Friday, June 2 – The whole island of Sao Miguel – actually

What an epic day. Okay. I tend to overuse the word Epic. But I felt like today really was! We did and saw so much and it was all jaw dropping and once-in-a-lifetime type stuff! How often is a day filled with that much awesomeness?!

So we woke up to mostly blue skies and a few white clouds. No rain or fog left to be seen anywhere. Points to the universe for that! I made breakfast and out the door happen pretty fast as I wanted to make sure we covered the entire island to the best of our ability today.

We headed past the Furnas lake and saw the little church that sits right on the water and the flat forest surrounding it. Seemed odd, really to have such a flat place when everywhere else we have seen on the island has been so hilly and filled with dense plant life. We then followed the “red road” (not the highway that connects a few of the major cities, but the secondary roads that connect all the farmer’s fields and cow pastures and random two-house towns) along down the south so that we could eventually make our way to the far West side of the island where the larger of the volcanic lagoons is located.

But even though Shawn loves his phone GPS (he downloaded all the google maps to Portugal on his phone before we left, so we have been using them constantly!), I am the one watching the road signs and reading the map and totally throwing him off the routing. So, I spotted a turn off for a viewpoint and he veered off to the right and started following the tertiary road up the mountain. In the distance, I saw a turret of a castle and said that we should go up there and he scoffed and said there is no way this road will go up there. We stopped and took amazing pictures of the coast and of the cows and of the valleys.

Suddenly, however, there was a dirt track on our right and I yelled for him to pull over. We walked up, and sure enough. There was the castle turret just sitting there amongst the cows. I think it was called Bruno Castle, but I may have made that up. For a European “castle” it wasn’t much to write home about. It was really only a lonely turret with three levels, the highest being the roof. We climbed up the concrete stairs and were afforded the most amazing 360 degree view! From that point you could see both the North and the South Ocean as well as the Furnas Lagoon and many hills and valleys. It was spectacular. I was so happy!!! We went a little nuts with the pictures, but finally had to come down and carry on our drive. (At this point in the day, I didn’t appreciate the fact. That there was NO ONE else there at all. I thought the whole island was people-less still, as we had really not seen anyone except for in the thermal baths for two days…but it got busier, so I am now even more grateful for having discovered this awesome spot!)

We headed along the small road as it wound around the cow fields and slowly back to the secondary highway. But not before we met an entire herd of cows being moved along up the highway! All of a sudden we went around a bend and there they were – on the correct side of the road coming at us like an oncoming car – was about 30 cows trotting almost two by two. It was awesome. They looked like they knew where they were going and that they had done this before. The car didn’t phase them at all! In the rear was a truck with a cow upright in the bed bringing up the rear of the cow march! It was awesome!

Finally, we hit the major autoroute and headed West at a quicker pace – me yelling for picture pull overs a bit less frequently as there is really only so many pictures you can get of cute little red roofed, white washed buildings against the blue water! 🙂 After the airport we headed up the secondary roads between fields and stone walls made up of broken lava rock.

All of a sudden, after like the millionth hairpin turn (Shawn was getting really good at navigating the crazy roads here!), there was an old, rundown, abandoned concrete hotel in front of us. It took me a moment to figure out what the huge structure was and we had already driven around the corner by the time I decided we needed to stop. As did every other car on the island! We miraculously found a spot in the overcrowded parking lot with minimal effort, got out, and realized that this was actually the viewpoint for the lagoons we were coming to visit — there just happened to be this crazy, creepy, hotel here too!

The lagoons are pretty famous. They are called “Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde” because even though they are connected bodies of water one is completely blue and the other is green. Like Lagoa Furnas, they are located in the bottom of a crater, so getting to the viewpoint without event trying was an awesome fluke! We walked around and took a million pictures of the two beautiful lagoons with the town(s) called Sete Cidades (seven cities) beside them and the ocean above the hill behind everything. It was seriously beautiful. I am sure if you could be here at sunset, you would have an amazing site!

Finally, we decided to head into the hotel. It was being well explored by lots of people and is completely made of concrete, so I had minimal fears of it collapsing on me. But it was creepy. I love old, dilapidated buildings, but the way this one had been left to die was a whole different thing. Water was pooling on the ground and running through the open pipes. The two elevator shafts were open for anyone to fall through. A few pieces of ceramic tile could be seen in the grand main floor foyer and in some of the bathrooms. The ceiling was open above the main floor lobby and light was filtering through the remaining pieces of rebar. As we climbed the circular stairs the old yellow carpet squished beneath our feet and it gave me the heeby jeebies . We reached the top floor and walked into one of the hallways leading to the rooms and there was just the concrete skeleton of rooms and balconies and corridors with the odd drip of water coming down and the squishing of people wandering the halls.

We walked out towards the lakes and onto what would be the balcony. The view was absolutely to die for. From this angle, you could see the shapes the clouds were making on the green lagoon and the contrast between the two colours was breathtaking. It was definitely worth the creepiness to make it up this high to get such a great view of the lagoons.

