Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sao Miguel, Azores - Walk 9: Lagoas Azul and Verde

Our last big day on Sao Miguel we decided to drive to the northwestern men's of Sao Miguel and check out Lagos Azul and Lagos Verde. The hike would skirt the rim of Caldeira Alteres dropping down from Vista da REI into the village of Setes Cidades before completing the loop back at the viewpoint. The hike isabout 12km in length and you ascend and descend about 320m at times on rather steep mountain roads. With the exception of perhaps 1km a few hundred meters outside of Setes Cidades where you slowly ascend away from the colorful lakes on a trail through woods you hike on dirt mountain roads or, briefly, along paved roads in town. 

When we arrived at the bviewpoint a handful of cars were already parked in the shadow of what was once a grand hotel. It's been abandoned for a long time but the spot is clearly popular: good toilets and a food truck were present. We left the car under cloudy skies that threatened rain but never managed more than a momentary spit before clearing away later in the morning. To our right was could see the green and blue lakes below. Lagos Verde was closer and a more noticeable green than Lagos Azul was noticeably blue. I think I was imagining richer color: rich Emerald and vividly blue; these were much more muted. We walked by plenty of foliage, including ever present hydrangeas, that opened up now and then to pastures with cows. Yes, people work the land up here too in this seemingly a bit more out of the way spot. A few cars passed on by.; a couple other Hill walkers too but we were pretty much alone. 

It's an easy walk along the dirt road. We had no real trouble finding our way down the road towards Setes Cidades. At about 5km we followed a paved road for a short stretch before returning to dirt roads that would soon steepen considerably and drop us over 100m in likely not much more than 500m into the village itself. That last bit wasn't fun but I bet less scary than it'd haven riding the quads we saw a few helmeted people riding down that bone jarring Track.

There isn't much in the village. The walk takes you to a church and back but for our money you could just keep going towards the gray buildings on the shore of the lake. There is a resturaunt there too that's lijrly just as good a place to have a bite to eat as S. Nicolau's was.from the village we walked along paved roads for perhaps 1km before turning onto a dirt path with Lagos Verde on our left. We gradually began climbing through a nice bit of forest Soon we passed what I'm pretty sure was the first campground we had seen. I saw a blue tent and maybe there were others in the Glade. 

The trail continued to ascend at a modest rate for about a km before joining a mountain roads that plunged down from the hieghts of the caldera to the lakes below. That last, just over a km, was the final challenge. This time we rapidly gained elevation. I'd not be surprised if the grade was comparable to what we encountered on our ascent to Lagos Fogo. We were working hard but the views under the partly cloudy sky of the lakes below helped make it worthwhile. Our discovery of the gelato selling lady at the top was icing on the cake. 

At the top we found the place jammed full of cars. We did see a couple people and one family (those had better be strong young kids) coming down as we went up but I figure most were doing the loop like us (clockwise) or some out-and-baclk  "clockwise" version. Besides the gelato seller we saw two food trucks. All were busy selling to people. If you plan hiking in this area get to it early and beat the traffic. We arrived at about 09:45. We finished the hike around 14:40. 

About the Photos

It's an overcast morning as we start the hike on the rim road several hundred meters above Lagoas Verde and Azul. At this time the colors of the green and blue lakes are rather muted. 

In photo 2 this cow peers at us as we look at her an the Atlantic Ocean beyond. 

In photo 3 the  last kilometer, actually somewhat less, into Setes Cidades is along very steep rutted dirt road. It is a bit tiresome , and potentially dangerous if wet, section of the hike. I think the people on the 2 quads who slowly rollers by must have been nervous.

Photo 4: By mid-afternoon the sun was out and we had colorful views of the lakes as we climbed a very steep dirt mountain road back to our car

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sao Miguel, Azores - alk 8: Around Lagoa das Furnas

The town of Furnas is mentioned in many places as a place to visit. It has a major lake nearby and several geothermal features from fumeroles to hot springs pools. We know many people stay in the town, it is better located to Inntravel walks than Maia. After a bit of futzing around with the driving directions we found the car park and got ready for the hike. 

