Cascada Condor Machay – Quito – Ecuador

In my efforts to do a little hiking while I’m staying put here in Quito, I headed out to Cascada Condor Machay this weekend with Laura and Mark.  I’d met them at my Saturday night language exchange group a few weeks before and, given the run of cloudy weather we’ve had recently, we decided to visit the waterfall rather than climbing a mountain for a probably less than spectacular view.

Being a little lazy and needing to get back to Quito by mid-afternoon, we caught a Cabify out to Selva Alegre, the town closest to the waterfall and where our instructions advised us to find a taxi to take us to the trail head.  Our helpful Cabify driver offered to take us, but it was clear that he had no idea where he was going, so we decided to find a local taxi driver instead.

Although there was plenty of roasted cuy (guinea pig) on offer in Selva Alegre, taxis were a little few and far between.  So we jumped in the first one that came along, agreed on $15 to take us to the falls (which is what our instructions said it should cost) and then did a few laps of Selva Alegre because our driver seemed to want us to tell him how to get there!   

With the help of Maps.Me, we finally headed off in the right direction, but not before patience was tested and stress levels had risen a little.

Taxi to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It didn’t help at all that our taxi driver seemed to not be “all there” … or he was on something.  I would have sworn he was drunk except that we could not smell alcohol on his breath…  He kept up a mumbled monologue (that was impossible to hear thanks to the rattling of the car) the entire 17km journey out to the falls … I have to admit it was a relief to arrive!   

However, our only real option to get back to Selva Alegre was to have him come back and pick us up at a pre-arranged time … so we would have to do this all over again later in the day 🙁

Having escaped the taxi and registered with the very lovely park ranger, we finally headed off towards the Condor Machay (El Nido de Cóndor in Spanish, Condor’s Nest in English) waterfall.   

It is a really simple, but incredibly beautiful walk along a very well maintained track that has several bridges that take you from one side of the Rio Pita to the other numerous times.  

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

You walk through damp forest for most of the way, accompanied by the continual sounds of birds and frogs (unfortunately we didn’t manage to actually see any).

The path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

The path is lined with enormous numbers of moss-covered trees, bromeliads, a surprisingly large amount of bamboo, as well as numerous other plants.

Plant life on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

There are occasional glimpses of another stream that seems to run through the mountain

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Amazing sheer walls covered in plants

Wall of plants on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

And, of course, several smaller waterfalls

Waterfalls on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

including this one that falls right beside the path.

Waterfall on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It took us about 1hr 45mins to walk out to the Cascada Condor Machay, but we were walking very slowly and taking lots of pictures along the way.  The initial view of the waterfall is amazing

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

and, at ~85m tall, it really is enormous!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

We got to enjoy the waterfall in peace for about 10 minutes before we were descended upon by about 150 secondary school children out on an excursion.  Some of them decided it would be a great idea to go fully-clothed into the plunge-pool below the waterfall and, well I guess peer-pressure is a terrible thing!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Couldn’t believe that the adults who accompanied the group actually let them do this because a) it wasn’t exactly warm and none of them had a change of clothes, and b) the force of the water coming over the fall would certainly drown a young person, and even an adult, if they happened to get too close and go under.

We put up with the squealing and shouting for about 1/2 hour while we ate a quick lunch, but then decided we’d had enough and started the walk back.  The return journey only took about an hour, and was nice and peaceful … until the kids caught up to us, given they were running back to the car park.  Yes – call me a cranky old woman … but I was after some tranquility, not the squeals of pre-teens/teenagers!

Our mad-as-a-hatter taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the car park, so back in the taxi for another monologue to accompany our trip back to Selva Alegre, and then the bus back to Quito


How to get there:

From the Playon La Marin terminal in Quito, take the bus to Sangolqui/Selva Alegre (50 cents).  Once there, find a taxi to take you the 17km to the trailhead.   It should cost a maximum of US$15 one way – though the meter in our taxi only showed $10 (unfortunately we’d agreed to $15 beforehand).  You are also going to have to get back to Selva Alegre afterwards, so unless you want to see how you go hitch-hiking (there were very few other people – apart from the schoolkids – there when we went on a Saturday), you should probably arrange for the driver to come back and pick you up at a specific time.   

