Now, I had heard of this little volcanic island chain in the middle of The Atlantic Ocean, but amongst all of the worldly traveled surfers I know, I've never even heard of anyone going there. Imagine a 500 year old charming Portuguese city and countryside making sweet sweet love to the Hawaiian Islands. Breathtaking doesn't even begin to describe it. Well, me and another dailystoke writer were lucky enough to spend a week finding out what this special place had to offer.
Approximately 900 miles from Lisbon, Portugal, and 2200 miles from the East Coast of the US it's quite literally in the middle of the ocean. Exposed from all sides to deep water, open ocean swells, and with an extremely featured coastline, the place is a swell magnet. In the 6 days we were on the main island (of 7) of Sao Miguel, we saw black sand beaches with perfect sandbars, cobblestone point breaks, slab reefs, deep water big wave reefs, harbor jetties, lefts, rights, a-frames, all capable of firing when the conditions are right. Not to mention it has a similar climate to Central California, but because of the Gulf Stream, the water never drops below 65 or so, and is as warm as 75 through the summer.
If you don't know already, Portuguese is a tricky language, and the dialect they speak on the islands is even trickier. We were told that native speaking Portuguese have trouble with it a lot of the time. If you found yourself deep in the Louisiana Bayou, would you be able to understand Cajun? Or even call what they speak English? Similar. Good thing almost everyone on the island, especially the younger generations, speak excellent English, as well as a half dozen other languages.
Traveling there is relatively simple. We flew from San Diego to Boston, then direct to Ponta Delgada, the only city on Sao Miguel. The population is about 100,000 and when you're in the city, it feels like it. Busy streets, restaurants, and bars. But drive 10 minutes in any direction, and you're all alone to explore. Important to note, rental cars all have manual trannies, so make sure you, or your boyfriend can drive stick.
The economy on the island is not one I would call “booming”. It is mostly local agriculture and dairy farming, with the main export being big game fish. They're trying to push tourism pretty hard, and for good reason. There is LOTS to see there. And with daily flights from all over Europe, there is quite a population to draw from. The island is on the Euro, which stings when you exchange dollars, but for an island, everything's CHEAP. We spent more cash in one day in Boston on the way home than we spent the whole week in the Azores (Guiness and Jameson ain't cheap!).
The island of Sao Miguel is only about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, but it's incredibly diverse geographically. Misty volcanic peaks and craters, rolling green hills, therapeutic hot springs, jagged coastline, picturesque lakes, all lie within a few miles of each other. Luckily, negotiating the island is pretty easy since a modern highway system was built. Not so luckily, the city, and all of the towns were built before cars existed. Signage is laughable, the roads are one car wide and carry two way traffic, and the grid looks like a spider on acid laid it out. We, however, had the benefit of a very experienced surf guide that made exploration fast and easy. Unless you have a month to learn the island on your own, I would seriously suggest doing the same. Pay for my flight and maybe I could be persuaded to show you around
The next half a dozen posts or so will outline some of the amazing experiences, and great surf we had on the trip of a lifetime. Stay tuned!