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Seeking out Sun in Sao Miguel

Last month I took my sweet younger sister on a trip to Portugal. It might come as a shock to you that I've had a few trips canceled in the COVID-era. In 2019, I won a scholarship for a certification training seminar in Singapore for August 2020, which... did not happen for obvious reasons. At the end of 2020 I bought tickets for Paris of 2021 to cross off a huge bucket list item... only to be disbarred from entry on a tourist visa weeks before. I bought tickets for Finland to see some of the Baltics in August, only for the Delta variant to again impose on plans since not everyone in our group was fully vaccinated (one of our passengers had just recovered from COVID and felt it wasn't necessary given some of the science indicating vaccination post-recovery could negatively impact immunity).

My sweet sister had her senior undergrad summer study-abroad canceled due to COVID. I turned to her and told her I'd take her somewhere, some day. In the throes of her first semester of L1, I asked her if spring break was a bad time. She said no, and I got to searching for tickets. Ever the ambassador for Scott's Cheap Flights, I got on and went searching. And boy, did I find deals. I booked us two cheap tickets for Lisbon out of IAD for her spring break.

And then I got to planning. More on planning later, as I am the most detailed person you'll ever plan a trip with, but in my preliminary research, it looked like we wouldn't need all 6 days in Lisbon to see what we wanted. I did research on Porto and Lagos and then stretched further... and stumbled onto the predicament of "Açores or Madeira?" and lobbed the question to my sister.

Lo and behold, we wound up crashing for one night in Lisbon before getting up early for a ride to the airport to hop skip and jump over to the island of Sao Miguel.

Before you get too deep into things: please know my introductions to Western Europe were Greece and Italy. These countries are dripping with preserved culture, ancient history, and sights to see. I was not sure what to expect from the Açores since it truly is geographically like Hawai'i and appears to be the same distance from Portugal as Bermuda is the Carolinas.

I went into the trip with little expectations other than to enjoy seafood and sun. And, boy howdy, did I love the island. Having been to Maui last May, I will confirm that it is much like Maui in geography. But the Portuguese mosaic motif carried over to the volcanic island, resulting in a smattering of black-and-white artwork all over the city. Now, envision your sweet little Tuscan town with a piazza centered around a large church, but set it on an island with island food.

I will never NOT rave about the tropical fruits and amazing foods Ponta Delgada offered. The Açorean sweet potato will forever have a special spot in my heart. Did you know the island has more cows than people?! And that's why they have the best cheese. And amazing tomatoes. Not sure where the olive oil is from, but I had a hefty serving of tuna swimming in olive oil with some salted raw vegetables and have not stopped thinking about it, since.

Anyways, raving FAR too much, writing in excess, and in need of getting to the photos. So here we go!

View from our little stay just a 15 minute walk east from historic downtown Ponta Delgada, Praia de Santos was easily one of our best choices we made in planning our trip. While it was admittedly too cold to fully enjoy the pool, the ocean view and privacy we got to enjoy was a nice feature. But what really made our stay here was the service - the included breakfast provided a large variety of local fresh flavors, fruits, and produce ranging from both the sweet and savory. We felt like kids in a candy store with the rich buffet of options prepared for us. Here's a tip: when in the Açores, eat all the fruit you can!

I love photos like these because the tetrahedrons are such beautifully artificial piece parts dropped like playing jacks across the light volcanic shore line. Expect more tetrahedrons. Thanks!

Lava rock alongside the city's mosaic walkway.

I guess having a near-endless supply of volcanic rock and some limestone means you get to make whatever mosaics you want, wherever you want! Our favorite part of Ponta Delgada was the consistent blank volcanic rock contrasted to the white façades of buildings.

Occasional blue buildings, too.

Colors of Ponta Delgada, ft. Cherry Red toes.

You can't make these colors up!

The longer you look at it, the more colors you see.

a study in yellow structures ft. my little sister

You can't see it, but that archway is called the Portas da Cidade, which is the stone archway and entrance to the city. Just to the left of it, in this photo, is actually the dock. We saw some European cruises but mostly a variety of personal boats.

a trio of trees, a singularity of blues.

art in light

A city built on hills and valleys.

Pools upon pools.

I liked seeing the sunset through the windows, I don't know.

houses on the rocks

a glimpse of a traveler's paradise

to end our day full of white and blue, a pink and orange sky. We couldn't make this stuff up, truly. I don't think I could even edit this to get the photos more true.

The next morning, we had booked a 4x4 tour of the island. We wound up being treated to a private tour, and I couldn't recommend it more. We got to drive up the east side of the figure-8 shaped island to see some of the many lakes.

sete cidades

somewhere on a hill lies a trail, winding and narrow

where ocean meets sky

sete cidades, a near white-out.

sete cidades

Never in my life have I see fern trees, much less in such abundance.

(would it be me without trees and texture?)

I saw some of these same sorts of cliffs in Maui, too. I wondered how falling lava fell in such a sharp vertical, but then wondered if maybe it was unsound and so bits of the sloping island fell and eroded away to leave these shapes?

Maui, Curaçao, and Açores all seem to have the same volcanic beaches just spread out across the globe

Black sand beaches, flanked by foamy white raging seas.

If I had to describe the Açores in two photos, this would be one. So much rich wildlife, so much beautiful water.

Did I mention volcanic rock?

We saw some amazing waterfalls, as one does on a volcanic island.

While we did not go to the island's most famous hot springs (Termas da Farriera), we did get to go to Termas das Caldeiras, a park with a handful of spring pools. Some were boiling hot, some were cooler. We had not prepared with swim suits, so we ran to the pool at the top (pictured above) and clawed our way towards the waterfall as quickly as we could. The water was cool and refreshing, but not chilly. It did not smell of sulfur as much as some of the other basins, but looked so inviting. Tip: if you go, wear your suits! We dressed more for hiking than for swimming.


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