Monthly Archives: August 2017

Fiesta da la Luz – Quito – Ecuador

I arrived in Quito on the Independence Day holiday – commemorating Ecuador’s departure from Greater Colombia on August 10, 1830.  As part of the festivities around this, and also as part of the “Summer of Arts” in the city, several of the most important buildings in the Historical Centre of Quito were lit up in the “Fiesta de la Luz” (Festival of Light).  It is only the second year it has run, and boy is it popular!

I joined what seemed to be all 1.6 million Quiteños on the Saturday night to enjoy the spectacle – but have to admit was quite overwhelmed by the size of the crowd!  There is a very specific route that you must walk – one way only in some areas – which meant that it got even more crowded than this!

 

I set out from where I am staying (it was right on the route), and followed the crowd to the installation at La Merced.  Here I encountered the worst of the crowding (we were like sardines!), as the ~5-minute light show on the side of the church formed a bottleneck as everyone stopped to watch.

Fiesta de la Luz - Quito - Ecuador

Things were slightly less crowded at Plaza Grande, which was more of a static display on slow rotation.  Love the stick figures!

Fiesta de la Luz - Quito - Ecuador

Then it was on to the Plaza del Teatro and my favourite installation.  This too was a ~5 minute show with amazing visuals that really showcased the architectural features of the building, all set to incredible music!

 

Then finally I headed back to the apartment past the Basílica del Voto Nacionalwhich was very colourful in its static light show.  Again, the crowd was enormous so I didn’t join the queue that started 7 blocks away to actually enter the courtyard (!), but it was equally impressive from the street outside the gates.

Fiesta de la Luz - Quito - Ecuador

Love that they had religious music to go with it 🙂

 

Picked up a pincho (chicken, chorizo and potato BBQed on a skewer) from a street vendor along the way and then retreated to escape the crowds!

street vendor selling pinchos - Quito - Ecuador

There were 4 other sites that I didn’t get to see, but it really was incredibly crowded and almost impossible to move at times.   I sampled enough to get the feeling for the very cool idea, which is a collaboration with the French government and particularly the city of Lyon.

Fiesta de la Luz crowds - Quito - Ecuador

 

 

 

 

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Why I’ve stopped traveling for a while

It was always the plan this year that when I arrived in Ecuador, I would stop traveling for a while.  “Why?”  you may ask, given I have the resources to keep going. 

There are a couple of reasons related directly to me:

  1. I haven’t had any income for over a year and I need to do something about that so that I can continue to have the resources to travel.  Unfortunately, my bank account is not infinitely deep 🙁 
  2. Even though I don’t travel very quickly and tend to spend at least a week in each place, last year I found that I got tired after about 3 months of moving around.  I really needed to stop and recharge, and for this reason I ended up hanging out in an Antigua, Guatemala for 3 weeks mid-year, and Santiago, Chile for a month at the end of the year.

But there is another reason as well that applies more broadly.

Mark Manson is one of my 2 favourite bloggers (the other is Tim Urban who writes Wait but Why).   He makes a point at around minute 41:45 of this podcast with Lewis Howes that absolutely resonates with what I’ve grown to feel/realise over the past 1.5 years.

“Overcoming problems is the engine that generates happiness … When you remove problems, it creates its own special kind of misery… You need the problems because that’s what generates the meaning.  If you don’t have the meaning, then everything else feels pointless”

My biggest “problems” for the past 1.5 years have been deciding what to eat, where to sleep, what to do the next day, and how to get from A to B.   And although I’m definitely not miserable (I’m actually incredibly happy with the life I’m leading), it really has started to feel as if there is something missing.   I have started to feel useless, which is actually very unpleasant.

Hence the break.  To establish myself as a freelancer and find work where I feel I am contributing again. 

In her Ted Talk about the 4 Pillars of Happiness, Emily Esfahani Smith also talks about how important belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling are to happiness.  From my own experiences – I absolutely concur – though the pillars manifest in different strengths depending on your circumstances.  If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to take 12 minutes to watch!   

