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Faial - The Azores. Our Faial adventures.

Faial is dominated by its central volcanic mountain peak, from which, views of Faial island and its immediate island neighbours are gained. Together with the natural forces that have shaped this landscape comes a land, rich in flora, fauna and stunning colours. Inland a constant hint of mint hangs in the air.

Faial is home to the most recent (1957) and dramatic volcanic activity that has affected the islands in recent times. This has formed a landscape of great contrast to its older surroundings, and on walking upon displays the ultimate power of the planet within.

Faial is also famed for its harbour and marina in Horta, which has to be the most unique and colourful in the world. From the harbour, whale-watching, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, trips to the neighboring islands of Pico and Sao Jorge can all be booked. If you are lucky you might even be able to sail on an old whaling boat.

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Faial - The Azores - Our adventurous Scooter tour.

Faial - The Azores

Highlights: Caldeira, Varadouro, Capelinhos, Faja, and Praia do Almoxarife

faial horta panorama view


Yesterday, Sean and I hired a scooter to drive around the island. Neither of us had driven a scooter before and under normal circumstances you would never get either of us on one, but as the traffic on the island is minimal, for us it turned out to be a great way to explore the island and quite exciting.

faial The azores - scenery and dirt roads Initially following the coastal road out of Horta, we eventually take a right turn and make our way up to the Caldeira, the highest part of the island. Although pretty quiet, these dirt roads can be very pot holed and perhaps not so suitable for a scooter, especially if your balance is a little off. faial The azores - caldeira

You do however get a much better impression of the island, feeling the wind in your face, and smelling all the plants, cows and the sea breeze on the way. (If you don't fancy a scooter then you must cycle!)

From the highest point of the island, where we enjoy the views of the crater and fields stretching all the way back to sea level, we make our way down the winding roads, passing by fields of flowers, with views of the ocean in the distance.

azores faial scenery azores faial flowers azores faial flowers down from the calderia
Our next stop is Varadouro, a famous seaside town on the southwest coast, well known for its big natural swimming pool. We have a walk around the harbor and discover two divers, father and son, fishing for dinner.

faial The azores - varadouro

They snorkel through the bay with harpoons and eventually come up with a couple of fish and an octopus, all still alive. I couldn't touch this glibbery thing, and much less eat it, but octopus soup is a regional delicacy.
faial The azores - coast road

Moving on, we take the dirt road along the coast in direction of Capelinhos, and the landscape changes more and more. The west side of Faial has much denser vegetation, there are fewer meadows with cows and a lot more bush instead. The closer we get to Capelinhos, though, the more bizarre the land becomes.

faial The azores - capelinhos Capelinhos is the youngest land of Faial, not even 50 years old. In 1958/59, an underwater volcano erupted off the west coast of Faial and created two kilometers of new land, which melted together with the mainland. There was a village on the mainland back then which got totally destroyed, covered by many meters of ash. The only building having survived the eruption is the lighthouse.

Today, you can see, how, slowly but surely, the ruins of the village start to reappear. Where the wind has done its work, rooftops peak through the ashes and I wonder how many of the pointed dunes actually hide rooftops just underneath. Anyway, the whole place is a bit scary. Those of you who wonder what happened to the people of the village...well, the eruption gave rise to a big emigration wave. Most people lost everything they had and went to America to start a new life. Many of them stayed in the Boston area.

The lighthouse gives an impression of how high the ash layer was originally. Today, you can see everything down to the top half of the lighthouse building but up to the third story of the tower, all the walls are dirty gray. So far, we are still on the old mainland, but already kilometers before the coast ends, the landscape turns more and more harsh. Where the wind blew all the sand away, you see nothing but pure rock; everywhere else is covered by a layer of fine gray sand. We stop at the former harbor of the disappeared village.

In the old days, this was the place the whale hunters went out to sea from, but now the bay is used as a swimming pool, and this one is better than any aquarium. The water shimmers in all shades of blue and green. Where the rocks form small bays or water is collected in puddles on the rocks, you see swarms of fish, algae of many shapes, sizes and colors, jellyfish and crabs. When you look up, though, you have the black and gray new land directly in front of you - a total contrast to this play of colors.

faial The azores - capelinhos We make our way towards the start of the climb up the volcano Capelinhos. It is weird, as if you go for a walk on the moon. Nothing but a desert of ankle-deep sand and thrown around lumps of rock. Even the crater, which has formed three hills around itself, is nothing but sand. On the north side, we stop for a while and take in this incredible, wonderful place. This side seems to be more protected as we can see grass partly covering the ground and a colony of seagulls screeches around us. Life here is tough, though. Everywhere on the volcano we find cadavers of gulls, bleached bones and only scarce vegetation.

We climb one of the three hills and discover a fantastic view over the old mainland. Right in front of us, we see the cliff, which clearly shows all the different layers of stone, whereby the top three meters are volcanic ash. When I try to walk to the end of the hill, I get to a crack, which cuts once though the entire hill. I dare looking down into it, but cannot see anything because it is too deep. Respectfully, I turn round and make my way back.

azores faial capelinho panarama azores faial capelinho panarama

When standing on the hill, we discovered a cave in the old mainland, right by the sea and now we try to find a way to it. We walk through the channel that connects old and new land and eventually stop at a cliff, in front of which there is a nice beach and just the cave we were looking for. The only way to get down this 20m drop, though, is an old, once ripped and tied-back-together rope on a just as old and rusty stake that had been rammed into the ground. We test their stability but don't trust the whole thing. As nobody knows where we are and we aren't equipped for spending the night at the beach in case we don't get back up the cliff, we decide to come back another day.

faial The azores - faja As it is already past 5pm, we slowly make our way back to Horta via the north side of the island. Our next stop is Faja (and don't be surprised if you've heard this name from my report on Sao Jorge. It seems, every island has places with the same names), a small seaside village. Here, we discover the ship we have heard so much of since our arrival in the Azores. In December 2005, a ship with uncountable tons of cargo stranded in the middle of this beautiful bay, and started leaking oil. The salvage ship lies in Horta harbor. I believe that if this stranded ship is not unloaded and transported off in foreseeable time, it will fall over completely, with all its freight. It already stands at quite an angle, and waves constantly crash against it, washing more and more of the ground underneath it away. Apparently, the hull is already full of water. (Note: by the end of summer 2006, the ship was removed and the beach is now open again.)

faial The azores - almoxarife Our last stop is Praia do Almoxarife, known for its sandy beach, a true rarity over here. On the way there we pass many villas, one more pompous than the other. Obviously, this is where the rich and the famous live. The beach itself is really nice, but in addition to that, you can see Sao Jorge as well as Pico from here. This evening, Mount Pico is - unlike most days of the year - almost entirely visible, and it shimmers red in the sunset. In moments like this I always have to think of what a friend of mine said about Mount Pico: "The people of Pico might be proud of their mountain, but the nicest thing about it is marveling at it from the neighbor islands."

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