I recently got back from a trip I took to see my friend Carly who lives in the Azores. She’s a good friend from college who I only get to see every couple years due to her habits of living thousands of miles away from home. Marrying into the Air Force certainly does have its perks/oddities/tendency to place you on an obscure Portuguese island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I returned to the states with a wealth of information that I think anyone would find beneficial if they ever found themselves on such an island, or abroad in general. So let’s get started with some of the most helpful high lights I experienced during my travels.
In the last episode of my Azorian adventure mentioned the volcanic nature of the island I visited. It was a first for me to be on, near, and within volcanic rock. So when Carly revealed to me that we could pay a visit to the natural monument of Algar do Carvao, I was confused by what she was trying to talk me into. What the hell does Algar do Carvao mean? I can’t even say “thank you” in Portuguese, remember?
Wait. I get to go inside a volcano? For only four euro? Sign me up!
The day we went was rainy and drab. What better way to experience the great outdoors during such weather than going inside a volcano? You know, to get away from it all. We drove from Carly’s village of Vila Nova on a road that wound through eucalyptus trees and livestock to the absolute center of the island. On the outer edges of Terceira, rocky cliffs take over the landscape ,but here, just a few miles in, lush greenery was everywhere. Pine-like trees and ferns took up every bit of available soil. Algar do Carvao was waiting for us with a friendly and fluent Portuguese man working the front desk of the visitor’s center that lead us into a long hallway that makes this crazy geological phenomenon available to the masses. I have to admit the dude at the front desk was charming enough to up-sell me another four euro for an extra ticket to something called the Christmas Caves. Sadly I never got around to visiting them. But there’s always next time, because yes, there will be a next time.
After paying twice as many euro as I probably should have, Carly and I made our way down the long hallway that looked like something out of an Addam’s Family movie. Again, with my habit of comparing places to places I’ve already been I could only think of a claustrophobic moment I had had in the London tube last fall. This of course, was a much more serene tunnel lined with lights and occupied by only Carly and I. It spit us out into what I realized was the first cave I’ve ever experienced. Except for that this wasn’t just a cave. It was an extinct volcano.
At this point, I’m not going to pretend that geology is something I know a lot about. I’m also not going to pretend that the awesome experience of descending into something called a volcanic vent inspired me to pursue a masters in volcanology. It didn’t. But I will attempt to give you a back-story on what the hell this thing is and why you should go see it.
According to the brochure that the charming and very bi-lingual Portuguese man gave me at the entrance of the Addam’s Family cave, there are many obscure words that are used to describe volcanoes. Some of these words include but are not limited to: “conduit”, “scoria cone”, “hydrogeological system”, and “fissural zone”. And yes, this brochure is the English version. This is legit, non-Portuguese volcano lingo here. Google your heart out.
But really, what I can gather is there are a few volcanoes on the island of Terceira and this vent was created about 2000 years ago. It’s basically the chimney of an extinct volcano that has since turned into this geological eco-system that grows stalagmites and stalactites that aren’t supposed to be a thing in extinct volcanoes; except they are a thing in this one. Perhaps if I knew more about geology, I could speak in more detail about this sort of thing. Instead, I’m going to go ahead and just say it was cool. It was beautiful. It was like walking inside of a Jackson Pollock painting that was accessible by stairs. It kept going and going and at the very bottom there was a crystal clear underground lake that is sourced by rainwater.
Looking up at the sky through the vent of this extinct volcano was something out of Lord of the Rings what with being framed by intense greenery and allowing rain drops to fall hundreds of feet before hitting the ground next to you. There was an eerie quiet there, but they made the most of the atmosphere and had wired serene yoga music through the dark corners of the cavern. I could have spent the entire afternoon gazing up at the sky from within this ancient and naturally carved space in the earth, watching gravity pull the droplets down to me. Eventually we made our way back up the tunnel and into the visitor’s center where I gazed at pictures portraying all the manpower that went into making this crazy thing accessible (for a meager four euro at that!)
Algar do Carvao was certainly a highlight of my trip. While I’m not a huge sightseer when I travel, I do tend to marvel at the natural wonders that this earth has formed beyond our capabilities. It makes me feel infinitesimal in this world, which is a feeling that everyone should consider every now and then.
Stay tuned for an Azorian night-life recap and how to navigate your way through the Air Force, when you yourself are not a part of the Air Force!
Samantha Veldhouse is the Arts & Entertainment editor of Secret Laboratory. Originally from rural North Dakota, she went to school for literature and writing at Bemidji State University, but fell into the theater community while she was there. After graduating with a BA in English, she moved to Minneapolis where she has been known to tap into Twin Cities theater performing with the Brave New Institute and Huge Theater; she also produces independently with the Minnesota Fringe Festival. When Samantha isn’t creatively displaying herself on stage, she’s documenting her life on her blog at http://www.intheveldhouse.blogspot.com. She currently works as an Academic Advisor at Capella University and lives in her trusty uptown studio with her laptop.
E-mail Ms. Veldhouse at email@example.com.