It is evening in our little stone house amongst the waterfalls. The sun sank into the Atlantic like a fierce white ball about half an hour past. At the time we were returning from a tiny local shop named after the proprietress – the Mini Mercado Helena Tavavares. She sold us some tuna and passata and a spot of pasta. Enough to throw together sustenance for the evening. No parrotfish tonight.
We went to as many waterfalls as we could today, and to springs and lakes. Here on this remote island surrounded by the salt deep, the land is forcing up water constantly, belching heat and minerals with it.
Late morning we stood by a clear but sulphurous hot spring too hot to safely put your foot into, fenced off at Caldeira Velha. Bubbling water was pushing up with the stench of inferno, and then running through pipes into a colder pool arranged by clever humans for safe but expensive wallowing. Eight euros. We got in, wallowed our money’s worth, and met Gustav. He flies drones over golf courses and then puts the footage on to YouTube. He was relaxing happily despite having lost his wallet full of cash yesterday. “People here are honest,” I remark. “You’ll probably get it back somehow and it’ll still be full.” “I’m not sure. Most of the South American drug trade comes through here.”
Maybe so. I’m nothing if not naïve but I haven’t seen much evidence of that sort of behaviour. This place feels for all the world like a sleepy and uncomplicated little Portuguese village that just happens to be on a long thin strand of basalt extruding multiple volcanoes and boiling with greenery and steam. “It’s a cross between Scotland and Hawaii,” says Gustav. “I haven’t been to Scotland,” he qualifies. And on that basis, I can see where he’s going. It’s not the deep fat fried Mars Bar plus punch in the face Scotland he means. It’s the Gavin Maxwell books with otters and somebody trying to sell you membership of a golf course Scotland. And yes, there’s a viewpoint on every corner. And virtually no pubs. The viewpoints have stone tables and barbeque areas. “Grill and relax,” they say on Google Maps, and I can imagine that the youth of São Miguel go and hang out on promontories overlooking the ocean and feed one another tasty wholesome grilled food before carefully clearing up after themselves and going home. It hasn’t been fully blighted here yet by the Mac and co. Things have their own character, and options are personal and varied – not yet squeezed into conformity. It’s hard to get good coffee but at least it’s not all made by the same worldeating fucker when you do find it.
This morning I followed a precarious metal walkway up some pipes that were built around a waterfall as part of a hydroelectric plant. There were moments so vertiginous my legs were shaking. Lou waited as I struck on up and forward through the cataract and out the other end. Just as I was thinking “surely I shouldn’t actually be here” I saw one of the footpath markers just placed on the metal of the walkway. There’s a freedom in being given the opportunity to go somewhere very slightly dangerous if you choose to. We’ve mostly lost that freedom entirely in the UK.
I like it here. I’m exhausted though. So much air. So much green. So much water. I’m going to make a cheap and tasty meal and then wash the road off. Tomorrow we go west.