Years ago, maybe six years, I was a very enthusiastic traveller. I travelled the world, the farther the better. I was led by curiosity about the people, the food, the smells, the climate, the different lives. The things I have experienced, the things that have happened to me! But all this suddenly disappeared. I had thought about the reason, and I came to the conclusion that I hated the airplanes, the landings and the airports because the motorcycles came, and people normally ride them on their vacations. I had too many work trips, long destinations, and I began to see my favourite trips only as business ones. All until this year, when I told myself I will try again. I will try to get back my curiosity about the world. I felt that now was the time, because photography came into the picture and it would be a great reason. I did not have much time to think about where to go, and I started where I had left this passion of mine. I had planned my next tours to be in Peru and Costa Rica. Yes, but they are too far away and with the problem I still had, it was impossible for me to sit on the plane for ten hours. I started looking for nearer tours, but none were right for this time of year. Then the people from the agency who had organized my previous trips told me about the Azores. I immediately agreed. I knew nothing about them, but they attracted me. So I left for the Azores with an important mission – to get back my travel bug.
I stayed 4 days in Lisbon. I have never been there. It is very nice with its hills, history and restaurants. I browsed the length and breadth of it. I found a great restaurant that I highly recommend – Ribadouro. I am telling you – it is awesome. Fresh sea food. Almost everything is eaten raw. There is also beef, but I was stuffing myself with lobster, shrimps, crab, clams, oysters and squid. The waiters are the old-time elderly dudes, it is a terrible galore in the restaurant, and it is good to book a table in advance, otherwise you will wait. I found it by accident and that is why I was so happy with it.
The programme for the islands was as follows – two days each for the islands of Pico, Terceira and Sao Miguel. I will not concern you with things that you can read on the internet, but I will rather describe some important facts about the islands that you should keep in mind, slightly topped with my experiences. As well as really nice restaurants and places.
The first island on my route was Pico – the island with the volcano. The flight from Lisbon to the islands is 2:30 hours. The best airlines there are Sata and Azores Airlines. I am very pleased with these two airlines, with their big planes as well as small ones that fly between the islands. In addition to the volcano, Pico is also known for the wine. The islands that are very close to it are Faial and Sao Jorge. Both can be reached by boat and ferry. From the airport to the busiest point – the town of Madalena, is not far, but you have to cross it by taxi. It costs a “fixed” amount of 15 euros. If there are no taxis at the airport, which usually happens, get drivers’ business cards from the Info desk and call. They will come quickly. You check in at the hotel and that is it. If you want to explore the entire island, which I think is a must, you should get a car. I have travelled to many islands and I know this, but because of the long period without travels, I have forgotten such details. So I go there and I have no driving licence. It takes 20 minutes on foot to see Madalena, and then? The island has other very interesting towns as well as views.
I started arrangements to receive a copy of my driving licence from Sofia. I got slightly desperate that it would not work, until I looked in my wallet and there it was. On the last check in Sofia, I shoved it in my wallet, which is not its usual place. On this trip, luck was definitely on my side. And in an hour I had a car too. You can rent a car only in Madalena. You cannot do it at the airport because there is nothing there. It costs 50 euros for a day and 350 euros blocked from your credit card as a guarantee. I set off around the island to shoot and look. The roads are excellent. No holes, perfect asphalt and road signs. Pay attention to the signs with binoculars. If there is such sign – there is also a great view. A must-see stop is the town of Lajes do Pico, which has a small port – there they offer many trips in the ocean to watch whales and dolphins. This is a main attraction on the islands, so choose where to have it. In my opinion, it is a must because of these views.
There are many small villages along the way, convenient to grab something from the small shops and exchange couple of words with the locals. Nice people, most of them elderly. For those of you who want to climb the volcano, there are special guided tours. If you are in shape, you can climb it for two hours. But keep in mind something very important that is valid for all islands. You have to get lucky with the weather. If it is bad and you go there for ten days, you may see absolutely nothing. As it happened with the volcano. Huge, high mountain in the middle of the island. It can be seen from everywhere. On the day I arrived, it was seen very well. I took many photos. The next day, the volcano was simply not there. The weather was nice, but the volcano was covered in clouds and fog. I never saw it again.
And if you want to climb it, the weather must be perfect and cloudless. Otherwise, up there you will see a big nothing. They told me the view was magnificent and you could see five islands. During my stay, I got lucky and saw one of the biggest holidays on the island – “Santa Maria Madalena”. Tourists and locals from all islands come, and it really becomes a big gathering with lots of music, dancing and eating. On the main street there is a large organic food store with all the vegan products you need. It surprised me and I took the advantage.
