Archive for Sao Miguel

So long Sao Miguel

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Azores, Walking with tags , , on July 31, 2011 by maidofmettle

Oops, thought I’d posted this but it was only saved as a draft, so now to really confuse the order of things by slotting it in where it should have been. Mind you, no-one spotted me saying we’d left off hearing about the Azores on Sao Miguel rather than Terceira..

I seem to have managed to write several blog entries about the island without really ever saying much about Ponta Delgada, where I’d been staying for most of the time.

The island and the Azores were in fact originally governed from Vila Franca do Campo, where I’d spent the night at anchor, but various disputes prompted the residents of Ponta Delgada to make a secret appeal to the Portuguese King to grant it it’s own village status, and so some degree of independence, in 1507. From there it went from strength to strength, becoming the capital of Sao Miguel after Vila Franca was devastated by an earthquake, and growing to become the 3rd largest town in Portugal in the nineteenth century.

Today it’s easily the biggest city in the Azores – in fact more people live here than on most of the other islands. It’s home to about 45,000 people (similar to Canterbury), the main campus of the University of the Azores, and nearly half the businesses in the islands. Needless to say, it was quite a big change arriving there from Santa Maria and the anchorage off the Ilheu de Vila.

The arches of the ‘Portas da Cidade’ gateway are the main icon of the city, and make quite a first impression having crossed the road from the harbour.

Here they are again at night-time.

There are inlaid pavements in much of the city centre, and windows and doors are commonly edged with the same volcanic rock, creating a striking black-and-white effect.

Being a big harbour, it’s got plenty of places to buy exciting things for boats. I was actually rather excited that the prices for courtesy flags were about half what they were in Madeira, as my Portuguese one had become more of a national insult half-flag.

I’d been looking around for somewhere to buy red fabric to patch it for ages, but without success, so I decided I’d better splash out and get a new one, and for good measure an Azorean one to go with it.

The food market wasn’t bad either, though for me it was eclipsed by the excitement of the Rei dos Queijos next door. The King of Cheeses might have a small shop, but it’s well stocked in quantity

and in quality – this was tangy but not too sharp or sour, really delicious.

I also got a box of these Queijadas da Vila, made exclusively in Vila Franca do Campo. This was somewhat ironic as I’d assumed from the name that they were small cheeses until I was offered one on a French boat in Santa Maria. A surprise, but no disappointment.

All this talk of food seems to have got me some way away from what I was talking about…

There are some very nice parks just north of the centre of Ponta Delgada – these photos were taken in the Parque Jose do Canto, which has a wide selection of local and foreign plants

including some very large bamboo

and a rainbow, accompanied by a small waterfall.

As well as a park Senhor do Canto also has a street named after him – I mention this partly to illustrate the fact that nearly every street in the city seems to have been renamed at some point, presumably creating a lot of confusion!

Between the old name and the mini-biography of the person honoured, they may be the most verbose street signs I’ve ever seen, but at least they’re rather attractive.

There is another fortuitous link from this though – Jose do Canto pioneered the introduction of many new agricultural practices and crops to the island, including the introduction of tea. Along with pineapples this remains one of the most famous crops grown here – in fact the two tea plantations on Sao Miguel are the only ones in Europe.

So I went to the north coast to take a look. Both plantations are open to the public, but the Porto Formoso one appeared easier to get to by bus than the larger establishment at Gorreana.

It still nearly went a bit wrong as the bus surprisingly went along the road above the village rather than through it – in fact straight past the tea plantation but since I wasn’t expecting that it was some way to the next stop where I could get out! Thankfully not too far though – below you can see some of the tea crop in the foreground and the village of Porto Formoso below.

Tea was first grown here in the late eighteenth century on a very small scale, which increased a hundred years or so late when the local agricultural association brought experts from China to help improve the local crop.

As well as the history of the plantation there’s a little museum displaying a selection of the machinery used to dry, separate and bag the tea.
And then there’s a tasting room, with a lovely view over the fields to the coast, and some very nice refreshments.

And now finally the promised move on – after a very nice week on Sao Miguel I planned to head around 90 miles west-north-west to Terceira, very appropriately my third landfall in the Azores, as it’s named for being the third island to have been ‘discovered’ by the Portuguese.

