Friday, July 31, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 20. Fog and drizzle in Pico.

Early this morning I got a message from a friend, reminding me that “it could have been fog and rain instead”, and that is exactly what we got today: Windy, drizzly, and foggy. Still, brave tourists that we are we took a boat to cross the strait between Faial and Pico. Our trusty guide, Lucia, was with us and keeping her chin up got us into the bus to start the tour around the island.

This is a peculiar island, dominated by the Pico stratovolcano, which has fed lava flows all around its periphery, which gives the lowlands a very “volcanic” aspect. There are no beaches to speak of in Pico, but the clever locals have blocked some of the crags to form pools, and apparently they are very popular among the locals when the sun shines. There is not a lot of arable land, however, so when the first inhabitants settled in the 1400’s they had to deal with rocky slopes and howling wind. Quite naturally they started building wind-barriers (thin walls of aa lava fragments), one thing led to the other, and pretty soon they were building walls around any of the plants they wanted to raise.

So this is an island of little walls, defining labyrinths that go for acres and acres, inside of which there are vines or fig trees, from which come the “volcanic” wines of Pico. The story goes that the black rock soaks in the sun, gets hot, and then radiates the heat back to the plants in the course of the evening. Of course the frequent rain does miracles to keep the fruits growing, but the heat encourages the grape to grow sweet, and the highest the natural sugar content of the grapes, the wine can reach a nice high level of alcohol and crate a smooth, dry wine. The figs, on the other hand, are allowed to ripen and then are put through fermentation and distillation to produce a pretty hefty grappa.

For the rest of the day we were simply group tourists, stopping often, getting out of the bus, snapping a couple of pictures, and getting back on the bus.

One rather unique stop was to visit “The King of Yams”, a friend of Elmano and Albertina, who markets yams in California and has build an empire on this lowly tubercule, and who every summer escapes the heat of the Central Valley by coming to Pico for two months. We came, all 14 of us plus Lucia and our driver Sinhor Antonio, to the family house to say hello, and he and his kind wife were waiting for us with all sorts of appetizers and open bottles of “volcanic” wine. The best welcome we could have expected!

We made our way all around the island, and as we were approaching the dock Pico volcano almost showed itself. I sat on the top deck, looking back at the fog shrouded volcano, and had a flashback when I left Sakurajima volcano in Japan, after a similar fog-shrouded day, when all of a sudden the fog blew away and the volcano started erupting! (The only time I have actually witnessed an erupting volcano). Alas, it was but a dream, and Pico kept itself quiet and shrouded, waiting for another time to show its power to us mere mortals.

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