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

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