Terceira - The Azores - Our adventurous story.
Terceira - The Azores
Terceira - UNESCO World Heritage site, colourful buildings, picturesque landscape, amazing volcanic caves.
October - Sunday
I had heard and read a lot about Terceira island, but unfortunately not all of it good. It is the second biggest and second most populated island, and the way it sounded, very much in American hands due to the military airport. Therefore, I expected to come to the American Azores, where there is only little more development than in the other islands, but what is there, works - under American influence. Well, I very soon realize that there is quite a lot - from highways to golf courses to strip shows and bowling alleys - but it all seems to be operated the Azorian way: If it doesn't happen today, it might tomorrow.
The first thing I notice is the very colorful - or crazy - architecture. Some of the houses are painted in the brightest colors, sometimes with up to four different ones. And then there is this Brazilian who built himself a WOODEN house (very likely the only one in the whole archipelago) on 20m high steel columns, that have in addition been painted deep purple. Greetings from the jungle!
Our destination for the evening and our accommodation for the next two nights is the local youth hostel in Negrito - Sao Mateus, which is three kilometers west of Angra, the main city of Terceria.
As Portuguese guest houses never serve breakfast before 8:30am, our morning starts late. And as we are the only guests in this 160-bed house, it starts quiet, too.
Keen to explore the island, we wait for the bus that is meant to take us to Angra do Heroismo. But after waiting for the bus for half an hour, we walk the three kilometers to Angra.
A couple of years ago, Angra was made a UNESCO world heritage site for its old town architecture, and it is quite a fascinating place to walk around. However, after five months of peace and solitude of the other smaller islands, neither Sean nor I are in "big city" mood, and are keen to explore the wilderness of the island's interior. After a quick stop at the tourist office, we hire a car and begin our adventure tour.
The first obligatory stop when being in Angra is to go up the Monte Brasil, a volcano that shapes the town's natural harbor. From up here, you have a wonderful view, far beyond the town, along the south coast. The whole of Monte Brasil is surrounded by walls and the biggest fortress the Spanish ever built. Originally, this fortress was used to protect the ships that, heavily loaded, returned to Spain from the West Indies. Until today, this fortress is a military base, but now it is Portuguese.
After this little detour, we leave town and wind our way through farm tracks along the coast.
This looks much more like the Azores we have come to know and love. Small, simple houses, surrounded by fields, farmers on their tractors and donkeys on the road. The lady who sees how I take a picture of a donkey surely thinks "Those tourists! She's got to be a city kid that she's never seen a donkey!"
Soon, we turn inland and go up a seemingly endless road, which takes us to the highest point of Terceira - the Serra da Santa Barbara. Up here, the views will be outstanding.... however, we don't see a thing. The weather has closed in around the mountain top, the wind pushes our car around, and clouds race by at astonishing speed. Just for a moment, they part and allow a view into the crater, which lets us imagine what the view would be like on a clear day. With no let up in the weather visible we move on - to the Lagoa do Negro.
The lakes in the Azores, often surrounded by forest, are always worth a detour and good for a 15 minute picnic stop. At this small lake, though, we are rewarded by something else.
The Gruta do Natal (Christmas Grotto), situated right by the lake, is open. This cave consists, once again, of lava tunnels, but this time, they are completely underground. There are no guided tours but for a small fee you can grab a helmet and explore this amazing underground display in your own time.
On the ground and walls, we can see traces of lava streams, and in a small opening, there is a half natural, half artificial altar, at which the Christmas mess is held. In another spot, a sign warns "Only for the more adventurous". Well, that's for us, then, we think, and squeeze through a very narrow, low tunnel, leading us into a cave lying behind. To see the whole grotto does not take more than 20min, but Sean and I have declared it an absolute "must" on a Terceira trip.
Next, we go to the Algar do Carv�o. According to our cave guide on Graciosa, the Algar do Carv�o cave is "maybe a bit bigger, but not as nice, and you have to pay ?3!" However, we are impressed by this cave, too. Lengthwise, it is pretty small, but from the bottom to the ceiling it is huge. The walls shimmer in all colors, from whitish, via rusty red to black, and everywhere, short, but thick stalactites hang from the ceiling. In addition, you can hear a constant dripping noise, and every so often, a drop of water gets you on the nose. Here, too, a small lake exists, which dries out almost completely in summer. Words or pictures cannot truly portray the experience of this amazing natural underground landscape, it is therefore safe to say this is one place you should visit.
When we finally leave the cave, it is already late afternoon. We drive on, past fields of black fighting bulls and small arenas, through stunning scenery. Very much to Sean's joy, we also take a little detour to the golf course, before returning to the hostel.
The following day we explore the east coast and in particular the lovely town of Praia da Vitoria before catching our flight to Sao Miguel. Our stay on Terceira is shorter than we would have liked, though we have got to experience some of the beauty that the island can offer.