Monday, January 8, 2018

Atlantic Adventurer Cruise: Day 8, Ponta Delgada, Azores

Saturday, October 28, 2017
Day 8, Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island, Azores

Today we visited Ponta Delgada on the Island of Sao Miguel in the Azores.  Sao Miguel Island is the largest island of the Azores with a size of 290 square miles and a population of 140,000.  Ponta Delgada, where we are docked today, is the largest city and capital of the island and the Azores with a population of 45,000.

We have moved southeast of Faial to Sao Miguel Island which is at the far right of the map.
It was almost 8:00 AM, but it was still dark and overcast.

Today’s arrival time was 8:00 AM and we had a tour scheduled for 9:00 so we had to get up earlier than we have been.  When we arrived in port, the weather was cloudy, but seemed to be clearing up which was encouraging, but would later turn out to be a false hope.  The good thing was the temperature was mild so at least it wasn’t cold.  I went up on deck to watch as we docked and then we went ashore to meet our tour guide.

Our view of Ponta Delgada as we docked.
Our guide was Rui Medeiros who Val found on Trip Advisor and had very high ratings.  As we walked out of the terminal we found Rui waiting for us and we were quickly on our way.  Ponta Delgada is much larger than Horta, where we were yesterday and the tour terminal was also much larger.  Our first impression of Rui was very good as he was very nice and we liked him immediately.

He gave us a quick tour of the city, but said that since we had many things to see today he would give us a more extensive tour if time permitted at the end.  One of the advantages of a private tour is the ability to modify as the weather or our interest dictate and we benefited from that right from the start.  The first planned stop was a pineapple plantation which neither Val nor I were interested in so we skipped that.  We then headed for a viewpoint of the large caldera on the island, but Rui could see it was covered in clouds and we wouldn’t see anything so we postponed that stop.  We continued our drive around the island and it started to pour down rain; we were not off to a very good start.

Downtown Ponta Delgada

As we drove, we saw more of these old homes made of volcanic rock.
Once again, Rui adjusted our tour and we drove down into the caldera to visit the small town of Sete Cidades on the edge of twin lakes.  The rain had stopped by this time, so he gave us some time to walk around the town a bit.  We found it very interesting and took many pictures of the local architecture.  Being down in the caldera is interesting as it is a large area, but it is rimmed by steep cliffs which formed the volcano before it erupted.

The architectural styles were quite different than we were used to.

The town sat on the edge of one of the twin lakes at the bottom of the caldera.
After our walk around town, we drove across the bridge between the twin lakes and up to a viewpoint looking down at them from the top of the caldera.  Visibility was not very good, but as the clouds blew in and out we did get a look at the lakes and town from above.  Although you couldn’t see it in the fog, we knew from a ship lecture we had attended that one of the lakes was a deep blue and the other was green.  There is a legend as to how the lake was formed and the difference in color, but it is too long to recite here.  Here is a link to the legend and it is worth reading.

Not very clear, but you can see Sete Cidadesin the mist on the far shore to the right of the bridge.
We drove back down from the viewpoint and stopped on the bridge for some photos of the lakes from ground level and then continued on to our next stop on the west end of the island.

Val and Rui

Rui took us to the western most point on the island with a beautiful view of the coastline and surrounding area.  It was still cloudy, but there was no rain and we could see that it was breaking up a little so the weather was definitely improving.  We paid the price for the improving weather as the wind was blowing very hard.  Like Faial Island yesterday, we were amazed at how green and lush things were.  Last year we were in Ireland which is noted for being very green, but we thought that the Azores were equally green.  A very beautiful area.

The western most point on the island.  Beautiful views.

The wind was blowing very hard up here.

We left the west end of the island and drove up to another overview of the caldera, this time on the north end of the caldera looking down at the twin lakes.  It was clearer here, but the wind was blowing like a hurricane and you had to be careful not to be blown off the wall we were standing on.

Another viewpoint on the same caldera.  You can see Sete Cidades on the top right and the bridge we crossed at middle of the top.  That's the second lake beyond the bridge.

We continued our counterclockwise drive around the island and stopped at a viewpoint that was called “the elephant” and when you look at the picture of the rock formation below you can see why.  Another beautiful spot along the coast.

Elephant rock, you can see his trunk sticking down in the water.

Next, we stopped in the second largest city on the island, Rebeira Grande.  One thing we haven’t seen on the islands is rivers, but in Rebeira Grande we saw our first (and the only one on the island) river or stream as they call it.  It flows right through the center of town and out to the ocean.  We walked around town for a while and since we had time to eat lunch we decided to go to a store selling chocolate and have desert for our lunch.  We split a very large, very tasty piece of chocolate cake that filled us up for the rest of the day.

The only river

After walking around a little more, we met up with Rui and continued our tour.  Our next stop was the Gorreana tea plantation which held much more interest for Val than a pineapple plantation as she is an avid tea drinker.  There are two tea plantations on the island and they are the only ones in Europe.  The Gorreana Plantation is the oldest and has been in continuous operation since 1883 and run by the same family for five generations.  They even use some of the same original equipment and the other equipment is over eighty years old.  If it still does the job, why replace it?  Even though I’m not a tea drinker, I found our tour very interesting.  The area is beautiful with long hedges of tea plants surrounding the plantation building.  The harvesting season had just ended so the hedges had a very manicured look.

Some of the equipment they used dated back to the early 1900's.  I guess if it does the job, why change it.

The fields of tea had a manicured look after harvest.

As we drove around the island today, Rui played some Portuguese music which we liked.  He introduced us to Fado music which I guess you could roughly call the Portuguese equivalent of our blues music.  It is about the trials and heartbreaks of everyday life that people suffer through during their lifetime.  He also played us a CD by local guitarist, Rafael Carvalho who we really liked.  I always make a video using the photos and videos we've shot during our trips and Rafael's music sounded perfect for the Azores part of the video for this trip.  I asked Rui if he could stop somewhere so I could buy the CD so we made several stops, but no one had it as it was a new release.  Rui graciously sold me his copy and said he could get a new one later.  That was really nice and another reason that he was such a great tour guide.

It was getting late in the afternoon and our tour was almost over.  We made one more stop at a scenic overlook of the coast line and then back to Ponta Degada and our ship.

We had to be back to the ship by 4:30 and Rui got us back by 4:00 so we had plenty of time to spare.  Rui was a wonderful guide and our tour today was even better than yesterday's.  I would highly recommend Rui as a guide as he was very personable, friendly and allowed us a flexibility to direct our own tour per his suggestions.  If you ever go to the Azores and want to book a tour at a reasonable cost, go to this link for Rui’s website.

Today is our last stop in the Azores and we have found them to be nothing like we expected.  They are a beautiful lush area with a very friendly people, our guides were great and to make it even easier, English is spoken or at least understood by almost everyone.

After getting back on the ship I spent the rest of the afternoon downloading our pictures until it was time for dinner.  We did our usual trivia, dinner and casino routine, but tonight was unusual as I actually had some luck in the casino and left without having spent all of my daily allowance.  Tomorrow is a sea day so we can rest up from our two wonderful days in the Azores.

We say goodbye to the Azores as we sail away.

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