Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Days 23 & 24: Hiking and Whale Watching

(As I write this, it's the morning of our last full day in the Azores, so it feels unlikely that the final days will be written about until after we get back from the trip. The return home is a four flight affair: Azores -> Lisbon -> Paris -> NY -> Seattle, with two overnight layovers. So, wish us luck!)

Day 23
Doing laundry, island-style. 

This morning, instead of lingering over a long breakfast, we decided to hit the road early, and get a hike in before lunch. The plan was to do something closer to home so that, after lunch we could relax closer to the house and give the kids some down time (read: beach time). So, after getting loaded up, we headed 10 minutes up the coast to do a hike that Sarah had read about.

Starting at a picnic site, just off the main road, the trail wound down through a small village or houses. Conveniently, we realized that some agency in Sao Miguel was making an effort to make the trails more accessible, and the trail we followed zigged and zagged on rural streets, through farmland and into lush cliff-side forests, it was always easy to follow thanks to clear markings (using yellow and red bars) to indicate where to go and not go.

Leaving the town, we moved into farmland, and down a bamboo lined lane. Then, we veered from that, and dropped down into lush green forests that clung to the coastal cliffs and provided us with amazing views of the coastline. Soon, we came across a string of anonymous, white-painted buildings, built into the cliff face, that resembled something from Lost. From inside of them, we could hear gushing and gurgling, leading us to believe that they must be some sort of hydroelectric units. Regardless, we decided this would be a good place to take a snack break of fruit, chips and water.

Coastline view, winding back to Mosterios in the distance. You can see a bit of our hiking trail lower, in the foreground.
Sarah (and Otto) make their way along the cliffs. To the left you can see where a (currently dry) river would plunge off the cliff into the ocean.

Then, it was time to hike up and out, completing the loop. Unfortunately, the second half of the hike was neither as scenic or forgiving as the first half; and was more of  a string of steep roads uphill, with little in the way of shade. The kids started to get hot and cranky, but fortunately, we were able to locate where we were, and assure them it wasn't far to the end. And, forgivingly, the last stretched returned to a less oppressive stroll through a wooded area.

More evocative of the second half of the hike. A lot of uphill along dirty roads and lots of sun with little shade.

Back in the car, and then back in Mosterios, we decided -hot and hungry- to return to the balcony restaurant we'd eaten lunch at the previous day. For me it was a bifana (though not as good as the one at the roadside truck), for Sarah some pork loin and the kids did another random combination of cheese and bread.

Then, after lunch it was a promised visit to the beach, and since it was sunny and hot, even I decided to jump in. While the waves still broke roughly against the shore, a few yards out I could drift and relax a bit.

The little dot in the center of the photo = me.

After the beach, it was another spaghetti meal at the house, and then while the kids enjoyed some TV inside, Sarah and I sat on the front deck, drinks in hand, watching the beach and sunset, then the slow appearance of the stars above us.

Probably our best sunset of our stay in the Azores. The days have been sunny and hot, but the mornings and evenings are always a bit cloudy and grey. Still, can't complain about this.

Day 24
Whale Tour!

One our first day in town, Sarah had noticed a sightseeing operation in town (which seemed to be the only non-food related business with a store front) specializing in whale spotting. And, while the kids were a bit nervous about it ("what if I fall overboard and I'm eaten by a shark or whale?") Sarah and I agreed it would be a great opportunity, and signed up for the next available tour.

So, we woke early, got dressed and headed to their offices at 9:30am (which is the crack of dawn, the way we've been operating). There, they suited us up with lifejackets and waterproof jackets (that looked comically large on the kids). Then, with a group of about a half dozen others, they led us down to a motorized raft, and loaded us in. Sort of humorously, rather than sit in a traditional sense, you straddled your seat, like a horses saddle, and held on to a hand grip in front of you. Again, the kids looked silly with their little legs dangling.

Excited kids, headed out to sea!

