Sao Miguel, which translates to Saint Michael, in reference to Arch Angel Micheal is the largest and most populous island in the Portuguese Archipelago of the Azores. Not too many people know of this almost tropical looking island and group of islands for that matter, yet , it has such a significant place in this world as the fathering many of the Portuguese settlements around the globe.
I first came across Sao Miguel, while doing research for my upcoming journey to Portugal and tracing my Portuguese Heritages. My grandfather on my father’s side came from the Azorean Island of Sao Miguel, Ponte Delagada to be precise, and I was intrigued and very much interested in visiting this ” small” island to see where a part of me comes from, and that of many portuguese people living in the States as well as Brazil. He left Ponte Delgada at the turn of the 20th Century on a boat with his brother. While he chose to disembark in Hawaii, his brother decided instead to choose Brazil as his home. The largest community of Portuguese living outside of Portugal in the United States, actually live in the Massachusetts area and the second in Hawaii, where I am from. In fact, there is a direct flight between Massachusetts and Ponte Delgada on SAS airline.
Located somewhat in the middle of the Atlantic and seemingly isolated, Sao Miguel and the rest of the 8 Azorean islands are located about the a thousand miles from Lisbon and mainland Portugal.
I was very intrigued to understand why people lived here and why they left. Like Hawaii, Sao Miguel is part of a chain of volcanic islands. It’s temperature however is slightly cooler and very comfortable with respect to Hawaii. The foliage is very similar, yet the ocean is cold , unlike the Pacific. I can see why though, the Portuguese who immigrated to Hawaii, immersed themselves so easily. Had I not known we were far from the Pacific and in the Atlantic Ocean, I would swear I was in Hawaii. Everything is so similar , and especially because like Hawaii, there are a lot of Portuguese . hahaha….
Michael, Dan, Debra and I left our apartment in Lisbon… see: Lisbon: The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Fado and headed to the airport via taxi to check into our quick 2 hour flight on SATA airlines to Ponte Delgada. Debra and I had consolidated our clothing into one checked duffel bag and stored our suitcases at the airport for pennies a day. It was awesome to not travel so heavy at this point. It was a little strange, as, although Sao Miguel is part of Portugal, and uses the Euro, we still had to go though passport control. We found out later, that it is due to the fact the very plain we were on was continuing to Massachusetts after the stop in PDL . Interesting……
The flight on SATA Airline was lovely, easy, quick, and comfy. Upon arrival, we immediately noticed how fresh the air was here. Beautiful and clean, the airport was a lovely reflection of the island and what was to come. We gathered our luggage and headed off to the car rental section to pick up our reserved car. Dan , being an excellent driver, picked up a stick shift car and we piled in full of excitement and headed off and out into Sao Miguel on our way to our Airbnb house we rented.
The roads are windy and the views are beautiful. We were staying very far from the city, in a quaint town called Povacao. Getting there was really a treat. The rolling hills, lush vegetation, and deep blue ocean waters, were a sight for sore eyes. The air again, was so fresh and delicious. In about an hour and a half later, we almost pulled into Povacao, but unfortunately our GPS device had us at a dead-end where only a moped could fit through. So we milled around and found our way eventually, until we came across a valley by the ocean with a church on a deep green hill and we sighed and thought to ourselves. OMG we made it, and its heaven.
Pulling up to our House, in this very quiet town, we were anxious to get in, get settled, and explore this relaxing retreat. Unfortunately our Landlord wasn’t there to meet us. After some texting, and calling she arrived 25 minutes later all in a fuss . She’s an interesting French lady, who lives both here as well as in France. Her keys didn’t work, so she says , oh no worries let’s go to the attached neighboring house ( which she also owns) , to grab a spare key. Finally that one worked. Upon entering the place, we were shocked. It took our breath away, and not in a good very good way. To call it Rustic ( which we so comically referred to it as later) was being really nice. As usual, these clever hosts, used every possible ” good ” angle to upset their properties, and this one took the cake at it.
