Jo’s Monday walk : Serra do Topo to Fajá dos Cubros

Me again!  A little bit of explanation is probably necessary before we start our next walk.  One half of this couple was not all that keen to go to the Azores.  For one thing, he doesn’t like airports or flying.  There were 6 flights involved in this holiday.  Secondly, only one of us drives, and the other is, shall we say ‘inconsistent’, with navigating.  Yes, even with Google Maps.  It has led to the odd fracas on previous jaunts.  In the interests of harmony, we had agreed that on this holiday we would use taxis or public transport, and that he would not hire a car unless absolutely necessary.

As it happens, public transport is extremely limited on the islands, and taxi hire a perfectly reasonable and accepted alternative to driving on some of the more tricky roads.  So it was that a lovely lady named Zélia, with bright orange finger nails and a dazzling smile, was driving us to the top of the island of Sáo Jorge.  Think ‘very steep’.  We left our base in Velas on a beautiful sunny morning, but were dismayed to find that high up on the mountain the mists were swirling damply.  Zélia informed us, with a cheery smile, that this was often the case, but that it would be fine further down.  Then she drove off, promising to pick us up again at 5.30pm at our destination, leaving us looking at each other in dismay.  Neither of us were clothed for wet weather, but at least I had on sensible shoes.

Which I needed!  Peering ahead and hoping that the going would not get too hard, we edged gingerly into the mists.  It was a little slippery under foot and concentration was needed, but I felt elated to be up there.  We started out at a height of 700 metres, and dropped relentlessly to ground level.  Tough on the knees, but I have to say that I’ve never done a more spectacular walk.  As the cloud swirled around us, occasionally we would catch an encouraging glimpse of the sea, far below.

What fascinated though was the appearance of the shrubs and trees.  Living their lives shrouded in moisture, many were clad in a thick fungal moss.

As the mist cleared a little, we stopped to munch on a couple of biscuits and restore our equilibrium.  Nothing was familiar, from the rickety, roped-together gates, to the trees, sprouting unexpectedly.  And then I spotted my first hydrangea.

We had thought that we were alone on the trail, but voices alerted us to the fact that we were being followed.  And then, ahead of us on the path, Ma and Pa, and two calves.  All of us showed the parents the greatest respect, but they seemed very placid and not at all alarmed at human presence.  The calves were a little more skittish and took avoidance action.

We exchanged pleasantries with the couple, who we were to meet again, picnicking by a waterfall.  Hopefully the worst of the descent was behind us, and we could look forward to a first glimpse of Caldeira de Santo Cristo.  Meanwhile we could enjoy nature’s playground, marveling at the ginger lilies and an abundance of tiny pink pom-poms.

And then suddenly, there it was in the distance, and I was challenged as to which view was better, the one ahead, or behind.  What a landscape!

It must be at about this stage that my husband’s knee began to play up.  Timing, huh?  The impact of all that downhill.  We took it as slowly as we could, which wasn’t hard because the views were stunning, but you still needed to concentrate on your footing.

Just in time we reached the sanctuary of Santo Cristo.  The church wall was the ideal place to sit and admire the Fajá (low ground) and salt water lake, and munch another couple of biscuits.  Looking at the map, we realised that we had only completed half the walk, and our final destination was nowhere in sight.  We had lived with worse views!

Luckily we had plenty of time, but the remainder of the walk was not as flat as we could have hoped and I could feel my husband wince at every downward step, let alone the ups.  Fajá dos Cubros still seemed a long way off.

Fortunately there were distractions.  In places workmen were repairing the track, and at one point gestured for us to walk forward through a trench of what looked like newly poured concrete.  Naturally we proceeded with caution.  Elsewhere there were signs of slippage and a new bridge was under construction.  Winter storms had taken their usual toll.  Slowly and painfully we covered the last of the ground, and I don’t know which of us was more relieved to see the spire of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes.

I do know that it was wonderful to sit beneath the vines in that serene and lovely spot.  And who should be there but our nice French couple, eating icecream.  Seemed like a good idea, but first I had a glass of wine, while I listened to their story.