It was a nice change to be able to leave Ponta Delgada with no likely prospect of running out of wind for an extended period, save a possible wind shadow of the Caldeira de Sete Cidades. That did happen, but I was able to motor-sail for about half an hour and then got a nice wind again. And there was a good distraction, with dolphins everywhere!

I started off sailing to windward, aiming for Praia da Vitoria on the east coast of the island, where there’s a sheltered anchorage and a very cheap marina. The island’s capital of Angra do Heroismo on the south coast was the backup option.

Maid was sailing very well through most of the day and overnight, but early the next morning I decided Angra was going to be the better option. Being able to steer slightly further away from where the wind was coming from made for a very quick sail the rest of the way, though I did lose all sight of the island at one point, as it disappeared entirely within a cloud.

Happily it reappeared again well before I approached the coast near Angra, and I had a nice view of the coast while I ate lunch.

Entry went well, though the water in the harbour was so clear I was a bit nervous about some of the big rocks visible on the bottom! None were a problem though, and I was soon moored up, tucked away in the very sheltered far end of the harbour.

First impressions were very good – after all, the centre of Angra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The harbour is dominated by the beautiful Church of Misericordia.

The area defined by UNESCO also includes Monte Brasil, the remains of a volcanic crater that shelters the harbour from the west. It was a very nice afternoon, so I decided to go for a walk up to the top. I started off along the road, looking back north towards the city on my left…

…and then went up a rather steeper footpath…

….until I could see the sea to the south as well.

It looks remote, but on a Sunday afternoon it’s actually picnic and barbecue central – a really nice atmosphere with lots of families gathered around the numerous picnic tables.

The top is around 200m high, plenty enough to look back down over Angra, and beyond to the woods and farmland in the hills beyond.

So my second impressions of this third island were definitely good as well…

The Divino Espirito Santo in Ponta Delgada

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores with tags , , on July 30, 2011 by maidofmettle

Finally finished! I’ve had trouble writing this one – it’s quite hard work to say something reasonably concise and accurate about the religious traditions of another culture with another language – for once selecting and ordering pictures was the easy part!


The Holy Spirit Festivals date back to the colonisation of the islands in the fifteenth century. The exact origins of them are unclear, but they were probably inspired by Queen Saint Isabel of Portugal, who pledged her crown to the Holy Spirit as a plea to stop a famine, and later began a tradition to feed the poor on Pentecost, and heavily influenced by Franciscan monks among the early settlers, who worshipped the Holy Spirit according to doctrines proposed by Joachim of Fiore.

This, and the accompanying belief in a post-Revelation third age ruled directly by it with no need for the Church didn’t find favour with the Pope, and it’s probably no coincidence that Franciscans were the first religious orders to take part in the settlement of the Azores. Though they’re rooted in Catholicism, the ceremonies are now unique to these islands and parts of the Americas where Azorean emigrants have settled.

Brotherhoods of the Holy Spirit are still found in each village and neighbourhood in the islands today. Their main principles are hope, faith in the divine, egalitarianism, solidarity and charity, and autonomy from the church (I’m guessing that last was the controversial one, though the local churches appear quite involved in some of the ceremonies today).

The festivities take place over a number of weeks after Easter, based around the Imperio of the local brotherhood. This would once have been a temporary structure, but they’re now usually colourful buildings, which serve as a base for religious rituals as well as the collection and distribution of donations.

An Imperador or mordomo is chosen for that year, and  makes a pledge to provide food for friends, family and the poor of the village. They’re usualy selected randomly from the local Brotherhood, though someone who’d had good fortune during the year might step forward to volunteer.

There are a number of religious ceremonies and rituals over the six or seven weeks after Easter, and other celebrations based on sharing food and drink. Normally this is just for the village or parish concerned, but recently some cities have started holding condensed versions as big public events, including Ponta Delgada.

There were long tables and benches round all four sides of the Campo de Sao Francisco for the serving of the Sopa (soup) do Espirito Santo to anyone and everyone.

They were all packed with people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, and crowds waiting patiently if noisily nearby ready to take their turn as soon as seats became free.

Recipes for the traditional soup vary – the one served here involved beef, cabbage and potatos, seasoned with mint. It was very nice, as was the conversation with my neighbours, though it was rather limited by Portuguese. It helped that the picture on the bottles of local wine showed where I’d been anchored a few days before!

