Sunday, August 17, 2014

Supermarket Experience in Faial

We went grocery shopping at largest supermarket on the island, the Continente supermercado. It sells just about everything although it's smaller than a decent sized store in London. We had a birthday BBQ to prepare for and we needed everything from food to fold out chairs.

There were abandoned things in the carpark, presumably for charity. I love typewriters and had never seen one like this before. It has a wide carriage for business typing. Or perhaps one day on my memoirs in my dream house in Faial?

The supermarket reminds me of what they were like in the 80s when I was growing up in the country. Most fresh produce was sourced locally. Food and prices were honest and the only expensive things were imported goods.

The fresh seafood section was amazing. I've never seen half of these fish types before and there was even a separate section for dried cod. It's easy to eat healthily with fresh, unprocessed foods and cheap too-that's how life should be.

A delicacy of the Azores are these sea snails. Unfortunately this one cannot escape!

Part of Portuguese cuisine is Bacalhau, dried salted cod.

When we returned home that day, cows were moved by their farmer to the back of the house to graze. How beautiful is Pico here at sunset?

Because there are no fences, each cow is secured by a chain and stake anchored to the ground. Mother cows were mooing all night because they were apart from their calves and the poor babies couldn't suckle :(

Visiting Caldeira Do Faial

The volcanic crater in Faial is a natural spectacle. The time to see it is when there are no clouds as otherwise it will hidden in fog.

In the morning we prepared for my friend's birthday BBQ and other ex-pats were invited. It was a great way of getting to know people who lived on the island. We lit up the charcoal in the BBQ and cooked up burgers, chicken and tilapia.  

After people had left, we sat back and relaxed. It was a good time. Then my friend tells us to visit the caldera. The sky was clear so visibility will be good. We got into the car and took a scenic ride up 1,040m with stunning fauna along the way. It was like we were driving through a botanical garden!

We arrived at the top of the caldera and walked through a short tunnel. Then I did something I'm not proud of as a tourist. Completely awestruck by the huge caldera before us, I belted out the words "OH MY GWAD" in my thickest Aussie-ocker accent. So loud and cringeworthy,  I must have cleared out all the birds in the area. 

The caldera has a circumference of 8km and a drop of 400m. You can't go in without being guided by a ranger. In the center was a small lake and everywhere else was covered with greenery. It was like another world. Quite possibly a different eco system.

At the top of the caldera there is a hike you can take all the way around. Here is a little shrine. 

More hydrangeas, a symbol of the Azores.

On the other side of the caldera. The clouds and rain were coming in. Some cloud crept slowly into the crater like an aurora. In a matter of minutes, it reached us and it was time to head back.

In the evening we fired up the BBQ again and finished off the leftovers under the stars. We saw the moon and it's own craters through a telescope. 

Ocean Life In The Azores

We got up early for breakfast at the famous Peter's Sport Cafe. Apparently you haven't sailed around the world unless you know this place. I believe this is their mascot, a pink whale which sits above the building facing the harbour.

We were the first customers of the day. I had tuna quiche and a cod fish ball (food mentioned in this post pictured here). It was delicious and cheap for EUR 4.70 with a coffee.

Then we had our whale watching tour. We set off by dinghy and went south of Pico where the skippers where lead by whale spotters on land. They are enthusiastic about marine life and knew the animals well even down to their behaviours.

Did you know a sperm whale can stay underwater for 40 minutes before it resurfaces for air? A skipper got out an underwater microphone to detect a whale and we waited. After 15 minutes, there was a mighty blow of white spray in the horizon and we moved closer. We saw a sperm whale and a northern bottle nose whale. The highlight was when the skipper was describing exactly a whale's movement before it deep dived into the water. Its blows twice in quick succession and dips it's body down, revealing it's massive tail in the air.

See that tiny white speck in on the right side of this pic above? That was a whale. My iphone didn't capture them well but I got photos of dolphins. We saw Risso's dolphin which are white, Atlantic spotted dolphin and the common dolphin. The latter were social creatures and came up to us. I don't know if it was them who spotted us first but suddenly many dolphins were "skipping" towards us. Beautiful and amazing! They followed us until they couldn't keep up with the speed of the boat.

Afterwards we had lunch alfresco by the town beach. Another seafood triumph. Grilled tuna steak with potatoes and salad. Grey clouds were rolling in so we had to make it to our next stop quick before it rained.

We went to the Geological Museum of the Volcano in Capelinhos, situated where there was a volcano in the 1950s. The volcano effectively pushed out the headland and caused the area look like Mars even to this day. It's dusty and barren with hardly any signs of life except the people visiting the museum and the lighthouse unharmed by the volcano. It will take hundreds if not thousands of years before it becomes lush like the rest of the island. 

The Rural Island Paradise Of The Atlantic

The Portuguese island of Faial is an uncommon but well-worthy travel destination. From the UK the only way you can get there is via Lisbon. Then it's a three hour flight across the Atlantic. 

I was invited by friends who have a property there and I was looking forward to a rural retreat. The island is part of an archipelago formed by volcanos.

To make the most of the transit time, we took at 6.30am flight from Heathrow. There was a two hour stopover in Lisbon so we kicked off our holiday was a couple of beers at the airport. 

Hours later we landed at Horta airport, situated right by the sea. The sun was shining and it was blissfully warm. What a way to arrive!

As seen from the plane, there are black volcanic rocks lining the blue shores. The land was lush green with blooming hedgerows

We picked up our hire car and headed to the house, passing the quaint town of Horta where they were setting up the festival, Sea Week. I felt immediate ease and tranquility here. 

Ornate ginger flowers and lilac hydrangeas grew alongside the road. There was far more space for pastures than houses and it seemed like every one of them had a view of the sea.

The island has a spectacular view of Portugal's highest mountain Pico, also the name of it's island. There are always clouds hanging around Pico but they pass and its a special sight when the whole mountain is visible

We passed tiny villages and the colloquially named "dirty" store by the ex-pat locals. It's a general store selling everything from local produce to gas cylinders. And after crossing a little bridge and a final hill, we pulled into our home for the next four days. 

The house is surrounded by pastures and the only fencing are rock walls. A cosy place where I could envisage writing my memoirs with a view of Pico someday. Aside from the view, another special feature is that a stream runs on the side of the house. And I mean just over the verandah is the stream!

The area is protected as it's only permitted to build over existing ruins. Many houses were abandoned after earthquakes and a volcano. No wonder it's still a peaceful place today. It was only us and a dozen or so grazing cows here. 

For lunch we had cheese, honey and bread from the dirty store. All local of course.

At this point I had a raging headache, possibly from the early morning start and the breakfast beers. I took a nap and had no inclination to drink the rest of the day. I volunteered to be the designated driver for the night. 

It was my first time driving on the other side of the road which was slow and I attempted to change gears with the window control. 

We went to the nearby beach, Praia do Almoxarife, for dinner. It was a black sand beach.

We watched the sun set with a few beers and a mineral water for me. The beach was quiet with only a few locals around.

We started dinner with fresh soft local cheese served with chilli sauce. I ordered grilled whole fish from a choice of five different catches of the day. My fish was grilled longer than preferred but that's how they do it in Portugal. It was huge for one person!