Angela and I recently spent a week together in Faial. Celebrating 11 years in business 🙂
Faial is an island in the Açores where my father was born and raised. I find myself visiting regularly since I was first there in 2015 for a Whaleboat Regatta. I’ve been there in May, July, and September, but I had never been in the winter and wasn’t sure what to expect. The forecast said it would be windy and overcast everyday, but we ended up getting sunshine and 60 degree weather the whole time. #lucky
We stayed with my cousins in Varadouro most of the time. This part of the island faces South East and is home to the Piscina (the pool) – built around the lava rock with a natural flow of the ocean water. The first walk of the trip was down to the Piscina. Usually it’s full of people enjoying the water and warmth of the rocks. For many who live in that area it’s a daily ritual to soak in the super salty water for its healing qualities. But it was January, and it was quiet. Quiet and serene.
Still on our first day, my cousin Belmira brought us to the volcano museum, Capelinhos. This volcano erupted in 1957 and is a major reason why there was such a large immigration of Azoreans to the States. Capelinhos erupted just off the coast of Capelo, Faial, and when it was done, the village nearby was buried and the two story building with a lighthouse was half buried as well. This new land is still so young that there is no vegetation on it. An incredible contrast to the lush greens you see everywhere else.
Then we visited Praia do Norte and Fajã, where my family is from. Fajã is a quaint village by the coast that has one of the most incredible beaches I’ve seen. It’s nestled at the bottom of the cliffs and has a reputation for its undertow. The crashing waves and constant reshaping of the beach are just small reminders of how small we really are.
On Sunday, Belmira and Faria were gracious enough to drive around the island so Angela could see Praia do Almoxarife and Caldeira. Praia do Almoxarife is the safer black sand beach facing Pico. Caldeira is the volcano in the middle of the island. You can look into the Caldeira from the top. There are also trails that go around the entire perimeter and then down through the levadas (aqueducts). In 2018 I ran a 25k here called the 10 Volcanoes. It spanned from Caldeira to Capelinhos. What an experience!
On Monday we headed to the city, Horta. We stayed a couple of nights in an AirBnB that belongs to another cousin of mine, Gina. We met her there in the morning – after our snack trip to the Target equivalent, O Continente… which, sadly, now has a KFC too.
After a quick meal of fruit, tuna, and crackers (the best canned tuna you’ll ever try), we set out for a long walk, a small hike, and some shopping. The apartment is directly across from the ferry terminal, which means we were one mile from Peter’s Cafe 🙂 We walked down past Peter’s and toward Monte da Guia, where the whaling museum and Porto Pim Beach are. We hiked up the smaller Monte Queimado for the view of the South Eastern part of the island and then headed down to walk the harbor… Which of course led us to a little bit of shopping.
Dinner at Peter’s included grilled lapas (limpets), salads, cod, fish soup, and of course a couple of Gin do Mar – Peter’s signature drink. It’s gin with maracuja (passion fruit liqueur).
The next day we ventured on the ferry to Pico Island for a few hours in Madelena. I have yet to climb Pico Mountain… I’ll get there.
The best part of the International Regattas are the friendships you forge. My good friend Maria came out to dinner with us on our last night in the city and invited us to her house later in the week for dinner in honor of Dia dos Amigos (Friendship Day). She also connected me with another friend, Mario, who does hiking tours.
On our way back to Varadouro we stopped at the cheese factory, Omorro. Angela had asked me if I was checking a bag or just bringing a carry-on. I told her I would definitely be checking a bag because I needed room to bring back cheese 🙂 Thanks to our friend Lisa, who runs the show there, we got to see this awesome cheese being made. We picked up a couple of the aged cheeses and also some fresh cheese (queijo fresco) which Lisa literally grabbed from the hands of the maker… It was insanely delicious.
When we returned to Varadouro we were in full recovery mode. In Faial, it looks like this: food, walk, sleep, food, walk, sleep 😉 The next day was a different story.
Mario picked us up after breakfast and brought us back to Fajã for a 4 mile hike. We started at the top and worked our way down to the water and then back up. He is contracted through the Portuguese government to clear trails and make them safe for hikers. He had been working on a new trail, not yet open to the public, that we were lucky enough to experience. It was perfect. BTW, there are no ticks and no snakes on the island…
Thursday evening, our last night in Faial, was full of love. Belmira and Faria had their friends at the house for a potluck dinner to celebrate Friendship Day. My cousins are 75 and 79 years old (my father’s first cousins). It absolutely filled my heart to see how supported they are in their community. The friendships they have are so precious and genuine. They all take care of each other. It was wonderful to see.
As tempting as it was to eat all the food at my cousin’s house, Angela and I had our own friendship dinner to attend. My friend Ana Luisa picked us up and we headed to Maria’s house, where the rest of the Faial Women’s team was waiting for us. Even though only Isabel was willing to speak English, I told Angela that they each understand it very well and that she could speak freely… and she did. It was awesome.
Our final day, of course, started with breakfast and a walk to the piscina. By the time we got back to Belmira’s, she was preparing lunch before we left for our flight. How could we refuse?
We said our goodbyes 🙁 and Faria brought us to the airport, where I got the chance to see my cousin Gina as well. Our flight to São Miguel was quick and easy. But then we had an hour and a half layover and a very small airport for walking. We walked anyway, back and forth and in circles. After all the walking we had done on the island, and all the sitting we were about to do on the plane… We had to.
And then, as this incredible trip came to a close, we were randomly upgraded to first class for our flight home. #happygirls