They say meat cooked under the earth tastes better. The meat stew (a delicious combination of pigs ears and chicken, with sliced cabbage and carrots thrown in for good measure), cooked underground for 7 hours using the natural heat from the volcanic earth, tastes slightly sulphurous (boiling pots are wrapped in cloth to keep the sulphuric steam locked in during cooking) , but the tourists dig in like a pack of wolves, devouring the famed Cozido das Furnas at one of the speciality restaurants in the town. It’s just one of many things that Furnas is famous for.
Vero and I enjoyed the drive to Furnas. It’s a wonderful, hilly drive on the kind of empty, winding roads you see on car adverts, passing rolling green hills dotted with cows, and it boasts some wonderful vistas. We arrived at the Lagao do Furnas, and drove through a lovely wooded area full of picnic spots before coming to the parking area. Stepping outside the car was a bit like stepping into a roadside breakfast cafe full of the aroma of eggy farts. The sulphurous smell took a few minutes to get used to. We walked along a path through the woods and came out to the immense lake, the lake framed with vegetation, trees, and hills. To our right was a boardwalk, which took us on a short sightseeing tour of spitting, boiling, calderas, the earth angry; livid, and the steam rising menacingly from each volcanic vat. In one area set aside from the calderas, we saw the huge pots of Cozido das Furnas being hauled out of the ground by two men and loaded into the back of waiting vans, before being driven into town and served onto the plates of tourists looking for an authentic taste of Furnas. We wandered a little more, pausing to relax and take in the views, calm when you looked to the lake, tempestuous when you looked behind you.
We drove from here through the village and parked outside the lovely Terra Nostra gardens. It was 8 euros to get in, so instead we went to the nearby Terra Nostra hotel to enjoy a delicious latte on the terrace overlooking the gardens. Refreshed, we walked into the village and found a bench in front of a church and nibbled our sandwiches which we had again made from what was on offer in the buffet breakfast. We decided to leave Furnas and go and find a cup of tea. But not just any tea.
Gorreana tea plantation is the oldest tea plantation on Europe. It’s also the only tea plantation in Europe. It’s been going since 1883, and still uses machines made back in the Industrial Revolution. It’s a small, family-run plantation, with many things still done by hand. Indeed, the small factory full of loud machines seems completely accessible to tourists, and I strolled around and witnessed first hand the labour intensive work that the small workforce puts in – the women rough and tough, the men rugged and unshaven, working with the old machinery in a loud, chaotic environment. I could almost taste the sweat in my first cup of black tea.
Outside are the plantations, small but beautiful with the Atlantic beyond them. We took a cup of tea from the cafe – the three types of tea produced here, black, green and oolong, are served free of charge – and we walked the tea plantations, taking deep breaths of fresh peaty air. Back in the cafe we had more tea….for some reason tea on holiday always tastes so much better than my morning cup back home. Then we were off in search of more memories.
We headed to Ponta Formosa, the only white sand beach on the island, picturesque and popular with surfers. We drove past it once or twice, never made it in the end, and ended up on a beach called Moheina instead, a small stretch of black sand with towering cliffs to the left and right sheltering it. Not a soul on the beach, but there was a little cafe, which we popped into to get a refreshing Especial, ordering in our best Portuguese which was appreciated, with the waitress telling us upon learning where we were from how unfriendly and annoying the Spanish are – especially because they make no effort with Portuguese, apparently. Ah, the old Portuguese-Spanish rivalry….I’ve heard that plenty of times on my travels in Portugal. The Portuguese would rather you speak in English to them than Spanish, and mixing Portuguese and Spanish is tolerated, but not recommended either. Still, Vero and I now have enough Portuguese to get by, and the overreactions of “Fala muito bem Portuguese!” from shop assistants, baristas, waitresses and the other general positive reactions when we try the language are reward enough to continue. The effort is appreciated. We enjoyed our beers on the grassy terrace, smooth beach behind and then the sea cliffs. A quite dramatic setting, really. It was, we thought, the last stop of the day, night was falling.
We got back in the car and navigated the steep and winding village streets until we came to a stretch of highway. Zooming back, we noticed signs to a Miradour, and pulled off to the side to enjoy one last sweeping, wind-swept vista – Miradouro Santa Iria. This was a spectacular viewpoint – lush and green landscape meeting the sea, and the cut of the coast visible for miles.
Back at the hotel we relaxed on the terrace with a small bottle of red wine and the sound of the sea. Hungry, we ventured out into the dark streets in front of the hotel. A 2 minute walk to the left brought us to Let’s Go! Mexican food – owned by a Portuguese guy and his Mexican wife who met at high school in California. We got chatting to them – both were typically Latin and friendly – they told us they loved living here in Azores, they love it because it’s safe, safe for them and safe for their children. The US just isn’t that for them. We had some excellent margaritas, and the food was excellent, as it must be when cooked by a real Mexican….it was a marvellous meal, in marvellous company, to end a marvellous trip. The final night passed by to the sounds of the Atlantic just in front of the terrace once more….lapping these rugged volcanic lands and their isolated people as they have done for God knows how long. This had been a special trip, and we had just explored one of the islands in this fascinating archipelago…there are many other islands to explore…we shall return, return for the landscapes, the thermal pools, the achingly beautiful and mystical lakes, the people, the whales…..the Delkabukes coffee. Here’s our video to wrap things up: