Friday, September 10, 2004

Log 25A - Pico Ascent

"Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind." - Anthony Bourdain

This log covers July 23rd and 24th, 2004 where we take on climbing Mount Pico.  Mount Pico is a stratovolcano located on Pico Island in the mid-Atlantic archipelago of the Azores. It is the highest mountain of Portugal at 2351 metres above sea level and is one of the highest Atlantic mountains.  This is quite the undertaking for our two families.  

Assignment: hike to the top of Pico - 2351M above seal level

We took the morning ferry over to the island of Pico, only about a 20 minute ride.

Here's our team for the ascent.  The crew of s/v Aventura (John and Laurie with Belle and Nate) and s/v Tioga (Chris and Sheila with Joel and Gerrit)

Well, we're on our way.  We've come a long way and have lots of energy still. But, as you can see, there's lots left to climb.  This is the easy part with a nice trail and lush vegetation.

We are out of the rich vegetation now and into scrub and rock

The last part is hand over hand.

On the top, above the clouds.  Awesome!

Sensing station doing atmospheric studies on pollution.

The kids wanted to get a little fire going - it's cool up here.

John & Laurie get comfortable for the sleep over.

Our little hovel for the night - turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Pico from an aerial photograph.  We slept in the calderia, not on the pinnacle.

The sleepy Pico, nicely dressed.

And what we can't show we settle in to sleep overnight, we are unaware of an approaching storm system.  Things get really bad at 2351 m above sea level...

Unedited, from the Log Book of SV Tioga:  THE ASCENT TO THE TOP OF PICO THAT WENT BAD!!!

(July 23) We awoke early to look at Pico to decide if climbing it today made sense. It was a bit cloudy and the weather Chris pulled showed the low swinging back over us on Sunday so we were not sure if we should go. The Aventura's were already pretty set that they were going and taking all their gear to stay overnight. Our boys got all excited and put the pressure on us, and we got caught up in all the hype, and next thing we knew, we were frantically packing to catch the 10am ferry over to Pico and climbing the mountain with all our overnight gear. The boys packed their packs with warm clothes, their fleece blankets and water. We carried the blankets, tarp, lots of water and basic food. We caught the ferry on time along with the other 300 people and were crammed on board. Upon arrival, we walk to a little café where the adults have a coffee before finding a taxi to take us to the base camp of Pico.

Our taxi driver is a Portuguese man who lived in Canada for many years so he spoke perfect English and we made plans for him to pick us up tomorrow morning at 11:30 am. Chris and John register our families with the warden at the base camp and then with everyone carrying their pack on their backs, we begin the ascent as about 12:30pm! The trail is well marked and everyone is giddy with excitement and up we go. The landscape is stunning with various types of ferns, wild thyme with little purple flowers everywhere and juniper bushes. Sheila comments that it reminds her of what Scotland or Ireland would look like, very rugged and green. There is some cloud about so our views of the ocean come and go but, either way, it is really beautiful. The kids inspire each other onward and we are moving at a great pace, though the adults packs are quite heavy. We stop for a picnic lunch on a nice green spot the kids find and enjoy the fresh bread Joel and Gerrit walked to get this morning, along with Faial cheese. Just near the lunch spot is a small volcanic cave which we stop to explore before heading up again. After about the first 2 hours, the climb goes from medium effort to pretty much a straight up climb on less stable ground, which is noticeably harder to do. We take lots of breaks and everyone is still fine. The kids actually push ahead with every ledge they can see above, being the one they are sure must be the top. Every group of people coming down tell us we are about an hour away. We'd push on for an hour and then be told you are about an hour away! Joel is in the lead the entire way, with Belle, Nate and Gerrit not far behind. Finally, Joel reaches that next ledge and yells back…it's beautiful, hurry Mom! After 5 hours, we take the final step to the rim of the crater.

It is quite the sight looking down into the crater, with yet the final spike peak sprouting out of the crater! We pick our way down into the crater and the kids immediately find a piled up ring of lava rocks that they claim as the sleeping spot. They begin to play and gather bits of plant stock for a fire, while the adults do a little exploring around the crater. We walk over to the far north west edge where the crater had slid down, leaving an abrupt edge with an incredible drop if you fell off it! The cloud was rolling about and it was all quite wonderful. There was a remote sensing station for atmospheric/air quality studies at the top with all sorts of gas chronometers and such. Chris spoke to the person manning the station and got the feeling the guy was not too happy to be in such a desolate spot with all sorts of weird weather. On our way walking back to the kids, we find a small hole in the lava with rocks piled all about so that it was quite deep and out of the wind. We decide this is where our family will spend the night since we don't have sleeping bags and need to be out of the wind. Once back at the kids, we have supper sitting out on the volcanic rocks.