The next island was Terceira. The flight from Pico was only 25 minutes. Taxi from airport to Angra do Heroismo costs 20 euros. Do the same here – look for taxi drivers’ business cards. The main town on the island is Angra do Heroismo.
On this island, things are different and larger in scale. The town is about as big as Nesebar. You will need two days to see it. On this island, I decided to go by boat to watch dolphins and whales. Time of the year (July-August), the large sea creatures are not many, but there are dolphins. The locals are good at finding them. The whole trip takes about 3 hours. The other very nice thing is the swimming with the dolphins. Unfortunately, however, it can rarely be done because the ocean must be completely calm. I saw both whales and dolphins. Such views happened to me often when we were shooting the Survivor seasons in Panama, on the Pearl Islands, but now I was a tourist and it was a different kind of nice. The other thing you should do, though it involves physical effort, is to climb the one hill and go to Monte Brasil. The climbing is 7 km. At first I got a little startled and decided not to do it, but the next day I climbed it and I do not regret it. Up there is very beautiful. It is something like a picnic park. The air is very clean and cool. The view is of the entire island and worth every moment. You can save yourself this effort and climb it by car, but you will miss some quite nice places along the way. Most tourists get there by car. There is also something like a zoo on the hill, and various themed activities and entertainment are organized for the children. There is no drinking water, so bring your own.
At Terceira you should absolutely try the “Alcatra” specialty. This is the beef island and this dish is a trademark. The beef is cooked for 12 hours and served directly from the stove, as a bubbling stew. It is very tasty and tender. However, you have to eat it in their traditional restaurants with sweet bread (i.e. Easter cake). I found two such restaurants recommended to me by the locals. One is called Adega Lusitania, and the other – O Chico. I liked the second one more because the people were very nice and the restaurant is located right in the town centre, next to the port. Taxis in the town are cheap and you can easily use them. If you get a car, have in mind that parking is paid and you need to find where you can and cannot park freely. The streets are full of restaurants, shops and bars. There is a lot to see. If you are not rushing like me, you will need at least 4 days. This way you can see the whole island. The other town you should not miss is Praia Da Vitoria.
The third island that ranked first in my list is Sao Miguel. It is simply full of interesting sites. Again, the flight lasted 25 minutes. This time, I was greeted by a large airport. Be sure to rent a car at the airport. You may not need to use taxis at all. The airport is very close to the town of Ponta Delgada – a nice seaside town that has everything.
Here I will recommend you boldly. Again, I came across a great restaurant with delicious seafood. And again, with that old and kind service that I really like. They do not bother you, they are fast and they do not mislead you. It is called Mercado de Peixe. I also recommend the place where I stayed – an old guest house in the very centre of the town, extremely cosy, clean and smelling fantastic – Comercial Azores Guest House. I really liked it and it is much better than the photos of the rooms on their website. Have in mind that the entire centre is with paid parking. Look around where and how. I took the car and headed for the eastern part of the island to the town of Furnas. It was quite funny on the road. They too want to be like the big ones. Google Maps took me on their highway. Really large, perfect highway and it is … 30 km long. It has everything – signs, markings, counting down the remaining kilometres, as if you would get lost. However, because of this highway, things happen instantly. I took the distance in no time. One of the three lakes you should visit is there, with the hot springs with hot volcanic water. The lake is called Lagoa das Furnas. Take a walk around it, there are things to see, and then hike up the mountain above it, to enjoy the mega view and the lake itself from above – Miradouro do Pico do Ferro. Then go back to the town and look for Poca da Dona Beija. Here is their website. You will really love it. The place has 5 pools with different water temperature. The highest is 38 degrees. You move from pool to pool and melt down. They offer towels and lockers. It is great, in the nature, and is beautiful. There are many people, but somehow this is its charm. Then on your way out you will pass by a big fan shop with souvenirs, branded clothes and memorabilia.
On the way back I also visited the second lake, Lagoa do Fogo. Luck should be with you on this island, or you might really see nothing. The lakes are high and the smallest clouds, which are normal for the islands, are an obstacle to the beautiful views and the lakes themselves. I did not see this lake. I was there, but the fog had hidden it. I watched videos on youtube. The weather was progressively getting worse, and the next day it was time for the third lake, with perhaps one of the best views in the world. My phone’s battery was constantly going down, so I went to buy an extra battery at the mall. They have a very large mall with a view of the ocean, which has everything. Parque Atlantico is for the shopping maniacs who will really enjoy it.