Like many, if not most walks this one would be on several species of roads. We left downtown Furnas on a tarmac road heading into farmland. Gently ascending we came to a dirt path then climbed more steeply into the hills. We thought this was where we should go: up and over we went. As we neared the forested top we had some doubts but the path was now heading down towards  the lake so we kept going. When we got to a road we saw that it came in from the south and sure looked like what we'd left to climb over the hill. Our alternate path shaved, I think, well over 1km perhaps much closer to 2km. 

Soon you encounter the majority of geothermal features. Many hot mud pots, fumeroles and hot springs. You can walk near them via boardwalks (think Yellowstone). Plenty of people, most would have driven in, were doing just that. Yellowstone NP in the US and Waimangu Valley in New Zealand won't be overwhelmed by the hot spots of Lagoa das Furnas but they're still worth visiting. 

The lake is sizable. A light green in color and calm. You could take paddle boats out. We began our near circumnavigation on the lakeshore road. You walk through forest, some really great big trees, passing other hiking trails now and then. There are places beyond the lake to explore. Every few hundred meters we walked by a chainsaw carved wood sculpture: hiker, dragonfly, hedgehog, bird , wolf. It's an easy level walk. 

At about 5km in, on our version of the walk, we paused by some truly tall trees. An  Araucaria is reported to be the second tallest of its type in the world. The tallest is on a Hawaiian island. Nestled against a wall or something was a tiny painted sign, maybe 15x5cm with the word "BAR" in red showing at about my eye level. If you weren't next to it you wouldn't see it. You wouldn't think to look for it as the gray stone building you can just sort of see looks like nothing of interest. Unless you walk down a path towards the lake the true nature of things won't become clear. The building is a wonderful stone structure, much bigger than it seems. It is home to a snack bar, museum and research center. The museum was closed but the pastry and coffee counter was open. The place has been here for several years so why the signage is so abysmal is unclear. You'd not see the place from either direction on the cobblestone road ( our fellow Inntravelers missed it). 

On we marched. Passing old buildings that used to be privately owned. We had a spot of confusion thinking the cobblestone road was something it wasn't. That added about 1.4km of our-and-back to the hike. Oh well. We began walking alongside the cobblestones EN1 for a  time. That was the confusion source. If we were doing things again we'd follow the grass and dirt path that is visible hugging the lake. We followed a path alongside the EN1 up to a viewpoint. We had lunch. From there we descended  rather steeply, hell on brakes steep but paved, road into Furnas. 

Furnas is busy but it was hard to tell from what we saw how much there is to do. Clearly the visit to the thermal pool and it surrounding superbly maintained botanical garden is a high point. I think it's called Terra Nostra Gardens. It might not be as adroitly run as the operation of Iceland's Blue Lagoon but the thermal pool is wonderful and the iron oxide brown hot waters exist among the lovely tree and plant garden. A great respite after the days walking. 

About the Photos

When we emerged from the forested hillside we were greeted by the view of Lagoa Fogo. We are on the northern edge of the lake. The geothermal features are just a short ways west. When the wind was just right we could catch a whiff of sulfur. 

Photo 2 is in the fumeroles area. What you see here are oven mounds heated by geothermal activity. We understand several trsturaunts cook food here but I certainly didn't see where they were. 

Every few hundred meters after we saw the chainsaw carved wooden hiker another sculpture would appear. In photo 3 we have a dragonfly and Mom. 

Photo 4 shows the hard to spot cafe/museum/research center we lucked out in finding. You'll be hard pressed to see it from the trail. 

Photo 5 is Mom and me bobbing  in the wonderfully warm thermal pool at Terra Nostra Gatdens in Furnas. The water gets its brown color from iron oxide. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sao Miguel, Azores - Walk 7: Whale watching and the Lagos do Fogo Loop

This would turn out to be among our most eventful days so far in the Azores. Dawning with a light overcast that would be left behind as we drove to Vila Campo de Franco for whale watching we joined a couple dozen people for a chance to spot whales and dolphins off the southern coast of Sao Miguel. Our Zodiac-like boat was actually comfortable.  We straddled a cushioned seat like you would a bike saddle. I was confident my inner thighs would notice the setup later. Even on near glass smooth water you're bound to bounce but the ride was quite smooth.

We saw several types of dolphins ( e.g. common dolphin and striped dolphin)not that we could tell them apart. Sea birds were also plentiful especially  the Shearwater Gull. But we saw no whales. For the next 2.5 hours we motored about and had a pretty good time. 

