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A Weekend of Mishaps and Surprises Exploring Faial Island

Updated: May 14

A Month in the Azores Islands

The endless blues and greens seen in the views on Faial Island in the Azores
Endless Blues and Greens in Faial Island (photo by author)

My second weekend in Ponta Delgada, I caught a short flight to Faial Island, to explore another of the nine islands in the Azores. 

Arriving on Remote Faial Island

On the flight to Faial, I looked out over the islands, each surrounded by endless blue seas. It felt like the ocean waves pounding their shorelines could easily roll over them, wiping them from the face of the earth. Their beauty is stunning in a surreal way. It felt incredibly isolated. Even the flight felt lonely as the plane was filled with locals, with few if any tourists.

The airport in Faial was little more than a curbside drop-off. It looked more like a train station than an airport. A few cabs were waiting so I jumped in one and we headed toward the main town of Horta. I succeeded in having a small conversation in Portuguese with the driver, but my command of the language must not have been great as he stayed silent after the struggle of the initial exchange.

From the limited supply of hotels, I had chosen the hostel/hotel which offered a few private rooms, instead of the similarly priced 4-star hotel just down the street. The hostel/hotel’s website showed private rooms with privileged views of the waterfront and the neighboring island of Pico’s volcano, which is the tallest mountain in Portugal. I rolled the dice on a nice view over 4-stars and was not disappointed. When I opened the door to my room, sunlight greeted me from the three French doors. The room was immaculately clean and comfortable with one of the best views I’ve had.

I might never leave.

The Amazing View from a hostel in Faial Island
The Best View You’ll Get From a Hostel (photo by author)

Exploring the Town of Horta

That afternoon, I was running on a low battery as, according to my Fitbit, I had only slept 3 ½ hours the night before. I really hated my Fitbit for sharing that information with me and entertained thoughts of throwing it on the ground and stomping it to pieces. I knew I had a terrible, insomnia filled night. I did not need an accurate accounting of the many hours I had not slept.

Given my low battery, I headed to Peter Café Sport, a local landmark, for a bite. Peters has been welcoming the seafaring crowd for over 100 years. In addition to being a must-see site, it was one of the only places in walking distance that was serving food during the off-season. Despite not being a member of the seafaring crowd, I headed to Peter’s to check it out.

While having a bite at a table with a view through the open door towards the sea, I casually mentioned to the waiter that I’d love to be able to watch football but doubted there was a place nearby that would show games. He got on the phone to their sister cafe by the waterfront and confirmed they were open and would show the games. Hooray!

After finishing my food, I tapped into my last energy reserves and headed down the waterfront cafe. Of course, the place was full of men taking up all the seats at the few tables, so I ordered a small beer and stood at the bar. The waiter told me how much I owed in Portuguese in an emotionless voice. That much I can definitely translate and was able to hand him the exact change. He seemed happily surprised that I understood Portuguese and soon I was seated in a chair with the guys, enjoying the game.

That is more like it.

Renting a Car…In a Dark Tunnel

One morning, I headed to the rental car company to pick up the compact I had reserved for the day. After signing the paperwork and collecting the keys, a woman escorted me into the street and told me to walk until I saw a tunnel to the right. I should walk into the tunnel where her colleague would be waiting with my car.

I raised an eyebrow as I questioned the idea of walking into a dark tunnel to meet a stranger who might give me a car or harvest a kidney. She smiled back confidently, so I shrugged and said, “Sure, I am always up for an adventure.”

As I walked through the tunnel, I ran into a very handsome Portuguese man. Well, this was definitely the right life choice. I only need one kidney after all. He handed me the keys and pointed to my car, an Opel. Resisting the urge to invite the hot man to be my driver for the day, I got into my car and prepared for my adventure. Unfortunately, the emergency brake was jammed as far up as it could get, leaving me powerless to lower it. After asking for help, the hot guy easily lowered the brake.

