Wanderung 14

The Plane to Spain replaced by the Bounding Main!

April-May 2007

Day 8: Monday April 23 2007, Furnas Lake, Azores

Noon position: 34 degrees 44.186' N latitude, 025 degrees 39.509' W longitude (docked at Ponta Delgada, Azores)

Bob:cSince this was our regularly scheduled day in Ponta Delgada, after breakfast we assembled for our walking tour of Furnas valley. The bus ride out to the valley began in Ponta Delgada but quickly went out into the very lush, verdant countryside. The road, of course, changed from a decent multi-lane highway to a narrow, twisting 2-lane highway with no shoulders whatsoever. We were chatting with Penelope on the way out, a veteran bicyclist, but she agreed that the roads just wouldn't be safe for a bicycle so I gave up that idea. A motorcycle or motor scooter would still, in my mind, be a nice way to see the island in good weather because you would get the 360-degree view of the beautiful countryside and still be able to keep safely up with the rural traffic, which was typically traveling about 20-30 mph.

The architecture of the small cities and towns continued to be starkly black and white. The houses were almost always whitewashed with black accents, except for a very occasional pastel non-conformist. The streets were typically narrow and the houses formed a continuous row of residences, at least in the older sections of the towns and villages. Some modern apartments/condominiums were on the outskirts of some of the small cities, but they were almost uniformly in a boring, modern type of architecture without any personality at all, kind of "Bauhaus Boring", I guess.

A surprisingly large percentage of the unoccuppied countryside was devoted to grazing, and the sole occupants of the fields were Holstein dairy cows. The dry stone walls enclosing green pastures reminded us very much of Ireland, except that the walls were much higher, as high as 10-15 feet, and the stone a the dark basalt rather than the light gray type of stone used in the Burren in Ireland (see Wanderung 9?). George, our tour guide, who, by the way, spoke absolutely perfect English with a pure British accent, informed us that the high stone walls were to prevent the wind from damaging the citrus groves that had once occupied most of the arable land. Some kind of blight or disease plus competition from other Mediterranean countries had decimated the citrus groves and those high stone walls now guarded dairy pastures, for the most part. Due to the moderate climate, however, the dairy cows lived their entire lives outdoors according to George, and in truth I saw nary a sign of a barn or byre.

We did see, however, repeated evidence of the dairy industry, including cows loose on the highway, mules with milk pails tethered to either side, and a horse (mule?) drawn cart right in front of the bus that was transporting about 10-15 cans of milk. Unlike the cows, who rather quickly veered off the road when threatened by our bus, the milk cart took up an entire lane and rather stubbornly ambled along in front of us, blocking our progress. Our bus driver honked but that created no response at all from the driver of the cart. I was puzzled by that, but when I looked closely the cart driver was talking into a cell phone glued to his right ear! The incongruity of a man driving a horse drawn cart and talking on a cell phone gave me the giggles for some reason.


Today was our first excursion and I was curious to see how R.C. handled it. The Windjammer Cafe was crowded with people having an early breakfast but we managed to get our eggbeater omelets with ham, mushrooms, tomatoes, and broccoli. So we were fortified for our trip to Furnas Valley, where we would be walking around the lake. R.C. organization was similar to what we had on the Astoria (Wanderung 10) only our meeting place was the Pacifica Theater where bus numbers were handed out on one side, we sat down by a lollipop with our bus number and when everyone was there, we were taken to our bus.

Our group was one of the smaller ones, but it was a very congenial group filling not even one bus. The bus took us in an hour from the bustling town of Ponta Delgada to a quiet lake in a caldera on the south side of the island. The roads were narrow. Two busses passing was tricky and in the villages our driver had to watch out for the wrought iron balconies. We passed donkeys carrying milk to the local dairy and a horse drawn cart with milk, where the driver was talking on a cell phone. We also had to stop for a cow and a calf ambling across the road (cows have the right-of-way). The landscape reminded us of Ireland with green fields on gently sloping hillsides. We drove along the coast where a little volcanic island jutted up out of the ocean.



The Furnas valley is a nature preserve consisting of a lake and a surrounding ring of low mountaintops. When our bus finally rolled into the parking lot, we were happy to see modern bathrooms. After a pit stop, George assembled us into a loose gaggle and we started our very leisurely walk around the lake. Our first stop was a small but quite active hot springs area with boiling water, fumaroles, and even ground that was quite warm to the touch. On some tours, in fact, they lower cooking pots into the ground and dig up a slow-cooked meal 6 hours later!

On our walk, however, we continued on the loop trail around the lake, crossing some rather high streams along the way. George was an encyclopedia of botanical knowledge about all the plants we passed, and I really enjoyed that although I forgot the scientific names for the plants we saw almost as soon as he said them. The lush vegetation included many types of ferns, including the big "tree ferns" (cycads?) that had been growing at the time of the dinosaurs. Of course, this being springtime, we also passed many flowering plants. Most were small and dainty, but the azaleas and rhododendrons were huge in this tropical rain-forest type of climate. We also saw red, white, and variegated types of camellias, which were very pretty.