At the end of the trip, at the marina, we disembarked our boat. The captain, who helped everyone on and off, gave me a hand. I stepped onto the pontoon decking and hearing instructions to go straight ahead I learned that the water temperature of the Atlantic in the Azores is comfortable. I stepped into the water fully clothed.

It was tough getting back out. I bet that doesn't happen often to departing guests.  I'm glad I had a swim suit I could change into. That and the tee-shirt I bought would be my hiking attire for the afternoon. Certainly a change of style. 

After lunch , surprisingly decent burgers though hardly award winners, at the cafe at the marina we drove to the start of our afternoon hike.  

Shia de Alto (UTM 26S4176 634): is the starting point for the walk. I wonder how many walkers can read and use the UTM co-ordinate. For most it serves as a general guide to help locate the proper grid square. We found the place and parked. It was about 13:20 and we knew we had a good walk ahead of us. It's a shame we didn't know a bit more about the ground we'd be walking. The instructions while not precisely wrong certainly lacked some useful information. 

We began climbing and climbing. The road we were following started gently enough but within a km the grade steepened considerably. It stayed steeper and we slogged up the dirt road. It's a woods lines road and now and then a good view of the southern coast hundreds of meters below and km away would appear. Up and up. In less than 4km we climbed well over 400 meters. The walking directions made no reference to this slog. 

Once we finally got to the top we caught our first views of Lagoa do Fogo. It's a good sized lake and seems to be home for countless birds, particularly gulls. The mountain road began descending at a modest rate. By now we had passed a few dozen people coming down the other way. Maybe they were doing the loop clockwise or an out and back. My guess is the former. We didn't hang out long as the clouds rolled on in. We passed more people before leaving the shoreline. The best part of the hike was really starting at this point. 5km in not the 6km the directions suggested. We began following a levada and that was a great change. We were passing many buildings, groomed short grass, and many water channels. This is an area where hydroelectric power is clearly being used and done in a nice way. Our only complaint is that the directions though technically accurate were written in a way to make us wonder whether we had missed a turn. Some people who had been at the lake caught up with us and we were assured we were on the right track. They had done and out and back route so we weren't totally sure that we would wind up where we had parked, but we carried on. 

We returned to mountain rutted roads and continued descending. But now the grade jumped up from the 3% to somewhere closer to 10%. Less than the starting climb but the dirt road had more ruts and certainly more cow poop to avoid. Annoying and this time not really that interesting. Those last 3km were tiring and dull but I don't think we could've done anything differently. 

It's a good walk once you accept the issues of the ascent and descent. The levada and well maintained hydroelectric ground were gorgeous. 

About the Photos

An islet not far from shore. I think it has recently reverted to public land. Cliffs like these are commonplace. 

Our first grand Vista of the hike to Lagoa de Fogo. I figure we are about 2km into the climb to the lake and considerably more than half has been on a steep mountain road. We've also passed quite a few people heading down. I wonder where they parked as the place we parked had few cars. The Atlantic is in the distance. 

Lagoa Fogo has appeared. It's a bit more than 4km to this spot and though we are descending, nowhere near as steep as the ascent, now the journey has been a long slog uphill. Birds, sounding like gulls, are in great numbers here. 

Photo 3 reminds us a bit of the scenery we sometimes saw on the Milford Track. It's been cloudy the whole time but it felt like the weather might be worsening.

For about 1.5km we would follow this levada. Most of the time it and we wound our way through forest but before that it was more open alpine-like area. The seemingly heavy weather eased off and, in time, the clouds departed

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sao Miguel, Azores - Walk 6: Maia to Lombda da Maia and back with a Look Back at Faial

Before we left for Sao Miguel late Saturday we had enough time to return to Capelinhos Volcano site. We took time to walk across the 60 year old new land created from the eruption of the volcano in 1957. It's only about 500 meters but it's worth stepping across the sometimes soft and silky sandy crusty lava and ash. Now and then a lonely shrub appears but if it were not for the gulls you'd think the area lifeless. We spent the morning checking out the area and then spent some time in the museum which is very well done. Cap it off with 158 steps to reach the top of the old, no longer used, lighthouse. If you're planning to use a taxi you should expect a driver to take upwards of 30 minutes to reach you. 

