beautiful photos and beautiful place. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    July 5, 2012
  23. Eduardo Almeida #

    Hello to those of you that find The Azores Islands so interesting. I am a Tour Guide here in The Azores and i am available to facilitate you more information and that type of knowledge that only the most curious have

    July 5, 2012
  24. Definitely need to put the Azores on my list! . . . Stunning photos and beautifully written post!

    http://arabianmusings.wordpress.com/

    July 5, 2012
  25. frugalnature #

    Beautiful photos! So green!

    July 5, 2012
  26. nice place!!

    July 5, 2012
  27. Verry verry nice:-)

    July 5, 2012
  28. Reverend Mother #

    Gorgeous! What a gift to be able to travel and soak up the beauty in our world! Thank you for sharing with us – that we can travel too – vicariously!

    July 5, 2012
  29. The green colors in these photos are fantastic. Thanks for sharing. Connie
    http://7thandvine.wordpress.com/

    July 5, 2012
  30. I can’t wait to go to Portugal! The adventure looks amazing!
    Nicole
    http://www.adventuresweseek.com

    July 6, 2012
  31. Part 1 & 2 – Gorgeous pictures! Yum food! Beer for breakfast?!

    July 6, 2012
  32. Green with envy I am.

    July 6, 2012
  33. joiedevivre74 #

    Reblogged this on This beautiful life.

    July 6, 2012
  34. younggypsyspirit #

    The best thing about getting lost, are the discoveries while finding your way back. Beautiful pictures .

    July 9, 2012
  35. Sounds like a great adventure. It is something I would most diffidently do if I had the time. The landscape is so beautiful. Take more road trips/adventures because believe me they are so worth it.

    July 12, 2012
  36. Reblogged this on A Walk Among the Dead and commented:
    A place worth seeing.

    July 12, 2012
  37. Reblogged this on Salebit's Blog.

    July 13, 2012
  38. Reblogged this on amirfatih.

    July 18, 2012
  39. Hevel Löwen #

    Reblogged this on The Realm of Wonder and commented:
    ;D

    July 26, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Largest hydrangea | Michaelcramton
  2. An Azorean Adventure: Part 2 | Marvelous to Say, See, and Do
  3. An Azorean Adventure, Part 3 | Marvelous to Say, See, and Do
  4. The Penguin Auguries | Marvelous to Say, See, and Do

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