After five days at sea it is strange to awaken and look out of the cabin window to see land. The nine islands of the Azores are dotted across the Atlantic Ocean some 900 miles west of mainland Portugal. Even though they are officially part of Portugal they are completely autonomous, a fact the Azoreans seem quite proud of.
We dock in Ponta Delgada, the biggest town, on the largest of the Azoreans Islands, São Miguel, at around 7am. Our breakfast we ordered the previous evening is delivered to our room shortly afterwards and we enjoy this on the balcony as we watch small fishing boats set out from the harbour into the open seas.
Just before 8am we head down to the Lyric Theatre on Deck 4 so that we can hand in our tour tickets in exchange for our group stickers for our trip today. Rebeira Grande & Fire Lake. The trip includes a visit to Rebeira Grande, the 2nd largest town on the north coast of the island, followed by an ascent up into the mountains to see what is called Fire Lake. The trip is to be concluded with a visit to a pineapple plantation before returning to the port at around lunchtime. We figured this was ideal as would then give us time to explore Ponta Delgada itself before we leave port at around 4.30pm.
A couple of the basic requirements for a trip up a mountain is a good guide and good weather. We have one of those and its not the weather. Sadly as we arrive into the Azores there is high pressure building. This is normally a good thing as it means little wind usually bright condition. It can also mean mist and fog which is what we have to contend with. We depart the ship and are met by our tour guide for the day. He is a very old, wizened gentlemen, with as much hair on his head as teeth in his mouth. He introduces himself as George and although he was born and bread in the Azores speaks perfect English. Very good english in fact.
Out coach heads out across the island heading for the northern coast. At only 8 miles wide it doesn't take very long. All the way George is giving a continuos talk about points of interest and the history and politics of the islands. We arrive in Rebeira Grande at around 8.45 where we have about 40 mins to stroll around and take photos. Rebeira Grande means Big Stream in Portuguese and this big stream runs through the centre of town. The town is so diffrent to those we have left behind on the Caribbean Islands. There it was all bars and diamond shops trying to entice you in. Rebeira Grande is very sleepy and quaint. Lots of old buildings and churches.
Back on the coach we head up into the mountains. The Azores were formed as the result of volcanic activity which pushed them up out of the ocean. We see lots of steam rising as we climb upwards and George informs us this is because of geothermal activity which is harnessed and provides 40% of the islands electricity needs. We see lots of power plants dotted here and there where they have drilled down deeply to access the energy.
The road gets increasingly serpentine as we climb higher. São Miguel is a very green and lush island. This is a combination of the fertile volcanic soils and temperate climate. They never suffer from extremes of heat or cold. We arrive near the top of the mountain for a view out over Lagoas de Fogo (Fire Lake). Sadly we can see only about 10 feet ahead of us due to the mist which has descended down over the mountain. It is a shame as this was to be the highlight of the tour. George apologise but points out that the weather cannot be controlled.
We descend down the other side of the island to the southern coast where we visit a pineapple plantation. Its only a short visit and as its started to rain we hop back on the bus sooner than the allotted time given. We arrive back at the port around mid-day. Ironically as we arrive back the weather breaks and the mist lifts. Before long we have clear blue skies and warm sunshine. We look back at the mountain and are relieved to see that it is still mist shrouded so we would have had no better luck had we travelled there in the afternoon.
We spend some of the afternoon exploring Ponta Delgada which is a very pretty, large town. We decide to lunch there as the food and drink prices are very reasonable. We then take a walk out past the ship towards the Marina before doubling back and re-boarding Adventure. Its a gloriously hot afternoon and so we lie out on the pool deck. Its so hot we can only manage an hour and retreat to our cabin shortly afterwards. Before long we hear the ship sound her horn and we depart our last port of call. Our next stop is Southampton on Sunday morning. We enjoy a glass of bubbly as we sail out of Ponta Delgada. As we leave we have an escort of seabirds skimming low over the waves but we soon leave them in our wake.
Cocktails in the Imperial Lounge, Dinner in the main dining room, flutter in the casino, wine in the Viking Crown. Yes you all know the routine by now. Fantastic day though.
Ickle baby pineapples
Adventure in the sun - Ponta Delgada
George our tour guide.
Mist shrouded mountains