Sao Miguel’s volcanic birth is unmistakeable wherever you are in the island. The beaches are black of course and the velvet green grass covers fumaroles, sharp lava ridges and long extinct cones. In places there are hot springs and bubbling mud pools and we set out from Mosteiros to find some, taking the small road up the hill to the north of the village. It started off paved and then as it became steeper, became unpaved and soon we were on a farm track winding up the slope, popping out onto the main road at the top. It was a great shortcut and despite trying a couple of times to find it on our way back into the village, we never could.
Instead of taking the coast road, we went through the largest caldera on the island to see its two large lakes. The postcards show one to be blue and one green, separated by a road. The view was lovely but the lakes looked the same colour to us. It is breathtaking though to be so high on the crater edge imagining the size of the volcano that built the island. On one overlook there is a vast hotel, built to be one of the finest in Portugal. Apparently it never filled up and closed within a year. A few years after that the owners stopped paying for security guards and eventually it was stripped. It remains now as the kind of giant concrete shell discovered in films about lost civilisations.
The village of Furnas has cashed in on the fact that it is riddled with cracks and chasms, venting boiling water and sulferous gasses. Actually, “cashed in” is unfair. We haven’t come across anything which feels like a tourist rip-off. In Furnas we paid two euros each to dip in the hot pools that someone had carved out of the rock, watching the runoff pour into a shallow stream with an ochre bottom which runs steamily through the village. We soaked our faces and felt the skin tighten. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.
In the middle of Furnas is a low grey mound with numerous natural jacuzzis bubbling furiously and great clouds of stinky steam billowing about. Set into the walls were little spouts, some delivering hot water others delivering water that was cold and fizzy. The drains were all steaming too. It was a little parcel of Yellowstone deposited in the middle of a village, surrounded by all the usual village trappings- houses, a shop, a church – all carrying on pretty much regardless.