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. 

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