Horse Riding in Sete Cidades and Canyoning in Nordeste
Horse riding in Sete Cidades, on São Miguel, is in my top five most magical experiences. Starting from a stable up on one of the island’s many volcanic peaks, we rode back in time through beautiful rolling pastures with our guides, whose family’s equestrian background went back a few centuries.
Sete Cidades is a rare gem in the Occident, one of the few places technology and development has not affected. Sure, it has some of the trappings of modernity – electricity, refrigeration, the internet, but the way of life remains the same now as it was a hundred years ago. Our guide, André, told us that in this village, bread and milk still came delivered to each door, fresh, every morning.
The residents here are mostly old folk that have been around for a long time. I recall André telling us that there were a few individuals there who were almost centenarians. Impressive, considering that the population of Sete Cidades isn’t very large.
It was magical riding down into the village on our horses. There was only the very occasional car we encountered which broke the illusion of us being back in the 1800s or even before, with no other mode of transportation apart from the beasts we rode.
Horse riding is hard work, especially if you aren’t used to it. You need a strong and supple back and thighs that have stamina and, not to mention, preferably a cushioned bottom. I count myself as very fit, but horse riding does make you use all the little muscles in your body that are not often exerted, to stabilise you on the animal as it walks, trots or gallops.
We took the horses to Lagoa des Sete Cidades. It’s actually two ecologically different lakes joined by a narrow strait. I can’t remember clearly what was so different about them – I thought one was shallower and greener while the other was deeper and bluer.
Our guide took us around the lake and we took a pause by the river bank. We were instructed not to get off our horses, which I greatly wanted to do since by this time, my leg was cramping really bad and I wanted nothing more than to stand and give my knees a rest. Still, I wouldn’t let a bit of physical discomfort dishearten me – the beauty and magic of it all was worth it.
My favourite part of the trip was when we had ridden out of the village and were riding up over a ridge that circled around the settlement. Here, we had an unobstructed view of the quaint little white houses far down below, the hilly rise that surrounded it all, and beyond that, the deep blue expanse of the Atlantic, stretching out into eternity.
Another fun activity to do on Sāo Miguel is canyoning. This was our second time canyoning – the first time we did it was in Jordan. This time, it was a lot more exciting and also a little less scary – mostly because we knew we were in good hands – in Jordan, we were mostly left on our own.
We went with a couple of guides from the Azores Adventure Island Tours, and I can say they were truly amazing. The guides were all very experienced and also super fun to be with. They were also part of the island’s mountain rescue service – which certainly helped made us feel safe during our trip.
Canyoning is a a really great way to get to see some parts of nature we otherwise would not. It also gives us the opportunity to experience it from a different perspective.
Our experience was the half day Nordeste tour at easy to medium difficulty level. Personally I thought it was pretty easy – I wasn’t very experienced out in nature when we did it, and I still managed without getting into any accidents.
Personally I felt this canyoning experience brought up my confidence level out in nature – I initially thought I would have a hard time doing the jumps and I was quite scared when it came to my turn to abseil beside one of the waterfalls, but I did it – although they looked difficult at first, with proper direction, they really were quite manageable.
Our guides of course were doing all sorts of hair raising tricks, like jumping off a ledge and bouncing off cliff faces and such. Like most people from the Azores, they were born and bred in nature and spent their lives adventuring and this activity was second nature to them.
There were two points on the hike through the canyon I remembered very well. One was a jump from what felt like three stories – I think it was actually only 6 meters – and another was an abseil beside a gushing waterfall. The jump was scary because, well – it was a jump into a dark pool that was pretty far down below. As for the abseil, how shall I put it… you basically have to trust a length or rope tethered to a rock and tied around a harness on your waist as you lean back and start descending, parallel to the waterfall. To be honest, it looked scarier than it actually was. The hardest part was the first few seconds between gathering the courage to lean back into the abyss and actually doing it. Once I did it, the rest came pretty easily.
Canyoning in the Azores was one of the most fun things I’d done in my life – it really made me feel alive and pushed the limits of my courage. If I was ever back in the Azores, I would certainly do more canyoning activities with our guides from the Azores Adventure Island Tours.