The journey home is fairly smooth – no cancelled flights, and food (well of a sort!) on both legs. It is quite a quick change in Lisbon, (Horta suggest that there is a chance the bags won’t make it – but this proves unfounded). I race through Heathrow, as my bus is due to leave an hour after we land, and if I miss it, there is a two hour wait for the next one. Fortunately my bag comes through fairly early, and there is no hold up at immigration, and I get to the central bus station in plenty of time – especially as just after I arrive the departure board updates to say it is running half an hour late!
It is very cloudy over Pico this morning, and it has obviously rained overnight in Horta. It is hot and humid when we get on the boat, and there have been no sightings from the lookouts. We see a rainbow from the boat, then shortly after a light spattering of rain, but we are soon clear of it.
It comes as no surprise that our first sighting of the day is Spotted Dolphin. Lisa and Nuno see a distant blow and splash, but we see no immediate sign of the Whale – in fact it seems to have stayed down for just over an hour when it is finally spotted again. There are about seven or eight halfday boats making a beeline for it, so Lisa decides we will hang back as they will need to return to port soon, then we can have him all to ourselves. He seems to settle into a routine of spending around five minutes on the surface then shallow diving (no tail) and staying down for around twenty five minutes. We see him do this a couple of times from behind the other boats, then three more times after they have gone. Since he is obviously not going to pose nicely for us, we leave him be and go to look for something else – which turns out to be Common Dolphins. However these are not as friendly, or as big show-offs as the earlier Spotted Dolphin were.
As tonight is our last night, we go to a “Hot Stones” cook it yourself barbecue. Very tasty, and great fun too.
A cloudier start to the day, and another slightly later start (more refuelling, but being a Monday, the boat is “booked in” for 8:30, so we are soon under way. There is a suggestion that there is suggestion that there might be Sperm Whale to the South in “choppier waters”, but apparently the lookouts are advising us not to go that way, so instead we go North up alongside Pico, where we find Common and Spotted Dolphin. There has been a suggestion that there might be Baleen Whales around, but although we are in the right area, nothing manifests itself, so we eventually set off to look elsewhere. We meet a group of Spotted Dolphin that suddenly becomes an enormous school of about 700 individuals, racing along on either side of, and in front of the boat – it is difficult to know where to look next.
We head around to the other side of Pico, and initially find nothing, even the hydrophone is not revealing any activity, Whale or Dolphin. Finally Nuno picks up some Whale clicks and delivers us into the right area. More searching ensues until we eventually spot a blow, with a couple more a bit further away. It goes without saying that the one closest to us refuses to co-operate and is only shallow diving, not lifting the tail to allow ID shots. In all, we estimate there are five or six Whales in the area, possibly coming together to socialise at the surface (we do see a couple of tails go up, but only from the furthest Whales.
This activity coming so late in the day means we are late back to Horta, but as it is our second “free” night, at least there is no frantic rush for the restaurant. I stroll, via the beach, back up to the Athletico, for spare ribs and a very nice Russian “Baltika” porter. (I asked the waitress if they had any “dark beer”. She said yes, but it came in ½ litre bottles, as if this might have been a problem…)
Back out on the boat again today. We are slightly delayed in sailing as the boat needs refuelling. Apparently the fuelling station had shut early yesterday before they got back, and opens later than normal today as it is Sunday.
It is a fairly slow start, although we do see several Spotted Dolphin, a Loggerhead Turtle and some Common Dolphin.
It is quite late in the day when we see more dolphin, which turn out to be Bottlenose – for an animal famed for it’s acrobatic displays, these are very mundane. Lisa spots that there are some much larger animals amongst them – Pilot Whales, including a “little” baby. One of them even lifts his tail for is to make up for the lack of Sperm Whale activity.
We eat in a different restaurant tonight, “A Arvore”, which is just around the corner from where we ate last night. It is a buffet meal with a variety of interesting local dishes – including a very tasty pork and bananas cooked in molasses
A second day off. (This is not the normal pattern, but someone else hired the boat for two consecutive days). I decide to that I should try and see another Island while I’m here, so walk up to the ferry terminal (this would have been a lot easier when the ferry terminal was opposite the hotel rather than at the other end of town!) to get the 10:30 ferry to Pico. The town, Madalena, seems a lot quieter than Horta. I explore a bit, have lunch, buy some souvenirs, then take the 2pm ferry back home, and spend the afternoon doing very little. We have another two newcomers join us (Ian & Penny), although Chris & Theo are not eating with us tonight.