Once a festive bar and hotel of this tiny town, what was left instead was very old unkept wood, paneling, dirty floors, and 2 bedrooms with a slew of beds just thrown around unloving as if to house a boy scout group . For us we were in for it. No toilet paper, bar of soap, proper blankets, or even fire wood. No coffee and condiments for cooking was scarce. It could have well have been a perfect setting for a Steven King Novel. If I could only find the link on AIRBNB to her place to reference it.
Starving, we decided to head out to find a local restaurant as well as a grocery store to stock up on supplies for our 3 nights there. Walking around the quiet town was both tranquil yet eerie. We couldn’t really find a proper place to eat, so we stopped by a local bar that was referred to us by our illustrious land lady. The bar, in the middle of town, looked like some set for a Hollywood western. With rustic brick layering along side wood-paneled walls and a swinging door, ok maybe not that western swinging door but you get the picture. I did all I could to contain myself. Greeting us were the local liquor and alcohol aficionados , both young and very old, whose names are probably engraved on the benches outside. Upon arriving and dodging the stumbling patrons, we were warmly welcomed by the owner/ bar keep who handed us menus and offered us the best seat in the house. The food was so inexpensive and we were robustly hungry that we ordered practically everything on the limited menu. Ecstatic and elated, our server/ bar owner/ bar tender/ big boss of the house, quickly yelled out orders in rapid Portuguese , and we settled upon a nice bottle wine and bread while we waited. A few minutes later, a troop of bar devotees rushed in carrying bags upon bags of produce, which would later transpire and transfigured into our meals.
Full of food and laughter at the start of our journey to Sao Miguel, we walked around the town taking in the tranquil sights, buying fresh bread out of the trunk of a car, and walked down to the beach were the rocks stood still staring into the great abyss of the Atlantic ocean. There was a friendly little hairy dog who followed us around leading us to different places for us to view. He was an excellent tour guide.
We stopped at the local super market to pick up supplies, and noticed our entire meal sitting so perfectly in their canned sarcophagus. Another boast of laughter ensued and we quickly realized that are somewhat delicious meal was all thanks to the likes of Hormel and Campbell. HAHAHAHA….. Well one positive note, bottles of wine started , STARTED, at €1,59 OMG of course we stocked up on it, along with toilet paper, coffee and wood fire starter kits.
That night, with no tv, no internet, and no nothing, we stared at the dismal fire we made laughed about our day, and listened to the eerie sounds of babies crying and women being murdered. Come to find out, the birds at night love to make these eerie sounds at the expense of weary travelers. The night sky though was magical. With so many stars out for display, and that again, very fresh air, I enjoyed sitting outside the side door looking up and taking it all in. Sleep came and we headed to bed, for what would be one of the most uncomfortable nights of my entire trip. The beds are decent for comfort, but the room was so scary, I could barely sleep.
Finally morning, came, coffee made, and breakfast cooked, and we headed out to Furnas, our days trip. “Furnas is located in the easternmost of three active trachytic volcanoes on the island of São Miguel, in the historically active Volcanic Complex of Furnas. With a complicated 100,000 year history, the central caldera of the Furnas Volcano is a naturally explosive trachyte structure composed of two main calderas, that through formation, collapse and explosion have marked the natural history of the massif. The oldest caldera has a diameter of approximately 7*5.5 km whose escarpment cuts the lava structures of the neighbouring Volcanic Complex of Povoação to the north and northeast and southeast to valley of Ribeira Quente. The second caldera (4.5*3.5 km diameter) dates back 35000 years (the youngest caldera) and is geomorphologically identifiable by the 200 metre wall to the north and northwest. Within the caldera are numerous pumice cones and maars resulting from Plinian and Phreto-plinian eruptions from 5000 years.” Care of wikipedia
We first stopped at the Thermal Park of Terra Nostra, to see the dug out holes where lunch for many of the restaurants in the parish town of Furnas would be cooking in the boiling waters inside a wooded box. It is famous for it. And in order to enjoy it, you must have made proper reservations at the restaurants in order for them to prepare your meal and have it cooked before you arrive. Well that didn’t work out well for us, but we still found food…. There were cats and ducks everywhere and they were really enjoying the hot grounds all while enjoying the views of the beautiful Lake . You can buy cat food to feed the cats, but the ducks seems to like cat food just as well, and I was bombarded by them greedily trying to take the food from my hands.
