Sao Jorge and Velas
Beep – Beep – Beep!! It's 6 a.m. and there is this horrible noise. First thought: fire alarm – up and a short sprint through the boat revealed nothing. Finally, our brains slowly cleared and we remembered the water detectors we just installed three weeks ago. Indeed, one of them was reporting a flooding of the deepest bilge. The leak was located in a matter of seconds – a bride on a hose went loose because of the vibrations and there was a steady dripping of sea water. Our mistake! When we arrived in the marina yesterday, instead of checking the bilges as always, we went for a drink with our friends... So, the first morning we spent clearing up this mess. It was impossible to reach the bottom (1.5m) of the three connected compartments. So we used the hose with fresh water and filled the bilges several time to clean out the salty water.
In the afternoon, we started exploring the surroundings of the marina, which is belted by the main town Velas (population 2'000). It's really a lovely place with neat houses, cute restaurants and wonderful cobblestones everywhere. There are even two fantastic natural swimming pools – circled by lava rocks, one of our favorite places for the next two weeks, where we spent hours snorkeling. It feels like being in an aquarium; surrounded by thousands of small and big fishes.
The volcanic island itself (6x50km / 8'000 inhabitants) is characterized by agriculture particularly. There are cows all over the place – for milk, the famous cheese, tasty yoghurts and fantastic steaks, at amazing prices. They also grow corn, wheat, many different vegetables, wine and even coffee. The last volcanic eruption occurred only 200 years ago and you can still see its effects like lava rocks, craters and the well known “Fajãs”. Those are low fields with small houses between the ocean and steep mountains, created by lava flows and landslides – some of them accessible only on water or small, very steep foot paths.
One never gets bored in this beautiful marina – there is always something going on. Each morning we jumped directly from the boat into the crystal clear water for snorkeling, being welcomed by many different fishes, cucumbers and big shellfish. This we followed with an American breakfast, during which we always watched the amusing conversation between Daisy and Leo (duck and cat) – each one wanted the better place on top of the harbors stone-men. When you decide to spend the day on the boat to get work done, it’s just not happening. There is always somebody to talk to or you get invited for a beer or meal. Fortunately, for the very first time, there wasn't a lot to be done – some repairs on the fridge and painting our Logo on the wall – this time a bit bigger :-)
Every evening you can witness a very famous event, namely when the Cory's shearwater come back from fishing to feed their partner and offspring. They fly along the cliffs around the marina and let out their funny cries – it sounds like they must have banged their head on the wall and are now complaining (if you want to know what that sounds like, go to ‘youtube’ and enter “gelbschnabelsturmtaucher”). Almost 80% of the world population of this threatened species lives on the Azores. The male and female stay together for life and they can reach an age of over 40 years. They are related to the albatross.
Our biggest concern right now is, how to get out of our berth in the rearmost corner, because some bigger boats are docked around us. But we are confident, that José, the friendliest and most helpful marina master of the Azores, will figure out a solution.
Most of the time on the island we spent exploring it by scooter (almost 500 km :-)) or on longer hikes. Most of them start at 500m above sea level and lead you down to the sea. You could even enjoy the place with only driving around; thousands of flowers line the roads, which leads you over the mostly fog covered mountains. In the higher parts there are big fields with hundreds of cows. The only buildings you’ll find are the milking booths for the cows, where they come every evening to deliver the milk. North and south of the ridge, narrow roads lead you down to the small villages with their neat restaurants (famous for their homemade desserts and buffets – all you can eat for about 12 Euros). The only thing one “could” miss, are bigger beaches – there are only a handful - small but very nice with black sand.
One of the many official hikes runs between different fajãs on the north coast. To reach the most famous one, the Fajã do Santo Cristo, we chose the hiking trail along the coast. To our surprise, it is permitted to drive this trail of four kilometers daily for a couple of hours by squats and motorcycles. Well, our scooter is also a kind of motorcycle and so we went for it. The further we went, the more difficult it got; over rocks, down narrow and steep trails – a nice challenge and a lot of fun. Fortunately, we reached our destination with its lovely houses, a small chapel and a restaurant, in one piece. A specialty which is served at this place, are small clams, which grows only in this lagoon.
Perseids shooting stars
During our stay, the peak of the yearly perseids meteor shower was reached – what better place than to watch this spectacle in the middle of the Atlantic with almost no lights? With the beginning of sundown we left the marina by scooter and drove for an hour on gravel roads to the highest point of the island (Pico Esperança). It was essential to drive quiet slowly, not because of the large stones, but because there were dozens of little rabbits sleeping on the still warm tracks. They really were not very smart – instead of leaving the path, they would hop right in front of the scooter time and again. Also, on the way we made several stops to marvel at the colorful sunset, the island of Pico in the background. After a short walk we reached the top of the island and laid down in the grass. In the beginning there wasn't a lot of movement in the sky, but you could still see thousands of stars in total silence. Fortunately we set the clock to one hour, because it did not take long for us to drift to sleep. It seemed we picked the right moment to be woken-up, every three minutes a bright beam appeared on the sky, some of them lasting up to five seconds and shooting from one side to the other. As it had turned quite cold, we decided to head back, which proved rather tricky. Using our flashlights we slowly edged along the rim of the crater and back to the safety and warmth of the Happy Day.
Diving in volcanic formations
Otherweise than normal, the diving trips on the island are rather cheap and we dared a trip into the volcanic underwater world. It was totally different from anything we had seen thus far. We found huge lava formations with tunnels and overhangs, surrounded by black sand. We came across new fishes, big clams as well many fireworms, you have to be very careful and not touch them – because their bristles are poisonous and hurt like hell. In the middle of the dive we followed the guide through an opening in the rocks and ended up in a huge cauldron, open to the sky. On the way back the guide spotted a big round white shell reaching out of the black sand. When he picked it up, he was almost scared to death, threw it far away and breathed very fast – it was a bald head of an ugly doll. Back on land, he told us, that not too long ago he had seen this horror movie “chucky” with a doll as main actor...