Tuesday August 12, 2014
Today we decided to splurge on a little treat for ourselves and rent a scooter to tour the island of Faial. Having done a bit of research the previous day and then visiting a few of the rental shops this morning, we found that prices were basically the same whether you were on the main strip or off on a little side street. 18€ for a half day, or 25€ for 24 hours. We chose the latter. As we found in Key West, provisioning trips to the store are much more fun with a scooter at your disposal.
With having done the research on getting the scooter itself, I had kind of forgotten to do research on what to see with it at our disposal. I had no idea how long it would take to drive around the whole island, if that’s what we decided to do, or how long we’d want to be out before we tired of joy riding, so I only picked one sightseeing stop and left it at that. From our 19 year old Imray guidebook, which I’m ashamed to admit is the only placed I looked for things to do in Faial, one item had stood out to me while reading it over and over again on our crossing, and that was the caldeira. The sunken crater left behind by Faials volcanic cone. Our guide book touted it with the best views on the island and a perfect place to hike, stroll, or even enjoy a picnic lunch. Should we only have time to fit one big sightseeing stop in, I wanted that to be it.
Gathering information from the tourist information office that morning, along with multiple maps and directions, as soon as we had the keys to our scooter, we were off on the road that would take us there. Little did I know that the views taking us there would be almost better than what we found at our destination. Taking the well paved and well traveled road that led east on the island, we wound and rose up hills while breathtaking views of the harbor and town unfolded below us and I was pestering and poking Matt to pull over to the side of the road so I could get photos. Pulling over to one grassy spot and standing in awe for five minutes while other motorist made way for us, we found an even better spot another mile or two up the road. This one even came equipped with statues and an overlook. I guess I’m not the only person who thought this view was worth taking in.
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Now that we were beginning to climb in altitude and were no longer blocked by the hills surrounding us, the winds began to pick up to something fierce as we rode along. The light and airy tank that I had been sweating through down in town was now doing little to keep me warm, and my helmet, although securely attached, was now starting to blow back off my head, forcing me to hold on to the scooter with one hand and constantly readjust with the other. Passing out of the farmlands and green fields, we entered the forest part of Faial where large ceder trees sprouted around us and fresh earthy scents filled the air. Both of us were dumbstruck by this sudden change and diversity and beauty. Simultaneously our thoughts suddenly changed to, ‘Do you see any property for sale, because I think we need to move here’.
The ceder forests gave way to more winding roads with stunning views of Sao Jorge and Pico, with green hillsides and blue hydrangeas leading the way. It was almost too much beauty to handle, it seemed like something out of a fairy tale. On we pressed though, closer to the caldeira, and further on in altitude and dropping temperatures. As we pulled into the parking lot full of tourists for the caldera I doubt it took me two seconds to grab my windbreaker out of my backpack and put it on. From there we wandered through a small tunnel that brought us out to a viewing platform for the caldera, full of plaques listing the history and different kinds of flora and fauna to be found in the area. It was a nice view, although a little crowded, and even though we were clad in flip-flops, we decided we wanted to walk the rim to the highest point for even better views.
Trotting down the dirt path and occasionally stepping over rocks and up sometimes muddy slopes, we made it to the top of the caldeira just in time to enjoy 60 seconds of a remarkable view before the clouds rolled in and draped us in fog. Taking in as much of the 360 degree view as possible, we noticed that we were quickly the only people left there and wondered if something nasty was moving in since all the other hikers had already made a hasty decent back down to the parking lot. We quickly joined them, bathed in sunshine once more at the bottom, and hopped back on the scooter to see what else we could gawk at that day.
The caldera sits right in the middle of the island and we chose to take a route north and then drive the remaining circle around the island back to Horta. For the most part we were on paved roads, although we did take one dirt path just off from the caldeira that would lead us out to civilization again. Of course it had to be an area that we were taking a somewhat steep decent, a blast in a rally car I’m sure, but not the best thing for rental scooters. Inching carefully forward it wasn’t until we were about 100 feet from level ground that we wiped out in the reddish soil. Luckily neither of us were badly hurt, although Matt did end up with a few new scrapes, and we’re pretty sure the ones on the bike had already been there. Soon enough though, we were back out on a main road, one that completed a higher elevated circumnavigation of the island.
As we were winding up the hill, passing under leafy green trees and gorgeous ocean views off to our side, I figured this was the perfect time to blurt out ‘Happy Anniversary!!’. I knew Matt wouldn’t have remembered this date. No, it’s not our wedding anniversary (although our 10 year is coming up this December, woohoo!), that one I’ve ingrained in his mind long ago. This was our two year cruising anniversary. It hadn’t even hit me until we had been out for an hour or two that morning, and even though it happened accidentally, what a perfect way to celebrate. Wow, to think of how far we’ve come in the past two years. From our familiar stomping grounds of Lake Michigan, all the way down the East Coast, touring the northern part of the Caribbean, and now all the way over here. And to think I had been ready to throw in the towel at 10 months. To keep going is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
While making our gorgeous drive back to Horta through small villages and sea side towns, we passed a sign on the road that had a set of binoculars, meaning there was some kind of overlook or sightseeing attraction, and we thought, ‘Why not?, let’s check it out’. Just like on our way up to the caldeira, the road leading to this new spot almost looked better than what could have been waiting for us at the end. Resort buildings that were alluring but not over the top, more cedar lined streets, and old world stone buildings with bright blue shutters. What we found waiting for us at the end of the road was just icing on the cake.
If the cedar forest was varied from the quaint towns on the coast, we had just stepped on to Mars. The area the signs had been leading us to was the Vulcão dos Capelinhos or ‘Little Cape’, a monogenetic volcano (so Wikipedia tells me). I didn’t really know what it all meant at the time, all I knew is that it was one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen and completely not at all what I was expecting. This area is part of a volcanic eruption that lasted from September 1957 until October 1958 that enlarged the area by 2.4km with volcanic ash. Over 2,000 people had to be evacuated, many moving to the US or Canada.
What’s left of the area now is desert and sand with backdrops of large sandy and rocky cliffs that range from golden beige to espresso brown to burnt red. There’s a lighthouse that overlooks all of it, and at the bottom of the road leading to the coast is a portioned off swimming area between large jagged rocks. Following the other groups of loiterers, we trekked up the steep sandy hill to the top of the barren landscape. The views only got better the higher we climbed, and we marched through the dust and stones to find one spot that looks north over the coast and a staggering colorful cave with lush green hills just behind it. I could have stared at that view all day without it ever getting old.
If it wasn’t for the fact that it was turning into late afternoon and we still hadn’t eaten yet, our lunch still packed inside the scooter sitting in the parking lot, I probably would have. Back down the hot and dusty hills we went, the lack of food and water so far for the day finally catching up with me. Stumbling back to the scooter I kept repeating to myself ‘I’m going to die. Holy crap, I’m going to die. Feet don’t fail me now.’ I made it back to the scooter without collapsing and we rode the half mile down to the natural oceanic pools where we dug into our sandwiches and watched the families on holiday. Matt was lucky enough to have worn swim trunks out for the day and even took a dip in the refreshing water.
I think it’s safe to say that even having the highest of expectation of Faial, it continues to blow them all way. Around every corner is something new and unexpected and stunning. I’m not lying when I say I think I could put roots down here. Turn that scooter around I think I saw a place for sale next to the stone house with the blue shutters!
*I’ve only used a small portion of the photos from today in this post, make sure to stay tuned for Picturesque Faial to see more!