A cloud rolls over us and all of a sudden, it is wet with mist and about 10 c degrees cooler!! We are all thankful it passes as quick as it came but it is clear that it will be a cool night, as John realizes he forgot his long pants in the morning rush and Chris only has a thin fleece jacket! The kids light the tinder they have collected and have fun keeping the fire alive for awhile until about 9pm. . The Aventura's decide that climbing into their sleeping bags is best for them to keep warm so they pass on the sunset. We head over to our hole and get things set up for sleeping. We are going to head over to watch the sunset but the wind is up and clouds rolling in. We decide to just crawl in bed as well. We make the tarp like a sandwich and with Chris and Joel's head at one end, and Sheila and Gerrit's head at the other end, we fold the tarp over and are as snug under as can be. Sheila reads a campfire story and then we all say goodnight.

The wind begins to blow quite strong and we are happy about our decision to come down into this hole rather than staying up and exposed like the Aventura's. Then, the rain begins to fall. The tarp is pulled right over our heads and secretly we are all praying for it to stop. It does not stop and the tarp begins to leak! Sheila, being on the outside of the folded tent is getting soaked as the rain not only runs in but leaks in. We realize we must do something or all be soaked. At about 12:30am, we hop up and shift the tarp into a lean-to position. We get the boys under as quick as possible, sitting on our green cockpit cushions while Chris and Sheila try to secure things outside as good as possible. With everyone under, all wearing our plastic orange rain coats, we pull the soaking wet blankets over us and are amazed at the insulation ability they have combined with the candle Chris then lights. It is amazing what a difference it makes in the temperature to have a little candle burning. Chris and Sheila do all they can to keep the boys dry as the rain pours down and continues to leak in but at least most is running off the lean to.

It is really cold and now that both adults are wet, we are beginning to realize how serious this situation is. Gerrit is dry and warm for the most part so he sleeps pretty much the entire night, whereas Joel's pants had gotten wet so he is less comfortable and takes a long time to finally fall to sleep in exhaustion and then he would wake and whimper. Chris is trying to doze off in his frozen stupor but Sheila cannot close her eyes without beginning to shake uncontrollably. We begin to talk about what we will do at first light and how the hell we are going to get out of this mess. We are not sure at this point how the Aventura's are doing in all of this so that is another wild card. Sheila literally watches the clock and painstakingly watches the minutes pass like hours. She sings, tries to talk to Chris and prays, anything but to fall asleep.

(July 24) Finally 6:15 A.M. rolls about and you can tell it is dawn but the wind is howling, we are engulfed in clouds, and it is driving rain. At about 6:45, a grim John comes by and says they are just as wet and we have to get moving. We quickly pack up the boys whom begin to cry and say things like, I can't do this! We explain how serious this is and that we have to do this as we are not going to die up here as a family. We find our way through the clouds over to the Aventura's and are shocked at how wet they are. Little Nate is standing there with no coat, shaking and Belle is not much better off. Joel and Gerrit look at them and realize they are maybe a little better off as they are not yet soaked. The rain is driving so hard and it is so clouded in, we can barely see to find our way up and out of the cauldron.

Once the trail out is found, Joel pushes ahead and never looks back. With all of us safely out of the crater, Joel and Chris lead the way from marker to marker which you can barely see from one to the next. Gerrit is complaining of not feeling well and won't eat anything. The wind is howling so bad that is is knocking people off balance. What an ugly situation! All eight of us work together and slowly, put one foot ahead of the other and work our way down. Gerrit begins to throw up about half way down which is really scary. Sheila continually tests his blood sugars for fear of a low or hypothermia setting in. He is such a trooper and continues on after each stop to heave. Sheila uses his plastic rain coat as a belt to hold him from behind and helps him and steadies him. After about 2 hours of descending, Gerrit is getting weak and Sheila needs Chris's help in getting him down. Gerrit wants to lay down and is starting to give up but his Mom tells him she is not going to let him give up and die up here. Joel continues as the leader and gets the group from marker to marker and Chris falls back to help with Gerrit.

