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Azores (eh?-sores)

Sun, October 20

Busy day at YYC airport. Weren't sure if we were going to make it onto the WestJet flight to Toronto. Stood in line and watched as security rushed through the passengers that arrived after us. Turned out the WestJet flight would be late leaving YYC anyways.

Arrived in Toronto with plenty of time to catch our SATA flight to Ponta Delgada (PDL). SATA flight was fine, 'Rock of Ages' was the one movie they played. Glad we had the extra legroom in our seats.

Mon, October 21

Very windy in Ponta Delgada, and still dark, at 7 AM. Hat blew away. Took the shuttle into town and arrived at B&B by Lapsa. Met the owner, Asnate and her cat. We were a bit too early for our room, so we dropped off our bags and walked around town.

Had some breakfast at a local cafe, croissants with 'cafe galao'. Pretty tired at this point and just trying to escape the wind.

Walked down to the dock, looked at the whale watch report. Seemed to be mostly dolphin sightings. That fact, combined with the wind, made us re-think our decision to go whale watching.

Went to the grocery store, tried to find passion fruit concentrate. Came back to the room, had a nap to try and get over the jet lag. Went for a walking tour around town, saw the main gates, some churches, some parks, nothing too exciting.

Bought some more groceries for our hike the next day, and then went for dinner at Rotas da Ilha Verde, a vegetarian restaurant we had written down to try, which ended up being literally across the street from our hotel. We had a cheese fondue appetizer to start, and shared a pumpkin risotto and asparagus pasta with a cream sauce.

Tue, October 22

Awoke to pouring rain. Caught the bus to Sete Cidades. Took shelter for a bit, and decided to try hiking. Thought we could cut through 2 legs and find the trail, but ended up following a lake edge to nowhere. Couldn't see the crater anyways, due to the fog.

Walked back around the lake and found the direction we were supposed to be going. Stopped for lunch under some trees. Walked up the hill to check out the viewpoint. Guy felt srory for us and gave us a lift to the top.

Walked back down to some viewpoints, the fog had lifted a bit so we were finally able to see the crater.

Went for dinner at Reserva Wine & Tapas bar. Tried a variety of meats and cheeses, and potatoes, mushrooms, and peppers with cheese. And some wine from the Doura region.

Wed, October 23

Caught the shuttle to the airport. Driver was a litttle nuts, speeding through the narrow streets of Ponta Delgada. Borded our 40 minute flight to Pico on the SATA prop plane. Took a taxi to Madalena and took the ferry over to Horta, Faial. Pretty choppy waters, no dolphins or whales.

Made our way to Banana Manor, checked in. Went to Cetaceon to check out whale watching. Water too rough to go this afternoon, maybe Friday. Came back, had some snacks for lunch, Chris had a siesta.

Walked over to Porto Pim. Sandy beach, and very windy, lots of sand in the ears. Stopped in at the grocery store to pick up a few snacks for the next day. Came back, had some wine, planned our itinerary for the next day.

Went for dinner at California Pizza. Talked to the owner who used to live in San Francisco. Talked to us about wine. Lady here who swims every day. Not good to climb Pico in October.

October 24

Went to the Padira Popular bakery for breakfast. Chris had a chocolate croissant, and I had a hame & cheese bun. And also had some 'galao' drinks (similar to a latte).

Rented some mountain bikes from Peter's. Started our lonnng ascent up to the Caldeira. After 1 wrong turn through some farmer's field's, we were on the right track. The road was nice and smooth with no traffic, but it was up a long, continous hill of about 15km, with 918m of elevation gain.

The higher up we got, the more fierce the wind became. We alternated 200 pedals of riding with 100 steps of getting off our bikes and riding. Chris almost got blown off her bike at one point. The caldeira was ok, but overall the reward to effort ratio was definitely a little on the low side.

Descended down towards the north side. Much easier. Made our way to the western tip, taking in short views of the ocean along the way. The road was somewhat bumpy in this section.

We reached Capelinhos, a very new part of the island that formed only 60 years ago. Had a very quick lunch, as we were worried we wouldn't make it back in time to return our bikes before 5:30 PM.