 

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Eat Portugal – Part 2

Back in January, I ate my way through many of the Portuguese treats on offer in Porto whilst visiting my friends for a week.   Well, 6 months later I was back.  And having just stretched my stomach enormously by trying as much of the typical food in the Azores as possible, there was more to try on the mainland as well!

More Porto food

I arrived in Porto to be greeted with a box of my absolute favourite Portuguese treats – Jesuitas from the Confeitaria e Pastelaria Moura.

Then, a few hours later, it was off to the seaside for a delicious feed of grilled Sardines – very Portuguese – and one of my absolute favourite dishes!

Sardines - Porto - Portugal

First of all though, as a starter, I tried Mílharas – a large plate of fish eggs.  These were delicious but there was a heck of a lot of them!  I think you are meant to share…

Mílharas - Porto - Portugal

Fish eggs

I also horrified my friends and the waitress by ordering hot milk with the meal (something I re-discovered last year in La Palma, El Salvador).  Well, I felt like something warm and didn’t feel like tea or coffee, and when you don’t drink alcohol – there is a rather limited selection!

Other bits and pieces I managed to try while I was in Porto this time:

Limonetes

Need I say, more sugar and eggs brought together in another great Portuguese pastry. Apparently some prefer the Limonetes to the Jesuitas, but the Jesuitas still win for me.

Limonete - Portuguese Treat - Portugal

The Limonete was good – but the Jesuita is still the best!

Farturas

These are very much like the spanish Churros but, in my opinion, even better because they are fluffier!   Fried dough + sugar + cinnamon – you can’t go wrong with this combo!

Farturas - Portuguese Treat - Portugal

The Fartura is the fatter one poking out on the right. Compare with the Churro that you can just see on the left – the vendor gave it to me as a bonus.

Natas from Manteigaria

Yes, I ate a lot of Natas last time I was in Portugal (my second-favourite pastry after Jesuitas), but the ones from Manteigaria are special.  Apparently the pastry is made with even more butter!

Natas from Manteigaria - Portuguese treat

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro

Translated, this is “roasted cod with punched potatoes”, and it is made with lots of garlic and olive oil.  Pedro’s mum made this very traditional and amazing dish for me, and followed it up with a beautiful dessert of a queijada and fresh fruit.  Million thanks for the lunch – it was wonderful to meet you guys!

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro - Portugal

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro for main. Queijada and fresh fruit for dessert!

Sandes de Pernil

Basically a pork sandwich made with sandes de lombo assado (the bread) and pork thigh.  We (well, Raúl did – Pedro and I went and grabbed a table) lined up at Casa Guedes – a very traditional tasca (tavern) for 1/2 hour to order this very tasty quick bite.

Icecream from Gelataria Portuense

If you’ve been following along for a while, you know that I’m a mad icecream fan.  In January, we were supposed to visit the Gelataria Portuense for what was touted as the best icecream in Porto – but it was closed for renovations.  Needless to say, we rectified that situation this trip, and I can definitely say it is some of the best icecream I’ve ever had!  Very smooth, and you can’t go wrong no matter which flavour you choose!

Amazing Icecream at Gelataria Portuense - Porto - Portugal

Regueifa com manteiga and Galão

For my final breakfast in Porto this trip, Pedro, Raúl and I headed downstairs to partake in this very traditional Sunday-morning special.  Yes – it is bread and butter, with coffee served in a glass rather than a cup 🙂

Regueifa com manteiga and Galão

Thanks guys for yet another awesome time in Porto!  Let’s see what you can find to feed me next trip 😉

Great friends at breakfast in Porto - Portugal

Me, Pedro and Raúl having Regueifa com manteiga and Galão for breakfast

Food from the Algarve

After leaving Porto, I headed down on the train to the other end of Portugal.  This was my first trip to the Algarve region – Portugal’s “summer playground” – where my friend, José, and his family were spending 3 weeks on vacation.  