A Day off from Whale Watching – I take a leisurely breakfast, then stroll down to the beach, which is on a natural bay. It is not to busy at this time of the morning, although there are some people around. I follow this with a meander up through the town to take pictures of some of the architecture, (and because this is a nature-based holiday, the wagtails, pigeons and swans in the little park in the town centre), and also buy a couple of souvenir t-shirts. Lunch is taken in a little cafe close to the hotel. I order a beef sandwich, and get a very tasty hot steak roll!
I have a taxi tour of the island booked for 2pm, booked (on recommendation from Lisa) with Terry. He arrives just before 2, but I am ready and waiting for him, and we set off for a circumnavigation of Faial while he tells of it’s history and points out various landmarks, including the large hilltop statue of our lady of conception, the Flemish style windmills, and, of course the volcanic caldera at the centre of the island.
There is evidence of more volcanic activity on the far side of the island where the 1957/8 eruptions added a square mile of new land beyond the lighthouse, (which was largely buried). A subterranean visitors centre has been built explaining about volcanoes in general and this one in particular, and includes the chance to climb the lighthouse. While here I bump into Ann and Kay who are on an all day jeep tour of the Island.
As we pass the beach again on the way back into Horta it is obviously a lot busier than it was this morning! We get back just in time for a quick change and a brisk walk back up to the restaurant, where Lisa is waiting with the seven newcomers (Chris, Theo, Chris, Fiona, Denise, Rhys and Jackie) who will be joining us on the next three trips.
Today is Anne & Kay’s last day on the boat, and we have no additional passengers, so we reverse yesterday’s decision, and head for the Rorqual, which the lookouts report is still in the area. On the way we stop for a mixed group of Common and Spotted Dolphin.
When we find the whale, it is, as suspected a Bryde’s Whale. We watch a few dives, then it starts to move off towards a large gathering of shearwaters – there are also dolphins converging on this area – the fish are obviously gathering, and we observe the ensuing feeding frenzy.
We leave the Bryde’s Whale to go and look for Sperm Whales (and, obviously, Dolphins!) We are with a group of Common Dolphins when we are joined by a group of Striped Dolphin too. Lisa uses the Hydrophone to seek out the Sperm Whales, to discover we are between two groups. We start off in one direction, only for the group behind us to surface. We see probably four or five whales, with the last sighting being two together, before heading for home.
Because of other boat bookings mean we have ended up with free days over the change over between short trip groups, we are having a “free” meal (which, ironically is one we have to pay for, rather than the group meals, which are included in the holiday) tonight, and then meeting for a group meal tomorrow. I go back to the Atlantic, where we ate on Monday night, for a very nice beef stroganoff and the use of their WiFi connection.
It seems hotter and calmer in the harbour this morning, and although the wind stays away, it is often quite overcast out at sea, at least early on. We are joined today by a family of four. The lookouts haven’t spotted any whales this morning, so we set off to try and find some dolphins.
We have encountered some Common Dolphin when a call comes in of a Rorqual sighting – probably a Bryde’s Whale – we start to head off towards it when we get another call for Sperm Whale in the opposite direction. No one has any strong preference, and given the locations, the Sperm Whale is likely to be (a) more certain and (b) less crowded, we switch back to go for them instead.
On the way we see a Mako Shark alongside the boat and a Leatherback Turtle up ahead – we only see this at a distance before it dives. There is another boat present that has been watching it, and they suggest this is probably going to be a long dive, so we don’t spend to long hanging around looking for it to resurface.
We see a number of Sperm Whales (at least three or four) but they are mostly shallow diving and not showing their tails. They are also just spaced out enough to make it tricky to keep watching them all at the same time. We intersperse the whales with Common, Spotted and Bottlenose Dolphins, in assorted states of friendliness, all the way up to “Showing Off”.
Back in the hotel this evening, I try connecting to the Internet. Bizarrely, it lets me get on to Facebook and E-Mail, but not onto anything else. Not quite sure how that works, but at least I can communicate with the outside world!
