Saturday, 15 July 2017

Countdown to Island Interludes-52 days. Introducing the Azores.

Where are the Azores?

The Portuguese islands of the Azores lie in the North Atlantic Ocean on a parallel line between Lisbon and New York, about one thousand three hundred kilometres west of mainland Portugal. They are volcanic islands and, lying in the path of the Gulf Stream, winters are generally mild. Of the nine islands that make up the archipelago, São Miguel to the east is the largest with the city of Ponta Delgada being the capital of the region. 
Sao Miguel. Azores.Wikimedia.org.

On the map, they appear to be dark and mysterious, very small blobs in the vast expanse of the North Atlantic Ocean and seemingly inaccessible all those years ago.
In our thirst for adventure and new horizons we realized, from the holiday brochure that wasn’t ever far out of my reach, that it was possible to visit. Christmas of 1998 therefore, saw us in Ponta Delgada.

Swimming on Christmas Eve and more . . .

Christmas Eve dawned with yet another dramatic sunrise over the sea. In the distance, we could see a big boat moored off shore. Following our guide and boarding our coach, we headed for Santana on the north east of the island. She explained that here, the people have blue eyes and brown hair.
(Watching the video later, Allen explained that as the road meandered down we ended up looking backwards. The fields were divided by bamboo and had taken over the road.)
On the north coast, we went to the only tea plantation in Europe. Allen was fascinated and thrilled to look at the machines one of which came from Manchester which is only a few miles from where we grew up. In fact, the machine was made at the firm where his brother worked. Inside, we were given a demonstration of how the tea leaves were sorted. Outside, a cow grazed quietly. Was it for milk for the tea?


Pretty Furnas Valley. Sao Miguel. Azores.
Heading now to the Furnas Valley we all gathered round to watch men from a nearby hotel prepare our lunch. Huge vats of the typical dish of meat and vegetables (cabbage) were placed carefully in cooking holes in the ground where the heat of the earth and the steam would cook our meal for us. With the crater being near to the centre of the earth the water in the hole boiled away furiously, cooking the meal. The whole crater was covered in bubbling holes with explosions of steam. It was astounding.

Leaving our lunch to cook, our guide took us to the Botanical Gardens next door to the beautiful hotel where we would lunch. Being forewarned, I and others had packed a swimsuit. Along with a few other guests, after changing in the changing huts in the gardens, I swam in the therapeutic, naturally hot, outdoor pool that was set among all kinds of plants and trees. The huge circular pool was very old; unlike modern-day swimming pools it was built with brick with a huge spout dispensing the warm therapeutic water from its source into the pool. This surprising experience, added to the lovely warm day in this remote part of the island, lent an air of unreality to what was Christmas Eve."


Later... "A family of ducks followed us back to the coach which would take us along the lake back to the hotel for lunch before going to the hot springs. Perhaps the ducks wanted to share our meal."
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Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing excerpts from Island Interludes which is due for release on September 5th 2017. As with other books in the Just Us Two series it is illustrated with photographs.