Monday, May 06, 2013

Azores: San Miguel Island - Ribeira Grande, Furnas, Gorreana

The weather today has not improved much from last night so I am bundled up and wearing gloves and a scarf. I thought I left that weather in Winnipeg but apparently, I have not. It's misty and cloudy and the humidity must be 100%. We had a good breakfast at the hotel and joined our guide Gabriela on the bus for the various destinations for the day. I have to say, there are a LOT of churches on this island!

The two pictures below are from Ribeira Grande but most of the towns are like that.

We were supposed to go to Lagao Do Fogo (Fire Lake but it was so foggy, that we could not see anything. That was a disappointment. Our guide said that maybe we'll try again tomorrow. This is what we saw for most of the drive to get there:

We then headed for the Gorreana Tea plantation and factory where they grow tea on the island. The tea is harvested by machine and processed into green and black tea but from looking at it, the quality of the harvest didn't look as good as those I saw in Indonesia and Taiwan. In those countries, green tea seems to be a getter quality because only the first three leaves at the top of a new shoot are used for green tea. Apparently, they have more antioxidant properties than the rest of the shoot. Well interesting to see tea grown on the island but the machine picking makes for a lot of detritus in the packaged tea (unless of course, the debris is picked out of it by a number of women working in the factory and then priced higher for sale).

We went on in the rain and visited some caldeiras (hot springs) in Furnas.

The area is now a tourist attraction for visitors because they use the natural hot springs to make a kind of outdoor slow cooker/steamer. Large pots that can feed about 20-30 people are filled with various kinds of meats and veggies, covered and lowered into the ground where the food cooks by steam for about 6 hours. The result is a “cozido” - a huge pot of meats and veggies to feed a large group.

We had that for lunch at one of the local restaurants but I have to say that my palette did not like the taste. The meat is slightly overcooked and of course the veggies are completely overcooked making for a meal of overcooked food with little or no taste or texture. I am guessing by the amount of food still left at our table when the meal was over that I was not the only one who didn't enjoy the meal. See the leftovers for yourself.

We had a swim scheduled for the Terra Nostra Garden but by the time we got there, I had a choice of having a 30 minute swim (including drying off and getting dressed) in a giant pool heated by the hot springs or taking a walk in the garden. Disappointed that we didn't have more time, I decided that since it was still quite drizzly and chilly, I would pass on the swim and take a walk through the garden. The garden seemed very ordinary after all but with one spectacular highlight - a black swan! I have never seen a black swan and they are supposedly they were almost hunted to extinction but there it was, as majestic as ever. That alone made up for the disappointment of the day thus far. I also saw another water bird but no one seemed to know the name. It was pretty though.

We then went to Miradouro de Santa Iria which was supposed to provide a "breathtaking view of the North coast" but again, the mist was so heavy that we could hardly see anything. It was still nice though to watch the mist rolling off the water in clusters. I was somewhat mesmerized by the fog but it didn't appear that anyone else found it interesting because by the time I turned around, I was standing alone on the cliff. Everyone else had gone back to the bus to get ready for the next destination - back to Ponta Delgada. I wish everything wasn't so rushed and wet.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a less wet day but I don't know if that means less rain or no rain. I am a bit disappointed with what I have seen so far. Maybe it was my own expectation of what I thought the island would be like. Most of the vegetation seem to be settler crops. When I asked the guide about the indigenous plants of the island, she was hard pressed to name any. The evidence of Portuguese colonization of other lands was represented everywhere in the flora and fauna. The black swan is not indigenous to the island but was brought there as was much of the vegetation.

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