Leaving the bay slowly because it is so shallow, we soon picked up speed and headed down the coast. It wasn't long before we spotted our first wildlife: A shark! We could see it's iconic fin moving through the water, and as we moved closer, could make out its shape in the Clearwater, easily 8ft or longer. At first they were pretty sure it was a mako shark, since they are the most common in these waters; but looking closer, our guide suddenly declared: "No actually, that's a hammerhead shark! We know they are around, but this is the first I've ever seen! Exciting start!

Sarah, optimistic about seeing me sea life. 

It wasn't long after that, that a flock of seabirds appeared to lead us to our second sea animal sighting: A pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. And, while I saw some dolphins on a coastal tour in Hawaii, let me tell you that these dolphins didn't disappoint: Jumping, flipping, and careening around. Even a number of baby dolphins could be seen, swimming tightly next to their mothers.

As Stella noted: "The dolphins seem to like to show off!"

Devilishly hard to photograph show off dolphins... but this gives you an idea of how close the action way.

Suddenly, we broke from the dolphins and headed away from the land: "Our spotter has spotted an whale, and we are going to try to go there now," the guide explained. Unfortunately, the whale seemed to be a long way off, as the skipper continued to gun the boat deeper and deeper into the ocean. Also, while Stella seemed to still be enjoying herself, smiling and announcing "this is probably going to be the best thing I've ever done," Otto was growing listless and seemed to be getting sea-sick. On my encouragement, he climbed from his saddle, into my lap and fell asleep.

Otto looking less pleased. At first I thought he was getting bored, but it quickly became obvious he was starting to feel seasick. 

After what seemed like a long stretch, we finally slowed and began to circle. "The whale has done a deep dive, so now we wait." To pass the time, the skipper piloted over to where another pod of dolphins swam and showed off.

"Ugh, we've already seen dolphins," said Otto, jaded and seasick.

But, then the whale emerged, it's spout of water visible, followed by it's large grey back. "A female sperm whale," the guide said, noting that males are much larger. We all "oohed" "aahed" and tried to take pictures, as the whale dipped up and down for a short bit, then dove deep again.

"And that is it, for a while. It will not emerge for a long time." The guide said, indicating we'd be heading back. But, we hadn't gone far when she spotted a second whale. Again, we circled slowly as it performed a similar routine to the first. Then, a short time later, a third sperm whale. And, as that whale prepared to dive deep...

"Look there, you can see the shadow next to it. It has a baby!" And sure enough, next to it, you could make out the vague form of a second, smaller whale. Then, with a tail flip, the final whale was gone.

The last whale dives. Probably to do awesome battle with a giant squid.

The return trip went quickly, with several more pods of dolphins (really, they are show offs), and Otto continuing to rest uneasily in my arms. "It really does not get much better than that." The guide said, and -honestly- she didn't seem to be making a sales pitch.

Back on land, we had some lunch and the kids had some beach time. We were resting after our big morning, and because tonight would be a special dinner: Pizza.

Now, pizza doesn't seem like a big deal, but for Mosterios, it is. As I've mentioned, there's only about a half dozen restaurants in town, and all but one have effectively the same menus: A bunch of seafood, a couple pork dishes, omelets and some various of grilled cheese and/or ham and cheese. The only restaurant that deviates from this well-worn formula is: Pizzeria Fantasia.

Apparently, several years back a visiting Italian couple fell in love with Mosterios, and decided to stay and open a pizza place. The reviews are pretty universally positive, but with only, like, eight tables, and open hours from 8pm to 11pm, you need to make reservations in advance. Pizzeria Fantasia is kind of a big deal.

Anyhow, tonight was the night of our reservations. So, we piled into the car and drove the 5 minutes to the far side of town. There we made our way though a humble courtyard into the restaurant. We had three pizzas, Sarah and I split a bottle of wine and we all shared a dessert. Overall, I wouldn't claim that it was the best pizza I've ever had, but it was a well-made traditional woodfire pizza and -after nearly a week of the same three or four dishes it made for a very welcome change of pace.

Should have gotten a "before" picture, but only thought to get an "after." A couple of remaining slices of the kids cheese pizza... which Sarah and I promptly ate. 

1 comment:

Susan Hill said...

Pretty cool. The ride in the boat (?) i mean!!!