An Azorean Adventure, Part 3
Sao Miguel, Azores. Ignoring our aforementioned jet lag, Char and I met our second day on Sao Miguel with gusto. After copious amounts of coffee and a few ham and cheese toasties at our hotel, we set off in the direction of the sun. Furnas was our destination, a town famous for its geysers and hot springs. The road snaked around the town confusingly, but the unmistakable rotten-egg stench of sulfur meant that we were closing in on our mark. Soon sight caught up with smell and we beheld the gurgling springs of water and steam snorting from the earth like the breath of a haughty dragon. With stinging nostrils we advanced cautiously, afraid of tripping and falling to a soupy death. The earth here is so hot that locals sometimes use it in lieu of an oven. The regional dish known as cozida involves burying a pot of meat and veggies underground and slowly cooking the ingredients down to a stew.
As marvelous as the springs were, the putrid smell eventually drove us into the town of Furnas for some fresh air. We wandered its narrow streets, admiring the blend of handsome old buildings and quirky modern architecture.
Once we had thoroughly explored Furnas, we hopped back in the Peugeot in hopes of crossing the island and catching a view of the Lagoa das Furnas from above. Of course as luck would have it, an impenetrable fog rolled in. Forgetting our valuable lesson from the day before (you know, the one about there being no shame in turning around before you run your rental car off a cliff) we trudged on and blindly inched across the island. Eventually we broke through the clouds to the welcome sight of a very pretty North shore.
While the perils of driving in the fog were self evident, the perils of hugging a picture perfect coast were no small matter either. Such a gorgeous view has a way of seducing the eyes from the road. It reminded me of a time driving along the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island with my mother, she behind the wheel, eyes glued to the sea scanning the horizon for whales and rainbows. Every time one spouted or materialized (every 20 seconds or so), my mother would tap on the window as if in a morse code communion with the natural wonders, all the while swerving dangerously into the next lane. Not wanting to push our traveler’s luck, Char and I pulled over before a particularly photogenic vista at the Gorreana Tea Estate. There we sat alone on a terrace, nibbling cookies and sipping iced tea, while we absorbed the scene in peace: plump hydrangeas fencing off rows of tea bushes that stretched to an attractive port, aptly named Porto Formoso.
Caffeinated from tea and drunk on beauty, we climbed back into the car to make our way back across the island before sundown. We didn’t like the look of fog during the day, and we dreaded it at night. Once again however, Sao Miguel’s natural beauty succeeded in luring us off the road. In our defense, how could we possibly resist Caldeira Velha, a natural swimming pool fed from the warm waters of an upstream hot spring, where, as the guidebook put it, “visitors may enjoy a pleasant bath.” Well it was bath time wasn’t it? And we wouldn’t want to upset Mother Earth by wriggling out of bath time. That would be most impudent!
Practical Info: The Gorreana Tea Estate has been around since 1883 and is Europe’s oldest tea plantation. There is a small museum and café open to visitors. For more information, please visit their site.