Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Azores 2024 – Thermal Spas, Jurassic Gardens, Azorean Name Games

Wednesday is the best day for work. After Ana makes an appointment for next week with a lawyer to sort out some guardianship issues with her aunt, we gather up the Gang of Greys and drive over to the bank in Lagoa to see if we can get some things sorted on our account. When we bought the land here twenty years ago we opened a bank account with Tio Manuel and made him procurador which is sort of like a power of attorney, so that he could pay the annual taxes on our land for us. He is now 86 years old and still in damn fine shape, but it seems prudent to get a backup in place, so we’re adding Ana’s cousin Carmelia to the various documents.

Of course, it’s a mess. The Portuguese citizenship card that we tried to get a few days ago is going to require a code to be mailed to Canada, then we need to take that to the Portugal consulate in Toronto to pick up Ana’s new card. Unfortunately, that card is needed for pretty much any administrative government function so our helper at the bank is flummoxed, despite providing old passports, old citizenship cards, new passports and reams of other official documentation, the problems seems to be that Ana’s surname is “Borges” on some of them, and “Olson” on the others. We’re going to have Stella scan in our Portuguese marriage registration and email that to her to see if it makes a difference. All we are trying to do is get access to internet banking so we can pay the yearly taxes ourselves online and not have to bother the island folk.


Ana and I leave the three of them on a street corner to loiter around Lagoa and we head east for Furnas – the boiling, sulphury, steamy town towards the east end of the island, and closer to inferno than any other village. Furnas has been a tourist draw for over two hundred years, promising the gift of health from luxurious plunges into the warm, mineral-rich brown waters.


The road into Furnas takes you up high into the hills which, today, is above the cloud line so it’s a slow, curvy, and risky ride as the visibility is down to a few dozen metres. We drop out of the clouds as we are just entering Furnas valley and the view down into the town is beautiful. The town is busy with tourists but we manage to find a parking spot and pay the ten euro fee to get into the Terra Nostra gardens and park. Here, is a giant thermal pool with chocolate milk waters and a few hundred people soaking and lounging. We pass on the swim and instead wander the expansive gardens which are even larger and more impressive than the ones we visited in Ponta Delgada a few days ago. There are surprisingly few people there and the scenery is otherworldly; a bamboo forest, animal figures carved from trees and grown over with vines and moss, bubbling ponds, warm and winding streams, Jurassic trees, exotic flower gardens, singing frogs, chubby orange Koi cruising through channels.


We check out the restaurant in the attached Terra Nostra hotel, but after seeing servers wearing white gloves and buttoned-up ivory jackets, we veer left into the nearby 3 Bicas Snack Bar and have a lovely lunch and beers for eighteen euro.


After a bit of horsing around with online tickets, two-factor authentication, and phone apps (for some reason they do not accept payments on site anymore, so if you don’t have a phone you better find somewhere else to go), we finally get into the Poça da Dona Beija thermal spas. This place is hard to describe, but it feels like you’ve dropped into a jungle oasis. Four different pools, flowing over with steaming 39 degree water, all connected by a warm river running down what looks like an ancient cobbled riverbed, with flowers and shrubs and trees encircling the spas. There are a lot of people here – more than last time we visited, but it’s manageable and still somehow feels peaceful. We soak in the various pools for over an hour.


We take a different route back home, along the north coast, and after passing the two tea plantations on the island, stop at a miradour (viewpoint) to admire the ocean vistas and try not to get blown over the edge by the crazy winds. A little tourist gift shop has opened here since we last visited and I find an Azores shirt I like. We ask the man working there how much it is, bracing for his answer.


“Ten euro,” he says.


“Ten?” I ask Ana, surprised.


“Only ten?” she asks him.


“Yes, but it’s low season. In high season I crank the price up to twelve-fifty,” he said, both proud and slightly embarrassed at the same time.


“Why not charge twenty euro?” Ana asks. “People will pay it.”


“Oh no. I couldn’t do that,” he replies, now fully embarrassed with the thought of ripping people off.


And that, is exactly the reason tourists fall in love with this place. People here are decent. They are hospitable and willing to share their country and look to just make a living, not fleece visitors. I happily buy the shirt.

 Back at home base, the folks have cooked up a magnificent tuna dinner and Paulo Fernando, Natercia, and Leonor arrive at the house around 7:30 to join us. As expected, it turns into a late night with a lot of yelling, screaming, laughing, and drinking, and I make a remarkable discovery, which I will explain tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment