Saturday, December 19, 2015

Deserted

Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande: the renovated bath building

Waiting game
The hamlet of Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande (Caldeiras for short) has seen better times. 
And I mean not earlier in the day or such. 
But sometime in the past when many of the now abandoned buildings formed part of a thriving community.

Much of these structures stem from early nineteenth century (an inscription in the building above refers to 1811), when bathing in the hot waters at Caldeiras seemed to be taking off. 
However nowadays situated around the square are a number of empty buildings, a restaurant (today closed for seasonal repairs), the caldeiras themselves (caldeiras would translate as boiling cauldron) and a bath house, which surprisingly looks open for business.

And though there a couple of vehicles parked here (most probably those of fellow hikers) the square itself seems quite deserted.
That's other than the odd cat stretched out in the sun and a lady seated just outside the bathhouse. 
The bathhouse itself is open. But not open for business. The hostess announces that we can use the toilet facilities, but that since it's restoration (the year before?) the bathhouse itself is yet to welcome it's first soakers. No medical professional stationed here yet is the explanation; no medical advice to be proffered = no soaking! 
It looks like old habits die hard here as they anticipate to re-establish old-fashioned Portuguese style hotspringing here. That's  despite the huge popularity of soaking else where on São Miguel in highly natural circumstances. This must be evidence that focusing on tourists is certainly assisting the bottom line of these businesses.

I'm allowed to wander about the hallway of the quite small bathing house. Onto this hall a few doors open. Behind the doors are stark cubicles with a bath tub, very non-descript. That's all! Well, that does not spell well for the future of the bathhouse, doctor or not. 
I would imagine knocking out the rear walls and placing larger tubs which give a view of the luscious garden along the stream which runs behind the bathhouse.

Between the caldeiras and the bathhouse a channel flows, so one can at least soak ones feet. But let's go for a ramble first.

Salto
Ah the ramble
This leads one to the waterfall named Salto do Cabrito (Tripadvisor rates as no. 5 thing to do in Ribeira Grande). 

From Caldeiras the walk starts at what seems like a public possibility to cook your meals with geothermal warmth, see the photo following: 


The hike then continues, up a bit beyond numerous degas signs, to a swift flowing channel, part of the inlet for the nearby hydro power plant. Here you still smell sulfur (sulphur) so there are still sources nearby, probably fumaroles. 
From the here the trail heads down into the forest and crosses the river which it then follows to the waterfall itself, as pictured below.

The Salto, no skinnydipping for a change.
 
Note that one can also get to the Salto do Cabrito by car from the opposite direction as the waterfall ends at a hydro power plant. 

The walk itself continues and after the valley passes the geothermal power plant called Central Geotérmica do Pico Vermelho before returning back to Caldeiras. Certainly the walk between Caldeiras and the waterfall is worth the effort. 

Jessie on a Journey has a more expansive blog entry on the hike itself.

View towards Ribeira Grande.

Scope
Usually I would add a section about how others experienced their visit here, but there's precious little to speak of, certainly nothing noteworthy with the possible exception of the description under the following photo, which describes an original bath (?) as still on display in the bathhouse of Caldeiras.

The bath-house, which has been built by the town's people at Ribeira Grande for the good of the public, and is open at all hours of the day for their accomodation, is a long building, like a double coachhouse, and is divided into four compartments, in each of which a bath, six feet by three, has been sunk in the floor. Each apartment is paved, and each bath lined with a rough, honeycombed, scoriacenous stone, which time and water, and the backs of bathers, have worn sufficiently smooth to suit all but the most fastidious skins.
 
So I'll proceed with a little more info on the surroundings.

Caldeiras de Riberia Grande sits among the third concentration of geothermal activity on the island, north central roughly alll near the town of Ribeiria Grande. Besides the hamlet of Caldeiras, there's the Caldeira Velha hot spring (forthcoming and a hot spring which is often confused with Caldeiras), the eerie Lago di Fogo (fire lake) atop the water divide with the southern part of the island and the geothermal station of ...

There's more geothermality in the neighbourhood. Has anyone ever heard of the nearby balneario Ladeira da Velha, a seaside bath not so far away but seriously in ruins? There's a full description on  geocache
Pity, if I had knew on forehand I might have made an effort.

As noted above the surroundings of Caldeiras stand witness to a plethora of signs warning for desgaseificaçao (photo below). Apparently extracting geothermal power has lead to higher levels of CO2 discharge from/through the soil.



