Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sao Miguel

I feel my Azorian landfall entry might have created the wrong impression about my visit to the islands - my week long stay in the islands has felt far too short; I've had a great time amongst the wonderfully, warm, friendly Azorians - but more of that later.

I left Santa Maria on the evening of my arrival. I'd intended to stay another day, and though conditions weren't ideal to leave immediately - rough seas, with a strong wind to beat into - the forecast predicted strengthening winds veering to the north in the following days. So despite having enjoyed some celebratory glasses of wine, it was time to head off into the squally evening. I optimistically hoped that the worst of the violent squalls sweeping through the anchorage would disappear as I cleared the high cliffs of the islands. However even an hour out with three reefs in the main each squall would pin Kika on her side. As I lay on the cockpit floor feeling a mixture of mild seasickness mixed with a throbbing alcohol induced headache, I pinned my hopes on the predicted moderation in the wind in the early hours. We seemed to spend most of the night crashing over the waves, but eventually the weather conformed to the prediction and allowed me to grab a little sleep.

Despite being in the EU, the Azores keep their entry formalities, with visits required to customs, immigration and port police - fortunately all in adjacent offices within the same building. There weren't any anchoring options close to Ponta Delgada so I opted to treat myself to a berth in the reasonably priced marina awaiting Matt's arrival at the weekend.

After so long amongst Mediterranean charter boats it was great to be surrounded by boats either returning from long voyages or about to set off on their adventures, resulting in a fantastically convivial time. Matt arrived on Saturday evening - it still seems incredible when plans hatched weeks or months in advance come together. With Matt onboard we were all set for the final leg to the UK, however first I was keen to escape the confines of the mosaicly paved Ponta Delgada and explore the island. Inevitably Sunday was the wettest day so far, and despite Matt's optimistic pronouncements that each approaching cloud would yield a "clearing shower" to be followed by clear skies, the scenic viewing places revealed little beyond the bounding wall. However even the heaviest of downpours couldn't prevent us from marvelling at the colourful verges lined with hydrangeas and bougainvillea. After multiple missed turns we eventually succeeded in winding our way up and into the caldera containing the spectacular Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde (blue and green lakes). Matt set a cracking pace as we explored the shore-line of Lagoa Verde, which really appeared green when the sun made a belated welcome appearance. With our appetites stimulated we set off in search of food, eventually arriving at a a small bar in Varzea on the west coast. We ordered a selection of mystery stews from tubs behind the bar and set about satisfying our hunger. One stew contained beans and meat which we quickly demolished, however the other proved to be chicken neck, heart and liver stew. Matt gamely worked his way through the bowl - however I decided I was suddenly feeling rather full.

It was festival day in Varzea. Flowers were laid along the roads in the village, two brass bands arrived, the villagers appeared in their "Sunday best", the firework man risked his right arm setting off large loud rocket bangers and eventually the local priest emerged from the church heralding the start of the procession. Villagers carrying a variety of religious icons set off, led by the bands, to process around the village on the recently laid carpet of flowers. After the modern infrastructure of Ponta Delgada, it felt as though we'd been transported to a film set of a period drama. It really would have been great to stay longer and experience more of the Azores...

21/7/2009: Marina, Ponta Delgada: N 37deg 44.3' W025deg

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