We killed the rest of our time at the hotel before catching the plane to Sao Miguel. Once there we took a bit longer to get the rental car sorted out (automatics cost more and they were not the default choice of our travel company) but we found our way to the hotel in Maia by 20:00 and had what may have been the best dinner to date: homemade vegetable or Bolognese spaghetti. 

Our first day walking took us from Solar de Lalem ( our hotel) in Maia to the next town. It's about 5km one way. Inntravel suggests you can walk it in less than 2 hours and for most that will be true. Our return trip certainly was well under that mark. 

You leave Maia on paved road and if there is a way to shorten that I would likely choose it. Turns out it might be possible as a marked trail seems to go the right way. But within 1km you leave the twisting high-speed road behind. A coastal trail of generally good quality slowly drops you down to a seasonal river which was dry. You pass a variety of abandoned water mills and a "vineyard". 

Then a short but steep descent on rocky switchbacks deposits you at a dark sand beach. I suppose the sand is volcanic in nature because it's dark gray.  By that time we had done about 60% of the walk by distance, likely all the descent, a big chunk on the switchbacks to the beach Praia de Viola and almost no ascent. That was going to change. 

You climb seemingly countless stone steps along a curving path that winds past cascades of water. I'm pretty sure an abandoned water mill station or two was passed. In time you came to a drivrable road. This is a popular beach as these things go. That doesn't mean it's bustling but people do visit. Up and up the moderately steep road we climbed. From this point it's an easy walk into the town of X. our walking time was 2:08:00. I bet the biggest time eater was the descent to Beach x.

If we could've gotten a taxi back we would have. We failed. We weren't about to walk the 4 or so kilometers (4.1km according to Google Maps) on those narrow, no shoulder, let's-drive-fast roads so a return via the trail was in order. It really turned out well. We saw things we would not have otherwise done. The poor "stuck on-a-dry-waterfall" cow was just one instance.  Several men were figuring out what to do. It's a short walk and but you feel like you see and experience a lot. 

About the Photos

Photo 1 is at the Cove we think whaling boats docked that belonged to the now buried whaling station. 

Photo 2  provides a view from the now no longer used lighthouse of the new land, the youngest in the Azores, of Faial. 

Photo 3: Hydrangeas seem to be everywhere. But the specimens here are something special. Mom and Dad look good too. 

Photo 4  really shows the impact of man. This wall is just an impressive example of how people have been influencing the land for centuries. 

The last 2 photos were taken on the promenade above the seashore in Maia. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Pico, Azores - Walk 5: A Stroll on the Island of Pico

Pico is home to the highest point in Portugal. Pico is the youngest Island in the Azores. The human population stands at about 15,000; cattle at about 60000. ,Pico stands out in several areas. But our walk, more a ramble through countryside wouldn't announce those facts to you.  Our ferry ride from Faial went as easily as you could wish arriving at a ferry dock that is more developed than Sao Jorge. We grabbed a taxi, another driver with US ties to California and this time the NYC area as well. When he dropped us off the morning had clouded over and it felt pretty quiet except for traffic on the tarmac road. 

We started by checking out the entrance to a lava tube but  didn't see much. It's more proof , if you need it, that volcanos made the Azores. In the distance a cow would moo, frogs croaked near by, and a few workers were doing something on a pole. Otherwise nothing. We struck out on the tarmac road for several hundred meters before turning onto a dirt lane, a bit more than a two-track,  with low stone walls and roses. Views of the shore came and went; views of fields broken by a stand of trees now and then were a constant feature. 

We descended the dirt and gravel lane past homes. Birds sang. Cows mooed. Dogs as seem to be routine excitedly barked as we went by. We continued to descend. 

It wasn't a terribly exciting walk. Maybe that explains why we goofed along the way. I think we zigged when we should have zagged by the supposed picnic spot. We ended up on paved roads that we figured we're going the right way.  Around 12:30 we found a cafe we could get drinks at and stopped for lunch. We were in the heart of Setes Cidades. Between the paper and digital maps we figured out where to go and continued on. Within a half hour we were seeing definite signs we had rejoined the "official" walk as we entered the port town of Madalena. by 13:30 we had reached the ferry and got the 14:00 back to Faial. One last easy walk back along the coastal sidewalk to our ivy coated hotel and our day was pretty much done. 