Back up the hill we went, with our legs getting extremely weary by this point. We thought the ride home would be mostly downhill, but we were sorely mistaken. After what seemed like endless up and down biking, we made it back to Peter's, at 5:20 PM, just ten minutes before the bikes were due.

We could barely walk at this point, but managed to drag ourselves to the famous Peter's Sport Cafe, and order a couple of their well known gin and tonics and a Super Bock beer. I was exhausted and couldn't feel my legs. But we made it back to our B&B and I had a little nap.

Went for dinner at the same restaurant, California Pizza. Same waiter who remembered us, and sat us at the same table. Chris had the vegetarian again, while I opted for the 'California' which had all kinds of different meats and toppings. Also had some garlic bread.

October 25

Went to the Padira Popular bakery for breakfast again. This time Chris had some sort of sweet bun thing, with candied fruit, and I had a pizza bun. Again we had galao lattes to drink. Walked outside and noticed we could see Pico Mountain for the first time without clouds surrounding it. Looked nice in the morning light.

Went to the whale watching spot, and were told that we were waiting to hear from the lookouts about any potential whale or dolphin sightings. The initial report was not good, with neither being spotted. Then a report came in about some dolphins spotted, but they were pretty far out. We were asked if we still wanted to go, and decided that it might not be worth it.

So instead, we climbed up Guia Mounte, a large hill next to the town of Horta. From there we could see a whole lot of ocean, but still no whales or dolphins.

We came back into town and went to the market to stock up on meat, cheese, and fruit. Then we went for lunch at Casa de Cha. Chris had a pesto, tomato, cheese sandwich, and I had a chicken pesto sandwich. Unfortunately we did not see any cats. Had as much luck with that as with the whale watching.

Took the ferry over to Pico where we were picked up and taken to our hotel Miradouro da Papalva. Listening to the beating rain, and stranded in the middle of nowhere without a car, we hope for a brighter day tomorrow.

Oct 26

Went to the main road to try and hitch-hike to Madalena to pick up our rental car. No luck in getting anyone to stop for us. Paulo, the owner of the B&B, eventually passed us and stopped. He offered to buy us breakfast at the 'snack bar' where his wife worked. We went there and had some cheese sandwiches and galao.

Made a few more attempts at hitch-hiking, but dejected, we wandered back to our place to come up with a new plan. Called a few local taxi drivers, but couldn't get through. Tried calling Paulo, but got his voicemail. Just about to give up, and gave Paulo a shout again, but this time he answered. He called a taxi for us, and soon enough we were on our way to Madalena.

We rented a car from Ilha Verde, and drove to the famous Pico vineyard area. Saw lots of walls made out of lava rock. Continued to Lajes, and found Espaco Talasso, the best whale watching company in Pico. Listened to another whale education speech, but once again were disappointed at the end when the whale watch report came in... too foggy to guarantee whales, and only dolphins were spotted in the morning. So once again, we decided not to go.

Instead, we headed to Gruta das Torres, a 5km long lava tube/cave that was opened to the public in 2005. Made it just in time for the 4pm tour. The guide was very passionate and knowledgable about the cave. We walked 450m into the cave system.

Drove around the perimeter of Pico island, the weather was much more clear on the north side. Heard about some birds that wander onto the highway but didn't see any. Stopped at another supermarket. I wanted to BBQ, but found nothing for Chris to eat.

Continued around the island and went for dinner at Adele de Fonte, which has Chinese food on their menu, a rarity in the Azores. Chris had fish with vegtables, and I had chicken curry with noodles. To drink we tried the Lava Terre, a local white wine, made from grapes grown in the lava rock. For dessert we had the Mount Pico, an oreo ice-cream with fudge.

Oct 27

Had breakfast in our little casita, peanuts and meat for me, and yogurt & cookies & banana for Chris. Oh and tea.

Headed to the grocery store to get some ingredients for our pasta dinner. Found most of them. Everything but San Marzano tomatoes. Easier to find in Calgary than in Portugal. Had to buy way too many heads of garlic.

Drove up through the mountains of Pico. Very foggy. Ran into a herd of cattle on the road. Found the Pico Mountain ranger station. Got some info on how to register back at the fire station in Madelena. "If the wind is north or south tomorrow, that's good for visibility on Pico Mountain. East/West is bad. is the best source of info."

