Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Azores 2018 : Day 6 - The hotel of horrors

We began our day with fresh buns purchased from the nearby Sol-Mar grocery store, stuffed with creamy, rich Azores cheese and, for me, a cup of hot cevada, which has the appearance of instant coffee, but is made from barley and other grains and is caffeine-free. I stopped drinking regular coffee over a year ago, so this is a great substitute. The coffee in the cafes here is so good I have been enjoying a few espressos though, which are a mandatory companion to the undeniably delicious custard egg tarts, called pastel de nata.

The plan today was to explore the west end of the island. We drove directly to the town and region of Sete Cidades, which means “Seven Cities”, and features what is surely the most photographed sight on the island - two volcano crater lakes, one blue and one green, separated by a thin bridge, enclosed completely by mountains. Our first stop along the way was at an abandoned hotel called Hotel Monte Palace, located on a cliff overlooking the lakes. This hotel was built in the 80’s and remained open for just over a year and was then closed, abandoned, and completely ransacked of all piping, wiring and fixtures, leaving only a horror movie worthy shell that is explored by thousands of people every year.

The kids were not interested in going into the creepy hotel, likely because of all the horror movies they’ve watched over the years (they know what’s lurking in the basement), but Ana and I had a look around. I couldn’t resist going down into the basement, so I flipped on the phone flashlight and went down to see if I could find any spirits or monsters or even just a standard-issue zombie. Alas, no luck, but it was definitely scary. I imagined putting on a monster costume and scaring the living shit out of tourists. Sounds like a YouTube sensation, no?

We drove down into the valley and crossed the bridge between the two lakes before finding a parking spot near what looked like a good walking trail. There was a family of ducks by the water, and a local Portuguese man feeding them bread from a bag, who offered the kids some to feed to the ducks. We asked him where he was from and he told us proudly that he was a local and used to be the mayor of Sete Cidades. We’d heard a fable about how the lakes came to be green and blue, and asked him if he knew it. He didn’t just know it, but he had built an entire story around the mythology, incorporating himself and his wife into the tale and he told (and sang) it to us with glorious abandon that included several poems and songs he had composed. It was awesome, what a true Azorean ambassador!

We went for a long hike on the well-maintained trail through the forest, hoping it would circle around the lakes, but instead it led up the mountain to one of the lookout points, so we turned around halfway and walked back and then drove into the village. Considering this is one of the most touristed parts of the island, one would think there would be souvenir shops and restaurants there to relive people of their money. But no. All we could find was a single cafe and a tiny general store beside it that had a couple of shelves of scattered souvenirs. We found a comparable situation in Furnas - an amazing tourist attraction, but very little commercial exploitation of it. Now I’m not complaining as it’s a very nice change from practically every other tourist place we have ever visited, but it is odd, and it makes one think the Azoreans are not fully capitalizing on the opportunities presented by tourism.

We started making our way to the nearby town of Mosteiros, along the way stopping for a hike up to a popular viewpoint called Vista de Rey, but the top was completely fogged over so we couldn’t see anything. Mosteiros is a cute town on the sea and has a fantastic shoreline of natural ocean pools you can explore and swim in. We goofed around on the rocks for a while and then went to a local restaurant for a mediocre (at best) lunch, which was too bad as we’ve enjoyed some great meals there in the past.

We continue driving along the coast, passing the sleepy towns of Genetes, Candalaria, and Feteiras, where we once again drove through it to see our land. Again, we just love the lot we have and the idea of building a house there is undeniably appealing.

Our path took us back to Ponta Delgada, where we parked in the ever-enthralling underground parking strip beneath the Avenida and went for a walk around the port area. The kids went for a game of bowling in the cute little bowling alley (where they, incredibly, still allow smoking) while Ana and I explored the other shops and visited the marina office to check out rates. Dockage rates here are cheap - one can get a slip for a 40-foot catamaran for an entire year for under $2000 Canadian, which works out to $165 per month, all-inclusive. All we need now is a 40-foot catamaran.

Tonight, we were to meet our new friend Shukru (whom we met at Easter Sunday dinner) at the climbing gym, so after spending time in the downtown shopping mall, having crepes, and wandering around the town, we found the school in which the climbing club practices and went inside to find a diverse group of students getting geared up for climbing. They were from a variety of countries - Czech Republic, Spain, mainland Portugal, and Turkey and shared a real spirit of camaraderie and were full of energy and potential. I could imagine Stella and Magnus in a situation just like this years from now, and I expect they were having the same thoughts.

Well, it turns out that Stella is a real monkey. A young Czech chap named Cuba got the kids geared up with harnesses and ropes and instructed them on what to do. Stella went up the 25-foot climbing wall first and scrambled all the way to the top! I think it’s her flexibility and incredibly strong legs that does it. Magnus was pretty good too, but couldn’t make it to the top, and admitted to Stella that she was way better than him, which made her feel good since she often says that she feels Magnus is better than her at everything. Stella really loved it so I’m hoping she decides to pursue this as a hobby back in Canada, assuming we can find a climbing facility somewhere close to home.

It wasn’t until after 10 pm that we returned home, making it a very long day indeed. We had a visit with tio Manuel, tried out some of the sheep cheese he had purchased that day, and then hit the sheets.

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