Monday, January 4, 2016

Presence


Soap
One of the most sought after locations for a soak on the Azorean island of São Miguel are the hot springs known as Poça da Dona Beija, located off the Rua Agua Quente (Hot Water street) of Furnas
Together with the Terra Nostra hot spring these are the major soaking attractions of Furnas, São Miguels geothermal capital. It seems soaking with nature (even though enhanced) trumps whatever you can experience in a man made environment.

The pools of Dona Beija (so called after a Brazilian tv soap opera) have in recent years have been upgraded and restyled. What was once a natural paradise has been transformed with the assistance of an award winning architectual design to what transpires as a beautiful setting for the half a dozen or so pools. For more follow on this transformation this link

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. 


In practice
If seeking this soak, they are located just outside of the center of the village of Furnas, off the small street mentioned above. 
There's a tiny car park adjacent, on the day(s!) of visit unfit to store the many soakers who were also seeking solace. 

This even though it was deep in November, way outside the main tourist season for the Azorean isles. 
It seems the islands (or at least São Miguel) are seeing a boom in off-season tourism as the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet are making it more affordable to get here.

The entrance to the pools is a tidy 3 Euro's, which is a steal for what lies ahead. 
Before entering there's half an hour's read of rules (photo below) what to adhere to when soaking (f.i. no practice naturism, no cycling!) Here's a concise version

 

But once past the entrance, everything is neatly organised with a guards person politely explaining where is what (changing cubicles / lockers, free baskets, etc.). 
The soaks come with it's own gift shop which sells tourism nick-knacks as well as merchandise. An on-loan basket for carrying around things in the soaking park is free.

Beyond the shop, across the stream, on your right are a number of changing cubicles, but not nearly enough to deal with today's visitors. 

Upstream along the stream are a number of tubs / pools, which luckily are not too packed, not too packed at all. 
The baths are all bliss: quite hot and deep with a ledge over the stream and surrounded in greenery. Great. All very nice. 


At the top of the path is a cave from which the hot waters are sourced, which in the pre-development days was easily accessible. Now there's a fence to keep soakers out.
This source is called Banhos dos Cabaços, here's a snippet of info:
'The water emerges at a temperature of 39 °C and is acidified. The spring lies in an excavated cavity at the bottom of the slope on the right bank of the Ribeira do Lameiro, on the western partof the parish of Furnas. In the past, people used the high temperature water for bathing'.
Also heed the yellow waters of all the waters here: they care to share their yellow hue to all not so yellow: your skin, your light swimmers and even your hair.
One comment which seems to be a returning feature on this blog: there are only two showers which are only operable once a pre-purchased coin is inserted. In other words: hygiene seems not be a prime concern for proprietors. With hardly any showers (or nothing gratuit), this means nobody showers pre-soak. Now why should soakers? No one else does. And in these times of germophobia, all other persons are dirty, save one self .... 

What also transpires is that soaking seems to be a very selfie culture: everybody with their stick (that's a selfie stick) prancing around to show-off themselves. 
Today's culture is a look-at-me culture. 
Showers are for after it seems as the uptake of sulfurous smell and rusty skin require a douche, how else to venture into the wider world spotless and perfect?


Assurance
I believe there are about a million photo's out there on the internet of Poça da Dona Beija, many glowing reviews as well, though none actually adding anything to what's written above. 
So we'll leave at that; if a soak is good what more info would you need? 

Rest assured, the Poça da Dona Beija baths are considered even by tripadvisor the no. 1 thing to do in Furnas and no. 3 on the whole island. The recent reviews on this website are consistently high: helpful staff, beautiful surroundings, cheap and an overall excellent experience, especially during the evening / at night.

The Poça da Dona Beija maintains it's own excellent website. Some general info:
'The Poça da Dona Beija, also known as "Poça da Juventude" ("Youth Pools") or "Poça do Paraíso" ("Paradise Pools"), is located in the valley of Furnas, in an area known as "Zona das Águas Quentes" and it's a pleasant thermal spot for leisure and well-being.
The name comes from the brazillan soap opera "Dona Beija". It was still fresh in people's memory romantic scenes of the small waterfall where the main character, Dona Beija, used to bathe, when this location started to gain more notoriety, thus giving it its current name'.
More:
• 'The yellowish colour of the water is due to the presence of cyanobacterias, photosynthetic oxygenic beings, that when found in iron-rich environments react with the free iron, oxidizing it.
• Nowadays Poça da Dona Beija’s ferruginous muds are indicated for cutaneous invigoration, and it’s hot waters are therapeutic. We receive tourists from all over the world looking for some time of relaxation and well-being.
• The iron-rich waters are used by the local people to water the taro root plantation, because the mud is considered an ecological fertilizer for it, and its amount makes the Furnas people grand taro root planters of the island of Sao Miguel'.
Taro patch

To make this experience even more worthwhile why not combine it with say a moderate trek to a waterfall? 

Sort of nearby (30 min by car ...), the village of Faial da Terra lies on the ocean at the end of a swift flowing river whose carved valley is still very much a natural habitat. 
This valley hosts two waterfalls: the lower Salto do Prego which is just an hours walk upstream of Faial. Uphill you can walk through the renovated village of Sanguinho, downhill follow the river. Paths are well maintained.



From Salto do Prego (pictured above), it's another hours walk along the stream through the forest to the other waterfall named Salto do Cagarrão ....
 

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