The last full day in the Azores had already come. The sky was a mixture of clouds and sun, but since weather is both so changeable and so localized, there was no way of telling what the day would bring. At breakfast I tried some of Susana’s pumpkin and coconut jam on my bread, and enjoyed a passionfruit local yogurt. Then it was back over the hills, the 15 minute drive to Ponta Delgado. By now I had a routine of heading east to catch the marginal highway close to the ocean and docks, parking underground, then going to wait at the Futurism kiosk for my daily tour.
Claude, who had brought me back from Mosteiros, was the jeep driver and tour guide. He was going to offer the tour in English and Portuguese; we were going to meet up at Villa Franco de Campo with another vehicle and the 2 German speaking ladies in our jeep were going to change to that one, because Sandy was going to give the tour in German.
Villa Franco de Campo was apparently an original settlement in the 1400s, and the original capitol, but, being nestled in extinct volcanoes, there wasn’t as much room for expansion and agriculture, so eventually Ponta Delgado, on the flatter southwest coast, became the largest city. Our first stop was a Roman Catholic chapel built into the hillside. Steps up to each level brought one to a beautiful ceramic blue tile painting of one of the scenes from the life of Christ and Mother Mary.
At the very top, there were 5 more paintings of the Ascension and Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven. Looking at them against the vibrant green of the hillside where cows were grazing was a wonderful contrast.
We really needed the jeep for the next portion of our tour, which began on the west-east dirt road up on the rim of the crater, lined with the majestic plain trees, then we were off on a dirt road, crossing through the Nature Preserve, carefully crossing culverts and places where there was road damage from water runoff.
Claude talked about some of the history of the Azores as we drove. The laurel trees were native to the Azores, but fast growing cedars have been planted in the last century. Early settlers in Sao Miguel tried first wheat production, then sugar production. With competition from the Canary Islands and other places, they changed to growing oranges for export in the 1700s-1800s. But some kind of blight took out the orange crops.
Much of the island is currently engaged in dairy farming, and both fish and beefsteak are features of island menus. There is a soft Azorean cheese which is served with a spicy tomato sauce. Hard cheeses are mostly imported from the mainland.
Much of the island is still unspoiled by tourists and modern buildings. There are impressive churches around the main square in each town. We felt like we kept going back in time. Our tour guide took us to a traditional lunch at a restaurant in the small town of Lomba da Fazena above Norwest, which was delicious.
Afterwards we went southeast to a garden and picnic viewpoint, then back up to a viewpoint of an old lighthouse. Nordeste means “northeast” – apparently sailors followed the northeasterly tradewinds between the Portugal mainland and the Azores. A lot of the island has very steep drops from the mountains down to the sea, so there are just a few natural ports where ships could come in.
For a change the clouds were gone and there were brilliant blue skies as we looked north to the old lighthouse. I finally got the picture in my mind that the Portuguese who immigrated to the coasts in Massachusetts and Connecticut as ship builders and whalers were actually from the Azores! That was why there were decent priced direct flights from Boston to Ponta, then on to the Madeiras Islands or onto Lisbon on the mainland.
While visiting the viewpoint, we ran into our newly made friends from New York State, who’d driven their rental car to see Nordeste and the various sight-seeing locations. They strongly recommended we have dinner at the Cais, in a village just east of Ponta.
The remaining stops on our Futurismo tour were going to a old lookout point for whales, then an old water millhouse and waterfalls. Everything was so scenic we again felt like there was no way to take a bad photograph.
We had to go on the old road to reach the millhouse – the tour guide is very proud of the new highway that helps connect Nordeste to Riviera, which was the way he took us back to Ponta Delgada.
After the tour ended, for the evening meal, we tried out Cais 20 in S. Roque, both because it was recommended and because it was not far from Ponta Delgada, and we were tired from the long day. We didn’t have as grand a time as our friends had described, but the food was good, and we liked having a view of the ocean as we ate. By 8:30 PM we drove back over to the north side of the island to Dos Hisbiscos, saying again how glad we were to stay in our lovely B&B and not in one of the modern hotels in Ponta that other tour clients were staying in.
Susana greeted us and invited us to share some chocolate cake she had for her birthday. Clare just had a small slice and soon retreated to our bedroom, but I wanted to relish my last night in the Azores by visiting with Susana for the final time. Since I also was a single parent raising daughters, we share some similarities to our lives beyond country and culture differences.