Jose's family and me

I was only there for 3 days, and we mostly ate at home (still loving the grilled sardines!), but there was definitely time to try a few things 🙂

Sopa do Mar

We went out to a very specific restaurant, Restaurante Ideal in Cabanas, to have their famous Sopa do Mar.  This is a slightly spicy and very tasty seafood soup served in a bread bowl.  In an effort to eat enough but not too much (already a bit of a lost cause by this time) I scraped the insides of the bowl to add bread to the soup and only dunked the top in.  Delicious!

Sopa do Mar - Algarve - Portugal

Doce de Vinagre

Though of course, you can’t just have a main course, and after the soup I couldn’t resist trying the Doce de Vinagre – “Vinegar Sweet”.   After all, it sounded intriguing … how do those things go together at all?   Turns out it doesn’t taste like vinegar at all, as one might suspect.  Instead – it is yet another take on a milk + egg yolk + sugar confection, where the vinegar is just used to curdle the milk into clumps. 

Doce de Vinagre - Algarve - Portugal

Tigelada

More milk+sugar+egg yolks.  More deliciousness!

Tigelada - Algarve - Portugal

Dom Rodrigos

Finally, I bought one of the most traditional pastries from the Algarve region to take with me on the flight to Madrid.  Dom Rodrigos come wrapped in brightly coloured metallic paper and are a concoction of egg yolks+sugar (no surprises there) but also almonds, which are very typical of the region.

Dom Rodrigos - Algarve - Portugal

And so ends my latest foray into Portuguese food!  Like last time, I reckon I put on at least 1kg during my couple of weeks there, but everything is so tasty and my friends are total enablers 😉  

Thanks guys!  I’ll be back!

 

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Salinas de Castro Marim – Algarve – Portugal

This trip to Portugal, I spent 3 days hanging out with José and his family in Vila Real de Santo António, right on the border with Spain in the Algarve region.  During these days, we managed to fit in some beach time:

Beach - Algarve - Portugal

Some eating (of course):

Algarve dining experiences - Portugal

A trip to the lighthouse (all Portuguese lighthouses are open to the public each Wednesday during Summer):

Vila Real de Santo António lighthouse - Algarve - Portugal

The lighthouse, and the views from the top – Vila Real and the forest that separates the town from the sea.

and a trip to the Salinas de Castro Marim – a salt mine and very different kind of day spa just outside of town.  

This was a great morning excursion that started out with a guided tour of the traditional salt mining operation.   As we toured the Travadouros (water reservoirs used for initial settling and evaporation) and Talhos (crystalliser ponds for depositing and harvesting the salt), we learned an enormous amount about the production of salt.  

In particular:

In this traditional method of mining salt, everything is done by hand.  This means that the collected salt is already pure and there is no need for the bleaching or other chemical processes (which destroy much of the mineral content of the salt) that are utilised in commercial salt production.  The size of the Talhos is such that the marnoto (salt worker) is able to easily harvest the salt from the surrounding barachas (dividing walls) without contaminating the water.

Marnoto harvesting salt - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

There are two different types of salt: normal crystalline salt and Flor de Sal – laminar salt crystals which form on the surface of the water.   Flor de Sal is much rarer as it only produced through traditional mining methods (and even then constitutes only 5% of the mine’s salt production), and is therefore much more expensive.

Salt production - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Crystalline salt around the edges, Flor de Sal floating on top of the water

Flor de Sal is harvested every day before it settles to the bottom of the Talho with a mesh coador.  The unbroken crystals are placed in the plastic crates that are scattered around the works to dry.

Flor de sal - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

This mine has a production of around 600 tons of sea salt and 30 tons of Flor de Sal each year.

Salt production - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Salt has been mined in the Algarve region for centuries and has seen the Greeks, Celts and Romans come and go.  During the last century, salt mining in the area was strongly tied to the fish conserving and canning industry, so when that all but came to a stop in the late 1970s, so too did salt production.   Most of the salt mines were abandoned in the 1980s, but one of the Rosa family couldn’t bear to see the family heritage destroyed, and continued to flood this land to keep it “activated”.  Pretty cool huh?!