Next we headed to the Thermal Spa of Furnas. A huge circular Pool like place where you can enjoy the hot springs in sandy colored water. It was just what we needed. After drying off we returned to the city center in search of food. I can’t for the life of me remember where we ate or what we ate, but I do know that we also tried our taste buds with hot spring coffee… It was very….. sulfury lol
We ended our day walking around the beautiful lake. Peaceful, tranquil, beautiful, and full of sculptured grass, it was a lovely walk. Now , what to do tonight. Oh ya I know, nothing, staring at nothing, and enjoying nothing , except for our wonderful personalities. Thank God I traveled with awesome people, or it would’ve made for a dismal and horrid time.
Irritated, pissed off, cold, hungry, and unhappy, we pondered that night , over and over again , if we should give up on the rustic experience , leave and head to the big city ( not really that big , but in comparison …) of Ponte Delgada. I tried and tried to reflect on this as best as possible as I didn’t want to give up. But everything that was promised to us didn’t fall through , and we would’ve endured this scouting adventure, had we not noticed that the property next door, which the land lady also owned, was warm, full wi-fi, and with all the basic amenities we were hoping for. So, with clever skills, constant waving of my arm back and forth trying to catch wifi signals, we booked ourselves 2 hotel rooms deep in the heart of Ponte Delgada, and went to bed happy for the first time.
Morning broke, we quickly packed left the owner a nasty message, because we can and deserved to and ran as fast as we could to our car and out of that Wicked little town. We enjoyed our now, 2 hour drive to the city by visiting lovely coastal villages, and taking our sweet time to soak things in and make this trip more memorable . Finally we arrived into town, and checked into the Azoris Royal Garden Hotel.
When we walked into our rooms, all you could hear was screams of joy. It was warm, plush beds and blankets and pillows, hot shower with warm fluffy towels, a view to a lovely garden off our balcony, and a TV.
Ponte Delgada is a lovely little city. And we were so lucky to come here when we did , because it was festival time. It was the festival of the Holy Ghost, and the town was alive!
First stop was the main Cathedral which was adorned in a multitude of flowers surrounding the body of Christ. I put on a crucifix, a kukui nut lei my father gave me in honor of him, and it was really a lovely emotional feeling to be had.
We made our way down to the ocean following the tiled wave patterns on the ground until we came across an old and beautiful fort. We climbed for a commanding view of the city and noticed nearby a group of tents with a lot of people in it. OMG we found a party honey. There were multiple booths selling multiple types of food and drinks and you had to wait to be seated at the corresponding tables.. Of course we picked the most popular one where people were chowing down on baguette sandwiches with oozing cheese and bubbling beer. When it came our turn, we of course followed suit and ordered what everyone else was ordering and omg it was absolutely divine. Festive , loud and good food, we were so content and happy to be here.
We decided to walk around the town a bit more, trying to embrace the culture of Dan and I’s ancestors, as Dan traced his heritage to the church where his grandfather got baptized and I and the rest , just soaked it all up.
We headed back to the hotel for a little rest , Debra and I decided to take a little Siesta while the boys hit the spa. All wrapped up in their towels even covering their not so long hair, they woke us up, and we got ready to hit the town!
As evening fell around 9 pm, we followed the well-heeled crowd back towards the cathedral and into what was now Main Street Disneyland and the electrical Parade. The church was lit up in all its glory, bands and musicians performed at the nearby bandstand and everyone was enjoying the merriment. We found a little nook where beer was flowing and malasadas were served. After searching all over Lisbon for Malasadas ( a portuguese pastry covered with sugar and cooked in oil famous in Hawaii ) we finally found it , and we screamed for everyone to hear how happy we were to find it. HA! People were dancing and singing and it was UBER festive. Alas , it was time to call it a night. All full of beer and food and happy memories , we retired to our hotel for what would be an absolutely lovely sleep.
The next morning we were up early, packed up our bags and were off to the airport to head back to Mainland Portugal. While it wasn’t the most absolutely fabulous journey, Sao Miguel was an excellent experience, full of Intrigue , Irritation, and Finally Fun!
Next stop is a night in Lisbon, where we then say goodbye to the boys, and then its off to Porto for a week .