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Azores, part 2: Sao Miguel and Santa Maria

 Especially the last few miles where wind goes against the current and make our engine work hard. The waves are steep and close together. The bow slams into them regularly almost bringing us to a full stop. A small freighter on the same course has difficulty as well. He manages to overtake us and we follow him up close from behind profitting from the shelter and safely make it into the Marina at Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel.

 

But the rocking and rolling continues even at our berth. There is not much shelter from the waves the easterly winds blow right into the harbor entrance. All fenders are on duty and we tie Moira down with additional lines. Next to us there is another Swiss yacht. We have not encountered many Swiss so far even though there are presumably more than a thousand world wide.

 

Sao Miguel is the biggest of the Azores islands and Ponta Delgada their biggest town. Somehow this seems out of place on these wild green islands. But even here there are a few pearls: The gelateria Abracadabra for instance, best ice cream made from Azorean milk and cream with exotic flavours made from locally grown and ripened fruits such as passion fruit. Or the café with the maybe a bit high-flying name of ‚Louvre Michaelense’, which is located in age-old hat store with glass show cabinets all around the walls. They serve great cakes and in the evening surprising tapas. Or the vegetarian restaurant ‚Rotas‘, the only one we have found in the Azores. It is located in a typical Azorean two-storey house tiny living room where they serve delicious vegetarian fare. But unfortunately we can only study the saliva gland inspiring menu as they are fully booked for the next week! This would even make House Hiltl in Zürich jealous, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe.

On Saturday night there are two free concerts we can enjoy: A band from the Cape Verdes sings in Portuguese to music with clearly African and Caribbean influences. Later there is Anibal Raposo and his band (check him out on YouTube or Spotify). Azorean music with rock and blues notes at a musically very high level. They also pay tribute to the Fado, so typically Portuguese.

 

But even on this island there is a lot of nature to be discovered. We rent yet another car for a day and drive up to the spectacularly beautiful Lagoa da Fogo (Firelake), a crater lake at its center. On to the north coast with the tea gardens at Porto Formoso and Gorreana, where we stock up on the mild black and green teas grown here. I am outing myself as a tea drinker here but I do not shun a good espresso. The latter is very good everywhere in Portugal and costs - take a deep breath - 85… what? Eurocent!

 

On the way back we drive down into the valley of Furnas, where we particulary like the giant outdoor spa in the even more giant botanical gardes of Terra Nostra. My bathing suit and towel with their orange stains attest to this day to the high iron content of the thermal water. As soon as the clear water from the source comes into contact with air, rust forms - a lasting souvenir!

 

At the lake there are fumaroles (hot water or steam rise from the ground and there is a pungent smell of sulphur in the air. The Azoreans take advantage of the free natural heat and cook in it. Pits are dug and large pots with a stew of different meats and vegetables lowered into them. Then covered with dirt and a sign placed on top to show which restaurant this belongs to. After some hours the pot is dug out and served to the guests as a ‚Cozido‘ (cooked). We wonder if it smells of sulphur but the restaurants seemed a bit too touristy and expensive to try. We liked ‚A Quinta‘ better: Simple meals cooked by the mother of the house and served in a beautiful garden or under the open loggia. 

 

Sadly, Tara is flying home today, school is in soon. We had a great time together and I was impressed to see her take on much responsibility on the boat. The six-day journey from Galicia to the Azores was a shared adventure we will remember for a long time to come. Thank you, Tara!

 

The boat next to me is Swiss as well and what do Swiss do when they are together? Right, they go hiking! We take a bus to Ribeira Chà on the south coast and hike along the hills with a spendid view of the south coast.

 

But after about a week I am ‚harbor sick‘ and must get out to sea. The wind is favorable and on to Santa Maria I sail, my last Azores island. After a relaxed sailing day where I am duly welcomed by a large school of dolphins (with baby) I land in the cute marina of the cute Vila do Porto. Here the pace is much more laid back. I am getting to know this wild-at-heart island hiking along its south coast over hills and down to stunning beaches (yes, lots of up and down). After having had lunch in the only beach restaurant I ask for the next bus service. 6 pm is the answer! Too long to work on my sun tan and count waves on the beach. I decide to put out my thumb. The first car stopping is a free taxi. Got lucky!

 

On another hire-car-tour around the island - there are no scooters or bicycles for rent here - I get to know the highest point and the east side of this lovely island. Did I mention it is very green? The highest peak is 687 meters or 2000 feet above sea level and is called Pico Alto, any questions?. The hilly east side is wooded and lower down littered with stone wall surrounded mini pastures and white washed mini houses. Something out of a brothers Grimm fairy tale.

 

Perched on the south east corner of the island on a high cliff sits the attractive bright white and red light house Farol de Gonçalo Velho. On the beach below dead sperm whales were landed until the mid 1970ies and their blubber was boiled. For the Azorean identity this tradition seems to be important to this day. The traditional very slim (!) and very shallow (!) wooden whaling boats are kept in immaculate state of repair and sailed and rowed regularly throughout many of the islands. Luckily, people here as well have understood that living whales are much better business (think whale watching).

 

My weather window for the passage to Porto Santo close to Madeira is drawing closer and I reluctantly say farewell to these wonderful, naturally wild islands in the middle of the Atlantic and from their kind, heartfelt and somewhat ‚unused‘ inhabitants. 

For pictures click here.

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