I've looked some info up on internet, here is a Portuguese news report. Fear not if coming for a visit, it is only prelonged exposure which may be hazourdous.

A bit off topic, continuing up the valley from Caldeiras you come to further ruins in this case from the Lombadas mineral water (Agua das Lombadas) bottling plant. Famous earlier last century, the waters that were used for bottling are still there to take a fill yourself. How to get there:
'To reach this place in the middle of nowhere with only wild volcanic nature around you have two options: Either you leave the car in the village of Caldeiras near the hot springs and the restaurant and follow the road you have just passed at the entrance to the village up to Lombadas – it is nearly 5 km of a fairly nice hike oneway ...'.
Landslides late last century resulted in the abandonment, though it could have been a conscious decision by owners to re-invest elders.

Just a couple more photo's to finish:

The cauldron

The cat (in shade)

The modern bath room (yuck?)

The source itself

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Snogged


 

Rich
The Azores and in particular the island of São Miguel are well-known for their volcanic origin. An origin which is still evident.
But it's especially the area in and around the village of Furnas, located in between the mountains on the east of São Miguel that really plays host as a geothermal hot spot.
From the wikipedia entry on Furnas:
'In the central part of the village, springs and geysers are prevalent; thirty springs, each of differing temperatures and chemical compositions, including warm iron-rich streams and piped examples of mineral-rich warm and cold water. The geysers are situated in several basins rich in sodium bicarbonate, boron, fluorine and traces of carbon dioxide'.
Maybe not on the same scale, it reminds one of Rotorua / Taupo (New Zealand), or certain areas of Iceland or the Italian island of Vulcano. And probably many more places on the globe yet to be witnessed by myself ...

I have no ambitions to make this the ultimate tourism reference entry to Furnas village, so suffice to say continuing reading this post you'll not be confronted with a never ending list of all what the village has on offer (and most of it being geothermal in origin).

Treats
But then again, there's quite a lot so I'll list what you should or shouldn't miss. Then continue with a soak at the Parque Terra Nostra and maybe in future a short entry on what's described (by those tourist PR persons) as a pool of paradise.

Anyway, nearly everybody enters the village from the west and after negotiating a curvy road over the watershed divide one suddenly arrives at the volcanic lake, Lagoa de Furnas. Walks are possible around the lake but note that on one side you'll be walking along the main road. 

At the far side of this lake is what is considered the main attraction of Furnas: a geothermal park with steaming and hissing pools, as well as boiling mud. Named Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas, visiting here requires an entrance fee which essentially is a labour programme; the fees are nothing exorbitant but cumbersome in all the administrative efforts which need to be met. Keeping a lot of people on the job. The site itself is ok, but nothing special. 

Much is made of the Furnas speciality for foodies: tossing everything in a pan and burying this pan to cook in the vicinity of the fumaroles. Named Cozido das Furnas (Furnas stew) it's not for vegetarians I believe ... 
Below is a photo of the various buried pots and hole's waiting for an upturn in tourism:


Continuing towards the village itself, you'll drop down over the side of the lake to Furnas which has an astonishing labyrinthal one-way system. Certainly for a village this size.

Listing
Things geothermal to look out for in / near the village:
  • Caldeiras das Furnas, an area with many (22?) springs and fumaroles (photo below), just at the lower end of the village. Here's a little more info.
    Note the nearby Observatorio Microbiano dos Acores. Tripadvisor gives this quaint institute / museum five stars. It is indeed worthwhile to walk through, note that they will even give you a full guide (speaking English) if required. Below an original tub from the termas.
 
  • The Estação termal das Furnas (or as it's named now, the Furnas Boutique Hotel) is the hotel with access to it's own termae and is the official focal point of geothermal Furnas. Recently renovated it offers a number of "treatments" as well as possessing it's own indoor and outdoor pools with hot spring waters. Booking.com gives it a 9.2.
  • Poça da Tia Silvina: a foot bath slash hot spring basin just upstream of the Boutique hotel just next to the river.
  • Nascentes da Agua das Quenturas: a trio of springs opposite the Estação termal with each a different taste. Photo below:
  • Banhos Férreos: a restaurant with indoor swimming pool with lukewarm but very iron laden waters. Even though the temperature of the spring is supposed to be 39°C (source). A meal here entitles you to a fee swim in the authentic pool. Tripadvisor notes just 3.5 stars. An experience of the soaking from tripadvisor:
    'Very relaxing, and not too hot, like some springs'.
    During my visit (photo below) it did not look like they were any takers ...:
 
  • Praia de Fogo at nearby (7 km) Ribeira Quente. Rumor (?) has it that there are under water hot springs making this Fire Beach a little warmer than the ocean. Not noticeable on my visit, possibly due to wrong timing (come at low tide?)
Full info on all the features including other attractions of Furnas can be garnered from this government website.
 
