Sao Miguel – Bustling Cities and Thermal Pools

Sorry for the delay in posting about the finish to our trip.  We had very sporadic access to the web.  One day I was muttering to myself about the lack of internet access, and then took a look around and realized we were staying in the middle of a volcano crater – no wonder the signals were a bit challenged!  Here’s a recap of the marvelous sites we visited on the Island of Sao Miguel and the capitol city of Ponta Delgada.

Ponta Delgada is a study in black and white.  Streets and sidewalks are decoratively adorned with intricate mosaic designs executed in small blocks of black basalt rock and white sandstone.  Tightly woven streets are lined with white stucco buildings accented with black basalt trim.  Numerous city parks were planted with cheery flowers, but alas with the unusually cool weather while we were there, they were yet to ‘pop’, so the city appeared a bit colorless in spots.  I am certain that in a week or two all the trees will have leafed out and flowers will provide bright accents making Ponta Delgada a charming seaside city.  The city reminded me of the wonderful mosaic displays in Lisbon, and we learned that while Ponta Delgada’s designs are done in black with white accents, Lisbon’s are done in white with black accents.  Sao Miguel has the black basalt stone and Lisbon has the white sandstone – so they trade!

To be honest, we didn’t spend much time in the city center.  The countryside is so appealing that we scurried out to explore at every opportunity.  We hired a taxi (who’s driver spoke good English) for approx $20 an hour (for the 4 of us) and headed off to explore.  Our first visit was to Vila Franca Do Campo, the first capitol city of Sao Miguel.  There we sat across from the harbor ramp choked with brightly colored fishing boats and had one of the best meals of our trip at the Atlantico Restaurant.  Fresh fish was abundant throughout our stay – with many varieties we had never heard of – we often just ordered the filet of fish of the day and were never disappointed.  The Azores has a robust tuna fishing industry – although it was still early in the season to see a catch being brought in. 

Next we were off through rolling green hillsides dotted with grazing cows, to Fire Lake and the simmering thermal pools.  Hiking up to a waterfall reminded me of New Zealand rain forest scenery – large overhanging ferns, a light drizzle falling, sulfur scent in the air, and vegetation in a thousand shades of green.  We of course stopped by the bubbling pools of mud to appreciate the volcanic nature of Sao Miguel and then wound our way up the spent volcano for spectacular views of Fire Lake.  This is indeed an island serious about the use of eco energy sources, as they employ thermal electric plants, wind farms, kenetic wave plants, and diesel fuel to power the islands.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful Azorean folks we met throughout our journey.  Virtually everyone spoke enough English for us to communicate easily.  They were gracious, smiling, obviously very hard workers, dedicated to the long standing traditions of the island lifestyle and proud of their Catholic heritage.

Next up – our favorite sites on Sao Miguel!

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