I'm not generally the easiest person to wake up in the morning, but on port days on cruises, I'm up before the old people. It helps to have free access to the best alarm clock invented-- free scheduled room service. Such was the case today, when our ship stopped in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores. I've wanted to go to the Azores for years, ever since a guy named Eric Bomblatus, whose family is from there, told us about how beautiful it was. Sometimes all it takes is planting that seed.
At eight a.m. sharp we were off the boat and walking down the cool sunny streets of the city. I remarked that I wished I had a motorcycle to explore the island with. Ten minutes later we passed a motorcycle rental place. Prices were checked, found to be reasonable, and a plan practically wrote itself.
Between the five of us (Todd, Ben, Carl, Christophe, and me) we rented every motorized vehicle they had left. We got a 650cc motorcycle, a 125cc motorcycle, two quads, and a 125cc scooter. A mother-daughter duo we had befriended on the ship stopped to say hi, and were added to our party as passengers. Driving down the street, we looked like a post-apocalyptic gang.
Our first stop was Lagoa do Fogo, an area near an old volcanic crater with beautiful views, a huge lake, and hot springs. The drive to Lagoa do Fogo was an adventure in of itself, consisting of a winding road up and down the mountain, with no shortage of hairpin turns. It was my first experience riding twisty roads on a motorcycle, and I now understand why people are so obsessed with it.
The hot springs were the highlight, of course. Lukewarm water on a cool day isn't exactly what we were hoping for, but the scenery around the pool made up for the low temperature. A cliff stood above the pool, dumping two huge waterfalls of warm water onto the rocks (and, for a time, our heads), and all around us were the signature flora of the Azores: weird jungly trees.
Ben and I decided to try to make it to the top of the waterfall, which, once accomplished, led us to try to climb further upstream, over and over until we reached the source of the spring. Each step of the way was slightly warmer and significantly more sulfurous smelling. When we'd gotten our fill of climbing through the jungle in our skivvies (and nearly sliding to our deaths, if we want to be comprehensive), we mounted our sweet bikes and moved on.
The rule the rental guy gave us was to always drive on the coast. He suggested this because the quads aren't allowed on the highway, but a side benefit was the scenery we blasted through. Mountain roads gave way to small seaside towns and impossibly bright green fields as we made our way to our next stop: the volcano crater / lake in the northwest of the island.
We had initially only planned on going to Lagoa do Fogo, but the rental guy insisted that this lake was even more magnificent. Standing on a retaining wall hundreds of feet above the lake, on the rim of the now-extinct volcano, we all had to agree with him. One side of the lake looked like 18th century England (or the approximation of it that's been embedded in my mind through movies), with neatly parceled off farms bordering the lake. Across from it was a small town made of up entirely white buildings, which looked straight out of Portugal. Nearest us, the almost-vertical cliffs, somehow densely covered in trees, reminded me of the islands of Thailand which jut out of the sea.
The ride back to return the vehicles was enjoyable and uneventful save for one small shortcut on a gravel road. The bikes were dual-sport bikes, which bridge the gap between motorcycles and dirt bikes, but mine was equipped with street tires. I only rarely left first gear, but even so, I slipped and slid around on the uneven gravel the whole time. Luckily the road wasn't long enough to provide me with what would have been an inevitable spill.
After finally relinquishing our mounts, we all had the same thought: that was a perfect way to see the Azores.
We just bought the domain name for our new project! I'll tell you what it is once we manage to throw up a placeholder page. It's four letters and easily pronounceable...
No TaskSmash codes this week because internet on the boat is insanely expensive. I'll post a lot next week.
Poker on the ship is good. It's an electronic table, which is a lot worse than a regular dealer, the rake is ridiculous (15%, $6 max), and it's no-limit, but I've already paid for my cruise and then some. The "and then some" portion would have been a lot more if I didn't go all in with AA against JJ and get cracked!
The title photo is me in front of the hot spring pool in a very natural pose.
"...it's no-limit, but I've already paid for my cruise and then some..."
I feel a poker book coming on!
Great read! My mothers side of our family is from the Azores. Our great Aunt still lives out there.
Its the trip that keeps getting away. I would love to visit their with my mom (who has also never been and never met her aunt).
This article re-energized me to make this trip happen!
Cool trip.....Cool pic and your post!.cool?Going to the web site is cool!.Actley vacation can be fun too.(:
Stupid two-outers, feel your pain bro!
Good on you for checking out the Azores, its one of those places that has always been in the back of my mind to go visit!
@DH and Tynan,
A reader of mine just pointed me to this entry. I can say safely that the comment listed by "Scott H Young" was not made by me, or with my knowledge.
I've corresponded with Tynan before and generally have only nice things to say about him. :)
Thanks for adding value Tynan. It is great to hear about people out there living their lives and not stuck in the 9-5. I hope others get inspired (me included)!
@Scott Young (if you're really Scott) Why the hate? If you wanna hate, at least explain your point. You seem to know how to write, so exercise it when commenting other blogs, please.
@Tynan Cool trip, you've seen one of the most beautiful part of Portugal. You should also check Continental Portugal, Lisbon has a very cool night to enjoy, and Alentejo and Algarve are perfect places for summer time adventures :D
Hi Tynan, I've been following your blog for a while and never commented before but on today's post I had to when I read this:
"Across from it was a small town made of up entirely white buildings, which looked straight out of Portugal."
You do know that the Azores ARE Portugal, right? They're one of our autonomous regions but Portugal nonetheless AND in my opinion the most beautiful part of the country.
It's a dangerous night to be walking outside. Not for me, but for the tiny little frogs that dot the gravel road. I swish my overpowered Surefire flashlight across the dark gravel trying to avoid stepping on them. When I get close they freeze in their tracks, making them harder to see. This would be a good reflex if I was trying to eat them, but it's working against them tonight.
I'm walking down to the beach for old times' sake. It's 2am and I'm in Milton, Vermont. Calling it a beach is generous. Shale rocks densely scattered over green outcroppings of weeds lead up to murky water. There are a few docks and a few boats pulled up out of the water. They're not locked to anything - they're just sitting there.
I crouch, pick up one of the little green frogs, and watch him slowly climb around my wrist as I rotate it. I probably haven't touched a frog in ten years. Playing with frogs used to be my favorite thing to do when I was in Vermont. I liked to catch them in a bucket and then empty it into the nearby creek and watch them swim away. Sometimes we'd throw them in the air so that they'd land in the lake. That seems a bit inhumane now, but we didn't know better back then. We were kids. I lower my arm to the ground and nudge the frog off of my wrist.
The very idea of seeing a live volcano thrilled and worried our kids.
"Is it going to erupt while we're there?
"Will we see lava?"
"Do the hot springs burn your skin?"