As we continue, we are getting concerned that we took a wrong trail somewhere as things are not looking familiar. Joel happily yells when he sees a small watering-well he remembers and then we are back to the small crater we ate lunch near yesterday!! With renewed energy all about, our family pulls ahead with the Aventura's just behind. It is really slippery near the bottom as the trail has turned to mud. We slide into the warden's office and sign our families as down. At this point, Sheila breaks down and starts to cry. We are all soaking wet and freezing with no dry clothes, but we are down!!! (3 hours later) The warden has a cell phone so we call the cab driver and have him pick us up early. He drops us at the laundromat in Madelana where we have some clothes dried while we all go for lunch. No one has eaten so we are all starved. Gerrit throws up yet again but insists he wants to eat french fries when they come out. We are hesitant but let him have some and he continues to eat. He eats a bun and more fries and begins to come back to life and never looks back. We put his sickness off to being hungry but too cold to eat and then more hungry and now too sick to eat…etc etc..vicious circle. Once in warm clothes, food settled in and his body recovered. Thank God. We still have to catch the 1:45pm ferry back to Horta so after lunch, we head to the terminal and are bound and determined to get inside seats this time. Everyone slouches into a seat and a few fall fast asleep on the 25 minute ride back. Then a last walk from the ferry to our boats where we can get out of all the remaining wet clothes and be thankful we are home!

Wow, what an experience that will never be forgotten. Sheila and Chris collapse for a few hours sleep, while the boys read. Later after supper, we put ourselves to bed a 8PM, and the boys put themselves down later.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Log 25 - A 'Quick Stop' in the mid-Atlantic Azores - Part I

Log 25 covers July 8th - August 25th, 2004.  After successfully crossing the Atlantic Ocean the plan is for a 'Quick Stop' in the mid-Atlantic Azores to re-provision and spend a couple days resting before crossing to mainland Europe.  Read on to find out what really happens. 

Azores archipelago
So, 26 days after setting out from Florida, we arrive at the Archipelago of the Azores, nine volcanic islands situated way out in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately 1500km from the European coast and 3900 km from the North American coast. The exact date of their discovery is unknown but historic accounts indicate that the islands of Santa Maria and Sao Miguel were the first to be discovered by the Portuguese navigator Diogo de Silves in 1427. The archipelago is the western border of the European Economic Union. Amazingly enough, dairy cattle and the production of milk are by far the most important to the local economy with cheese and butter being the principal exports. Have a look for some of their great cheeses at your local cheese store - we certainly had our favorites!

Thursday, July 8, 2004 - The marina in the town of Horta - Island of Faial

After so many days at sea, this comfortable-looking marina is a sight for sore eyes.  As we clear into Portugal (hence Europe), we really hope we will be able to afford the marina because anchoring has no appeal at all just now.  It turns out to be affordable enough at 8 euros (about U$10 / C$ 13) per day.  Yes!!   A lot of boats pass through the Azores each year so our first initiation into Europe is the concept of being rafted or tied to another boat when the dock space if full - which it is.  We are initially rafted to a French boat with a pair of great guys on board returning home with a boat one of them had just purchased in the US.  After the first week, we have the tie to the wharf and no further rafts to us after that.

Marina at Horta, Faial

Saturday, July 10, 2004 - Reserva Natural da Caldeira do Faial

Our friend and crew-member, Wayne, is still with us and the plan is to rest-up, see a few sights, and prepare for the final 8-day passage to Spain on the European mainland.   We decide to rent a car for the day to get an overall look at the island.

Lush island

Portuguese windmills.

View into the caldera. 

The island is dominated by a central volcano that rises to 1043m: at the top is the caldeira which is now a nature reserve.   We are happy to see it with clear views as it can often be engulfed in cloud.

As we continue around the island, we are impressed to see these flowering plants called hydrangeas growing everywhere on the rubble fences that divide the land.  Their flowering peak is July and August, so perfect timing!

Beautiful hydrangeas

Nice to have access to food again.

Capelinhos volcanic eruption aftermath.
We have an amazing picnic lunch now that we have access to fresh baking, groceries and even local wine :)

On the other side of the island, we hike about the site of the Capelinhos eruption.  Here in 1957-58, a series of eruptions added another 2 square kms to Faial. In total 300 houses were destroyed and many more damaged; 2,000 people were rehoused; crops were killed and a 5 m layer of ash and rocks buried houses and fields in the area.  The eruption changed the lives of many islanders and thousands emigrated to Canada and the USA.

Wayne cools off. 

We finish off the day with a cool dip in the Atlantic ocean among the lava pools created by the eruptions. 

Monday, July 12 - Traditional paintings

If a boat and its crew visit the port of Horta, it has long been tradition for them to paint a logo on the marina seawall, identifying themselves and their travels.  In fact it is considered bad luck not to honor this ritual from the past.  We carefully select our piece of the concrete and go to work with each of us four having a quadrant to fill. 

Horta's pier - very colorful
Our mark on the pier. 

The end product is a colorful display adding Tioga and her crew to the history of boaters passing through the Azores.

Wednesday, July 14 - Goodbye to Wayne!!