We are eating at the same restaurant tonight, but making our own way there. I set out a bit earlier to walk through town rather than along the seafront so that I can buy some postcards to send to my nieces, and subsequently I am the first one there, before they are open (but not by much…). Once everyone turns up we go in to be told that since ordering our meals at lunchtime, they have decided to do a buffet meal instead. (Veronica thinks it is a plot to stop her getting the fish pie which she has now ordered two days in a row without success). After dinner, Lisa gets her laptop out to show us her shots of the day – the Turtle is much clearer in her photographs than it was to my naked eye!
Up around 7:00 to allow for a leisurely breakfast before strolling down to the harbour for the 8:30 briefing. There appear to be a lot of people, and I overhear someone say the morning sailing is full. Gradually it becomes clear that we are on a full day sailing on the Physeter, a catamaran, with just two other people, the rest are on a half day trip on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat). Island based spotters have been up since 7:30 and have seen whales south of Pico – about an hour to an hour and a half away, so we set of in that direction.
On the way we encounter a group of Risso’s Dolphin, and subsequently a group of Common Dolphin feeding on Mackerel with several Corey’s Shearwater. While we are busy watching the Dolphin, our captain, Nuno, sees a whale dive, so we wait for it to reappear. (A female Sperm Whale normally dives for between 30 and 50 minutes).
There are two Sperm Whales in the area, so we alternate between watching them and the dolphins in the area. (As well as the Common Dolphin, we also see a large group of Spotted Dolphin, and a mixed group of Common and Striped Dolphin). On one of the return trips to the whales we see one of them breach twice, then wait at the surface for the other one to appear, after which they seem to synchronise their diving.
We were going to head further out, but a strong (and unexpected) headwind has developed, making the water quite choppy, so we stay near the whales for one more dive, before heading back towards Faial, finding one more group of Common Dolphins on the way before returning to harbour.
We meet at 6 in one of the hotel’s lounges to see a (PC) slide show and Lisa’s photographs of the day, before heading out to a different restaurant at the other end of town – we get a taxi down there, but walk back after dinner.
The journey to Heathrow yesterday was slower than expected. For no reason that ever became clear to me, we crawled along for about half an hour on either side of the Oxford services, past temporary speed restriction signs that were optimistically flashing “50mph”. Still I didn’t have long to wait for the Hoppa service to the hotel, so all in all, not too bad.
Up early this morning to get to the airport for an 8:15 flight only to be told at check-in that it is delayed until 10:30 which means we will miss the 12:00 connection. Since there is no alternative route to Horta, I am to report to the flight connections desk in Lisbon, who will arrange the next available flight. Regardless, my bag is checked through. While I am thankful I don’t need to do the whole reclaim and re-check in routine, I am slightly concerned how my bag will make it when they can’t tell me which flight I will be on! Nothing I can do though, so it’s off to Giraffe for breakfast. (If I’d known I wasn’t flying until 10:30, I could have stayed at the hotel long enough for them to be serving breakfast and paid twice as much…) And then the long wait for boarding to start.
The flight leaves promptly, and the captain explains the reason for the delay. Apparently the inward flight yesterday was heavily delayed due to a plane failure, and awaiting a replacement, which meant that the crew were not legal to fly again before 10:30.
On arrival at Lisbon, I report, as instructed, to the transfer desk with the boarding card they gave me in London.
“Yes?” they say.
I explain that London told me to reconfirm the onward flight as they were not able to.
“You are booked in on this (15:55) flight” they say. “Sometimes London tell people to come here, but there is no need”
This flight does not board until 15:15, so there is plenty of time to get something to eat and to (try to) take advantage of Boingo.Net’s advertised free 30 minutes of WiFi. 45 minutes later, I am still unable to get beyond the “Sign Up” page. This would not encourage me to pay for a longer session!
The plane is not at the gate at 15:15 – in fact at 15:45 passengers are still disembarking, so hardly surprisingly, we are late taking off. Not only that but due to the shortage of crew there will be no meal or drinks service. I didn’t know British Rail were running the Portuguese airlines.
On arrival in Horta there are four others on the trip (none of whom booked through Wildlife Worldwide), Dennis and Veronica, who are on the same long trip as me, and Anne and Kay who are on a shorter trip.
My room at the Hotel do Canal overlooks the harbour, and has a kiwi fruit and a glass of grapes as a welcome gift. So much healthier than the cookie at the Doubletree last night.