My travel pics for the past week are all from the wonderful island of São Miguel in the Azores. This was my birthday treat to myself this year. It was a "significant" birthday, after all so why not go somewhere unusual and different?
São Miguel was completely at odds with any expectations or preconceptions I might have had. Before going there, I had figured that it would resemble Tenerife - it being another isolated volcanic island, after all. The reality was different. If you have followed the pics, you'll have seen that the island is totally vegetated and fully deserves its nickname "ilha verde", the green island.
The most unexpected sight on São Miguel was cows (not goats, I saw only that one herd - and, apparently, there are no sheep on São Miguel they suffer from hoof rot in that climate). Field after field of cows and the smell brought back memories of Ireland. The grass is much greener in São Miguel, even, thanks to the warmer climate.
Another unexpected sight were the hedges of blue hydrangeas. They were just past their peak during my visit but we're still sufficiently in bloom that they were still visually stunning. They grow easily there. Take a cutting, stick it in the soil and, presto, a hedge! The hydrangeas are not native but everyone likes them. Also common were ginger lily plants, another non-indigenous plant. They smelled wonderful.
The Island is volcanic and boasts (?) three major active volcanoes (Sete Cidades, Fogo, and Furnas) and more than a hundred minor ones all in a space of 65km by 15km. The last eruption on the island was a few hundred years ago (1652). The highest point in the island is a little over 1000m so these are not towering volcanoes by any means. The "big" volcanoes form the eastern and western parts of the island; the middle part is formed by the hundred small picos.
Being an isolated island, the pace of life is relaxed. Meals were - or could be inexpensive. Both fish (naturally) and meat (from all those cows) dishes were generally of good quality.
Tourism is a growing industry on the island but, so far, it has escaped from the "holiday resort" syndrome. There were none that I saw. Beaches were places for families not places where you rented a beach chair. Two families who I shared a tour with went to Azores for activity holidays: hiking, snorkelling, scuba diving, horseback riding, canyoning, cycling, golf, and the like.
On my last day on São Miguel, I took a geotour to learn something of the geology and volcanism of the island. The tour more than met my expectations; our guide was a trained geologist so she knew what she was talking about. Our tour mostly took us around the Fogo volcano. (I had a hiked a trail that led to the caldera lake earlier in the week - that was where the levada pic was taken.) On the tour, however, we drove to caldera rim and looked down (or tried to, low clouds sort of got in the way) on the lake. On another side, we encountered that herd of goats. We saw the two geothermal power plants that provide ~45% of the island's power, and learned about how drilling mistakes have led on the one hand to a new set of caldeiras (geothermal cooking holes) and signs warning of degassing dangers due to underground carbon dioxide and sulphur gas release. The tour finished with a visit to a lava tube that was much better than anticipated.
I visited the Sete Cidades caldera on my first hike. That caldera contains two lakes, one green and one, blue. I also visited the Furnas caldera and saw one set (of two) caldeiras that have been used for centuries - though I did not sample the traditional stew (cozidos) that is cooked in them. If one had any doubts about the volcanic nature of the island, the sights of hot bubbling mud, and steam fumaroles dispelled them. I did, however, go for a swim in the thermal heated iron-rich pool (that turned my grey hair an odd shade of orange until I got back to my hotel shower).
I can well see going back to São Miguel along with a trip to some of the other islands such as Terçeira, Faial, and Pico.