“Hmmm, where are they again?” was a question I heard a lot when speaking to people about the school trip. Situated approximately 850 miles west of Portugal, The Azores form the most westerly point of Europe – useful for quizzers!
Thirty five excited Year 8 and 9 girls and five staff set off on the first day of the summer holidays. The journey was long, but finally we landed on São Miguel Island to be met by our local guides who whisked us to our hostel.
Our itinerary was jam packed with adventures, beginning with a hike. This took in Sanguinho, a village that was abandoned in the early 1970s but which is now being restored. The rest of the trail was through woods, among dense, beautiful vegetation. Upon reaching Salto do Prego’s waterfall, we had the opportunity for a dip. The water was freezing but a welcome relief after our hot and sweaty hike.
We also headed out to sea, whale watching. The boat ride was quite an adventure as large waves and sea spray crashed over the bow, but we were lucky enough to see a group of sperm whales, which was amazing. Back on dry land, we ventured to the Pineapple Plantation to discover all things deliciously pineapple before making our way to Gruta do Carvão, the longest lava tunnel on the island, and visiting the Monitoring Centre for Volcanology and Geothermal Energy of the Azores. Here we learnt more about the formation of the islands and the volcanic phenomena of the Azores.
We enjoyed the magical nature of Furnas where we immersed ourselves in the town’s volcanic history. We started by going to cookery school! We watched as the famous ‘Cozido’ - Azorean stew - was prepared. All kinds of meat and vegetables were placed in a massive cooking pot, which we then transported to the steaming craters of Caldeiras das Furnas - an underground volcanic oven. Whilst the stew was cooking, we relaxed in the Botanical Gardens and enjoyed the iron-rich thermal pool – great for our aching muscles. Seven hours later, the Cozido was finally cooked! It was succulent, tasty and worth the long wait.
The following day our 7km hike took in a visit to the Geothermal Power Plant in Ribeira Grande. We learnt about all the sustainable processes of generating the electricity that represents 40% of the island’s power. To end the day we visited Caldeira Velha, another natural park with beautiful thermal pools and a waterfall - a very welcome break after hiking in 80% humidity.
Our exploration of the west side of São Miguel started with the Sete Cidades Lake, which is situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. After circling the bottom of the crater on bikes, we kayaked on the water - definitely the best way to enjoy Sete Cidades, allowing us to really connect with the spectacular scenery in which the effects of past geological events can be clearly seen.
We were so lucky to have four fabulous local guides, Nuno, Carina, Marissa and Paxci, who looked after us all week. They had excellent local knowledge and made the whole week fun and exciting. I am sure the girls won’t forget their travels in the Azores and I hope it has inspired them to be adventurous and eager to seek out responsible ways to explore the world.
Many thanks to my team of staff - Miss Bennett, Mrs Jenkins, Miss Banton and Miss Berndt. I think it is safe to say everyone had an amazing time in this beautiful country. We will be back!
Miss Annie O’Neill, Teacher of Geography