The guide was actually very talkative and gave us an enormous amount of information that goes way beyond the above.  But I leave it to you to visit and find out the rest for yourself 😉

After the tour, it was time to check out the newest addition to the mining operation … a spa experience!  We nabbed a place under the shade of the very cool bar/cafe area that has been set up to serve drinks and light snacks, and headed into the two pools that have been set aside for bathing.

Salt spa - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Like floating in the Dead Sea. Note that most people have slathered themselves in the mineral-rich mud that can be found in the bottom of the pools

The salt concentration in these two pools is around 250 grams/litre (sea salt is ~35 grams/litre), which makes it a very similar experience to floating in the Dead Sea.  It was great fun to revisit that experience from more than 10 years ago, as it does feel very strange to not be able to sink!  

The bottom of both pools are full of mineral-enriched mud, which you are more than welcome to slather on and let dry like a mud-mask as part of the spa experience.  People pay massive amounts of money to do this in normal spas – here you can indulge as much as you want!  They also offer massages, meditation and yoga if you are so inclined and book in advance.

All in all – a very cool experience, and not one that you would expect in the beach-focused Algarve region.

 

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Did I get a tattoo in Portugal?

Never in my life had I ever considered getting a tattoo.  I didn’t like the look of them, and I couldn’t conceive of why you would want something permanently engraved on your skin.  I certainly couldn’t come up with something that I would want permanently etched into me anyway.

That is, until I arrived in the Azores with Pedro and we were talking about the new tattoo he was going to get.  I actually really liked the one he got in Nicaragua last year of Pepe – the macaw he rescued whilst he was there – and loved that it had so much significance for him.   This new tattoo was also incredibly meaningful for him – an image of Leo, the ocelot he also cared for whilst at La Mariposa Spanish School in Nicaragua. 

Now, anyone who has ever met me and talked to me for a while knows how much La Silla Observatory (where I used to work in Chile) means to me.   Certainly Pedro has heard me talk about it ad nauseum, and when I mentioned that I was thinking about buying a “Wanderer Bracelet” with the coordinates of La Silla, he came out with the following poetry:

“You already have La Silla tattooed in your heart and mind, why not have it tattooed on your skin?”

And in that moment, the seed of the idea was planted.

We talked about it often over the next few days, I looked up different options for the design and placement on the body, and, I have to admit, the idea really grew on me.  To the point where I submitted what I wanted to Manel – the tattoo artist – to prepare.

Fast-forward to the next week in Porto, and I went with Pedro to get his tattoo done and discuss the possibility of mine.  Having never had any interest in tattoos, it was really interesting to watch the the whole process.

First of all, the final design (which has been decided between the artist and client) is transferred to a stencil.

tracing the design for transfer to the skin

Next, the area is shaved and the image transferred to the skin.

transferring the tattoo design

Then the needles are prepared.  They come sealed in individual packages, and different sizes are used depending on what is required for the image.  Manel was extremely conscious about hygiene throughout the whole process – I lost count the number of times he changed rubber gloves!

preparing the needles for the tattoo

Then there is the actual tattooing.  

tattooing

Manel used one of the newer guns that didn’t make anywhere near as much noise as the traditional ones (he demonstrated a traditional one for me and I think that would have put me off right there) – and Leo came into being, with only the occasional grimace/face-pulling by Pedro.

tattooing and the final image

So, did I get a tattoo?

my tattoo - the coordinates of La Silla Observatory

After this photo was taken, Manel slathered on some cream and wrapped my forearm in glad-wrap, which had to stay on for a couple of hours.  Here’s Raúl and I out on the town afterwards with me still wrapped up (love this photo!  Thanks Pedro 🙂 ). 

Out and about in Porto with Raúl - arm still wrapped up from tattoo

And did it hurt?  

Nowhere near as much as I expected! In fact there were only a couple of moments where it “bit” a little (that’s what it felt like), though admittedly it was only a very small tattoo.