The next day started disastrously. The weather was awful with pouring rain, I got a fine for improper parking, and my laptop crashed. Despite everything, I got in the car and headed to the place I wanted to see most – Miradouro da Grota do Inferno – with panoramic view of the lakes Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul.
It is about 30 km to there, but 20 of them are on a narrow steep road with many turns, which was wrapped in a terrible fog, and I drove with 15 km/h. on the way I was already thinking that I would hit the beam big time. After an hour trip, I went up, there was absolutely nobody (usually it is crowded with tourists) and it was a little creepy. I was right above the lakes, but I could see not more than two metres before me. I felt I was above something big, there was a very strong wind blowing. I did not stay long and left. I felt awful, I admit. I went to the mentioned restaurant and stuffed myself with seafood. And the rain was harder. Perfect for sleeping, nothing else. I fell asleep and slept for about three hours. I woke up – the weather was the same. Not good for anything except for the Mall. I headed to there, but on the way, right above the lakes, I saw a blue “gap” in the sky. I stayed for 5 minutes on the spot and the sky appeared again. I rushed back to the room, took the lenses and the camera, and rushed again to the car. In full throttle, I headed up the steep road again. The situation was the same, but in some places there were areas without fog. Hope started to return, maybe I would see the dream view. Up there was the same – only fog and silence. No people. I went over the lakes again. I told myself I would not move until I see them. After 20 minutes of waiting, things started to move around. And suddenly I saw a hill by one lake, and even clear.
The sun began to make its way through the clouds and I saw a quite distant hill. Somewhere behind me six people appeared. They had come for the same thing, but the weather did not want to show it to us. There we were, seven people waiting and relying for nature to show some understanding. And it did. Nature performed an incredible two-hour show to us. We saw the lakes and the ocean in the best and most memorable way. And we were alone, in peace, without the crowds of tourists. This really was one of the best moments of my 40-year life because somehow I felt chosen.
The way I saw this place was very special. As if nature and the world were telling me that there is much more for me to see, that beautiful places are around us and we must find them, perceive them, and contemplate them. Because these places give a lot, they make you a better person and somehow they humble you. At that moment, all the bad things in my head disappeared and the smile was constant on my face. I had not laughed so sincerely and truly for years. I felt these people close because we experienced this together. The clouds withdrew for about 5 seconds, we saw pictures of Paradise, then instantly hid, to appear again even more beautiful.
People left, we exchanged emails. For a little while, I stayed alone. I did not want to leave. I felt so good at this place. It was decided, I will be roaming around the world again! The camera did not stop shooting frames. How nice it turned out! If the weather was nice, I would come and jostle into the people, at the end point where the view was visible I would stay no more than a minute because of the crowds, and would leave quickly. Now I spent a long time without anyone bothering me, I enjoyed the place, and nature showed me everything in the most memorable and special way. A shout brought me back from those thoughts. I turned and saw a rather angry man. He was the keeper of the park. He had locked it, and after returning to the village, he heard from someone that there was a car in the park. The park was open until 7:00 pm, and before I knew it, it was already 8:00 pm. I did not know that. So he is shouting and I am laughing and just pointing at the view. He did not understand much English so I was repeating in Bulgarian “please, 5 more minutes – look how beautiful it is”. He pulls me, and every step on the way back I stop to take photos. At one point, he started laughing at me. I gave him the camera to shoot me. This guy took the coolest photo of me, which shows as if Paradise had opened for me. Do you know that actually I might have seen the gates of Paradise? That is how I have imagined them and I am sure it was them. This might mean that for the rest of my life I should strive these gates to open for me. I will do whatever is necessary because I liked it there. Here is the photo that the angry keeper took of me. In the car on the way back, crying, shouting, I was awfully happy. I did not blink an eye that night. I could not sleep, and my plane was leaving very early in the morning. I caught it and came back to Bulgaria slightly changed.
I strongly recommend the Azores and wish everyone similar experiences. They show us the good side of life, make us dream at full speed. Life in the city really takes us away from these experiences. We just have to cause ourselves them, and insert them somewhere among our daily engagements and the work we cannot do without. We should seek harmony. I have lost it a little, but I hope this trip will help me find it. And my advice to all future travellers is to contact Marta Vasileva at Stars Travel, she will help you with your journey. She is very much into things, and I thank her very much for the wonderful suggestion and organisation.
Text – Vladimir Karamazov
Photos – Vladimir Karamazov for #кaramazovfoto
07.08.2019 Vladimir Karamazov ®