Friday, July 31, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 22. Around Terceira in a scooter.

The day seems perfect for a scooter adventure, which I started by going up the hill to see the statue of the Immaculate Hearth of Mary, who blesses the mariners who enter Praia da Vitoria, which is the small city where our hotel is located. I should note that out hotel is called Varandas do Atlantico, which I recommend without reservations. It is small, very comfortable and modern, and the staff is great (

Soon I came to the NATO base (established during World War II) and the airport, and then I was in open country. My plan was to cut across the island to look at the Caldera of Guilhemo Moniz (a name that simply shows who owned the land), which turned out to be a pretty drive through greenery, but with very little geology. Then I saw a sign that led to a volcanic cave, but the place was not open until 2 pm, so I would have to come back. I did stop to walk through a small fumarole field, whose main attraction was the fact that a golden red moss likes the warmth and sulfurous steam, so the vents were easily distinguished as fiery spots imprinted on the green vegetation carpet.

From the highlands I dropped to the city of Angra do Heroismo, the largest city in Terceira. Angra means a small bay, and apparently this was the only naturally protected bay when the islands were colonized in the early to mid 1400’s, so for centuries it was the de facto capital of the Azores. The city is heavy with history, and after reconstruction from the ravages of an earthquake in the 1980’s was rightfully included in UNESCO’s roster as a World Heritage Site. The topography around the bay is steep, so the city has a helter-skelter development pattern of narrow streets and public buildings huddling precariously against each other.

Serendipitously I met the other members of my group by the waterfront, and together we went to visit one of the fortresses that protected the town against the depredations of pirates like Francis Drake and other privateers of the same ilk. We parted ways after the visit, and I went for a cup of coffee and a sandwich in the old town, and to browse through a bookstore in search of a book by an Azorean author. I settled for the book Mar Rubro, by Dias de Melo, a native of Pico who has made a name for himself by writing about the life of the baleen hunters of Pico. I finished my midday with an informative visit to the city museum, which occupies what used to be the old Franciscan Convent. It is a very good museum and I highly recommend it.

Back on my scooter (and under a steady rain) I headed back inland, to visit my volcanic cave. Now, I have been in a couple of amazing lava tube caves, where the lava makes a stream, crusts over to make a tunnel through which the now insulated lava can move more efficiently, and eventually drains quickly at the end to leave behind a largely horizontal empty tube or cave (I in fact saw a fair example of this phenomenon later in the day at another cave, the Cave of Natal). But the cave of Algar do Carvao was completely different: It was a wide (10 m) shaft that descended almost vertically for a good 100 m, where the sides had been eroded by the swirling of the hot lava. The walls had structures typical of the draining of a fluid magma, although in some places the walls had partially spalled in. Water, dripping through fractures, had accumulated some stalactites and drape structures just like in a limestone cave, but in here the structures were formed by chalcedony (silica) rather than calcite. In short, what we have here is a fossilized volcanic vent. Normally such a vent would be full of tephra or crystallized lava, but in this case the lava that filled the conduit must have drained quickly and the spatter of the cone around it must had been agglutinated enough that it couldn’t roll back into the cavity. It is the first time I get to see such a thing, and I was dully impressed. This really looked like a point of entry for a Journey to the Center of the Earth!

I spent the late afternoon exploring secondary roads, all of which took me to places of great beauty. In one of the many vales I met a small milking operation, in which the operator had a portable, two-stalls milking machine, and the cows simply came down the slope, two at a time, to be milked and munch on some hay. All 60 cows must have taken a couple of hours to milk, after which the farmer would pull the machine and its tank back to the farm. The cows remained on their pretty pasture and never saw the inside of a barn. Talk about happy cows! 

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