Lagoa do Fogo is the highest lake above sea level on Sao Miguel situated in the Agua de Pau Massif stratovolcano at 580 meters (1,900 feet) above sea level. It is one of the main tourist attractions on the island and after seeing the natural wonders of Sete Cidades, the Teacher, the Brown Student, the Fashionable Filipino, and I decided to head east towards Lagoa do Fogo before the sun set for the day and we turned in our sneakers and cameras for hamburgers and beers at the local bar.
The drive from Sete Cidades brought us down the windy narrow roads surrounded by vast lush green pastures dotted with black-and-white cows happily grazing their lives away back onto the main highway that circumvents around the city of Ponta Delgada. We passed more farms and greenhouses growing native pineapples through the towns of Sao Roque and Lagoa. After about 30 minutes on the road with the Teacher in the driver’s seat we made the turn off the highway towards Remedios and up towards Lagoa do Fogo.
I’m glad I didn’t know what lay ahead of us. As we began our ascent up the very narrow and extremely windy (worst than Sete Cidades) road towards the top of the crater where the lake drops dramatically below, I started to feel that pit in my stomach grow and my heart rate start to raise. As I have gotten older, I have become more afraid of heights. I’m not 100% sure when this changed occurred, but in the recent years anything about a few feet from the solid ground leaves me shaking in my boots. I started having flashbacks to the time I was about 6 years old and my family and I drove to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. I was terrified to get out of the car because I thought my father was going to push me over the edge. I thought about the crazy bus ride up the switchbacks to Cortona, Italy where I was convinced the speedy Italian bus driver was going to drive us off the edge into the fields of sunflowers. Lastly I thought about the time while camping in Baxter State Park I freaked out and froze on a wooden bridge about 18 inches from the shallow stream before because I could see through the wooden slats. My boyfriend at the time had to pick me up and carry me off the bridge because I was too frozen with fear. What a sweet boy.
As we climbed higher and higher the narrow roads began to creep closer and closer to the ridges of the old volcano. I quickly recalled the sign I saw at Sete Cidades with the car plummeting off the side of the road into the vast unknown and the butterflies into my stomach started to flap their wings with fury. I closed my eyes and thought happy thoughts only to open them with a flash because not knowing what was in front of me made my anxiety worst. Part of my fear was the fact I was not in control. I’m a wee bit of a control freak and at this point the Teacher held all the control behind the wheel. Even though he proved to be a decent driver earlier driving around the island, I still had a hard time putting all my trust into a complete stranger I had just met a few hours ago. But, that’s one of the things I love about travel. I had to give up the control that I will often hold onto with white knuckles and learn to trust complete strangers.
The wind was still blowing as hard as can be. Lagoa do Fogo is higher and more open than Sete Cidades and our little European economy car was rocking her way up the steep road to the top. The wind was so strong that even the little bushes and shrubs were bundling up and hiding from Mother Nature’s blow.
After about 30 nerve-racking minutes of climbing and silently suffering through a minor anxiety attack, we reached the top lookout spot. We all manhandled our doors open against the punishing winds and grabbed our camera to snap a few photos before the final rays of sun set behind the encroaching clouds and fog. We weren’t alone at the top. Nor were we the craziest tourist there. A group of about 4-5 young backpackers (perhaps Scanvadian) were stuffing their backpacks with backcountry camping gear to begin their descend into the crater to camp by the lake. The two girls were adding layer by layer of clothing while the boys were packing the last items. Good luck kids, I hope your tent doesn’t blow away at night! Trust me, I’ve been in a tent above treeline in the White Mountains in the winter no less and having a tent start to lift off while you’re still in it is no fun!
After a few photos we all sprinted back to the car to warm up our cold fingers and noses. I severely undressed for this trip. In retrospect I should have brought my down jacket and a hat. I love my red hat. Why did I not bring it? We slowly began our descend down the side of the crater towards Riberia Grande. We stopped at another lookout point to get a glimpse of the lake and the surrounding hillside. The lookout site is near an old plane crash site from years ago. A little white cross now stands in its place to memorialize the victims. Finally our little wind-blown car made it below the treeline. We passed Caldeira Velha, the natural hotsprings in the Reserva Natural Da Lagoa do Fogo (National Park) but the only one to bring a swimsuit was the Fashionable Filipino because he is always prepared for everything! That hotspring would have felt awesome too!
We spent another 20-30 minutes descending down the winding roads to Ribeira Grande where we quickly headed to the Fabricas de Licor before they closed for a tasting of the local liquor. We arrived as the workers were cleaning up so we could not see the workers in action, but we all know we were there to taste the various liquors that Sao Miguel is famous for producing. The factory makes several different liquors with their most popular being the pineapple and the passionfruit. I tried both and the chocolate. The chocolate was absolute heaven! You could not taste the alcohol at all and I could easily drink a whole bottle. So fing good! A couple of the boys tried the creme liquor but I didn’t as I’m not a fan of alcohol and milk products mixed. We each purchased a couple nip bottles which set us back about 4 Euros each.
As we were leaving the building after looking like complete idiots trying to unlock an already unlocked door, we stopped for a moment to pat and take pictures (obviously) of a little white dog cuddling with his pawprint fleece blanket. As he rolled over to expose his pink belly for a heartful rub-down, his little blanket started to blow away. We, of course, ran after it and tucked it around him. And I immediately wanted to bring the dog home with me.
At this point dusk had set in but we still had a little bit of light. The Teacher decided that he wanted to check out one of the local beaches called Tukakula just outside of Ribeira Grande. He manoeuvred our car through the narrow streets just barely making it around oncoming cars and children playing ball in the streets. The waves were beating against the black sand beach creating sea foam. As we walked across the concrete platform towards the sandy beach I slipped on something. What the heck? I looked down to see small clear squishy things. At first I thought they were something else and I got grossed out. Then I realized they were tiny jellyfish thrown onto land by the rough waves of the Atlantic Ocean. I nudged them with my feet to get an up close look. I’ve never actually seen jellyfish up close in real life. We walked a little further onto the beach running up the shore when the waves came rolling in too close to our shoe-clad feet. We took in the final rays of sun as it set over the rocky coastline in the west.
We gathered our stuff and headed back to Ponta Delgada for dinner and drinks. The ride back to Ponta Delgada from Ribeira Grande took about an hour and I slowly nodded off at times to wake instantly when I felt the Teacher accelerate the car passing slower drivers. Despite our late start to the adventure, I was tired. But, the night was young.