Well, we've been watching the weather since arriving here in Horta and the long range forecasts for crossing to the mainland continue to be unfavorable, with head winds.  Not something we are prepared to take on and yet Wayne is running out of time.  He decides he can no longer continue to wait so he catches a plane back to Calgary, Canada.   Funny, he emails us upon his safe arrival home, within a mere 24 hours after leaving us....hmm 26 days to get here and 24 hours to get home!!  We are forever indebted to him and his efforts as well as his wonderful family for loaning him to us for such a long time.   Thank you Dawn and family.

Crew member Wayne has to fly back to Canada

Monday, July 16 - Hike to Botanical Gardens

With Wayne's decision to head home, comes the realization for us that we now have more time to explore these beautiful islands.  We were able to switch into cruising mode for the first time in a long time.  While on the island of Faial, we enjoyed many hikes and short walks about exploring the beauty.

Pastoral countryside

  This day was spent hiking a long loop to the Botanical Gardens and marveling at the sights along the way. 

Horta's ClockTower

This clock tower stood high on the island as we climbed up.   The views were stunning and the garden housing this tower was splendid.

July 19 - Peter's Cafe and Sport Bar -  since 1918

Peter's - a famous watering hole Friday, 
The port of Horta (the island's capital) has been an almost compulsory stop for the thousands of transatlantic sailors that pass each year.  Peter's Cafe Sport is a Portuguese and international yachting legend. It is the place where yachtsmen, visitors and locals of all shapes and sizes, swap dreams and adventures over a beer or a coffee.

Upstairs from the bar is the Scrimshaw Museum.  Scrimshaw, engraving on whales’ teeth, was an art born of loneliness onboard 19th century whaling ships, and has been an Azorean art form since the seventies The Scrimshaw museum, has a permanent exhibition of the best works ever made.  It was an amazing little museum that we really enjoyed. 

Capelhinos and Horta, Faial Island, Azores | Scrimshaw art, Art
Scrimshaw piece. 

July 22, 2004 - Laundry day. 
Gerrit mashing the laundry with his feet.

Saturday, July 24 - Ascent to the top of the Pico volcano, on the island of Pico

A view of Pico from Horta...1.5 miles high!

This mountain is a remarkable, steep-sided, dormant  volcanic cone rising to 2,351m, constituting the highest point in the Azores or in mainland Portugal.
Our family along with John, Laurie, Belle (10) and Nate (8) from s/v Aventura, decide to climb to it's peak and spend the night under the stars.   We take a cab to the base camp and the remaining 1100m ascent is hard work but the stunning views and sense of accomplishment keep our families going.   Overnight the weather deteriorates, turning the situation into a bit of a survival story of it's own.   Please check out Log 10A for all the details.

August 1-8 - Semana do Mar (Sea Week Festival)

The Azoreans are a deeply traditional people and the islands are known for their various and varied festivals or 'festas'.    Sea Week is Faial's big party and it is about to be upon us.  With all the pre-festival preparations going on, we decide we might as well stay on the island a bit longer and see what all the hype is about.  Every night for a week, there are all sorts of activities and musical celebrations, like this more traditional 'tuna', a folkloric group of dancers, singers and musicians playing mandolins and Azorean guitars which are unique to the islands.  Dressed in colorful 17th or 18th century costumes, these groups keep the old songs and traditions alive.   We took in a few of  these groups throughout the week and were never disappointed.

Traditional folkloric group at Sea Week

Big stage for Sea Week - good entertainment here!
A big bandstand was set up right in the marina and the main act started every night at 11pm.  With Tioga a mere stones throw away, we knew we may as well join in the fun rather than try to sleep.  We switched our days to sleep in until 11am in order for us all to stay up to catch some of these bands.  Towards the end of the week, no matter how loud the music, Gerrit (and his mom) just couldn't stay up anymore.

Friday, August 13 - Depart Faial for the Island of Terceira

Well, guess what?  Our "quick stop" in the Azores has now stretched out to over a month on Faial!  Time to get going...but we hear we can't miss the Island of Terceira.  Okay, but just for a week.  We set out for a quick overnight passage to Terceira aiming for the UNESCO World Heritage and historic port town of Angra do Heroismo.

San Sebastion Fort - 400 years old

This was an obligatory port of call from the 15th century until the advent of the steamship in the 19th century. The 400-year-old San Sebastião and San João Baptista fortifications are unique examples of military architecture. Damaged by an earthquake in 1980, Angra is now being restored.

Sunday, August 15 - “Tourada à Corda” (Running of the Bulls)

Boarding up the doors and windows for a Terceira bull run.