And do I regret it?

Not at all!  🙂  Sorry mum and dad!

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Eat the Azores!

For the second time this year I found myself visiting my friends in Portugal and eating waaaaaaaay too much food!  This trip I added a few more Porto dishes some others from the Algarve, but this post focuses on the food of the Azores, where I spent 5 days exploring the largest island – São Miguel.

For those unfamiliar with Portuguese autonomous territories, the Azores are a series of 9 volcanic islands located between Europe and North America.  Given that they are separated from Portugal by over 1,000km, they have their own unique dishes, and my friends Pedro and Conceição were determined to have me try as much typical Azorian food as possible during my short stay! 

It all started with a drink that can only be found on the islands – Kima.  A masterpiece of slightly fizzy, sweet passionfruit juice (those who know me well know that I love anything with passionfruit) that the wasps loved as much as I did!   Much better than Passiona!

Kima - Azores - Portugal

Then some Bolos Lêvedo when we got home from the hot springs at 11pm on the first night (and every breakfast thereafter)! 

Bolo Lêvedo in Conceição's kitchen

Photo: Pedro Torres

These are like English Muffins, but sweet, and absolutely awesome with butter.  Very, very addictive!

The next morning started with a Queijada de Vila Franca Do Campo, yet another concoction of egg yolks, sugar and milk dreamed up by the nuns in the 16th century, for morning tea.   This queijada is traditional to the island of São Miguel and there is a similar one – Queijada da Graciosa – which, no surprises, comes from a different island in the archipelago: Graciosa.   It was yummy (of course), but not as tasty as some of the other treats I’ve tried in Portugal (the Jesuita is still my favourite).

Queijada de Vila Franca Do Campo - Azores - Portugal

Had to hang out until 2pm for lunch, when we had a booking at Tony’s Restaurant in Furnas for me to try one of the absolutely essential foods of São Miguel – the Cozido das Furnas.  This is basically a dry stew that has been cooked for several hours in a volcanic fumerole near the town.  You must pre-order it, as the restaurants need to know how many of the large metal pots of layered chicken, beef, pork, blood sausage, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and yams they need to prepare, and then get them out to the Caldeiras da Lagoa da Furnas early in the day for cooking.

Cooking the Cozido de Furnas - Azores - Portugal

Each hole can fit two of the pots and is labeled with either the name of the restaurant, or a number (locals can also bring their Cozidos here to cook) so there is no confusion as to who owns which dish!  We were fortunate enough to see one local couple bring their food to cook, and the process of burying it.

Cooking the Cozido de Furnas - Azores - Portugal

Back at Tony’s, we started (after 48 minutes of waiting!) with the usual fresh cheese, bread and Molho de Pimenta da Terra  – Azorian spicy sauce.

Fresh cheese, bread and spicy sauce from the Azores - Portugal

And then a few minutes later, out came the Cozido.  It was absolutely enormous (this was a plate for 1 person) and piled high with meat, veggies and rice.

Cozido de Furnas - Azores - Portugal

This was a plate for 1 person!

I didn’t touch the rice, ate about 1/3 of the veggies and couldn’t quite make it through all the melt-in-your-mouth, falling-apart meat.  And even with that, I’d eaten about 4 times as much as I should have.   Oh my stretched stomach!!  

There is a very distinct flavour to the Cozido that you would be hard-pressed to identify if you didn’t know how it was cooked.  Definitely a tinge of sulfur present there…  I wonder why they don’t do this in Rotorua, New Zealand?

And although I was over-full from the Cozido, there always has to be room for dessert.  We ordered the passionfruit and the red bean dessert, but they bought us a bonus pineapple dessert for taking so long to get our cheese and bread to us at the beginning of the meal.  All incredibly delicious, but oh my over-stretched stomach!!

So much desert - Azores - Portugal

Fortunately, that was all the eating involved on Day 2, though I never really recovered for the rest of my time in Portugal 🙂  It didn’t stop me from trying things though – after all – how often does one make it to the Azores?