There are other waterfalls you can hike to in the opposite direction from the same car park (though some involve river crossings – no bridges), so it is very easy to make a full day of it.


Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra – Quito

One of the best recommendations I can make is that if you are visiting a country for a while, join the expat Facebook group(s) associated with that country.

I have been a member of Discover Chile for several years now, and when I knew I was coming to Ecuador for an extended stay I joined the Ecuador Expats and Expats in Quito groups.  All three groups are very, very active, full of interesting information, and a regular source of inspiration for me about upcoming events etc.

Usually things tend to be announced last minute, and the one that grabbed my attention the other day was this announcement about the Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra playing The Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn in the Iglesia de la Compañia in a free concert.  It seems that any excuse for a free concert is a good one – and this one was put on to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol – the protocol designed to protect the Earth’s ozone layer from further depletion (remember when that was our major global concern?)

Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra - Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

No, it wasn’t the fact that the designer had merged a guitar and the Earth into a pretty nifty graphic on the poster.  But rather:

  • I LOVE listening to live orchestral music, but rarely get the opportunity because it is usually very expensive!  I only used to go see the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play their free concerts during summer for this reason.
  • Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture is one of my all-time favourite pieces of orchestral music (if you haven’t heard it, click on the link and turn the sound up loud!).  I was introduced to it when I was about 14 and studying music in high school, and have loved it ever since.  In fact, when I went to Scotland with some friends many years ago and we were in the Hebrides, I insisted that we had to go to Fingal’s Cave (the popular name for this piece of music).
  • While the UNESCO listed historic centre of Quito is full of amazing churches, if you only have time to visit one – it should be the Iglesia de la Compañia.  It is incredibly intricate inside and out!

Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

I got there an hour early to make sure I was close to the start of the line and I’d be able to get in (the fineprint on the poster says “free entry until seating is full”) and met Natalie – the only other Aussie expat I’ve met so far, a lover of classical music and clarinet player.   When they finally let us in 1/2-hour before the concert started, it seemed that everyone in front of me was reserving seats for others because although the seats were only 1/2-full, there was no room to sit!   So Natalie and I ended up standing 🙁 

But it was absolutely amazing!

I’ve always felt that the opening bars of the Overture immediately envelop you – not sure how else to describe it.  And when the orchestra started – I was wrapped in the sound and it was heaven!  This piece of music is incredible, and they played it extremely well.  My heart soared!

Unfortunately no pictures allowed during the performance (actually you aren’t allowed to take photos inside the church at all), but I did manage to take a quick one before it started.

Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra - Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

The other pieces in the concert were not really my thing, but to hear the Hebrides Overture played in such an amazing venue was priceless.

Marionette Theatre – Estulticia

Anyone who read my post about visiting the Puppet Workshop in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, knows that I’m completely enamored with puppetry of any kind.  It really doesn’t matter if it is just a sock puppet (I’ve made a few of those for bemused people) – I love the artistry and suspension of belief that necessarily accompanies them.

So having missed out on being able to attend a show at the Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theatre in Tbilisi, Georgia (all the shows were sold out!), and again at the Yerevan State Puppet Theatre in Yerevan, Armenia (the night I was there they didn’t have a puppet show on), I was first in line at the Teatro Variedades Ernesto Albán in Quito to see Estulticia.

estuticia - marionette theatre - Quito - Ecuador

It was a very small and intimate production (there were only seats for about 50 people), with a single scene and Estulticia (a life-size marionette) as the only character.  But it was amazing!

It portrayed a short scene from the life of an old, alcoholic lady who is shut up in a dark room filled with memories.  Her only company is the radio, and a portrait of her beloved son, Ramondito.   It was incredibly sad, showing the isolation of the old woman and the mental decay that such isolation encourages, but was cleverly scripted to include funny lines to lighten the mood ever so slightly.

After a few moments you completely forgot that there was a person controlling this character – such was the power of the careful lighting, and the voice-acting and skill of the puppeteer.

Unfortunately no photos allowed during the 15 minute performance, but they came to greet the audience afterwards.

estuticia - marionette theatre - Quito - Ecuador

Here is Estulticia with her puppeteer and the puppeteer’s mentor 🙂

estuticia - marionette theatre - Quito - Ecuador

Oh how I love puppets 🙂

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





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!   


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:


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!


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


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!


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.


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.  


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!

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!

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