The local papers reckon that over 12,000 people attended, which I can certainly believe, and over a tonne of meat was used, which is rather harder to imagine! The four kitchens at the corners of the square must really have had their work cut out, and if I ever see so many underage scouts hurrying around with bottles of wine again it will probably signal some kind of irretrievable breakdown of society.

As it is it’s an impressive demonstration of society working together to put on a huge event while saving the council money – the food and drinks for the feast and distribution to charities was donated by local companies, only local performers were booked and there were no fireworks (for a change at a Portuguese festival!).

From the voices in the crowd it certainly sounded like it brings a lot of emigrants and their families back to the islands, as well as other tourists and of course being a big event for the locals.

The main course was followed up by a delicious rice pudding – really rich and creamy, topped with cinnamon.

And then a big parade, with all 24 parishes on the island represented in the procession: lots of ox-carts, decorated floats, folk groups and marching bands.

I think this pair of oxen may have drawn the short straw when it came to enthusiasm of the designers.

As if there hadn’t been enough food already, the bread van was distributing the very tasty sweet massa sovada to all and sundry

and I suspect the Sagres float was even more popular, though I do wonder how long the pumps were able to keep going before the driver had to roar off down a side street in search of more beer.

The next day was more solemn, with the Bishop of the Azores leading an open-air mass on the steps of the main church, followed by the coronation and blessing of the mordomos for this year. The active participation of the clergy is actually a more modern development rather than a central part of the ceremony – traditionally the community was addressing the Holy Spirit directly.

followed by the Bodo de Leite, a ritual serving of milk and the massa sovada bread to everyone – again the locals were very keen on including everyone.

The Folioes do Divino who’d accompanied the coronation were playing at various places around the square, though it did look to me as though they were going to cause chaos when they moved to the exit from the Bodo de Leite serving area..


The evening was finished off by the Ponta Delgada Light Orchestra who were definitely enjoying themselves, putting on an exuberant performance of songs from the 70s to the 90s. I think a certain group of people down in the Canaries play Proud Mary better though : )







In search of the Seven Cities

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores, Walking with tags , on July 24, 2011 by maidofmettle

I’m still not quite convinced that the Caldeira de Sete Cidades is entirely real. The idea of a Crater of Seven Cities, with a Blue Lake and a Green Lake, sounds distinctly like something from a fantasy novel or a very old map. It’s certainly a rather fanciful name for a crater containing what appears to be only one village, also called Sete Cidades (on the left of the picture).

In actual fact it appears to be real, but it is definitely named after a myth, and does indeed appear on many old maps. Confused yet? The seven cities were supposedly founded on the island of Antillia, discovered in the eighth century by an archbishop, six bishops and their followers fleeing the Moorish invasion of Spain, and featured on charts of the Atlantic for over a hundred years.

Many expeditions were sent in search of it, from Portugal, Spain and England – the latter chiefly from Bristol mariners seeking a base for fishing the Grand Banks. Though the rumour that Antillian sand was pure gold may also have had some appeal..

It’s unclear what any physical basis for the legend might have been, especially as the island was understood to be to the west of the Azores, Canaries and Madeira archipelago. There are theories that it refers to some part of the New World – and indeed the name was probably subsequently applied to the Antilles islands in the eastern Caribbean – known before Columbus’ voyage..

While intriguing, the name Sete Cidades does distract slightly from the main attraction of the crater – the Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde, which are definitely remarkable. They aren’t actually entirely separate lakes – the dividing line is a culverted bridge, but the difference in colour is noticeable.

The greener lake is shallower and closely surrounded by trees, which apparently accounts for the difference, though a few years ago eutrophication problems turned both lakes a similar colour due to algal blooms.

It had been quite a climb up from the village to the crater rim where those pictures were taken from, though it mostly went through very nice and shady woodland.

Definitely well worth it though, as well as the pictures you’ve already seen you could see down to the coast the other way.

The path along the crater rim let me keep seeing both sides for quite a while..when a car hadn’t just gone past that is.

One of the more remarkable sights was this herd of cows. Not only are they the backbone (and many tastier parts) of much of Sao Miguel’s economy, these one’s also appear to have installed a solar panel to power their television.