But I couldn’t leave it there!  With Mick sitting peacefully, I had to look at the lagoon at Fajá dos Cubros.  The stillness of the place was remarkable.  I don’t know when I have experienced anything like it.  Lava bridges separated the pools, and the light was starting to fade a little.  I was all alone, with this haunting, eery beauty.

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Just minutes later, Zélia collected us, full of apologies.  She runs a little cleaning business in addition to taxi-driving.  A cleaner had phoned in sick, and she’d had to cover for her, making her slightly late.  She more than compensated as she swept us back over the majestic mountain, chattering merrily, and stopping to let us look back down at the view.  What a day!  Should you be tempted, the 10km walk was PR01 SJO.

I don’t know if you’ll agree, but I think this is possibly the most beautiful walk I have ever undertaken.  I had half written the post when I came upon Ann-Christine’s Lens-Artists challenge for this week.  I know that she loves these islands as much as I do, and would like to dedicate this walk to her.  I think that there are just enough Trees.

walking logo

Sorry if this is a bit long-winded, (and no cake, Brian!) but it is such a powerful memory for me.  I’ve attempted to keep track of all the walks in my absence, but if I’ve missed anyone, I’m sorry.  Just give me a nudge.  Normal service resumed on Jo’s Monday walk.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

You know when Debbie says casual amble, that it won’t be.  Anything but!  Another place that I love!

Casual amble around Cascais

It’s a beautiful part of the world, and even better with great weather.  Thanks, Margaret!

Moors and hills and rugged coast : walking Northumberland

Chihuly and Kew in the same sentence, with a little bit of whimsy from Geoff :

Forming a Disorderly Kew #Kewgardens #Dalechihuly

Janet takes us wandering in France.  You never know what you might find…

Monday walk…in Saint-Bresson

Monday walk…La Chapelle de Beauregard

There are still some places that I’m cross with myself for not seeing.  Natalie shares a few, here :

Croatia: Delightful Dalmation Coast

Sounds like a sitcom, but life with Jude is never that.  It’s more about sharing beauty :

The Lanes in May

If you go down to the woods today… you might well find Susanne  🙂

Walking Midst the Tallest Trees on Earth

Or for something more exotic, try Drake’s place :

Brightening eyes

A grey reminder of England, in a city I know to be lovely.  Thanks, Rosemay!

York – A Walk Round the Old City Walls

An unusual one from Tammy :

Photography Challenge Neon Signs

Days 18-21 on Cathy’s road.  Some good, some bad, but with a happy ending :

(Camino day 18) Atapuerca to Burgos

(Camino day 21) Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz & Ruminations

‘Get your kicks on Route 84’ just doesn’t sound right somehow, now does it?

Haibun : Casa Grande

Rupali shares the beauty of the Land of the Midnight Sun :

Weekend 82 : Midnight walk

Ending with a display of the military that made me smile, from Carol.  Read why over in her comments :

Feel the Beat

Have a great week, everybody!  I’ve heard that Summer is about to begin in Britain.  Good news, hey?

119 comments

  1. I’ve been to Sao Jorge, but never attempted a walk around. My husband wouldn’t do it anyway because his knees start to hurt. Gorgeous photos Joanne!

  2. I’d love to do this walk, and down hill is better than up so I think I’d manage it at photography speed. But poor M, I didn’t realise he doesn’t like flying, what a trial you are for him 🙂 🙂
    I love the emptiness and big views everywhere you turned, I hope it never changes. More please sweetheart xx

    1. You could surely do this, Gilly, but you’d be darn tired and jelly legged at the end. But so worth it! We agreed that there is no way on God’s earth that we could have walked up from ground level. Possibly half way, but where’s the fun in that? Coming down out of the clouds was just the most magical experience. I expect you could do similar on Dartmoor, but I don’t really know your area? This was one of my main incentives in going to Sáo Jorge, and Velas was the prettiest place ever to stay. 🙂 🙂

  3. I’ve totally run out of superlatives, Jo. What more can I say about the beauty of your time in the Azores. I don’t like airports and I hate to fly…but this is tempting. 🙂 Thank you for the little bit of insight into the complexities of you and your “traveling companion,” because it is somewhat similar to the compromises we are beginning to make in our travel plans. It’s somewhat comforting to hear that we aren’t the only ones making shifts and changes as we get “just a wee bit” older. I am in awe…this is gorgeous!

