Discover the World focus group to #discoverazores Day 6

We actually got up after sunrise today which was a pleasant treat! And the Pousada Jouvades de Pico provided a simple but nice breakfast of fresh local bread and jams with cereal that went down very well (we didn’t get breakfast really at the Pousada Jouvades de Lagoa as for some reason they only open up from 0830 which is after we leave each day!).   Today was exploring Pico island itself. A fairly chilled way to end the week. First stop was Dos Lajos de Pico village. This is an old whaling village. Whaling was first introduced to the area by visitors and settlers from Nantucket and other areas, and there is a clear influence of North American style on the architecture here as well as sometimes a slightly Scandinavian feel in terms of wood cladding and cabins, as well as the paint colours. Whaling was done here until the 1980s and was still conducted in a traditional low scale manner with rowing boats and hand thrown harpoons. The whaling museum is quite interesting, albeit depressing and a sad tale of the habit. However this was an important income for an area struggling economically. Nowadays, the negative has been turned into something positive with whale and dolphin tours available at a very low price. You also have much better odds of actually seeing them compared to a Iceland and other areas where whales are now rarely sighted due to changing sea temperatures.   We moved on around the coast to the Vineyards of Pico. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site where fig and grape plants are cultivated still in a traditional sense. Lava / basalt rocks are split and seeds planted within into the ashes below. The basalts are porous and also retain heat when they soak up the sun, and so this helps provide good conditions for growing in an otherwise harsh and exposed salty and windy coastal environment. Basalt rocks are built into small walls and enclosures around the plants to protect from wind. And a local windmill in the area also served to thresh and crush corn and cereals in the past. The visitor area here provided an excellent local lunch of spicy sausage, soft breads, and a range of traditional flavoured liquors and wines for us to sample. All with a slight earthy and volcanic aftertaste!

After this, we had a visit to Gruta das Torres lava tube caves. This is one of the largest in the world and was truly excellent. Mostly because it had been kept in a natural state – no concrete flooring, no lighting – you are just guided through walking on rough volcanic floors and with torches. Students and adults would love this. You can see great vast caverns, collapsed lava benches, pahoehoe and aa lavas (which the locals call ‘biscuit lava’ due to its rocky nature, reminding them of traditional twice-baked rockcake biscuits) and the growth of rare lichens and bacteria as well as some small lava stalactites formed at the time of the lava flow as it slowed and dripped down from the ceiling. A very interesting and unique cave, and the time passes so quickly inside – we spent over an hour but felt like a few minutes. At one point we switched all torches off and just got a sense of how intensely pitch black and silent it is, very awe inspiring.

Finally we headed back to the hostel and had a locally made dinner provided by our hosts from the local youth council who have set up the five Pousadas on five different Azorean islands. We had a sample of foods from the island of Terceria which was delicious; meat stew, local fish, some sweet doughy cakes made with milk and beans, and the obligatory locally made wines and liquors – well, would be rude not to 😉 Our hosts told us about a youth card available for those aged 13-30 which is well worth investigating if you wish to do island hopping with students. It costs €42 in the first place but then provides 50% discount in the hostels, 20% off inter-island flights, all ferries cost €7, and there is also 20% off many tourist attractions and activities such as the mountain biking, kayaking, etc,. Well worth considering.

We went for a stroll of the town and brought an end to the trip. There is much to reflect on, and my next post in a few days will look at what I think you can get out of a trip to the Azores in terms of exciting places to visit and academically useful activities to do – but I shall reflect a little first. There is real potential here, but a lot of logistics still needs sorting.

An excellent trip though and very well run and led by Discover the World. It has been great to meet and work with other geographers from around the country, and to share ideas – we’ve even had some nice heated discussions and debates about the purpose of overseas trips generally and pedagogy which is all good fun. I’ll also develop some teaching resources once back in the UK and will post these soon through slideshare. But I need a few days rest now – it’s been good, but exhausting! Thanks DtW.

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