Well with the major sample completion complete it was time to see thank the ‘boss’ and find out a little bit more about the Island. Pico is a world heritage site and much of the island is a national park and it is only with the permission of the Parks’s director, Manuel Paulino Costa, that we could do our work on the Island. So it was time to meet the Manuel and thank him for allowing us to sample and tell him what our future plans were.
Manuel embodied the friendliness that we have found in all the people of the Azores and he is obvious an enthusiast about the island he protects. We talked about the pressures between the humans and preserving some of the islands native vegetation. With Pico making an excellent cheese which is, together with its great wines, one of the major exports from the Island, there is growing pressure on the small areas of natural vegetation to be turned into farming land. But I felt that through engagement with the farmers the director was winning his corner and preserving a some of the real Pico.
But there is so much about these Islands that is not immediately obvious and as the conversation turned to the natural caves in the larva, Manuel’s eyes lit up and he produced a beautiful book documenting some amazing caves in the island. One example are caves that are ~1M below the surface and where you can see the routes of the vegetation falling into the cave like frozen waterfalls. We heard about the three troglodytic beetle species….and so much more.
But it was time to say good bye to Luis ad Joca as they had to return to Sao Miguel to complete the experiment looking at volcanic adaptation. So after dropping them at the airport, Iain and I, inspired by the director of the National Park, decided to drive and length of the Island and then return over the ridge of cones that make up the backbone of the Island. So not perturbed by the absence of a map, apart from that in my brain, we drove down the north coast of the Island, and it is beautiful.
We reached the far west of the island and found a view platform suspended over a near vertical drop – if you didn’t look down what a sight.
Then we turned up the mountain and drove along the ridge – what an amazing experience. We were on a single track tarmac road in a modest state of disrepair, with the ground falling away from us for hundreds of metres, sometimes on both sides. We drove into a landscape like no other – something very prehistoric about being surround by secondary volcanic cones – a landscape sculpted a greater force than man. And no one else – we drove for two hours and saw one car. We stopped at beautiful isolated lakes – then we came across what we had been waiting for, just like on the main mountain the pasture land fell away and we were surrounded by vegetation which enhanced the ‘out-of-the-world’ nature of the experience. We had found the real Pico.