    1. Debbie, I had talked for so long about these islands. It was ‘put up or shut up’ time! And how grateful I was that, despite knee and toe problems, Michael was every bit as much in love with this walk as I was. It’s something never to forget, and one of two very definite high points in our Azores trip. The other will come much later in the story. 🙂 🙂

  4. The Azores is a place that just keeps giving. I was drooling over each image and I agree that this is your most beautiful walk …but you’ve walked in so many marvelous places it may or at least tied for first with a few others. Love your bovine stalkers

  5. Had to chuckle at your introduction: “One half of this couple was not all that keen to go…” Now I know why you suggested I’d relate to this! But your scenic shots are spectacular. I’m sorry your husband didn’t get to enjoy it as much as he might have. Those downhill hikes are murder on the knees. Glad to see in a previous comment that he seems to have made a recovery.

    We have also traveled up into the mountains beyond our house and driven into (and occasionally above) the clouds. It’s a rather eerie experience. I really need to buckle down and MAKE the time to post our adventures, but we seem to be living them and finding time is very difficult this time of year.

    You’re right on another account. It looks like a place I could love, your Azores. So glad you’re having such a great time.

    1. Darn! I knew I’d spelt eerie wrong, but you know when something looks wrong and you just can’t fathom why? 🙂 Guess that’s what spellchecker’s for. I’ll not change it- don’t mind the occasional imperfection 🙂 🙂 Thanks for appreciating the landscape, as I knew you would, and for making the time to visit. My daughter always says blogging is for people who don’t have a life, and I do know what she means. Life’s for living, and if there’s time for memoirs, so be it.

  6. It looks spectacular. Thanks for taking us there, Jo. I suspect I would have been so occupied taking photos I may have been late for the taxi pickup.
    What no pastelaria to satisfy the hunger?

    1. It was hard to not miss your footing while you pointed the camera, Draco. A 10km walk would normally take us a couple of hours but this took nearer 5. Zélia had said there was a lovely little café at the end, and it was the most wonderfully peaceful spot. The wine was glorious, and very cheap, but not a cake in sight 🙂 🙂

  7. Ice cream makes up for the lack of cake, Jo. I think you are right, this walk is stunning and the views…wonderful. Great idea to hire a driver for the journey. After our one attempt at driving in Europe, which is on the wrong side of the road for us, we always use public transport. I can’t see us every hiring a car again.

    1. Mick has adapted very well to other side of the road driving in Portugal, Carol, and he doesn’t mind hairpin bends and a bit of a wild ride, but you really can’t do that and appreciate the view, or relax. I’m so spoilt and used to being chauffered and it was my turn not to be selfish. We managed to get to most places- I just needed another week or two 🙂 But that would have killed Mick!

      1. ♥ They all are♥ Unforgettable. I was smiling a bit about the mist – last time we hiked there, we all got sick on the plane home. We had walked for several hours in heavy mist, but I guess that still wasn’t why we fell ill. It is the air in the planes that is no good. I got an unusual kind of pneumonia , which lasted for 6 months, and Emma got tonsillitis and the rest of our family a severe cold. Still, this is not what we first remember from that visit!
        Hope your husband is all right by now…;-D

      2. A lot of people suffer from plane related illness. Mick just doesn’t like planes- unless he’s on our roof terrace looking up at them. 🙂 🙂 I love the whole adventure of looking down, but we’re very different! He was playing tennis yesterday so he’ll be stiff again today. 🙂

  8. You could be right, this is possibly the most stunning scenery I have seen on one of your walks. Seems challenging though and I empathise with Mick, knees, foot, poor man! A little damp here at the moment but at least today was warmer than of late!

    1. It wasn’t easy, Jude, but once you were below the clouds the views were breathtaking. We did a lot of standing and staring. 🙂 🙂 Poor man was playing tennis for 2 hours this morning and is now complaining of aches. No sympathy 🙂

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