Some might say that Terceira is best known for its Azorean bull runs in the streets.  The runs happen almost daily from May to September, and we arrive just in time for one right here in Angra do Heroismo.   This picture shows how a typical home boards up when a run is scheduled on the street. This is a traditional and major spectators' event all over the island. It consists of setting a bull free into the streets, tethered to a long rope controlled by a group of men, while others challenge the bull. There are touradas on a daily basis (sometimes 2 and 3 in one day) and we end up going to two.

The bulls have arrived...

Four bulls arrive from the country side, each in it's own wooden crate.   The crates are placed near the mid-point of the approximate 500m section of a narrow street.  Each of the four bulls will be let loose one at a time, tied to a rope that up to eight men will try and control.  A report from a rocket-flare will let everyone know that a bull is about to be loosed in the street and two more will let you know when it's safe to get another beer!

These bulls are angry and every year people get hurt, usually a tourist who doesn't realize how fast these animals can move and what power they pack in their horns.  But there's also an incredible adrenaline "rush" being in the street and getting close to a bull - one eye on the beast and the other on your fast-exit strategy.

This bull is fresh and aggressive.

Moving fast....
The rope on the bull is to help prevent serious property damage or death (to a runner or spectator!) and to contain the animal within the closed-off street.    The whole idea is that the local young men try to get as close to the bull as they dare, teasing the bull to get it mad.
We went running with the bulls and got a lot closer than this!  Too close at one point...

Running with the bulls...safely.

Once the bull has run from one end of the run to other, it is eventually taken back to the wooden crate and another rocket is launched announcing the street is now clear.  It is now time to move about, have something to eat and drink (or several) before the next bull enters the street.  These are outstanding local events that attract many people, locals and tourists alike.   Rightfully or wrongfully, this event is a long-standing tradition on this island - remember, the bull is not killed and it is the young men who run the risk of serious injury!

Friday, August 20 - Another Rental Car Day

Pretty Portuguese port

We decide to once again rent a car to explore this island.  Terceira is a larger island than Faial so we travel many more miles to circle it in a day.   Here's a colorful fishing village.

Great views of the rock fences that divide the land everywhere.

Fences of rock - how many years old?

Canadian & Portuguese flags together - a common sight

A Portuguese and Canadian flag flying side-by-side is a common sight throughout the islands of the Azores.   With Canada opening its arms to many Portuguese families that felt compelled to leave the islands during uncertain times whether by natural disasters or economic hard times, ties-for-life were formed.   Canada has a Portuguese community of more than 250,000, mostly in the areas of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa Valley.

A beautiful ocean view from our island drive

More stunning views of the island and Atlantic ocean.

Grapes for wine production
The Azores produce many great, inexpensive wines that we definitely take the time to taste!   These young grapes taste awesome and will soon be this year's crop for more great wines.

Swimming pools, brought to you by the Portuguese and volcanic activity

Volcanic eruptions naturally created swimming spots all about the islands.   These ones on the north end of the island are the most popular on Terceira.
Inside a volcanic vent hole

Friday, August 20th, - Algar do Carvao

Looking down into the volcanic vent.

Another neat excursion was the decent into a volcanic vent hole. The 'Algar do Carvão' is a huge, about 100m deep, lava tube, which is the remains of a ~2000 year-old volcanic eruption of the nearby Terra Brava volcano (about 707m above sea level). The cave is the now an empty tunnel of a lava flow. The name means 'coal pit' in English and was given to the cave because of the cave walls of dark black lava. Of course there is no coal found in this area.

Stalactites come from the ceiling.

Very astonishing is the fact, that this volcanic cave contains stalactites and stalagmites. They were formed by silica, soluted from the lava, not by calcite as in karst caves. This is really exceptional and the result of a special chemistry of the lava.
The cave is entered by going down stairs inside the former vent of the lava flow. The end of the tour is a subterranean lake, formed by rain water. Depending on the season and the amount of rain water, the lake can be up to 15m deep. The whole cave is spacious, and our passage is up to 45m in depth.

Wednesday, August 25th - Depart Terceira for the Island of Sao Miguel

From Terceira to San Miguel

Two weeks later, and with the weather still not cooperating for us to cross to the mainland, we decide to move on to yet another island!  The trip to Sao Miguel is a rough one with 40 knots of uncalled for wind and very rough, ugly seas.  It is an overnight trip that we can't wait to end.

 It's really hard to capture the beauty and ambiance of these islands, so we've tried to make the pictures speak for themselves. Lest we say these islands are far more than we ever expected and we are so grateful to have been able to spend time exploring them.  Join us in Log 26 as we continue with our island visits to Sao Miguel and finally our passage to the mainland.