Revelations
With this out of our way let's continuing with the hot spring of Parque Terra Nostra (Our Land) which is not your typical geothermal soak. 
It's located within a park, under the gaze of historical residence. 
The park itself is a haven for plants which enjoy the milder weather and high fertility of the soils. 

On a side track, did you know that Furnas is one of the few (if even there are others) where the taro plant is grown commercially in Europe? Back when I was a bit younger, my first job as an agriculture specialist was to assess taro plants in the South Pacific. It's very appealing to observe taro fields under irrigated circumstances (as in Furnas), similar to rice.
Anyway historically the residence and pond were first part of the residence of the honorary US consul of São Miguel back in the times when the waters around the Azores were teeming with whales. With the demise of the whales (thank you) the property reverted to Portuguese gentry control which expanded the park and buildings. However early last century neglect crept in only to be revived shortly before World War II; a period which also saw the hot spring pond expanded and sourced from hot spring water.

Parque Terra Nostra entrance
It's unclear where exact the springs itself source from. On the far side of this pond are two powerful spouts which seem the sole source of the geothermal waters. The pond is quite large, 50m in circumflex with still warm waters, depth would be around a meter and half.
We arrived late afternoon, an hour before closing time. It's a six euro entry fee. A 100m further one comes to the pond. To your left over the edge of the pond and sheltered within the greenery are a number of changing rooms, seeing brisk business this (Sunday) afternoon. 
A quick change and up to pool side. 
The orange tinted waters are warm, but not hot. One can drift around though setting up camp near the spouts ensures a warmer soak.

 

The change rooms revealed (not literally) that it's quite busy even though it's out of season. Many a tour group wander in and around.

What I do notice is the absence of showers. There was one, but didn't get used, though many a tourist changed poolside (discreetly, this is Portugal) so it's only guessing what the waters are like. This large body of water will not be flushed easily. Is this aspect underestimated?
Showers by the way would help post soaking, as the waters taint the lighter coloured bathing costumes a shade of orange.
No, no smell.

So not positive? Well, the large body of water gives enough private space and the greenery around makes it highly recommendable. It's an enjoyable way to end a day's visit to Furnas and surroundings.  

 
Spouts on the far side
 
Wear and tear
There's a hotel attached to the park  which is owned by the company named BenSaude. Booking.com gives this hotel an impressive 9.3; note hotel guests have access to pool beyond closing times for others ...

Other experiences are very positive. Tripadvisor notes 4.5 stars (400+ reviews), the no. 2 thing to do in Furnas. Extracts:
'The changing facilities are not great and I only found one outdoor shower but the experience is great'.
'I'd recommend wearing an older bathing suit as my light coloured bathing suit was stained even after washing it the same day'.
A lot of these reviews though are very recent which begs the question has there been a sudden influx of tourists? Due possibly to cheap flights (Ryanair / Easyjet)?

Finally, there's not much original experiences on the internet, it's mostly photo's. An exception, the Daily Telegraph (Mar 23, 2011) has an article which in it's first half describes a sojourn in Furnas. An excerpt on Terra Nostra:
'It is the Portuguese equivalent of Iceland's Blue Lagoon, a hot, murky lake with steam rising from it, fed by a geothermal spring and filled with bathers taking to the waters in pursuit of health, happiness and surreptitious snogging.
There the comparison ends, since this thermal pool in Furnas, on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores, is muddy brown because of iron in the water and dyes your toenails orange, while the backdrop is not the Svartsengi power plant but the palms, ferns and conifers of a subtropical Atlantic forest'.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Addiction

#Pantelleria #Lagodivenere #acquetermali #fangobenefico #salassi #sanguisughe 
Source
Delighted to share a couple of photo's, mostly from instagram, just to show off Europe's soakable and (mostly) free and public hot springs. 

