Azores trip

Well…hello. It’s been a while. I don’t really have an excuse other than that I’ve been exhausted this week and after working late (to make up unpaid time from the trip), working out, then making dinner, I was ready to read a book before bed rather than write a post. So, nope, not really an excuse.

Although I do want to say that part of the reason it’s taken so long to get this particular post up is that technology is simultaneously the best and the worst. Remember when I said I only got a smartphone three years ago? Yeah, I still love the feeling of being able to whip out my phone on trips and take pictures. I don’t know when that will get old: current me remembers past me’s jealousy when my study abroad friends were all doing that and I couldn’t.

Anyway, I plugged my phone in to my computer last week to import my photos and for some reason my computer decided half of the photos didn’t exist. This makes no sense because I have a MacBook and an iPhone and in theory their beautiful interfaces should talk seamlessly to each other, right? Nope, iPhoto wasn’t having it. So I researched ways to get my photos off my phone and on to my computer and decided the Google Photos app was the way to go. Except did you know that you have to keep the app open in order to sync your photos? I didn’t learn until a few days later that it doesn’t work in the background so by Tuesday I changed the setting to have my phone not lock itself and used work’s wifi for half the day to sync something like the 2000 photos on my phone. Add in another day or two for me to get around to downloading the trip photos to my computer so I could transfer them to iPhoto the next day, and I was golden. Finally.

Then my phone randomly decided the past few days that it just wasn’t going to use data, so I reset it yesterday. It’s nice to be able to look up metro and bus times on your data-enabled smartphone, you know? And then on a whim I decided to plug it into my computer again. Lo and behold, iPhoto magically found the missing trip photos and imported them so the whole weeklong saga could’ve been avoided.


So, my mom and sister came up to DC for my spring chorus concert and then the three of us drove to Boston on Sunday, which was where our direct flight to Ponta Delgada left from. Luckily for us we stayed with my aunt and uncle in Boston and were not in a hotel: we were originally supposed to leave on Monday evening, May 1, but our flight got delayed for some reason to Tuesday. Okay. I reached out to the host of the hostel we were staying at for the first two nights to ask if we could get a refund for the first night and he mentioned something about the strike making his life a living hell.

Much Googling later resulted in not a ton of information, but I found something about a planned May 1-2 strike of either Portuguese security personnel or cabin crews. In theory by the time we left the evening of May 2 we would land in the Azores on May 3 and the strike would be over. Wrong. The airline waited until 2:00pm on May 2 to tell us they moved our 9:00pm flight to the next day. I assume this was because our plane was grounded in Portugal and couldn’t actually get to the US until Wednesday, May 3. In the midst of this uncertainty about whether we’d ever make it to the Azores, Mom and I had some conversations about what to do: keep pushing the trip out a day as the start time changed so we could have the same amount of time there? Accept a 3-day trip instead of a 5-day one? At what point did we throw in the towel and call the trip insurance company to get our money back because it wasn’t clear if we’d ever leave Boston? I only had enough vacation time for five days off of work, but decided to take two unpaid days because dammit, I’m never ready to sacrifice travel time just so I can show up to work like a good employee (spoiler: I’m not the best employee that ever lived. Also this is why I worked late the last two weeks to make up that unpaid time. More about why that’s not reflected in my paychecks this month when I post May’s spending report…).

A fitting first introduction to the island: apparently the ratio of cows to humans is about 1:1!

Luckily we did leave Wednesday night, so we arrived bright and early on Thursday morning. We spent the whole trip on one island, Sao Miguel, and originally our plan was to stay the first two nights in the main town where the airport is. However those nights got cancelled, so our plan for the day was to get in the car and drive since our hostel for the night was in the far northeast corner of the island and we had no idea how long it would take us to drive up there.

Like so!

When you tell people you’re going to an island for vacation, they usually think you’re going somewhere tropical and will spend lots of time on the beach. Not so for this trip. Honestly much of our time was spent driving the perimeter of the island and stopping at all the overlooks to get the gorgeous views.

I particularly wanted to do a hike through the woods out to a waterfall. It was not ideal to have that be on our first, very long day, but I was adamant. Hiking is awesome. So was the waterfall. The second half of the hike wound its way down through a previously abandoned village. It’s very obvious someone is working on rehabilitating many of the buildings so people can either live there permanently or stay there for a few nights. It was also a good introduction to just how steep trails and roads on a volcanic island can be!

Waterfall in the woods. We stopped here to have a lunch of cheese and crackers on the rocky beach.
I could’ve posted a picture of the abandoned village, but instead have one of this majestic creature that walked half a mile down the hill with us!










This gives you a good idea of just how changeable the weather is on the island. Sun one minute and rain the next.

The next morning we stopped at an overlook just south of the town of Nordeste that had two levels of immaculately terraced gardens since it was too dark by the time we got there the previous day. We also walked most of the way down a road that was supposedly a 35% grade towards the oldest working lighthouse in the Azores.

View from the overlook with gorgeous terraced gardens. The lighthouse is on the right. Yeah, we walked most of the way down that cliff.
Rainbow over Chá Gorreana.

