Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pico island

Yesterday, we had a pretty quiet day in Ponta Delgada, then in the late afternoon, flew to the island of Pico, which is in the central group of the Azores islands, and is the second-largest island.  The landscape of Pico is dominated by a looming (dormant) volcano, which is also the highest peak in Portugal.

The weather was clear as we flew in, so we were able to catch a few glimpses of Pico (the mountain) before we landed.

Brad snapped this photo really quickly on the airport tarmac, and I'm glad he did, because you can see Pico, and today was so overcast and foggy that I'm glad I had the photographic proof of Pico's existence, because we didn't see the mountain at all today.

We then caught a cab to our hotel, the Alma do Pico, which is a quiet retreat nestled in the forest just above the town of Madalena.  We checked into our room, which is super cute and quite the step up from our basic AirBnB in Ponta Delgada.

Having our priorities straight, we also quickly zipped out to find the local supermarket, where we stocked up on wine and chips.

We had a fabulous dinner last night at the hotel restaurant, and enjoyed views of the island of Faial on one side, and Pico mountain on the other.  So nice!

We knew today was going to be overcast and possibly rainy, so we decided to walk around town and explore a little bit.

We walked down to the harbour, and along the coastline until we reached UNESCO world heritage vineyards that dated from the 15th century.  They were quite a sight - row upon row of low basalt stone walls, sheltering and warming the grapevines, as far as we could see.

It's a bit crazy to think that over 500 years ago, people braved sailing the atlantic, and one of the first things they did when they got to Pico was make sure they had their continued wine supply assured.  Priorities, AMIRITE?

We then wandered back into town and had some Super Bock beer and pizza at a bar in the harbour, and hung out for a bit until it was time to take a taxi to the Gruta das Torres, which is a 5 km lava tube that you can go explore. Quick tip for any future visitors - make sure you call ahead, as there are limited tours each day and they seem to book up quickly! Our hotel gave us great advice and called ahead for us. :)

It was my first time headed underground in any sort of cave, so I wasn't sure how I'd feel about it, but the coolness of seeing all the different types of lava overshadowed any claustrophobia I felt (I am a rock nerd....what can I say....).

Look at the cool ropey lava!

A couple of preliminary observations about Pico:

1. The ubiquitous black basalt walls attract tons and tons of tiny green-black lizards.  I don't have any good pics though because those little dudes are FAST - you see the flicker of them scattering away as you walk along the road.

(the next two apply equally to both Sao Miguel and Pico)
2. Cows can go everywhere.  I think of them as a pasture animal, but the Azorean cows seem extremely content with the views they find up mountains, cliffs and calderas.  On all of the hikes we've done, we've seen cows in the craziest places.

3. It seems like there are many, many Azoreans who have connections to Canada - either personally of through family.  Our jeep tour driver had family in Canada and had visited several times, and the cab driver we had today had lived in Canada for 20 years.  It's a small world, and there certainly seem to be many connections between the Azores and Canada.

Anyway, that is it for tonight as I'm trying to get this posted before Zoe has to go to bed (so she can read it).  :)  Tomorrow it is supposed to rain a lot, so we will probably have a pretty quiet day until it clears.


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