The sights in the Azores startled my senses after a week of bland horizons at sea. The island of
São Miguel was a brilliant montage of rugged volcanic terrain: impossibly green landscapes, showy flowers, spectacular views from the heights, cloud-capped calderas, boiling springs, steaming fissures, bubbling mud, and stinky sulfur.
Uninhabited until the early 15th century when Portuguese navigators discovered these islands, the Azores retained a sense of isolation from the frenetic pressures of the outside world. Throughout towns and villages, we saw people quietly gazing from wrought iron balconies or open second-story windows, sitting in doorways or gathering in groups of three or four to chat. Many shop signs were hand-lettered. A McDonald’s billboard, the only signpost of franchised commercialization, was so incongruous that it drew laughs from our fellow travelers.
The Azoreans have made the most of their volcanic environment—the hot earth near Furnas Lake serves as a cordless crockpot, slow-cooking their dinners. Their signature dish is “cozido das Furnas,” a stew of various meats and sausages, plus vegetables such as cabbage, peppers, carrots, potatoes, and yams. They place all the ingredients in a tightly wrapped pot and lower it into a hole dug about four feet into the ground. A wooden cover is placed over the hole and dirt is shoveled over it to seal in all the steam. After about seven hours, a perfectly simmered meal is raised and the feasting begins.
As my son Birch and I explored the area, we sampled some of the mineral waters along the way.
The nasty taste at a public pond’s fountain took three TicTacs to dispel, but the water gushing from a spring tap in another spot tasted like soda water, complete with a faint effervescence. I filled my water bottle with it and was amazed to find that two days later it still retained the bubbles. (to be continued…)