Sunday, May 27, 2012

Island Tour

One day, Grandma asked her friend Senhor Jose' to drive us all the way around the island in his taxi, showing us the most popular tourist highlights.  Throughout our eight-hour day, we pulled over at several panoramic lookout points, went to Monte Brazil in Angra, ate at a spectacular restaurant in São Sebastião, and went inside the volcano called Algar do Carvão.


The street signs around the island are often hilarious (but necessary).  In addition to this cow-crossing sign, I saw one that could only have been labeled, "Sweet, small, elderly widow with fashionable handbag helps even sweeter, smaller, and more elderly widow cross the street."

The majority of the island is covered with sprawling green agricultural plots, most of which are divided by short, man-made stone walls.  If this were California, all of that waterfront land would be built-up with million dollar estates, so it was refreshing to see it kept in its natural state.

Serreta was one of my favorite towns on the island.  It's surrounded by thick foliage and feels almost like a rainforest.  There's lots of places to picnic, and my mom and Tia told me that they used to go there once a year for the bullfight.

Since it was a Sunday and a feast day, we saw lots of processions and bands, and even a woman crossing the street clutching a bowl of sopas.

By noon we had made it to Angra, and addition to going to the panoramic memorial on top of the town, we went to Monte Brazil, which is the large peninsula mountain that you see in the background of the following photo.  The third photo is of Senhor Jose' and me atop Monte Brazil.

I don't think a more appropriate statue could have been put here in Angra!

Ready for lunch, we stopped in São Sebastião at a place called Os Moinhos, which mom had found recommended on the internet. 

The seafood there was incredible, and I finally got to try Lapas, which are similar to oysters.  They were served grilled with butter and garlic, and if I had to tell you what they tasted like, the best thing I could say would be "the sea".  I felt like I opened my mouth and took a bite right out of the sea.  When you put the shell in your mouth you can taste and feel the seaweed and the spongy, fuzzy surface, and once you slurp up the meat, you realize it still tastes of natural salt water.

I ordered the tile-cooked shellfish, and what I got blew me away.  It was basically a roof tile, filled with deliciously rich, buttery jumbo shrimp, prawns, clams, oysters, and more.  There was nothing else in there but fish fish fish, making it even at first glance the most generous seafood helping I'd ever received.  But wait, there's more.  As I was digging deep down to serve up the concoction, my spoon hit a large lump of something.  I dug it out only to find it was an entire, shelled lobster tail.  Upon further investigation, I discovered another one.  My lunch buddies didn't seem phased, but I was completely awed by the indulgent helping of seafood, a portion that would cost A FORTUNE in America if you could even find a restaurant with such a thing on the menu, which you couldn't, since restauranteurs know no one would ever order it on account of its costing A FORTUNE. 

We waddled our way back to the car, and after driving through several more beautiful harbor towns, we ended up in Praia, which we got to see from a couple different surrounding hilltops.

From this spot, one could see a huge valley of farm land, surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the other.

Finally, we made it to the volcano.  It is the only volcano in the world in which one can actually go inside, and 100 meters down at that.  The former spout of the volcano illuminated the cave with natural light, and even though it was sunny outside, it rained continually in the cave.  I went down the precarious, wet stairs and into the lush cavern, which was filled with tropical foliage and stalactites, and even a lake at the bottom.  If you can, imagine the climax scene of Harry Potter VI, when Harry and Dumbledore are in the cave with the lake and the island and all those creepy zombie ghosts are trying to get them.  That's exactly how it was down there, and it was awesome.

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