Monday, June 26, 2017

Sao Jorge, Azores - Walk 1: Sete Fontes-Lighthouse-Ponta Rosais/'-Sete Fonte

After a fitful nights sleep I joined Mom and Dad for our first breakfast here at the Casa do Antonio in Velas, Sao Jorge, Azores, Portugal. It was a simple continental affair: tasty enough but I think I'll miss hot items. The morning was bright and clear. The loudest things were some birds, a couple of nearby barking dogs and some modest sounds of a small town quietly waking.  It was quieter, less intrusive, than the  live music that rolled across town ending at 02:15 with Purple Rain by Prince. I suspect Velas never gets too busy.  

Jorge, our Inntravel driver, arrived promptly at 09:30 to take us to Sete Fontes, the start and likely endpoint of our first walk. He has a wealth of local knowledge he is happy to share. Within 15 minutes we had passed through a town or two, passed a couple of small herds of cows following their trucks on the road going to new pastures, and drove into the cyprus forest that makes Sete Fontes special. The sun was warm, intense, and we were ready to go. 

The cypress forest was full of life. The baby ducks and their mother had to be the cutest. Watch your step as the ducklings waddle right up to you. Strolling paths abound so there is ample chance to explore. But that would wait until later. We struck out on a dirt road at about 09:50. Our trek was underway. 

Mom and Dad on the two track not far from Sete Fontes 

Ken at the same place.  

Inntravel provides detailed directions.  They described our starting spot almost perfectly. When the directions say to expect a track on the right bounded by hydrangea hedges on the left and a dry stonewall on the right in  500 that is what you will find. On either side pastures roll into the distance. You descend ever so gently on a two-track path. Hydrangeas bloom but other flowers appear from time to time. Now and then cows appear. Bales of hay ferment under black plastic lending a distinct aroma to the air. In time you catch views of the deep blue ocean a couple km distant and few hundred meters below.  The walking is easy. The surrounding quiet. It's not wilderness by any stretch but we all relaxed as the morning progressed and we strolled along the tracks northwesterly towards the end of the island. 


A high point  of the walk is an extension some might skip but shouldn't. It adds 1km each way but it's easy walking. The lookout tower is some 20 meters above the track on a hill. That ascent happens quickly. I'd not be surprised to learn the steep concrete walk with its wooden handrails was only about 150 meters long: the directions from Inntravel said steep and steep it was. The views are worth the climb. Just a little further on is a now automated lighthouse. Before 1980, and a large earthquake, lighthouse keepers lived there in concrete buildings that clearly are far newer than the original lookout. Originally , in the 19th century during the hey day of whaling, a lookout tower was there for whale spotting. Here we met our first people. A French couple, staying at our hotel, pulled up to us in their car that they had hired for touring the island. As we left the northern tip of the island we saw a handful of other walkers coming. A km or so later well other 30 Germans passed by doing the loop in the opposite direction. 

overlo k 1 

overlook 2 


Our views of fields and surrounding seascapes continued. After a tiny bit of uncertainty about which track to take, we continued through a stand of trees and  found a spot with a view. The food, provided by the hotel, was mediocre.


By now it was early afternoon. The clear sky was being overwhelmed by a high overcast. The temperature was in mid 70s. We reached a cafe mentioned in our directions and had packaged ice cream treats and sodas. How do they survive in this minuscule clutch of very modest seeming homes?  After the cafe break, where there is the option of ending the hike, we decided to assault the steep climb to Sete Fontes. 


The climb is very steep.  The grade is in the 15% range. In somewhat less than 1km you climb 150 meters. It took us just under 30 minutes. But then you pass into a Cypress forest and cow-filled fields which is a real treat. It was a much nicer place to wait for Jorge to pick us up than the hole-in-the-wall  cafe. 

All told this was a 13km walk along easy tracks. The 150 meter climb at the end is steep but it's the only steep bit. You'll notice a gentle climb after leaving the lighthouse but nothing to remark upon. This was a good first walk. 


About the photos

The first two photos are taken only a few hundred meters into the walk. We have entered a section of track that has numerous hydrangea hedges and stone walls. Stonewalls and hydrangeas, along with other flowers now and then, are signature features of the walk. The first photo features Judy and Jonathan; the second photo Ken

The next three photos are taken from the top of the lookout tower near the northern tip of the island.  Well worth it even though you do have to climb a steep hill to reach the tower. First looking generally southwest is Pico. Next the lighthouse complex a short distance away at the tip of Sao Jorge. Finally, looking north easterly. I didn't take a picture South easterly because that was peering into the sun. 

The last picture comes to give you a sense of just how steep the concrete path to the lookout tower is. I would not be surprised if the path is about 150 m long and I know rose about 20 m.

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