Graciosa, Azores, 4/23/2023, National Geographic Endurance
National Geographic Endurance
Another full and beautiful day here in the Azores! The day began with a threatening storm that had been aggressive overnight. However, drizzling rain did not deter the fearless travelers on National GeographicEndurance from getting the most out of our day. We were heartily rewarded with what turned out to be gorgeous weather, including some sunshine and blue skies. Some guests went on a scenic tour of the island, and the rest of us went for a hike around the caldera on Graciosa. The hike was a beautiful trail slightly lower than the rim of the caldera with incredible overlooks, lush vegetation, and lots of singing chaffinches and European robins. After the walk, the bravest of the brave walked down 200 steps to the base of the caldera, which felt a bit like the dark, damp entrance to Hades. A small lake even looked like the river Styx with an abandoned rowboat.
After our morning activities, we were all treated to a visit to the local pastry shop. We got to sample a specialty of the island, Queijadas da Graciosa! They were deliciosa! Some of us may or may not have sampled more than one of the delicacies.
The afternoon was a nice chance for a Zodiac cruise around the Ilheu da Praia, a small islet that is a critical nesting habitat for Monteiro’s storm petrels. In 2016, they found 178 breeding pairs on the island. This is over half the global population!
Once we were back on the ship, we enjoyed visits from a few different schools of common dolphins, and we had the pleasure of learning lots of information from Jim Kelley’s presentation about the geology of the Azores archipelago. Following that, we enjoyed cocktail hour and recap. It’s been another great day here in the Azores, and we are all looking forward to tomorrow. What a time to be alive!
Karen Velas cares deeply about protecting the environment and its wildlife. Over the last 15 years, she has been involved with numerous conservation projects, including working as the Lead Project Coordinator on the California Condor Project with Th...
Four options offered everyone aboard National Geographic Endurance an opportunity to choose an expedition suited to their interests for exploration of Sao Miguel, the largest island of the Azores. While some guests chose to explore Ponta del Gada on their own, most of us headed off to explore various places on the island. Three coaches and a van carried all of us from the ship to different destinations on Sao Miguel. One group headed off to the northeast end of the island to explore part of the native laurisilva forest and search for the endangered and endemic priolo, or Azores bullfinch, in the Terras de Priolo Reserve. Others headed directly to Terra Nostra Garden to try swimming in the iron-rich thermal lake. The rest of us traveled east from the current capital city in two coaches, observing the scenic coast on our way to Villa Franca do Campo, the former capital of the island. En route, we passed many farm fields lined by the now familiar lava rock walls that checkerboard all the Azores. A variety of crops thrived in the numerous enclosed plots, including bananas, taro, corn, and melons. We also spotted dairy cattle. A large, flat area that is protected from the winds by a mountain, offering good access to the sea, seemed like an ideal site for the capital when Sao Miguel was settled. A landslide destroyed the town in 1522, though. While the town was entirely rebuilt, Villa Franca never regained its status as the capital of Sao Miguel. Our coach drivers skillfully maneuvered down the town’s narrow, winding cobblestone streets interlacing the white-sided, red-tile roofed homes and buildings characteristic of all the island cities and villages we have visited. Our destination was the picturesque harbor filled with sailboats and a particular local pastry shop, Do Morgado Queijadas de Vila Franca Do Campo. Inside, we watched the preparation of the special pastries through large glass windows. Many of us sampled some of their treats along with small cups of espresso. From there, we headed farther east to the famed Terra Nostra Garden and its thermal springs. We met up with our fellow travelers who had enjoyed swimming in the warm, iron-red waters of the thermal lake at the edge of the garden. While the swimmers washed off the red hues of the mineral rich water, the rest of us wandered through the gardens along well-manicured, cobblestoned trails. Trees and flowers from all over the world, from New Zealand to China, have been planted here in the 200 years since the gardens were established in 1776. A beautiful new addition to the garden features native and endemic Azores flora, a stark contrast to the garden’s history of featuring plants from far flung lands. We admired and photographed some of the plants growing here, up to one thousand species. Heading farther east after the garden visit, we stopped briefly at Furnas to observe the unique geothermal cooking method used for our noon meal. As we watched, two strong men pulled up a huge steel pot that had been lowered into a concrete pit in the ground near a steaming, bubbling thermal hot spring. They judged the meal cooked and carried the pot off in a truck to a nearby restaurant. We soon rejoined our fellow travelers at the restaurant. We enjoyed local wines and a hearty stew of potatoes, taro, carrots, kale, cabbage, and tender beef. This was all topped off by fresh pineapple and pastries from Do Morgado Queijadas. We left fueled for our afternoon activities. The morning’s swimmers headed off to hike along a trail around Lagos de Furnas. The trail meandered past a beautiful church and through another garden of cultivated trees and flowers. The birding group headed back to Sao Miguel for an afternoon exploring Ponta del Gado. The rest of the group made a visit to the Cha Gorreana tea factory. Here we observed the entire process of tea manufacturing with interpretation by our local guides. Surrounded by hills draped with lush green rows of thriving tea shrubs, the tea processing occurs inside a large white building filled with interesting machinery designed to dry, sort, and process the tea leaves prior to packaging the orange pekoe, black, or green tea. A scenic trip along the precipitous north and west coast of Sao Miguel took us back to the ship where we ended our day with the Captain’s Farewell Cocktails and a delicious dinner topped off with a decadent chocolate dessert. The night was not yet over, as the Alfredo Gago da Camara performers were aboard to entertain us in the Ice Lounge after dinner. This professional local Fado group features a singer and three musicians who played Portuguese guitar, classical guitar, and bass. It was a fitting end to a full day of exploration.
Waking onboard National Geographic Endurance as we sailed from Terceira Island to Santa Maria Island, the seas were turned up a little by the prevailing winds. However, our steadfast ship carried us smoothly to the sheltered port of Vila do Porto, Santa Maria. Throughout the morning, we heard several presentations from our natural history staff. We learned how the spice and food trade connected the Azores, Portugal, with the rest of the world, and we joined in a conversation about ocean plastics and the mismanagement of waste. Once safely in the Vila do Porto harbor, we headed out to explore the island, by bus or foot. Some chose the beautiful scenic hike around Pico Alto, while others took a scenic bus tour around this island stopping to admire local art, small mountain towns, beautiful views of the island, and a bit of time exploring downtown. Known for its lighthouses and old-fashioned windmills, everyone had a wonderful sunny day getting to know the small island of Santa Maria.
Our morning began with foggy skies and misting rain on board National Geographic Endurance . Guests joined various tour options, including an overview of the east side of the island or a short birding excursion to a local watering hole. The birding spot was a recently recovered wetland known as Paul da Praia da Vitória located very close to the center of town. Local guides were optimistic about the clouds and fog clearing as the day went on, and thankfully, they knew what they were talking about! The afternoon held some of the best weather we’ve had thus far in the Azores. Bright, sunny skies with little to no wind allowed us to take off our rain jackets and enjoy that beautiful, bright light in the sky. This afternoon, we offered two options: a guided, walking tour of Angra do Heroismo and a hike at Baías da Agualva. The hike was the best one yet – full of wonderful views and not too strenuous. The city walk was incredibly rich, and guests enjoyed diving into the history and culture of the local people. We learned about various disputes between Portugal and Spain while walking in between restored buildings after the earthquake of 1980. To many, this was the best day of the trip so far!