For what it's worth if you stay at the hotel we did you can't expect much from the bar.  If you want a reasonably decent coffee go across the street. The gelato shop just north is also nice. 

About the Photos

Approaching Pico we passed my these rock formations. The ferry takes about 30 minutes to go between Pico and Faial. 

This dirt lane is lined with rose bushes and farm fields. The stroll down towards Madalena was mostly on lanes likely this

Faial, Azores - Walk 4: Volcanic Badlands at Capelinhos Cruzero to Varadouro

This is our first full day on Faial. Yesterday we caught the 09:00 ferry out of Velas and about two hours later arrived at the far more impressive pier in Horta. Horta is definitely a more active city than Sao Jorge.  While some buildings near the shore are in need of TLC many other places seem quite well kept. We found some nice little parks, a great pastry shop, and overall enjoyed our 3 miles of strolling. 

Today we tackled the so-called volcanic badlands walk. There is a higher elevation route but because we thought descents would be more modest we decided to do the lower option. 

The taxi dropped us off at a small market at Capelinhos Crusiero. The morning was bright and clear and we began our walk along a tarmac road uphill passing small white stucco homes.  We soon reached a dirt road and turned left. A waymarked trail appeared that we thought might go where we wanted but our directions didn't mention it. We climbed on.We are pretty sure that the marked trail on the left as we climbed from below is a new trail but our way also worked.  

Up we went. In time we found the grass and dirt trail that we would now descend. It was still a great morning and we had some fine vistas. 

Down we went. Nowhere near as steep as the descent of walk 2 or the kilometer of rock strewn path just above Ouvidor but you'll know you did it. It was, however, a pretty trail  through forest. But when we reached a forest road confusion returned. Between our maps, digital  and paper, we sorted ourselves out and continued down an increasingly overgrown 

 track to a paved road. It's at this point we think the higher route would go a different way. We eventually found a paved road and, at last, several kilometers into the hike, got a glimpse of the volcanic badlands. 

In 1957 the volcano Capelinhos began erupting. A large chunk of the island was affected and at least one major whaling station was buried by ash and abandoned. I didn't get a sense of how much damage was done but I believe it was substantial. Emigration to the USA, helped in large measure by JFK getting quotas greatly raised, soared. Today the area surrounding a large lighthouse looks like a lunar landscape though less filled with the black lava we saw on Lanzarote but instead is an all-covering gray ash. The visitor center is definitely worth a visit. 

But this quick look at the results of the 1957-58 volcanic eruptions was the end of the best parts of today's hike. Soon we were striding down a dirt road that provided a view now and then but was basically bland. 2km in a red and white lighthouse relieves the monotony but then you trod another 3.5km past a infrequent homes, dull views, and no shade. It's an easy walk into the village of Varadouro but since there isn't much there (a small swimming area and small cafe). 

In all, better to stop at the volcano visitor center and call for a taxi from there. 

About the Photos

Photo 1 , by Mom, is at the start of our climb. It's a fine  morning. 

Photo 2: We are descending a moderately steep stretch of trail. This grassy bit is just a pause, a gap, in the forested slope. Along the way we passed by a lava tube entrance and around a great dip in the land where trails went both ways around. 

Photo 3 , taken by Mom, shows the start of the bulk of the descent. The log steps would be replaced by dirt and rock trail. Far easier travel than what I found on walk 2. 

Photo 4  looks north north east towards the newest  land in the Azores. The 13-month eruptions of Capelihos created over 2 square kilometers of land. A lot of it has since eroded into the sea. 

Photo 5  shows what remains on f a whaling station. Whaling was still thriving in 1957 but the volcano buried this group of homes to the rooftops. 

Photo 6,, by Mom, is an abangonded house on the 5.5km street ch of dirt road that runs BA from the destroyed village below the Capelihos lighthouse (where the visitor center is) to the village of Varadouro. Another little ghthouse, this one still active, also is costs on the walk but unless you're a completing and must PhotoCard graph every lighthouse I'd skip this stretch ch of the walk. 

Phito  7 is a Cove where whalers launched their boats. It's shape didn't change after the 57-58 eruption. Today several ladders provide easy access to the sea for intrepid swimmers.