Drove to Madalena and found the fire station. We registered, but they didn't give us a GPS transceiver. Apparently they will be making sure we check in after our hike however.

Went and checked out the public natural pool area in the ocean. I went for a small dip. Water was pretty chilly. Saw some fish.

Drove to the Whaler's Museum in Lajes to learn how whaling was done in the Azores back in the day.

Came back to our hotel, played cards, had some wine, and tried to speak to the daughter of the Portuguese owners using my Blackberry translator app. I think she understood a few things I was saying. Other phrases, I was apparently not doing so well with.

Cooked our pasta dinner and ate on the patio overlooking the ocean. It cleared up enough to see Pico mountain. Would the conditions allow us to climb it early in the morning? We hit the hay early and set the alarm for 4:45 AM, and would find out soon enough.

Oct 28

Checked the wind direction when we woke up, Pico mountain looked to have a favorable climbing window for the next 8 hours. Drove to Pico Mountain in the darkness of morning before dawn, and began our climb, with headlamps and a small flashlight to guide us.

The white post markers were enough to guide us until daylight broke, about 1 hour into our climb. Kept our eye on the time as we ascended and were climbing quickly, but had to turn around at 7:15 AM, at post #28, for enough time to catch our plane. Later on we would learn that there were at least 45 markers, so we still had a ways to go.

Filled up with gas, returned the rental car, and boarded our plane to Terceira island. Caught a cab to our hotel, Atlantida Mar, which was nice and modern, with an ocean view.

Made our way to the bus stop in town and took the bus to Angra Heroismo. One thing we've noticed is that nothing here ever costs a nice, even round number. Bus fare for example, will be 4.28 Euros, when 4 Euros, or even 4.25 would have been a whole lot simpler.

In Angra we walked around town, had some galao at a local coffee shop, and browsed along the Rua de Se. Took a walk around the marina.

Boarded the bus back to Praia Vitoria, with the same bus driver, who once again had to deal with me fumbling for the correct change.

Back at the hotel we uncovered the hot tub and figured out the jet sequences, with a relaxing view (in not quite hot water) of the Atlantic ocean.

Then we boarded yet another bus to take us to Sao Sebastio, where we would be having dinner at Os Moinhos, a converted watermill, and what some people claim is the best restaurant in the Azores.

The restaurant was empty, save for us, and another English-speaking couple, with an annoyingly loud child in tow, who could apparently only be appeased by being force-fed movies at a loud volume on his iPad.

We ordered some 'Mother in Law soup' for an appetizer, along with some bread and cheee. Chris ordered swordfish for her main course, while I went with the beef or steak, prepared in the traditional Azorean manner.

Chris liked her swordfish, although it was a little salty. My beef on the other hand, arrived in a bowl of it's own juices, almost like a stew. I could not get past the amount of salt though, and with the texture it felt a bit like chewing on a salty rag. Could not finish it. Not even close.

Took a taxi back to the hotel what had to be the world's fastest taxi driver. I asked him if he was perhaps practicing for the rally race on Pico island that we had seen a few days prior.

Oct 29

Had breakfast at the hotel. Pretty decent, with scrambled eggs and local Azorean specialties, pastries, jams, and pineapples, and cheese.

Went for a bike ride along the waterfront. Pretty windy day. Bikes had a few maintenance issues, my first one had a flat tire. Gears didn't work on the second one. Rode up a hill, and then back down into town, at which point Chris lost me for a while.

Headed back to the hotel, packed our bags, and went to the airport, and flew back to Ponta Delgada. Picked up our rental car, got groceries, and drove to the east side of Sao Miguel.

Hiked to Salto do Prego, a nice waterfall and then down through an old abandoned village. After that we drove to Povoacao, and met our AirBNB host Carla, along with her 2 cats (Miomos and ?) and a dog (Zeus). Met another couple who were also staying at Carla's house, who were from Germany.

Made pasta for dinner, and accidentally set the oven to 572 degrees Fahrenheit, so our dinner was ready quite quickly!

Oct 30

Headed to Furnas and Lagoa del Fogo, and the Caldeiras Dos Furnas. Walked around, saw where everyone's lunch was being made (cooked in the ground). Ground was bubbling. Sulphur smell in the air.