Unfortunately, after the brake was lowered, I tried to back the manual car into reverse but rolled too close for comfort to the car parked in front. I had to ask the guy for help once again. While he did assist, at this point he had an air of concern about my ability to successfully drive the car around the island.

Finally, I was in my car which I named “Opal” after my grandmother and headed out of the town of Horta.

The Creepy Caldera on Faial Island covered in fog
The Creepy Caldera on Faial Island (photo by author)

A Creepy Caldera…Through Another Tunnel

First up on the drive around the island, I reached the volcano’s caldera. I hopped out of Opal where I had to walk through yet another dark tunnel to reach the caldera’s viewing platform. The view over the caldera was supposed to be magnificent. However, today it was covered in a thick, creepy, fog, and I could see absolutely nothing but terror. It felt like something corpse-like was going to reach out of the darkness and pull me into the abyss. All alone on the platform in the foggy darkness, I panicked, rushed back through the tunnel, jumped into Opal and got out of there.

After a rapid escape from the haunted caldera, I arrived on the main road that circles the island. It was like a quick switch from nightmare to paradise. I was back to enjoying a pleasant drive while treated to sweeping views of the lush green landscape and the endless blue ocean.

Lunch in Portugal with tuna steak, potatoes and vegetable.
The Rare Vegetable Sighting (photo by author)

Lunch Takes an Interesting Turn

As lunchtime approached, I spotted a sign for a restaurant and noticed a hotel van turning in that direction. If a nice hotel from town is busing people out here to eat, it must be good, so I followed the van. As we were headed up a hill it should have an even better view than I did now, so what did I have to lose?

Just before reaching the restaurant, the van took a turn and headed further up the hill, leaving me to continue to the restaurant alone. I arrived in the restaurant’s parking lot which was empty outside of a guy on a motorcycle who had parked and was heading inside. After parking my car, I walked in and discovered only a bar. While I appreciate a good liquid lunch, given that I was driving a stick shift on narrow roads that were hanging over the ocean, I decided a dry lunch was probably best. I went back to the parking lot and asked the Motorcycle Man, who was doing his day drinking outside, where the restaurant was. He pointed to a door in the bar that lead to the “Sala de Refeições” which translates to “Room of Meals”.

I thanked Motorcycle Man and headed through the door. I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful dining room, with the island’s ever-present sweeping views, forgive the caldera nightmare, waiting for me. When I asked for a table, a very busy waiter said I could take the table for two in the front by the window as he had reservations for the larger tables. As a single traveler, I am rarely offered a table with a view so I gladly accepted.

Lunch consisted of fresh tuna steak with of course, potatoes but also the extremely rare serving of vegetables. Perhaps they ran out of rice today? Usually with the carb overload of potatoes AND rice served by most Portuguese restaurants, I end up eating two vegetables with every meal I make at home to compensate. This was a rare treat!

The "Moonscape" at Capelinhas, Faial Island
The "Moonscape" at Capelinhas, Faial Island

A Volcanic Disaster Area Turned Tourist Site

After a fabulous lunch, I explored more of the island, including a stop at the site of the most recent volcanic eruption in 1958 at Capelinhas. I could imagine the eruptions that created this doomsday scenario and did not want to be around for the next meltdown. I almost jumped back into Opal and tore out of there immediately, but curiosity got the better of me. I headed toward the former lighthouse that overlooked the carnage. It was like a moonscape and as creepy as the caldera but in a fiery death kind of way.

Despite most of the area being a volcanic ruin, the coastline was extraordinarily beautiful. The endless waves crashed angrily against the shore, as if to remind viewers of the very small part of the world they occupy. It was a very powerful experience.

On the way back into town, I stopped at yet another beautiful seaside spot, found a bench, and sat in the sun. I watched fishermen throwing their nets into the incoming tide and pulling out small fish that I assume were sardines. It was such a beautiful, peaceful day that I hated to leave. Knowing I needed to turn the rental car in, I eventually climbed back into Opal and headed back toward the town of Horta, feeling satisfied with island life.

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