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten one for lunch..

The walk was very well marked with red and yellow paint as well as the directions in my book, though I did get concerned at this point..

I decided to continue along the road and was soon rewarded by seeing the Lagoa Azul at closer quarters

and then closer still. I was briefly charged by this rag-tag mob of ducks, but I looked at them and thought about crispy deep-frying and they ran away.

The beach didn’t look like it was going to start a gold rush..

and there didn’t seem to be seven churches, let alone seven villages – not that this one didn’t look rather fine.

So, I didn’t solve any mysteries, but I did have a very nice day of walking, especially as it was cloudy for walking uphill in the morning and then sunny at the top.

Later that evening back in Ponta Delgada, I got to see rather more of a fado performance than I had in Madeira. I could’ve sworn they were the same group, but I guess the requirement to drape yourself in a black cloak does make mistakes possible. There was a brief hiatus when they were joined by some more performers at the end and someone had to scurry around to find another cloak.

Ponta Delgada is an impressive site in the evening as well..

This picture gives a bit of a hint as to the next subject. The marquee in the foreground shows bread made in all the different parishes on Sao Miguel in a competition which forms part of the Holy Spirit Festival (Divino Espirito Santo).

This is a huge event in the Azores, and areas of Brazil and New England where Azorean emigrants are common, though it’s also common for them to return to the islands for some of the festival.

It probably deserves it’s own post, especially as it’s getting late.

Getting into hot water on São Miguel

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores, Walking with tags on July 22, 2011 by maidofmettle

The standard marina showers in Ponta Delgada are distinctly cold, and the posh peoples’ warm showers costing a whole 1 euro 27 cents. This could obviously add up a bit, and then there’s the loss of inverse snobbery rights to consider.

And there are other options available on the island…

Quite early in my stay there I got an early-morning bus to Mosteiros on the west coast. This is the village seen from above, having started to walk inland.

It was quite an entertaining stroll along the coast. I was a bit worried about what might have happened to the former occupant of these shoes..

A bit further along I was passed by a small dog leading a very large herd of cows. Sadly I was too surprised to get a picture of the cowdog. Plenty of time to get one of the cows though….

This is an old whaling look-out point, though it now advertises a whale-watching company. The slit for the watch in theory reduced the glare off the water.

If whales were sighted they would have fired a rocket to alert the boats – like this one in a shopping centre in Ponta Delgada, and directed them towards the whales when they approached. Sadly I have so far not discovered how this was done – I think using flags, but was the message in cardinal points, left-a-bit / right-a-bit, or possibly cold / hot?

As an aside, does anyone not find this a rather strange design for the sinks in the shopping centre toilets? (possibly not as strange as photographing it though, yes, I agree).

Anyway, back to the subject at hand..

From the hilltop lookout it was quite a descent down to sea level, and over a rather strange volcanic landscape

in search of the the sea bath at Ferraria. This is a small rocky inlet where a spring comes out at about 60 degrees, which blends rapidly with the Atlantic at high tide but makes things very cosy at low water.

Even knowing this it was a very strange experience getting in though – climbing down the steps I could feel my body tensing up and preparing for the shock of the cold water my mind was fairly sure wasn’t going to happen – and it didn’t.

Actually, it was a bit like swimming in the Three Bears’ pool. The end open to the Atlantic was probably a bit colder than in the lagoon of the Ilheu de Vila. The middle was about right. The inshore end of the inlet was really rather too hot – there’s a reason no-one is in the far left of this picture!

Very strange, but very nice, especially being able to swim between the water at different temperatures to warm up, cool down or just for a change.

On another day I travelled east to Furnas – literally furnace, though it’s been called both heaven and hell. Heaven because of the beauty of the landscape, and hell because of the clouds of steam that greeted the first explorers, and tourists to this day. With that in mind, it seems fitting that the park in the centre of the town is named Terra Nostra, or ‘Our Earth’…

I started off heading away from the village, up a ridge towards the Lagoa das Furnas.

The surrounding countryside certainly is beautiful

and I can see why one might find the bubbling hot water rather terrifying.

The locals have very definitely got over this and bury cooking pots under mounds of earth.

