Wanderlust Azores- Algar do Carvão Volcano Cave and the Quality of Life

When I landed in Terceira, Miguel stood by the Azore Gateway’s little podium greeting the passengers. He told me that the full day tour is the best option since it included the volcano cave, Algar do Carvão, and this volcano lava vent is the highlight of the island. The icing on top is that the cave is only open on Wednesdays. As a dumb American who is not used to the Azorean ways, I asked why the volcano cave is only open one day a week. He said that he does not know but it’s probably because the cave is run by a non-profit organization, OS MONTANHEIROS, implying that there is no reason to open more than one day a week since they don’t want money!

Now, that’s a concept. Control the number of tourists to your natural beauty and have a balance in your work life because profitability is not your goal. Hmm. I believe Bhutan has the same policy.imageTunnel that leads to the volcano cave.imageThe decent down to the lagoon. The stairs went zigzagging down.imageFurther decent. When I finally reached it, the lagoon was black and blue iridescent but infinitely deep. It also felt icy cold and wet in the air. With the dark surrounding and the iridescent water, the experience was surreal.image The opening to the top as seen from the bottom. The opening is 148ft up vertically. However, this picture was not taken from the bottom. The darkness inside the cave made it close to impossible for my Samsung S5 to capture the beauty and the essence of the cave. This is one that must be experienced in person. imageStalactites

It felt weird standing back at the tunnel entrance heading back outside. I know light is at the end of the tunnel. Do I want to walk through it?

This experience took place at

Algar do Carvão – Monumento Natural Regional
Porto Judeu, 9700-000 Angra do Heroísmo
Phone:295 212 992

Wanderlust Azores- Hotel do Caracol’s Breaded Octopus on Coriander Risotto

I finally made it to another restaurant! At Hotel do Caracol, they serve regional food with an eye catering to the international tourists. You find a lot of beef on the menu and the waiter strongly recommended the steaks. I went against his recommendation and ordered the octopus.imageBreaded Octopus with Coriander Risotto. Ok, there. You cannot blame me for trying. Where have you seen breaded octopus on risotto before? NO WHERE. Yet, there was a good reason why you have not seen it before because it is just wrong. Breaded octopus kills all the flavor octopus brings and degrades the octopus to just a protein, any protein. The risotto was decent but made with way too much oil. In general, this was a very poorly conceived dish. It’s a mistake that is made by a novice chef who tries to do new combinations that just don’t work together. imageSpaghetti with Meatballs. My little photographer’s favorite meal is spaghetti with meatballs but she was so thoroughly disappointed that she could not finish the pasta. The pasta was way over-cooked; they were stuck together because no efforts were made to separately them; they were also randomly cut up into smaller pieces. The entire presentation was just weird although she did say the meatballs were decently eatable. image In general, I find the service in the restaurants very slow in the Azores. Perhaps they work on a different pace. Parmesan cheese was not offered. Water was not poured. These are small things… yet they are pretty consistent across both four star hotel restaurants. I don’t believe this is intentional; I think they just work in a slower pace than what I expect as a New Yorker.

Service aside, this meal at the Hotel do Caracol was not good. 😦 I have got one more day of eating octopus…

This experience took place at

Hotel do Caracol
Cozinha do Caracol Restaurant

Angra do Heroísmo
Phone:295 402 600

Wanderlust Azores- A Tiny Street and A Very Nice Man

My Sunday started out as a day of random exploration. I took my Opel Corsa along with my 12-year-old out on the open road with no destinations in mind, going wherever and stopping whenever we feel like it. No GPS and just let the forks in the road take us on our island adventure.
image We got on the road to this look out point. It’s a tiny little road (only one compact car can pass and with stone walls on both sides) through the hills. We kept on climbing and climbing through the hills. The angle became sharper and sharper to the point that it felt like we were on a rollercoaster going up. My little Opel was making all kind of noise because this automatic car drives like a manual pretending to be an automatic, not knowing when to switch gear.

At one point, I became concerned. I was in the middle of nowhere with a child, in a car that I was not completely familiar with, going up on an angle that is closer to 90 than 45 degrees. But I was at the point of no return…Can’t U turn and even if I could, I was not sure I wanted to head downhill. Voila! I did make it to the top and got this awesome picture.imageOn the way down, I was all pumped and decided to go down this very deep decline via a narrow cobblestone road in the town of Ribeirinha. I was stuck. The road was not big enough to have two lanes. Instead of backing up to let the cars through, I went ahead and became stuck on a very tricky spot next to the wall and inside a pothole. The loud noise my car made drew attention and men came out from their houses and cars. They were yelling at me by this point! In Portuguese! Loudly!

I was this idiotic American woman who stopped traffic and didn’t know how to back up. I was a little embarrassed. This Portuguese gentleman sensing my distress quickly came out of his car. Without one word, jumped into mine, maneuvered out of the pothole, and back my car up all the way to the paved road, with my 12-year-old inside. That took him about 5 mins.

This is wanderlust in the Azores. I got my adventure and more. I was very thankful for the hospitality the Azoreans extended to a single traveling female with a child. I could have kissed him! Lesson learned: I have got to learn how to drive a manual vehicle.

This experience took place at Ribeirinha, Terceira Island in the Azores Archipelago, Portugal.

Wanderlust Azores- Phenomenal Mousse Desserts

Just a quick note: here are the two phenomenal mousse desserts on this trip. Especially the caramel mousse. Never had it before so it’s the best I have ever had.imageVanilla mousse with caramelized walnut and sugar crumbles and white chocolate shavingsimageCaramelized mousse pie with caramel on top, crunchy crust. Completely digging this dessert.

