Azores – A week on Sao Miguel Island Days 3 and 4 – Whale Watching, Ponta Delgada, and Sao Roque

The weather in the Azores is notoriously unpredictable – there are 4 seasons in one day,  and the weather changes all the time, according to the locals.  Unfortunately for us, when it got to rain, the changing stopped.  And so the next 2 days were spent in a kind of limbo, but were certainly not spent in vain.  For one, we realised that Chinese-Japanese ‘fusion’ buffets really don’t work, not at Tian Le lda anyway, and results in very dodgy stomachs – yes, it’s cheap at 10.90 euros, and there were plenty of tourists stuffing their faces, but it was bland, reheated food from days before for the most part, the chicken, beef and pork too chewy or too soft, almost jelly-like, and each indistinguishable  the other.  For another, we discovered the fabulous Delkabukes coffee shop, on the second floor of the shopping mall overlooking the main street and the harbour.  The best coffee, not just in Ponta Delgada, but possibly in the whole of Portugal.  It was recently opened by a friendly Bermudian-American couple, who clearly know what a lot of tourists want – coffee in big cups, good croissants, healthy juices, a light and fresh atmosphere.  We went there everyday from that point on.

It was raining on and off, but we decided to chance it and take a walk to the lovely Jardim Antonio Borges. The lovely space, with a diverse range of exotic plants and trees, and some lovely ponds, is a romantic mirror to the 19th century in it’s style and design.  We made it back downhill to town and found a lovely cafe attached to a hotel by a flowery square and had a glass of white wine while the minutes of the afternoon flowed by quietly and the sun teased us briefly.

We went to the Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião for Easter Sunday mass, followed by a little cafe for a few bottles of Especial beer, before the mistake of the Chinese-Japanese fusion.  Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but having lived in Japan and Singapore, it certainly didn’t live up to expectations.

The next day we checked out of the VIP Executive and headed through the damp and dreary streets to our new refuge of Delkabukes coffee.  The weather cleared up, just in time for us to go whale watching.

We’d earlier booked an afternoon trip on the ‘catamaran’ with the highly-regarded whale watching company ‘Futurismo’ for 55 euros per person.  We were looking forward to this.  April and May is the pinnacle of the migratory season for many species of whales, whose journey often takes them past Sao Miguel island.  Around 27 species of whale can be found around the island, including Sperm Whales, Killer Whales, Pilot Whales, Humpback Whales, and even the largest animal that has ever lived, the Blue Whale.  In addition, there are different species of dolphins and turtles that can be found, so we imagined the chances were good at seeing something.  We had a good briefing from one of Futurismo’s marine biologists, who talked passionately about the different species we might encounter, and also the story of how the Azores successfully changed from whale hunting to whale watching, then we were shown to the boat and headed out to sea for three hours.

The ride out was incredibly choppy, and, as we were standing up at the bow, we were feeling every swell, and I almost surrendered my half-digested Delkabukes latte and croissant to the demanding sea on numerous occasions.  Even worse is when the captain gets whale coordinates from the ‘whale spotters’ who work on land with powerful binoculars, and the boat picks up speed and changes direction so violently you’d be thrown over the side if you weren’t hanging on for dear life.  I thought we were having a rollercoaster of a ride until I noticed the inflatable rafts full of tourists just behind us.  For the same price, you can choose to board one of these, to get closer to the creatures.  Not a wise choice today, and I could see the look of horror on the faces of the tourists, eyes wild with fear and mouths clamped shut as the dinghy went up and down at the mercy of the swells.  Not a pleasant afternoon out at sea for them.  The sun had disappeared behind rain clouds long ago and it was cold.  It all seemed like a big waste of money and time until, finally, we were in luck.  You know a whale is about when a huge jet of water sprays up.  Not far behind that, you see the top of a head, the top of a shiny blue-black body, and you wait for the signature move, the huge tail to come up….we saw everything but the tail when we spotted the first magnificent blue whale.  The second lingered even longer at the surface, it’s body gliding softly through the water, but still no tail.  Never mind.  The biggest animal on the planet was just 30 metres from the boat.  Incredible.

On the way back we were also lucky to see some common dolphins, and a loggerhead turtle, but the view of the island of Sao Miguel getting closer and closer was also impressive.  We arrived back to the harbour fairly satisfied with the afternoon, and walked across to 3 Sentidos for a ‘four seasons pizza’ – curiously served with all the onions on one slice, all the peppers on another etc, instead of mixed up.  Still, it was nice.  And the sun had come out to play again.

We collected the bags that we’d left at the VIP Executive hotel, and got a cab to Hotel Barracuda in Sao Roque, about a 10 minute ride from Ponta Delgada.  We were glad of the move.  Hotel Barracuda is right on a beautiful black sandy beach, all rooms are ocean facing, and it’s cheap.  Our room had a small kitchen, and a large terrace to relax on.  We were just in time for a walk on the beach to catch a lovely sunset, made all the more spectacular by the rain clouds.  We had a beer and a snack in a cafe opposite the hotel, then relaxed on the terrace to the sound of the crashing waves.  The Barracuda was a great find, and from here we were well positioned to explore the island for the next two days.


Author: Neil

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