The next of the typical Azorian dishes I had to try was the Chicharro – fried Atlantic Horse Mackerel with Molho de Vilão (another special sauce).  I have to admit, of all the things I tried in the Azores, this was my absolute favourite!  You really can’t go wrong with fried fish and this was super-super tasty, especially when dipped in the sauce.  Didn’t go much on the pickled onions though…

Chicharro - fried mackerel - Azores - Portugal

Favourite dish – Chicharros at the Restaurante Costaneira in Ribeira Quente

Then, when we got home on Day 3, Conceição had bought some Chorizo paste for us to have as part of a light dinner.   This is a brilliant concept and one I hadn’t come across before.  Basically, you take a chorizo, remove the meat from the casing, and puree it with butter.  Voilà!  Chorizo paste.  We had it with a few different types of bread (the darker one is Massa Sovada – a sweet bread from the Azores), fresh cheese and the spicy Azorian sauce.

Fresh cheese, chorizo paste and bread - Azores - Portugal

Day 4 saw us in Ponta Delgada (the administrative capital of the Azores) for lunch, where I could try 2 of the remaining “key” Azorian dishes.   I started with a 1/2 serving of Lapas – limpets cooked in a garlic, butter and red pepper sauce.  These were a little like mussels, but much milder in flavour.

Lapas - Limpets - Azores - Portugal

I followed this up with the Morcela con Ananas – blood sausage with pineapple.  I’ve eaten blood sausage many times before and really like it – and the pineapple (lots of pineapple grown in the Azores) helps to cut through the richness nicely.

Morcela con Ananas - Blood sausage with pineapple - Azores - Portugal

The Azores are also known for their dairy products (they have very happy cows) so, of course, I had to try a local icecream or frozen yoghurt.   I went with the frozen yoghurt when we stopped at a cafe for a coffee.  Turns out chocolate goes much better with icecream than yoghurt!

Frozen Yoghurt with everything chocolate from the Azores - Portugal

Finally, I did manage to find a treat to rival my beloved Jesuitas!   The orange queijada at Chá Gorreana is a small parcel of moist, orangey deliciousness that is one of the best “cakes” I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Forget the tea!  This is the reason enough to visit the tea plantation 🙂

Queijadas and tea - Azores - Portugal

The one key dish I missed from São Miguel was the steak – purported to the the best in the world (though I’m sure many other countries would argue this point).  I just didn’t have enough time or stomach space to fit it in … so maybe there is another trip to the Azores in the future!

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São Miguel Island – Part 2 – Azores – Portugal

Continuing on from my first 3 days of exploring São Miguel Island…

On Day 4 it was time to explore one of the two tea plantations on the island.  We were going to visit the Porto Formoso tea factory for a change of scenery for Pedro (he’d visited the other one previously), but it was closed on Sundays.   So we went to the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana (the oldest tea plantation in Europe) instead.

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

They started growing tea in the Azores after the orange orchards were decimated by a disease in the late 1800’s.  The tea industry was of great commercial importance in the Azores up until WWI, when many of the tea factories closed.  Then, with the emergence of African teas, all the remaining factories – with the exception of the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana – folded.

We started out by walking through the display of machinery they have (unfortunately not a lot of explanation)

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

and discovered the difference between the 3 types of black tea they produce here.  Turns out that Orange Pekoe has the strongest flavour and is made with only the first leaf of the plant, Pekoe is made with the second leaf, and Broken Leaf (mildest flavour) is made with the third leaf.

Buying tea at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

I bought the green tea and the Orange Pekoe. Photo: Pedro Torres

There is free tea tasting at the factory (you can also try the green tea they produce) and they made the best queijada I ate during my whole visit.  If you are there – do try the orange queijada – it is incredible!

After our little snack (and trying to avoid buying more of the orange queijadas “to go”), we went for a stroll through the tea plantation itself.  You really could be in Asia right?  Would have been great to have a tour actually – to learn more about the how the leaves are processed into tea.