We did more driving along the north coast and didn’t do a whole lot more because it threatened to rain most of the day. We did, however, get a spectacular rainbow over one of the two tea plantations on the island.

We’d read in one of the guidebooks that every year on the first Saturday of May the locals dress up in traditional costume and harvest tea at the smaller tea plantation. Since that was about our only chance for a cultural experience (other than seeing the cows, eating their dairy products, and eating Azorean food for breakfast and dinner) and we were staying in a town not far away for the second and third nights, we headed out to the Porto Formoso tea plantation.

Traditional Azorean dress and tea bushes. I’m fascinated by how tea grows: I don’t know what I expected but this was not it!

It rained incredibly hard for about 10 minutes during that and it was hilarious to see everyone hunker down under their hats between the rows of tea bushes for shelter before all of us decided it was raining too hard and made a mad dash back to the building.

Lagoa do Fogo

After that we headed up the mountain to Lagoa do Fogo. It was really cloudy and foggy so there wasn’t much in the way of bright colors (supposedly the “lake of fire” gets its name from the colors produced when the sun shines on it). It was highly entertaining to watch the clouds get sucked into the volcanic crater as they passed over.

Yeah, see those clouds over that mountain?

I also wanted to go to the very top of the mountain where you can see both the northern and southern coasts of the island at the same time, but you could barely see the road in front of you so that didn’t happen. The mountain was covered by clouds for the whole rest of the trip, actually, which didn’t stop me for looking for breaks in the clouds during which we could rush over there and maybe get a view!

Since we didn’t really have a plan for the rest of the day and since it looked relatively clear on the western side of the island even though it was supposed to rain all day, we headed towards the lakes over there at Sete Cidades (and stopped at all the overlooks on the way there, naturally).

View from the top floor of an abandoned casino at one of the overlooks. The town of Sete Cidades is on the left. When it’s actually sunny, the smaller lake in the foreground is greenish and the larger lake is blue.
I can’t get over how awesome this photo is.

My mom and sister wanted to keep driving back to town but I wanted to stop at more overlooks since supposedly there were better views, even though it had gotten cloudy and rainy again. They hung back once it started raining but I ran ahead to see if I could get a view if the clouds happened to break. Totally worth it: I got this fantastically Instagrammable picture. The larger lake at Sete Cidades is in the background on the right. From the top of this hill you could actually see both of those lakes and another smaller two. Lakes in volcanic craters abound!

Sadly for us it was either cloudy or too hazy for sunrises and sunsets most of our days there. We didn’t get rained on as much as we thought we would during the trip, but the weather did not cooperate in the morning or evening. This sunset in Riberia Grande was the closest we got.

Hot springs activity at Furnas

Sunday was pretty cloudy and chilly and it turned out to be our hot springs day. We got up early to get to Caldeira Velha before it opened and was overrun by people. After an hour soaking in the hot springs there, there there were a ton of people and it was time to go. We spent some time sitting in the cafe at Chá Gorreana reading and eating pastries and drinking tea. There were trails around the plantation we could’ve walked on, but it was pretty rainy most of the afternoon. We cut south across the island back to Ponta Delgada through Furnas, which has a lot of hot spring activity and is even more overrun by tourists. Also it’s kind of impossible to navigate. I swear we drove through town about 6 times trying to figure out which road we wanted to take to continue to Ponta Delgada.

Waterfall at the end of one of the trails

On Monday we drove back up to Riberia Grande to tour the distillery there (yum, pineapple and milk liqueur!) and then somehow found ourselves back at the first tea plantation, which made four days in a row at one of the tea plantations or the other. I’m not complaining about that at all. We got to see the factory in action processing tea and then walked part of two trails that go through the property.

View from the top of the hill at Chá Gorreana. The factory is the white building on the left.
I believe the water from the hot spring created all that foam at the lower right. Although no thanks to swimming here.

After we’d said goodbye for good to the tea plantations, we headed to Ponta Ferraria. I was curious about the presence of a natural pool there heated by a hot spring which makes it swimmable year-round. Turns out getting our heads bashed in on sharp volcanic rocks as the huge waves swept in and out was not something any of us wanted to do. The size of the cliffs, the rocks, and the spray the waves made as they crashed into shore was quite spectacular, though!

A much more safe beach for swimming! I love the reflection of the church in the wet sand.

After that we headed back to Ponta Delgada and to some of the actual beaches around that area. It was about 7:00 by then and not really warm enough to swim, but we enjoyed a bit of wading (while waiting around for the sunset that did not materialize because it was too hazy).

We left the Azores on Tuesday afternoon (to land in Boston around 5 pm and start the long drive back to DC so I could get to work the next day), so we spent the morning walking around Ponta Delgada. We also visited the greenhouses outside of the city where they grow mini pineapples!

Pineapple plantation

Surprisingly food was pretty cheap in restaurants and grocery stores (a bag of chips for a picnic lunch one day cost us something like a dollar. That’s baffling considering they had to get that bag of chips to the island somehow!), although Mom really wanted to buy a pineapple. Even though they grow them on the island, it was about $5 for a little one at the supermarket-only gas was more expensive per volume than that!

Okay, that was a massive photo dump post so thanks for reading if you made it to the end. I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled (well…) personal finance posts next week.

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