The local panadarias in Portugal are a delight. There’s never a need to fork out for a fancy hotel buffet, not when you can have delicious ham and cheese pastries, a bola de arroz (rice cup cake), and a coffee surrounded by locals and local noises – the clattering of coffee cups, the metallic ring of spoons stirring, the foreign sounds of a language I still haven’t got to grips with….for about 2.5 euros. We enjoyed just that this morning, then headed down to the Marina again and into the impressive Hotel Azore, where, heading up to the third floor, we were able to access the outdoor patio and pool area and get a nice vista from above of the marina, and of a huge cruise ship, monstrous but spectacular.
We decided to have a go at getting to Lagoa Do Fojo ourselves, without an annoying tour. We caught the 1:30 bus (actually, the buses in the Azores are all comfy coaches), to a place called Riberia Grande (2.95 euros each way), which is a fairly picturesque town located on the coast. The journey there took us past fields and fields and fields full of black and white cows – the Azores is famous for its meat and milk, and cows are more plentiful than people, apparently. At each stop jumped on or off village folk, ruddy-faced wearing tracksuits and big boots and baseball caps, or tweed jackets and flatcaps….like a cast of Little Britain and League of Gentlemen rolled into one. Some looked at us curiously, most just ignored us. We passed stone built seaside cottages, churches, rough-looking dilapidated villages….and then found ourselves at the main bus terminal in Ribeiro Grande. There was no-one around. It was grey and wet. It was like a ghost town. Fortunately, in any town in Portugal where everything else is closed, you can always rely on the ‘Loja Chinesa’ (Chinese Shop) to be open, and the friendly lady who came from a small town in Eastern China helped us book a taxi.
Jose Manuel arrived and charged us a whopping 15 euros to get to Lagoa do Fojo, one way. But we had no choice. It was a steep climb, and the views were of rolling muddy green hills and the ocean beyond. We arrived at our destination, and Jose bid farewell and sped off, saying we could call him if we wanted a lift down. It was a long way down. For now, that didn’t matter. For we had arrived at the incredible site of natural beauty that is Lagoa do Fojo.
Lagoa do Fojo (Lake of Fire) is a stunning crater lake within the Agua de Pau stratovolcano, and surrounded by lush vegetation, with the Atlantic beyond….it’s around 2.5 km in diameter, and as we walked down to the lake’s beach we were in awe of the blue and green transparent waters. It’s a very popular hiking trail, and I wished we had longer to explore, but at least we had time to reach the bottom and back before heading back. To see such natural beauty is exactly why we came to the Azores. Stunning.
We began walking down, until Veronica thankfully flagged down a car and we hitched with a father and son to another famous stop here, Caldeira Velha, hot springs in beautiful landscaped gardens, with different bathing pools at different temperatures, one with a pretty waterfall with the water cascading over rusty-coloured rocks due to the high mineral content of the water, and a visitors centre where you can get a lot of useful information. There are also changing rooms for those inclined to bathe. Veronica did, I didn’t. There is also another pool, where the temperature is between 60 and 100 degrees celcius, so you could boil an egg in it, but wouldn’t want to jump in yourself. It was lovely, surrounded by tall trees, vegetation, the sound of the cascade. Outside, we called Jose, who agreed to take us down to the bus station for 10 euros, where we were able to get the last bus of the day, the 18.30, to Ponta Delgada.
In the evening we headed to Azore Hotel again for a drink, which is probably the poshest place in Ponta Delgada. There’s a casino attached, and bouncers. Drinks here are expensive for Portugal, so, as normal, we ordered beer, which is cheap and cheerful. The fact that it was a local beer, Especial, made it much more palatable, especially as we both really wanted a cocktail but couldn’t due to our tight budget. One of the concierges of the hotel got talking to us as Veronica posed for photos in the stylish lobby. An ex photographer, he took us to the second floor and turned on a spotlight which made it look like a photographer’s studio, and snapped a few photos for us, which was very nice of him. He also told us to come back once we’ve seen the lakes at Sete Cidades, as he knew the legend and wanted to tell us.
We walked the dark streets to town, and to 3 Sentidos pizzeria, where we had the 7.50 euro menu (the price of a cocktail in the last place), which was chicken with veg and potatoes, healthy and filling. The night was young, and we were in the mood for some music. Fortunately, opposite the Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião is a place with the best live music in town. It’s a spacious venue, Raiz, with a great crowd of hip locals, a well-stocked bar with excellent drink selections, and a good-sized dancefloor in front of the stage. The band were great, and kept the energy up with a selection of pop-tastic covers, with the odd classic rock number thrown in. We got a taxi back to the hotel for 5 euros. A great day, and a great evening.