Hiked up to the viewpoint over the lake, and waited for the fog to clear. Couldn't see anything initially, but after about 10 minutes it did clear up quite a bit.

Walked back down, got in our car, and drove to Terra Nostra gardens. Didn't realize we could swim there, so went for lunch first, at Cafe Atlantica, and had a Bolos Levedos (certain type of bread) made into a grilled cheese sandwich.

Went back to Terra Nostra and swam in the iron-rich thermal pool, turning us and our swimsuits a very orangeish-brown color.

Went for a beer at the hotel bar (Especiale, but no glass!), and relaxed on the patio near a palm tree with what sounded like 100 birds nesting in it.

Back to Carla's where we made salsa and had leftover pasta. Carla didn't want to try our salsa, and the German girl didn't know what salsa was. I guess they don't have much Mexican food in Germany.

Oct 31

Drove along the eastern coast of Sao Miguel, stopped at various viewpoints along the way. Thought we may have seen dolphins at one point, but they were too far away to say for sure. Saw a lighthouse.

Stopped at a park with a nice waterfall. Almost missed the actual waterfall, thinking a smaller one in the park was the main attraction.

Drove to the tea plantation, the last one left in Europe, and tried some tea, along with some good ice cream (chocolate/mint & green tea).

Drove to Ribeira Grande, and stopped at the liquor factory where we sampled pineapple, passion fruit, blackberry, tangerine, chocolate, and caramel liquers.

Then we went to Santa Barbara beach, a black sand beach with nice swells for surfing. Saw some surfers that looked unsure about whether they should attempt the waves or not.

Drove back towards Furnas and went to the Puddle of Kiss, another thermal hot spring with orange-brown iron warm water goodness. Sat in a set of 3 hot tub shaped pools with our own natural hot spring providing the heat.

Back to Carla's, where we plan to make grilled cheese sandwiches if we ever catch up on these journal entries!

Nov 01

After breakfast we stopped and bought little coconut cookies made in Povocao. Then we went to Furnas to look at a few more geo-thermal features that we hadn't looked at yet.

Continued on to Lagoa do Fogo, but could not see anything due to the fog. So we carried on to Caldeira Velhas, which had a warm waterfall you could swim by, as well as a thermal pool, in a tropical forest setting.

Went back to Lagoa do Fogo to try and wait out the fog, but it never lifted. Decided to go to the Pineapple Plantation, which was a bit of a challenge to find. Raining, arguing, but we made it. Walked around, and were surprised to discover how pineapples grow! Tried some pineapple liqueur.

Drove back to B&B by Lapsa in Ponta Delgada. Asnate invited us out that evening. We agreed. Then she told us she'd be heading out around 1 AM. 'Things don't start until late here' she said.

Went for dinner at Rotas da Ilha Verde again, the restaurant right across the street from us. For an appetizer we had a phyllo with brie & pear and fig jam. For the main course we had the asparagus pasta again, and the fried tofu with parmesan and pesto. For dessert we had delicious chocolate cake and pumpkin cheesecake with walnuts.

After that we went for a short walk to try and work off our dinner, and then headed back to the room to relax for a bit before going out.

Nov 02

Finally around 1:30 AM, when we had kind of given up on going out, Asnate appeared, and we went out to find some nightlife. The first place we went didn't have many people in it. Just some interesting little rooms with artwork. Then we walked down to the harbor area, which had a decent number of people, and grabbed some beers. Met a few of Asnate's friends. Stayed out until about 4:30 or so.

Came back home and got a few hours sleep. Didn't have much for breakfast, I ran out of peanuts. Tried to find a beer glass at the Especiales brewery, but it was closed. Walked to the cheese place by the market, but it was a little too chaotic for us to try and figure out what we wanted.

Packed up all our stuff and drove to the big supermarket. Walked by a bar upstairs and asked if I could buy an Especiales beer mug, but they insisted on giving it to me as a gift. Bought a whole lot of cheese and some wine at the supermarket to take home with us.

Drive to Ponta Ferraira. Tide was in, so I couldn't swim in the thermal pool on the ocean. Saw lots of black lava rock with waves crashing against it. Quite scenic.

Had one of my lava rocks taken away from me at security. 'Next time, choose a smaller rock.' the security woman laughed.