One of many memorable days on our recent language immersion tour of the Azores Islands took place while visiting Fajã de Santo Cristo on São Jorge island. A fajã is a flat, often sloping piece of land found along the coast and is formed by the lava flows from volcanos and debris from crumbling cliffs. São Jorge has 46 fajãs, more than any of the other eight islands.
The Fajã de Santo Cristo may be the most beautiful fajã in São Jorge, but it is certainly not the easiest one to visit. After parking the car at fajã dos Cubres, there is a 9 kilometer walk, more than 5 miles, to the Fajã de Santo Cristo itself. For this reason this is an optional trip on our tours. But on this fine day everyone agreed to take the trip, and it was well worth the effort. Along the way we enjoyed fantastic views of the islands of Pico and Faial. The weather was perfect, and we hardly noticed how long a hike it was.
On arrival we were so struck with the beauty of the place that we sat for a while just taking it in. This fajã encompasses a lagoon before it curves away into the sea. Across the lagoon are a few houses belonging to local residents, a church and a small restaurant. We admired the reflections of the mountains in the lagoon, and then we decided to explore.
As we hiked around the fajã we watched the shifting views of the land and ocean, peered into an almost hidden underground cave, and decided that yes, Fajã de Santo Cristo is probably the most beautiful fajã of all. But the best was yet to come.
Because the tide was out we were able to see vast clumps of lapas along the shoreline. Lapas are limpets, a mollusk with a dome-like shell that clings to rocks to keep from being washed out to sea. And they are very tasty! Using a small knife we pried them off the rocks and ate them without any preparation at all! They are safe to eat raw as we can certainly attest to, and they are delicious that way, but many people grill them or make a stew of them with rice. Eating them as we did we were reminded of oysters, clams, and other shellfish that can be eaten fresh from the waters. When we had our fill of lapas we walked back to the lagoon and spent some time digging clams, which we also ate on the spot!
We eventually wandered over to the buildings we had seen and there found a pleasant restaurant to enjoy coffee and rest from the exertion of feeding ourselves. It was time to leave when we saw the clouds starting to change. Sure enough, on our hike back to the car it sprinkled on us, and somehow this was as much fun as anything else we had done that day. Wet and happily tired we climbed into the car and headed back to the main road.
Along the way a local rancher was guiding his herd of cows to a new pasture and he clearly didn’t care if we were in his path. Suddenly we were surrounded by cows on all sides. Surrounded first by the glorious ocean and now surrounded by a sea of cows, we laughed and decided it was the perfect end to a perfect day!