Tea plantation at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

From there we continued our drive around the Eastern side of the island, which had some beautiful towns with very typical architecture – black volcanic rock used as decoration on whitewashed buildings,

Typical architecture - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

amazing views

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego viewpoint - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

More hydrangeas! They are everywhere on São Miguel

and delicious food!

Chicharros - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

My favourite dish of the whole trip – Chicharros at Restaurante Costaneira in Ribeira Quente. Photo: Pedro Torres

We ended the day again at another swimming spot – this time the Ponta da Ferraria.  The fascinating thing about this spot is that the water is actually geothermally heated!  On hearing this, I have to admit I was expecting temperatures akin to those found in the hot springs, so you can imagine my shock when it turned out to be only slightly warmer than the temperature of the ocean normally.  OK, admittedly it was high tide so the warm water was being overwhelmed by the cold ocean water (they tell me that at low tide it is so hot that sometimes you can’t enter at all).  And I did manage to find some “mostly warm spots” to hang out in.  Interesting experience!

Ponta da Ferraria - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 5 we headed out again into the classic vistas of São Miguel – happy cows, hydrangeas delineating fields and lining the side of the road, and verdant green hills. 

Typical vistas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We got a more moody vista this time of Lagoa do Fogo on our way to the Caldeira Velha hot springs.

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Lagoa do Fogo in the fog

We didn’t actually go in for a dip at the hot springs here, but just checked out the nature surrounding them.   Essentially – Australian Tree Ferns, Australian Blackwood and Australian Cheesewood trees!  I felt right at home 🙂

Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And I have to put this photo in because I love it so much.  Me trying to take a decent selfie of myself (I still don’t have the knack!)

Selfie time at Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Our plan was to do the 7.5km Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito hike, but we ended up not finding the start point and just ending up at Salto do Cabrito itself.   Oh well.

We walked down an enormously steep hill to arrive at the river below the falls and followed the sign to a mineral water spring.  It was a beautiful spot.

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We refilled our bottles from what I assumed was a still-water spring, so imagine my surprise when I took the first sip and realised that it was sparkling water!   Yes – fizzy water straight out of the ground!  How does that even happen naturally?   And it was different to the normal carbonated water that you buy, somehow it was “softer” – kind of like the sensation you get with sherbet on your tongue.  It was strange but awesome!

Mineral Water Spring at Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We checked out the “Little Goat Waterfall”, which was in itself quite pretty, but unfortunately located right beside a rather noisy hydroelectric plant … “Ah the serenity”!

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And then hiked to the top of the waterfall up a lot of stairs and along a metal walkway which would definitely not meet OH&S requirements in Australia.  Note in the picture below that there is no handrail on the right hand side of the walkway.  While this is fine in this part where it is pretty much flush against a rock wall, there were other (quite elevated) parts where it was just a sheer drop into the abyss!

Walkway above the falls Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We finished the day at my favourite of all the beaches we visited – Praia do Moinhos (it is also Pedro’s favourite).  This beach had waves, wasn’t too crowded and, I don’t know, just was very relaxing and nice.

Praia do Moinhos - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

Day 6 was our to return to Porto.  We had just enough time for a short walk in front of Conceição’s amazing home

Conceição's house - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição’s amazing home where we stayed. Middle image is the view from my bedroom window!

before boarding our Ryanair flight at lunchtime.

Flying over São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Million thanks to Conceição and Laguita (her gorgeous puppy)!  I had a fantastic time and it was wonderful to get to know you both 🙂

Conceição, me, Pedro - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição, me, Pedro and Laguita. Photo: Pedro Torres

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São Miguel Island – Part 1 – Azores – Portugal

Given that I’d spent several days in Porto on my last trip to Portugal earlier in the year, Pedro decided that we should head further afield and spend some time with a friend of his on São Miguel Island in the Azores. Located between Europe and North America, São Miguel is the largest of the 9 volcanic islands making up the Azores, one of the Portuguese autonomous territories.

When you think of an Island holiday – you expect amazing beaches and incredible weather.   Well, the beaches were amazing, but we were greeted on our first evening with fog and rain.