The trees were mostly sycamores and Japanese cedar trees, but almost anything that was planted seemed to thrive. We saw a huge example of some kind of New Zealand pine tree that had fronds or something instead of leaves and most certainly did NOT have pine needles like every pine tree I have seen in the U.S. I also saw a tree growing in the edge of the lake which reminded me of the tupelo trees in the swamps (wetlands!) of the southeast, but some other folks thought it was a cypress.


Driving through a nature preserve we reached Furnas Lake which is set in a caldera with mountains all around. Our first stop was the hot springs area with bubbling mudpots and steam arising from the water. We saw the holes, where the people would cook their stew for six hours. Across the lake was the little chapel where our walk would end. It had rained the night before and we admired a waterfall up high. The rain also made our crossing of a little stream a little treacherous, but everyone crossed fine. Bob of course, took a different path upstream which looked better but was much slicker. Our walk then took us along the lake through a temperate rain forest with large trees and a lot of ferns. Bob decided to wait for our guide but I walked on. After a while, after taking some pictures I seemed to be all by myself! So I went back a little bit to see whether Bob was there. But nobody seemed to be behind me. So I decided to forge ahead to the little chapel and if Bob was not there to go back until I met up with him.



We finally wound up at the church on the other side of the lake where the bus driver picked us up. The church was built by a devout couple who did the usual bargain with God to have the wife cured of her illness. Upon her recovery they built a very pretty church on the shore of the lake in which they are both buried, appropriately enough. The small church seemed to have very nice stained glass windows but we couldn't get inside so I can't say anything more about them. Penelope told us about one of her friends that had made a similar bargain with God and built a church or two somewhere in Peru or thereabouts, as I recall, so this "recover and build a church" shtick seems to be pretty common, at least among the wealthy and religious. To me it smacks strongly of self-aggrandizement rather than true piety. In any case, I certainly think the money could be better spent on enhancing the medical science to treat these diseases. That being said, that little church was undeniably pretty and situated at a beautiful spot on the shore of the lake.


Next to the chapel were a few rather nice houses, beautiful flowers, and a grand view of the lake and the mountains surrounding it. The chapel was a neo-gothic little chapel that looked like it had beautiful stained glass windows but was, unfortunately, closed. After I finished taking pictures I walked back until I met Bob who had been walking slowly with our guide. He was a fount of knowledge about local flora. I enjoyed the name of a large gladioli like plant from South America called Watsonia [all you had to remember was Sherlock Holmes].




The bus wound back down the mountain and got us back to the ship in time so that we could eat a quick lunch, take a line dancing class where I finally learned the steps to "Achy, breaky heart", and walked a mile for some more Shipshape dollars as the ship powered up and steamed (turbined?) out of port. We finally found the right person to turn in 40 of those dollars for two Royal Caribbean daypacks, after which we started working on enough to buy some Royal Caribbean T-shirts by the end of the trip.

Dinner that evening was at the Portofino Restaurant, which served special Italian-themed dishes. The appetizers, entrees, and desserts were superb although the coffee was surprisingly watery and tasteless. Rick, Brigitte, Dave, Monika and I chatted away to the extent that the meal lasted from 6 to 9 p.m., when we had to rush off for the last performance of the evening show. The show used the Brilliance song and dance team to present a set of musical theater pieces with a "Swing" dance theme. Typically the dance routines were performed by 4 male and 4 female dancers, after which a team of 2 male and 2 female singers would sing a number to give the dancers time to change costumes (and rest, presumably). I thought the female contralto had a particularly nice voice, but both the male and female voices blended well on the duets and ensemble numbers.


Getting back to the ship around 2 we hurried to the lunch buffet and then rested in our room. But by about 3:30 we were leaving Ponta Delgada, so we went back up on deck to catch a last glimpse ofthe town and the Azores. We also managed to exchange 40 of our Ship Shape Dollars for two genuine plastic Royal Caribbean backpacks that should help us with packing and would be useful as daypacks on our excursions.

In the afternoon we had discussed with Brigitte and Rick that we all would meet at 6 to eat in one of the specialty restaurants, the Italian Portefino Restaurant. It was surprising, but the good cuisine on the ship was raised another notch. The appetizers were better, the entrees (steak for me, fish for Bob) were better and even the deserts were better. We had a truly great time and instead of our usual 2 hours for dinner it took 3. We had to hurry to the show a full production show called "Swing..." Four singers and eight dancers entertained us for an hour. The mezzo in particular had a rather nice voice. The dancing was well choreographed and I was tired from just watching. So it was no wonder that we had to read a while before falling asleep.

Copyright 2007 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt
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