Alphabetically by country (with exception of lead photo above, Italy ...):
  • Austria 
Chill out with my Girl [hotsprings] 
Maibachl, Kärnten, source
  • France
Viure
Bains de Saint Thomas, Pyrénées-Orientales, source.

  • Greece
    Last day in #evia ....#hotsprings #loutraaidipsou #greece

     
    Pozar thermal baths #greece #nature #thermalbaths #naturegram #natureaddict #naturelovers #familylove #myfamilyisthebest #savenatureforourfuture 
    •  Hungary
    #spa #terme #gellert #budapest  
    • Iceland
    Skinny dipping i Holuhrauni! #holuhraun holuhraun Source
    Seljavallalaug, source
    • Italy 
    #sicily #sicilia #beautifulplaces #hotriver #travel #love #italy 
    Segesta? Source
    #relax#terme#naturali#ischia#forio#baiadisorgeto#holiday#italy
    Source









    • Portugal

    [heart] #naturalpool #caldeiravelha #hotwater #39degrees #november #perfecttravel #nature #termal
    Sao Miguel, Azores, source
    • Spain
    "When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes, but when you photograph people in black & white, you photograph their souls" #bande #spain #termas All credits to: @rafa_3 [raised_hands]
    #alhamadegranada #baños
    Andalucia, source.

    Monday, November 23, 2015

    Before the void


    Go west
    It seems my quest to seek those natural and naturally soakable hot springs in Europe leads me to the very fringes of what constitutes the European continent. It's simply that the closer to the edge the more natural conditions are (still) available.
    And it's no doubt that the Azorean islands of Portugal are yet again on this very fringe of the Euro continent. 

    Geologists may even argue that the Azores are not (wholly) part of this Euro continent, as they lie on the point of where the European, African and American tectonic plates meet with some of the islands lying on different plates than other islands (source).

    However, geographically and more notably socio-culturally they are distinctly European.

    The offshore Termas da Ferraria are themselves just on the fringe (or even beyond thiss) as they lie off the most densely inhabited Azorean island of São Miguel, at it's most western point. 
    So the western most soak of Europe? 
    Alas. More searching on internet has revealed that there are still two other hot springs further westwards: Carapacho on the Azorean island of Graciosa (source) and Aqua Quente on the western coast of the Flores. And thus this must be Europe's most western most soak (source).

    One would believe that a hot spring that feeds in to the sea just offshore may well be an extraordinary natural phenomena; again a disappointment
    Even on the Sao Miguel, decidedly eastwards, the beach waters of Ribeira Quente (Praia de Fogo: Fire Beach) are rumored to be more mild. Here offshore heat vents manage to warm the sea temperature with a degree or two.
    Elsewhere in Europe I have had an experience on the island of Vulcano, there's one on the southern Italian island of Pantelleria, Iceland has at least a couple near the shoreline, while in Greece there are also a couple in existence (Santorini for instance). 
    On global scale there are even more of course. Off the top of my head, there's Stinson beach in California, Hot water beach in New Zealand (as well as a hot water beach near Kawhia), Japan has a few, as does Indonesia. 
    Probably quite common thus.

     

    On the edge
    However the location of Termas da Ferraria does it's best to literally suggest you are on the verge of infinity. 

    The Termas da Ferraria arejust a few kilometers from the village of Ginetes. Ginetes lies between verdant rolling hills and where these stop (at a lighthouse, see photo above) there's a sudden drop 100-150m down to sea level where there's a small promontory jutting out westwards into the Atlantic. 
    Look further west: there's only ocean (even though there are still a few Azorean islands just beyond the horizon). 
    Such are the views from above that local authorities have gone out of their way to construct a parking space to enable viewing of this infinity.

    Having been forewarned, we're not willing to find out whether or not our rental car will make the return uphill (it should have), so we park the car at the parking space here (did I mention that it's named Miradouro da Ilha Sabrina?) and walk down the four or five switchbacks, 100m lower. 

    Below is a another car park; this is nearly deserted. 
    The two cars must belong to Termas maintenance staff. From the viewpoint above I could see that beyond the main building, there were two men cleaning the empty pool. 
    The termas building, next to the car park, is itself in lock up: Monday and Tuesdays are no soaking days apparently.

