Friday, April 16, 2010

Volcanic Islands of the Atlantic-- the Azores

The first thing we learned was how to pronounce the name of the Azores-- “eh-shurs” in Portuguese. The second thing was getting our heads around the fact that here, on Sao Miguel Island (the most populated island of the archipelago), we are WAY out in the Atlantic (at 37°46'N; 25°19'W), 940 miles from the Portuguese mainland, and over 2,000 miles from Assatague Island, the closest land to the west. One can't go more than a few miles without a glimpse of the ocean, a constant reminder that this is an island in a very big sea. It is very welcoming and comfortable here, the people extremely hospitable even though our Spanish seems a mystery to them.

Reminders that these islands are volcanic are everywhere: lava rock is used for building, hot springs and fumaroles abound, and people cook meals in holes dug into the steaming ground. We visited Furnas, the thermal capital of Sao Miguel, full of steam and bubbling pots. A huge thermal pool in the park welcomed swimmers. We plunged in, and now Janet's white shirt is a nice shade of orange from the minerals! Geothermal power is a force on these isolated islands. The geothermal plant, which looks a lot like Mammoth's geothermal facility at home, provides 40% of the island's power.

Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) despite its name only has one small village in the center of a huge caldera accented with 2 lakes, one blue and one green. The story goes that a princess and a shepherd were in love, but not allowed to marry, and cried 2 colors of tears from which each lake gets its distinctive hue.

A local fisherman at Mosteiros, on the island's far western shore, explained that the fishing boats can only go out when the sea is calm, and one never knows when that may be. There are natural pools along the rocky shore, protected by lava ridges from the crashing waves, that local swimmers use when it is warm, but not during this mid-April visit. In fact a woman hiker told us that it was warmer back home in Finland!

The island archipelago reminds us of Hawaii, and as in the Hawaiian Islands, there are lots of flowers—azaleas, in particular. Also, like in Hawaii, there are wetter and drier sides to the island depending on the wind direction, but (though they grow pineapples in greenhouses here), this is definitely not a tropical latitude with tropical temperatures and vegetation We are at 38 degrees north, after all!


  1. Glad to see you are enjoying Sao Miguel.

    Regards from Portuguese fellow you met at Logan Airport, Boston.

  2. Ánimo chicos, os estamos esperando en España para acompañaros.
    Javier y Virginia

  3. Hi Dave and Janet,
    Traveling mercies.

  4. Great pictures! Whatta trip....

  5. Nice pictures. Too bad the weather is cool. Hopefully you will enjoy some nicer days while you are there. Either way, I'm jealous because I am not there.

    I wouldn't bother with Spanish there. Many locals will speak some English. That will get you further

  6. Michael
    Great pictures and scenes. I was there many years ago and appreciated the wonderful views.