When I got home this evening, I looked into the hotel a bit. There isn’t too much info about it online. It was called Monte Palace. It was built in 1989 and only was in business for a year and a half before the owners went bankrupt leaving the building abandoned. For many years there were guards and dogs on site to protect it from looters, but now, and obviously for a while, people have had the run of the place. Even from pictures I have seen online, the place has deteriorated to the point of no return. When we were going through it, our conclusion was that it had been started, but never finished. So it was a surprise to know that it had, once, about 30 years ago, it had been a beautiful hotel with an incredible view.

After shaking myself off a bit from the hotel air and Shawn unwedging the car from the crazy parking lot, we headed down the windy road to the town of Sete Cidades for a look around. The town wasn’t anything special, really. I don’t know the history of it, but for me the lakes were definitely the main attraction.

We ate our bolos levandos (which are amazing, by the way!) and some apples in the courtyard of the church in the main square in the sun. The wind still made it a bit cool even though it was clear and sunny out. We walked around town a bit before deciding to head out and visit a different small town – hopefully with a beach. We picked up some amazingly huge “pain au chocolat” (I have no idea what they are in Portuguese. They are similar to those in France, but about 2x the size!) and some egg tarts for the road…you never know when you will need another bakery snack!

From my map of the island, I could see that a little town called Mosteiros had a viewpoint and a beach, so we decided that would be our next destination. It is pretty much the most Northwestern point of the island too – which is kind of cool as that means we have basically covered the entire thing! We got to the viewpoint and had great views of the cliffs and the ocean and the little islands just off the coast. I also saw that there was a nice black sand beach below so directed Shawn down the hill to the Praia *(Beach in Portuguese! A very important word!). It was a beautiful beach. Completely sandy lava rock and totally black. Black cliffs and little islands right off to the side and not a person on it. Only a lonely surfer in the water. It was great. We weren’t quite warm enough to get in the water, but we laid out on the black sand and listened to the waves crashing around the beach and the rocks. It was pretty near perfect.

Around 2:30 we decided we should slowly start making the drive back. From where we were it would take just over an hour, but I know that I would be stopping – or asking Shawn to stop – to take a few more pictures along the way.

I didn’t actually ask to stop too many more times. Following the little red road was windy and tiring, so I know Shawn was on his last legs with all the curves and turns and ups and downs. I did get excited when I saw a great little pull over with stone tables and benches and an incredible view of a windmill and the town of Capelas beside the ocean. So we stopped and took a few pictures and enjoyed our egg tarts on the stone tables in the sun.

Finally, we were really on the way home and I didn’t make us stop again until we were just above the town of Furnas and we were almost home. There was another sign with a viewpoint on it…and a big tourist bus just turned into the small road. Unless it was to take all the tourists to the golf course (uggg….hopefully not), then they were up to see something exciting. Shawn missed the turn because I noticed it too late, but like a good chauffeur, he turned around and we drove back to the turn off and up and up and up until we reached a small driveway that was blocked by a huge bus.

When we got out, we saw that this was the tourist view of Lagoa Furnas! You could see the town, the smoke coming from the caldeiras, and the big lake. It was beautiful…but too many people. And I knew that the castle viewpoint I had found earlier in the day was a much better spot! But it was still good, yet again, to be up high and see such lovely greenery!

Not surprisingly, Shawn was wiped when we got back to the hotel. It was only around 4pm, but we had been driving since 8:30 this morning. I felt like we had done everything we needed to do while we were here – all in one day! I mean, don’t get me wrong. There is still tonnes we did not do at all. We didn’t do any hiking or shopping or exploring the larger cities. But we have definitely spent some good time getting to know some of the smaller places and some of the cute beaches and local spots (I believe) that the island has to offer! But I would definitely come back.

We went to Tony’s for dinner. Their menu is even on-line. Shawn got excited about a stew-like dish with 5 types of meat that is actually cooked in a ceramic pot inside the caldeiras (the hot gas volcano spots!). It was a HUGE dish. There was easily enough food for 4 people. When we were done eating it didn’t even look like we had touched anything on the plate. There was 2 types of sausage and 3 types of meat (pork, chicken, cow??) and some vegetables. It was good and very filling, but I would not have it again. It was really bland and the meat was tough. Shawn thought it would be like eating meat that came out of a slow cooker where it is nice and juicy…but this was a bit boring. IF you really did want to try it I would definitely only order one and go from there!! But it was good to try something local and unique! We are not eating food cooked in the vent of a volcano again any time soon!!!

Of course, for our last night here, we had to go to the thermal baths again. They are so relaxing and such great people watching. And because I am in total denial about leaving tomorrow, Shawn basically had to drag me out of them when it was time to go at 9:30pm. I could have stayed there all night. I would have been cooked meat by the morning, but you know. Logic doesn’t always prevail when it is the end of holidays!

Tomorrow we have a full day before our flight, but when I fly out at the end of a day I always have a hard time enjoying it. We will try to do our best, however! Who knows when we will be back!

Night!

-Allison

P.S. Don’t you agree that it was kind of an epic day?? I mean when do you get amazing views, cows on highways, decrepit old buildings, amazing lakes, secret beaches, great baking, and hot springs all in one day?!

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