    Grab the day
    Battling the winds we take the path to the south of the promontory. This path continues slightly over a rise between lava rocks and a pseudo crater
    Beyond the rise there are a few buildings off to the left: a reception of sorts and some changing rooms I suspect. 
    I didn't think the distance upcoming (100m?), combined with the prevalent weather condition would be conducive to encouraging a soak by continuing the path towardss a soak half naked. That's if a soak was to be had.  So I skipped the changing rooms / amenities. Let's see.

    Waves are crashing on the edge of the rocks and in and over the inlet which supposes to contain the hot spring. 
    Stated temperatures (below) should promise a nice to rather nice soaking experience. Note the waves?

    Spring temperature: ~61.8°C
    Sea water temperature ~18.0°C (high tide)*,
    Sea water temperature ~28.1°C (low tide)* 
    (*): May 2006
    As I hadn't stripped yet, there was still a moment to contemplate the consequences of my upcoming actions. 
    I had thought that it was low tide, but maybe I was mistaken. Waves were chunneling through, it looked decidedly rocky. What to do? 

    Then again it looked like an experience to be had. There was no way able to discern whether or not the temps might be hospitable. The only one way to find out was to brave it!

    As no one is around, I skipped the changing part, rather jumping in au naturel (only now do I realize that I may well be one of the few who have done this, all photo's available on internet are of suited soakers! Portugal is a little more conservative !?). 


    I descend the stairs and let myself get dragged around by the waves. Something reminds me of a washing machine.

    Immediately I am catching my breath as the temperature has not warmed since I had an early morning dip in the more placid ocean in front of our apartment elders on the island. Waves come crashing in, 1-2 meters high and then it makes sense to hold on to the wires which have been drawn across the inlet. 
    I nudge back to the end of the inlet and yes there I do feel the odd hot flash or two. 

    Well, this was a not a soak meant for proving longevity, at least not now. So after a couple of minutes I time the waves and numbly clamber back onto dry land. 

    I dress and then we retrace our steps, noting that despite the maintenance men on site, there's an eerily sense of end-of-the-worldness here. And a personal sense of achievement.

    Saudade
    Despite the lack of other soakers on our visit, the Termas da Ferraria (sometimes referred to as Ponte da Ferraria) does see quite a few visitors. Evidenced by tripadvisor
    Based on no less than 147 reviews it ranks the Termas as number 15 (out of a possible 75) in it's list of outdoor attractions on the island of São Miguel, with many a reviewer giving it high marks. 
    Wade through these reviews though and it's obvious that the natural experience is what makes it attractive. 
    Not too many reviewers are happy with the restaurant / paid hot pool, though most also have no experience of these to share: they are there for the free inlet fun. 


    The official website of Termas da Ferraria has a little more info on the natural surroundings and mentions that it has been used / discovered since a number of centuries ago:
    'Termas da Ferraria started in the mid XX century, but the qualities of its waters were quote four centuries ago by Gaspar Frutuoso in its [his] book “Saudades da Terra”(“Homesick of the land”)'. 
    The current structure is built largely on the foundations already existing (1950's, above?) and the reconstruction was finished in 2010. 
    A photo of the previous building can be found here
    More on the re-construction events can be found here.

    The Termas also maintains a well-updated Facebook page.

    Basically the Termas has a wellness program (besides outdoor bath there's also an indoor bath and a sauna), which currently has a price structure of 35€, plus for any massage treatments. 
    Simple use of the outdoor pool (below) is 5€.


    Funny is that their guestbook is a bit short, contrasts with the findings of tripadvisor and it also has no dates of reference.

    The official website also fails to note the opportunity to use the thermal inlet for free ....

    Continuing, it missed the following from Acoriano Oriental (July 7, 2015) as well. The newspaper article notes recent complaints of neglect access places to the natural features as worded by a local counciler ... I couldn't agree with this, maybe since improved?

    There's little additional to mention in regards to the experience itself, seemingly there's less and less about sharing while using words. We all need photo's as our imagination is lacking?

    Here's a youtube experience.

    A drop in the ocean?

    If coming all this way on the island, try to consider a visit to the village of Mosteiros with it's natural rock pools. 
    The cliffs below the nearby hamlet of João Bom are home to fresh water springs and provide a good excuse for a banter through the countryside and along the cliffs high above the Atlantic.
    And then there are crater lakes of Lagoa Azul / Lagoa Verde which can all be had in a visit to this part of São Miguel.

    Euro soaks visited