Only a few yards away, the lake is much more tranquil

I carried on around the shore – some of it lined with trees

and some beautiful meadows

and a little bit of beach, with a rather surprising gothic chapel.

This is a more typical church, back in Furnas itself.

From there I carried on through the town to another set of bubbling springs.

I also passed a very strange collection of items at the side of the road. Any ideas?

I’d been in a bit of a hurry in the morning, so I’d grabbed a tin of tuna salad from the emergency food locker on my way out of the boat. But walking back through Furnas it occurred to me that I could probably buy lunch for the same price as the tin, so I did. And I also got to try yet another new type of coffee, although I don’t think I’ll have this one again.

Coffee com cheiro – if I’d not been hungry I might have linked that to vinho do cheiro, the cheap but reasonably nice local wine. Though I’m still not sure I’d actually have come to the conclusion that this would be coffee with wine in it, which this appeared to be. Not a good idea.

Still, after that we get back to the tenuous point of this post – passing back through the village to the Poça Dona Beija, or ‘paradise pools’. This has been redeveloped as a tourist attraction in recent years, but still seems very popular with the locals. At 2 euros a go I guess it’s the local equivalent of a lido, but with very hot water. There are several pools in and alongside the stream..

..and several little channels where water is diverted to create waterfalls.

Again very nice, with sitting near the pools in the light breeze essential to keep from getting too warm.

Mind you, the marina showers do have the advantage of not trying to dye you orange.. It mostly washes off, but there are still traces on my toenails. I’m not convinced it’s a look I should be going for..

Happy birthday to me

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Azores with tags , , on July 19, 2011 by maidofmettle

One of these statements is true, and one is false.

1. I’ve always wanted my own volcanic crater island with a lagoon for my birthday
2. This year I got one, for a few hours at least

It had made a very nice change to leave for Sao Miguel without the need for any big build-up, with no threatening weather or particular hurry. I was a little sad to leave at all – as well as some fellow sailors the local people are very friendly, but Monday looked the best opportunity for a while with the wind forecast to swing round to the north, more or less directly from the nearest island.

There was no urgency about getting away though – rushing would have probably led to arrival in the middle of the night, so it seemed much better, but it was better to leave later and arrive sometime the next day. Sailing in clear water is much less tiring than approaching land and then mooring up somewhere.

So I had time to do a quick painting on the harbour wall in Santa Maria – the tradition is most famous in Horta, but is also practised in the rest of the Azores as well as the Madeira archipelago, and many other places I’m sure. I’d not been going to do one till I got some more paint, but the temptation of adding one next to the work of Tim & Alli – a Canadian couple I met on Madeira last year – was too much in the end.

Having got going the sailing conditions were very nice – a perfect wind to carry full sail, and a fairly flat sea.

I had to make a couple of tacks to get around the western end of Santa Maria, but with that accomplished I could head north for Sao Miguel with no obstructions to worry about. The small village is where Columbus anchored returning from his first voyage across the Atlantic.

So the wind dropped right off to give me something else to consider. I was starting to think that I should have been in much more of a hurry to leave early that morning. A little while later I decided that at this rate it wasn’t going to matter when I’d left as I had no idea when I’d get there!

I could see Sao Miguel very soon though. The fifteenth century Portuguese explorers who claimed the Azores must have been terribly unfortunate to spot no sign of either of these islands on their first voyage, despite coming within about 35nm of the 1104m high Pico da Vera on Sao Miguel and about 25nm of the 490m high Pico Alto on Santa Maria, having sailed 700nm west from Portugal.

Visibility must have been pretty bad, as they in fact only found the few patches of rock they christened the ‘ants’ (Ilheus das Formigas). In fact, it was quite a feat to find these without wrecking their ships on them – the highest are only 11m tall and the nearby Dollabarat shoal is barely covered at low water. Within 5 miles you can find depths of up to 2,000m, and the waves breaking on the shallows in bad weather must be terrifying.

I was actually glad that the wind increased at around dusk, and we were able to make good progress overnight.

The same problem of light winds and choppy seas recurred the next morning though. I was starting to wonder if light-wind sailing is the best option… Progress was decidedly varied for a while, briefly encountering the problem of finding that neither tack was taking me anywhere near where I wanted to go. Then again, it was looking distinctly rainy on Sao Miguel so I wasn’t in that much of a hurry to get ashore.

