Tranquillity and Turbulence in Portugal

Saturday, June 24, 2017, 15:28

Fogo Lagoon

Portugal has been placed third out of 163 countries - after Iceland and New Zealand - on the 2017 Global Peace Index, created by the Institute for Economics and Peace based in Sydney, Australia. (For comparison, the UK is in 41st position equal with Zambia.) Congratulations Portugal! Long may you stay there.

Even some once turbulent places in Portugal seem gloriously tranquil now. This is Fogo or Fire Lagoon on the Island of Sao Miguel. It must once have been a caldera bubbling with magma - a hell on earth - but doesn't it look inviting now? Unlike the Seven Cities Lagoon in the west, this central crater is uninhabited. The only people to reach its shores are intrepid hikers, of which there are many visiting Sao Miguel. Do you fancy walking round the perimeter and then cooling off your aching feet in the water at the edge of the lake?

Not all of Sao Miguel is as peaceful, though. To read more, click here
It would be easy to think that the geology follows the politics but don't be misled We have yet to visit Furnas.

The lagoon near the town of Furnas

Though at first glance this lagoon seemed as untroubled as everywhere else, when we stopped to take a photo, we were puzzled by sudden, violent eruptions of bubbles. Since we could see steam rising from a small plain across the lake, at first we assumed we must be witnessing the escape of hot water from deep underground. Then we realised that we could see scaly backs and fins in amongst the swirling water.

The carp creating swirls in Furnas lagoon

The argy-bargy was in fact a group of flailing carp. As we were there in spring I can only assume that on a fine, warm day a young carp's fancy turns to love.

Further round the lake we came to a mini Yellowstone, where steam rose from the ground we were walking over, and areas with crusty bowls of roiling water were fenced off by the wardens.

fumaroles near Furnas Lagoon

These precautions are definitely necessary, since one false step would cause the unwary walker to be boiled alive.

Crusty craters and boiling water near Furnas lagoon

Restaurateurs, however, have a special dispensation to enter the cordoned off area because they use the natural heat of the earth to cook a typical Portuguese stew, cozida à Portuguesa. Like rustic food pretty well everywhere in the world, cozida à Portuguesa has no definitive recipe. Every family, every restaurant, has its own variant – and they each think that their recipe is superior to all others - but the main ingredients are meats of all sorts; beef, pork, chicken, offal and sausages of various kinds cooked with vegetables ranging from beans and cabbage to carrots and turnips.

I found it amusing to see a plethora of little volcanoes with labels sticking out of the top indicating which one belonged to which restaurant.

The restaurant ovens by the side of Furnas Lagoon

As midday approached vans drew up and chefs got out to collect the contents of their menus. First, they swept away the mini-volcanoes and then with long metal rods they lifted the pots and pans out of the steaming earth.

Men lifting the cozida a Portuguesa pots from the ground

I have to say that we didn't try the cozida. We tend not to eat much for lunch and I certainly couldn't cope with two Portuguese meals in one day. Restaurants seem to work on the principle that diners have been out labouring in the fields since dawn and that they need feeding up so that they can go back and work at full steam until sundown. In short, the quantity of food is enormous. One Portuguese meal a day could well be more than enough for most people! If you decided to try the cozida, perhaps you should consider asking for a doggie bag?

We drove away from the lagoon to the town of Furnas nearby. If for some reason you missed visiting Furnas, you might be fooled into thinking Sao Miguel was an island of extinct volcanoes. The bubbling pools and gushing fumaroles quickly dispel that idea. Quite frankly the feeling that there is an angry earth just below the streets of the town I found disturbing.

The unquiet earth in Furnas town

You can see a street up in the right-hand corner of the picture. Would you be comfortable living in a place which seems so vulnerable, breathing in the stench of volcanic fumes every day? No doubt there would be warnings of an imminent eruption in the form of earthquakes, giving people time to flee, and yet....

If, however, you fancy spa treatments, then Furnas is the place to go. The geothermal heat provides the hot water and mud and you can have good quality hotel accommodation with which to spoil yourself. Just don't bank on the water being tasty!

With all the beauty of Sao Miguel, its plunging coastlines, scenic craters, pretty, white and grey churches and acres of hydrangeas, you might be fooled into thinking that the Azores are at peace. For the moment, indeed, Sao Miguel and the other islands are, but the earthquakes and eruptions are not over. Beneath its crust the earth is unquiet. Sao Miguel has not been devastated in living memory but other islands have. Earthquakes and underwater eruptions are recorded regularly and mud slides caused by inclement winter weather have happened many times. Don't forget that the Azores are a tiny outpost of Europe two hours by aeroplane out in the Atlantic Ocean, where storms, roaring across from the Caribbean, can dump huge amounts of rain in wild winters.

Don't let the apocalyptic vision I have just painted put you off a visit, though. As it is so often said, you could be run over by a bus tomorrow. Sao Miguel is beautiful and its geology fascinating. Don't miss out because there might, one day in the next few centuries, be a major earthquake or eruption. After all, millions of people visit Yellowstone in the USA without a thought of what may be happening beneath their feet. If that humungous super volcano exploded again, we'd all be toast ... but do we ever worry about that?

Do you have any stories of visits to the Azores? Have you been to the other islands? Do write in and tell us if you have. (If you are Portuguese, please feel free to write in your own language. You don't have to write in English. Lembre-se: o que é importante não é a língua mas a contribuição.)

peter wrote:
Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 08:45
Very good Margaret, as usual.. keep up the good work.
Margaret wrote:
Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 10:29
Glad you like it. If you haven't been to the Azores, do go and visit.
(*) Required fields
Website Built with Kopage
← Get yours now