Great weather - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Of course this didn’t stop us from heading out to visit the first of many hot springs on the island.  The Poça da Dona Beija has 4 hot pools (~38 degrees – heaven!) and one colder (but still not cold) plunge pool set within in a beautifully landscaped area.   Wonderful way to spend the evening!

Poça da Dona Beija - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 2, our first stop was the Reserva Natural do Ilhéu – a mostly submerged volcanic crater just off the coast from Vila Franco do Campo.  

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu as seen from Vila Franco do Campo

We had originally planned to kayak out, but the wind had picked up and it was going to be very tough going, so we caught the boat instead.  Beautiful place to swim and relax with amazing views!

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We then headed to Furnas so that I could try one of São Miguel’s most typical dishes – the Cozido – and then onto the gardens and thermal pool (yay for hot water!) of Parque Terra Nostra.  Unfortunately, given how late we arrived, we had very little time to explore the gardens, and yes, the water really is the colour of rust due to the high iron content!

Parque Terra Nostra - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photos: Pedro Torres

Like Melbourne, São Miguel suffers from 4 seasons in 1 day, though it is generally said that if there is cloudy/crap weather on one side of the island, just drive to the other side (~12km away) and it will be fine.   Quite often though in the late afternoon, all the peaks are covered in cloud.  On this day, it was beautifully clear, so we drove home via the high road for some awesome views over the crater lake: Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

A few minutes after this, the fog started rolling in over the hills

Day 3 on São Miguel saw us doing the wonderful ~12km Mata do Canário – Sete Cidades hike.  But first of all we stopped off at the very famous Vista do Rei viewpoint for the classic view of the island that you see on every postcard.

Vista do Rei - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

The hike we were about to embark on started off to the right of the above image and basically followed the rim of the crater all the way around to Sete Cidades, the town that you can see on the left.

I was extra-excited because one of the first things we saw along the route was an old aqueduct.  Yes another of the things in this world that enchant me for no obvious reason are aqueducts.  I find them fascinating and beautiful, and this one was no exception!

Aqueduct - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Oh how I love aqueducts! This one is called the “Nine windows wall” for obvious reasons

The views all the way around the hike were absolutely gorgeous, and really showcase just how green and blue the colour palate of the island is when the sun is out (quite the contrast to Greenland, where I’d spent the previous 5 weeks!).

Mata do Canário - Sete Cidades hike - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We arrived in Sete Cidades after a very enjoyable few hours of walking, and sat down for a coffee before trying to figure out how we were going to get back to the car.  Yes, the only problem with this hike is that it is a linear one – which means you end up a looooooong way from where you started, and to get back to your car, it is all up a very, very steep hill.

Our plan was to hitchhike (something I’d never done before), and it was beginning to look a little grim, as the first 1/2-dozen people drove right past us as we walked along the road.   We’d just gotten to the last of the flat bit when, fortunately, a local lady and her daughter pulled over and gave us a lift all the way back to our car.  A million thank yous to these lovely ladies!!

We drove a little further along the road so I could gawk at another part of the aqueduct

Aqueduct - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Did I mention how much I love aqueducts?

and to visit a place Conceição (Pedro’s friend who we were staying with) recommended to us –  Lagoas das Empadadas

Lagoas das Empadadas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

This area has two lovely, peaceful lakes surrounded by a forest of Criptoméria  (Japanese Cedar) trees, and the the Miradouro do Pico do Paul for some of the best views of the island. 

Miradouro do Pico do Paul - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Amazing view of the island

We finished off the day at the Praia do Pópulo beach.  Yes – I did go in the water (it happens occasionally), but not for long … while it may not be as cold as the water in Porto, I wouldn’t say it was warm!   We also figured out that the last time I was at a beach was last March! Poneloya in Nicaragua … with Pedro!

Praia do Pópulo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Yes, I do occasionally go to the beach! Mostly with Pedro it would seem… Photo: Pedro Torres

Continued in Part 2.

 

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