Finally in mid-afternoon a nice wind came up. I started off sailing towards Ponta Delgada, the capital and biggest port on the island, but decided I might well end up tacking and struggling to arrive before dark, whereas Vila Franca de Campo would be a much easier sail.

And I had been thinking about going there anyway, since my pilot book described a decent anchorage near the town, just inshore of a small islet which looked well worth visiting.

On arrival, it did seem quite exposed – nothing like anchoring in the sheltered River Guadiana or the estuaries of the Ria Formos, and as the first time I’d anchored on my own in more than a year I was quite nervous about picking a spot. The water was very clear but not clear enough to see whether the sea bed was sand (good) or rock (bad) But it seemed calm enough, and about the right depth to be able to anchor securely without having to fiddle around getting two length of chain out and shackling them together.

Getting ready to anchor was a bit of a step-by-step affair – motor around checking depths, untie anchor, get chain up on deck ready to lower away… Obviously this was always going to be the case since I only have one pair of hands, but mentally it was more significant as a way of working up to it slowly.

With everything ready and having taken a tour along the west coast of the island while the last tour boat left I gave it a go roughly where the pilot book suggested and the anchor seemed to dig in very well. With no other boats nearby it was nice to have the luxury of letting out lots of chain, and though I set an anchor drag alarm on the GPS

I now felt very relaxed and happy with the spot.

Time to get the kayak out ready for going ashore tomorrow – and as it turned out also to go and say hello to the couple on the Dutch boat which turned up a while later and anchored behind me.

It was a beautiful evening at anchor, and the roar of the Cory’s shearwaters returning to their nests on the cliffs at dusk was quite something to hear. This is basically the only time they ever come ashore – so presumably once the young have left they may not set foot on land again for 7 years or so – quite a thought! There was a nice moon to silhouette the cliffs as well, though a boat at anchor is not the best foundation for taking pictures in dim light..

The inflatable kayak is basically a one-person version of Caroline’s one. Having got rather stuck in Las Palmas I’d barely used it since buying it early in my time there, but this is exactly the kind of occasion I’d bought it for – neither needing a dinghy for long nor needing lots of stuff. Time to go and land on my present…

So, here are the two boats at anchor with Sao Miguel about half a mile away in the background.

and here is the interior of the crater and it’s lagoon. It gets quite busy in the middle of the day as boats bring people out from Vila Franca de Campo, but for now it was deserted.

Here I am going for a swim in it – or rather launching myself backwards off the steps as the timer on the camera was about to run out! It wasn’t nearly as chilly as I’d been expecting having sailed some way north – in fact the water temperature here is apparently quite similar to that in Madeira, and not too far off that in the Canaries. I still wouldn’t have wanted to stay in for long, but it was fine for swimming across the lagoon and back, and even early in the morning it was nice and warm when I got out.

This was a wonderful start to my time on Sao Miguel, but I was keen to explore the mainland too. While there is was a marina very nearby at Vila Franca de Campo itself, it’s quite expensive, and I didn’t think it would be as good a base as the capital. It would have been nice to spend a day or two there,but the forecast suggested today would be the last good day for sailing west for a while, so I decided to head for Ponta Delgada.

It’s a lovely feeling to leave an anchorage under sail, so that’s what I did. There was a strong wind as Horace steered us close under the cliffs (with at least 10m of water under the keel!) leaving the island.

It then went quite light for a while as we got into the wind shadow of the Serra da Agua de Pau and associated peaks, but with the tide going with me I was happy to go slowly until we got beyond it, and then looking at the water ahead quickly reefed the mainsail to a smaller size. It was superb sailing – a strong wind but well sheltered from any waves by the island a few miles to windward, and I got to Ponta Delgada in the early afternoon.

I did a little wandering in the city, and met Michel who I knew from Santa Maria, and also the Uruguayan Roberto from the boat opposite mine. We had a birthday drink and enjoyed lots of chopping and changing between languages while still managing to talk about lots of things, from our voyages to here to the origins of the names of the week in different languages.

Roberto very kindly insisted I come for a barbecue on his boat later, which was a delicious end to a very nice birthday.