Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Pineapples and cheese

We finally tore ourselves away from Ponta Delgada and our great friends on Sao Miguel and got underway again.
Before leaving though, there was time to go with Ricardo to his father-in-law's pineapple plantation just outside Ponta Delgada. Pineapples are a traditional crop of the island, grown in glass houses in accordance with a series of mysterious rites, including lighting a fire in the building to smoke the plants and induce them to produce fruit synchronously. Each plant produces one fruit and takes a year to do it.

Baby pineapples!
We didn't go away empty handed, the boss fellah being sure to harvest one ripe pineapple for us to take home and enjoy.

The forecast we left on wasn't ideal, but it looked like the best in the immediate future so we went for it. It was a wrench to leave but we gritted our teeth and cast off the warps regardless. The wind had been blowing stiffly from the north for a couple of days so we expected it to be rough once clear of the island and so it was. At least we had the pleasure of 'stealing' a pod of dolphins from the whale watching boats as we sailed past.
The following day we got within striking distance of Pico and Sao Jorge and began to feel the bizarre effects of these high mountainous islands on the wind. At times it was pleasant sailing, at times hideous. The wind changed direction and strength all the time, dancing between 10 and 26 knots unpredictably. Finally it settled stiff and on the nose as we tried to beat up the channel between the two islands towards Velas.
A possible anchorage at Calheta became very tempting as the day was drawing to a close but the fact that it's not a port of entry was a problem and the pilot book didn't make it sound very attractive either. However, we were tired and really didn't feel like thrashing up the channel all night so pulled in to Calheta after all and were very pleased we did.
It's tight for space, but there were no other boats in the anchorage and only one fishing boat unloading on the pier. We dropped the hook near a dodgy looking mooring buoy and crashed out at about 2200, to the melodious strains of the Cory's Shearwater.
I woke up around midnight and had a look out, not feeling too confident in the holding, and was dismayed to see a small sailboat tied to the dodgy looking mooring. Should the wind shift in the night, we would almost certainly collide. There was nothing for it but to haul the anchor and move to another spot. This turned out well though as we found better holding the second time and slept soundly thereafter.
In the morning we found the wind in a much more favourable direction but still highly variable in strength as it poured over the mountains from the north and down into the channel. Still, it was a nice sail until the final approach to the harbour at Velas, where it was seriously howling. No matter. We had reached Sao Jorge, the island of cheese, and settled quickly in at the small and friendly marina.
The town and the island in general are, you won't be surprised to hear, beautiful.

The central square of Velas.
One of the famous Sao Jorgian cows, with Pico, Portugal's
highest peak, in the background.
An escaped hen, returned to the wild, with her newly hatched
and very cute brood in the forest.
The season is more or less over here so the marina, which is normally packed out, has ample room. There is only one other visiting boat here at the moment, another of 'our type' of vessel. Malu is a Danish 27-footer, belonging to Frank and Lone, whose company we have certainly been enjoying.

We had quite an exceptionally good day today, setting off to hitch hike to the northern part of the island. Getting lifts was easy enough, the first in the back of a pickup truck full of bags of sugar, taking us to the village of Norte Grande. From here we hiked down to the Faja Ouvidor. The island is seriously steep-sided, only broken by the Fajas, which are the sites of ancient lava flows to the sea.

Faja Ouvidor, looking to the next Faja along. The Fajas
were the first part of the island to be settled.
Bar Azul, next to the wee harbour, where we stopped for a
 cold glass of red wine. Well within budget at 80 cents.
Where the lava met the sea. We had spotted a tempting looking
swimming spot and were prospecting for the route to reach it.
The view from above. We just had to swim in these pools! 
Finally! On the fourth attempt, a route down was discovered.
We had the place entirely to ourselves.
Columnar basalt and clear turquoise water.  
Heading back over the lava bridge.
Returning home again, we first got a lift with a friendly farmer who took us as far as the first field of cows he had to milk. He invited us to view the evening milking, which we were glad to do, and then gave us as much fresh milk as we could drink and carry away with us. A lifelong wish for both of us fulfilled - drinking milk fresh from the cow! Not just any milk either but delicious Azorean milk.

'Form an orderly queue please, ladies'. The cow that our milk
came from. The milking machine was run by a generator
on the spot.
Lastly, we got a lift from a very nice chap living in Velas, who invited us into his home when we reached town and fed us well on bean stew and plenty of the famous Sao Jorge cheese, washed down with red wine and a very local aguardente. This is a friendly island!