I realized that buffet is the worst thing in the world if the food is good. I am inevitably eating more than my normal share of food during the past couple of days. The best thing is that the Terceira Mar Hotel has not only redeemed itself, it has also gone ahead and showed me what kind of food Azoreans can make. This is perfect for the holidays.

This experience took place at

Terceira Mar Hotel
Angra do Heroísmo
Phone:295 402 280

Wanderlust Azores- Authentic Lunch at Sao Sebastiao with First World Efficiency and Developing Country Openness and Kindness

Another authentic food experience at Os Moinhos in Sao Sebastiao! Amazingly, for $59 per person I got a full day around the island bus tour plus a great meal. Thanks for Azores Gateways and a shout out to Miguel and Marlo for their infinite politeness and incredible driving skills! Yes, a marketing plug for them because of how warm they are and how they operate with the first world efficiency yet with the developing country openness and kindness.

image Filing into the small restaurant in the stone house.image The cheese tasted soft like a camembert but less bitey and more runny.imageCabbage soup is a typical dish in the Azores. This has more oil than what I’m used to. With chickpeas.image Beautiful, right? Tasted homey.image Beef stewed with red wine. I know there are more ingredients…
image Look at the size of these pieces.image This is the most popular dessert on Terceira. Made with cornmeal, honey, cinnamon, and sprinkled with powder sugar on top.

The meal was excellent, showcased the local flavors and representative dishes. The beef was a little crispy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. Both soup and beef were cooked in a cauldron and brought whole to the table to be shared in a family style. I am also pretty sure that they were cooked over an open flame.

Wow. What an experience! Definitely worth visiting… HIGHLY RECOMMEND the Terceira experience in the Azores.

P.S. The meal was served with plenty of wine produced locally as well.

This experience took place at

Restaurante Os Moinhos
(Vila de São Sebastião)

Rua Arrabalde
( Angra do Heroísmo )
Azores, Portugal

Wanderlust Azores- Singing in a Sao Sebastiao Church on Christmas Eve, Reflecting on Wants and Needs

I am in this tiny tiny tiny little town that is called Sao Sebastiao, settled in 1503 now with a population of 2,000. It has one main square, one tiny main street, one ATM, a couple of churches and cafes and a big tour bus that brought me. image Main Street image A colorful place of worshipimage The outside of the church with the service

Pastor singing? image Fresco that was destroyed and is being restored.

Sao Sebastiao or Terceira is remote and unspoiled by the tourists. It’s very quaint, quiet and simple with natural beauty. It’s making me think of how life should really be if I were not committed to the New York metropolitan area the next six years. Our way of life is not everyone’s way of life. I have a choice.

The average Azorean’s monthly salary is 700€ or 8400€ a year or $9240 USD. In NY, an annual income of $12k USD puts one below the poverty line. The houses in the upscale and desirable northern coast of Biscoitos cost on average between 85k€ to 250k€ and they are darn nice; they are by the ocean with a micro climate to stay warm and sunny. The Azoreans seem to have everything they want and need.

Wanderlust Azores- Caldera of Guilherme Moniz on The Terceira Island, Portugal. Go Milk Your Cows Where Your Cows Are.

The Terceira Island is a center island among the nine islands that belong to the Portuguese Azores Archipelago, located in the North Atlantic ocean. Azores are only a four-hour flight east of Boston, MA, and a two-hour flight west of Lisbon from the mainland of Portugal.

In the middle of the Terceira Island is the Cauldron of Guilherme Moniz, with 15km diameter, formed by the eruption of the Algar do Carvao volcano. This is the panoramic view of the caldera.image

Here is how windy it is at the lookout point for the caldera.

With the population of 56k, the Terceira Island has double the number of the cows. Milk production is the primary output for the island’s economy. The cows are free range and feast on the vegetation of the caldera. The farmers bring their mobile milking device to the cows, twice a day. This is a true definition for being MOBILE- Go Milk Your Cows Where Your Cows Are.
imageSadly, most farmers are considering changing milk production to meat production because their profit is only about 20 cents per liter with each cow producing 40 liters of milk on average per day.

Even sadder, the Terceirian farmers used to produce wheat for cereal, exporting to the rest of the Europe which was highly profitable. However, since joining the European Union, Portugal had to agree to cease wheat production and change to milk production. Now, their milk only supplies the Azores and a few supermarkets on the mainland of Portugal.

This is an injustice caused by a socialist economic practice, benefiting the strong and the ones in power.

Wanderlust Azores- Tiny, Tiny Airport with Only One Booth for Immigration

Did you know that one of the Azores islands, Terceira, is only a four hour flight from Boston and it’s only four hours ahead of New York? I landed at 7am this morning with only a short nap.image Picking up my rental car. It has the European style automatic where the gear often defaults to neural; it looks and feels like a manual car. Took me a while to figure out how to reverse. The patient rental car lady came out to the parking lot to show the dumb American me how to drive an automatic!

The funny thing is that the car rental lady told me that they are not used to the tourists yet… You return your rental car right outside the airport front door. Park it right there and they will come out to get it from you. What wonderful customer service!imageThe entrance of the airport. Yes, that’s the entire building.image View from my room. This is such a beautiful island. It’s lushly green, sunny, with bright blue sky and a vast ocean. So remote, too. I was one of the very few cars on the road/highway… because I was driving in the middle of farmlands.

More to come. So far, I’m loving Terceira!