I regretted it the moment the hill started to steepen. It was already hot and muggy, and within minutes of climbing through tropical rainforest to the crater lake lookout, I felt like I was slowly being steamed alive.
Today was supposed to be the easy walk. A nice and gentle three-hour stroll around Lagoa das Furnas, the beautiful green crater lake situated on the outskirts of the village Furnas on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. It marked volcano number 17 in my #40by40 challenge.
Only there also happened to be a nice detour through forest and up the side of the crater to a viewing platform that overlooked the lake. It had to be done.
And so I found myself damp, huffing and puffing up a very steep, forest-covered hill. The ground was wet and muddy, dead leaves lining the trail, gnarled trees and ferns bursting with green blocking most of the views.
Every so often, however, there would be a break in the dense green wall, affording a sneak peak at the aquamarine lake that sparkled below.
As I aired my armpits for the umpteenth time, I considered the fact that I was finding this hard going. I was a little surprised given the big 20km walk the day before and the brief uphill battle the day before that. Shouldn’t I be striding up this crater?
I stopped to catch my breath again and mopped the sweat from my brow.
I wasn’t feeling particularly positive about my impending 3,000km walk down the length of New Zealand. I figured the forest trails through the top of the North Island would probably be very similar to this, with the heat and humidity about the same. If I’m struggling with a mere 300m climb, what the hell am I going to be like in New Zealand?
I started to worry.
I’ll be carrying a heavy pack for starters; the hills will be higher, steeper; the temperatures could easily be pushing 30 deg C. My mind started to cartwheel.
All I could do to stay composed was reason that at least this was good training. And yet I remained dubious.
But before I could work myself into more of a lather, I reached the lookout point.
My mind and thoughts were taken elsewhere, directed by the gorgeous scene below – a lake that stretched out into the distance, prettily framed by a smattering of trees. It looked peaceful, secluded.
Photos taken – and a pat on the back for making it to the top without expiring – it was back down the same trail to the lake for the easy part of the walk around the water’s edge.
On the way down, I passed several groups of people in various shades of red and degrees of pain – I took some comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only one who had struggled up that hill.
On reaching the lake, I breathed a sigh of relief. Here is was flat. No more sweating and breathlessness. This I could just enjoy for what it was; a gentle stroll around a lake.
A few steps in and a pong reached my nose. There was no mistaking the smell of rotten eggs. I could see steam issuing from the ground. This was Caldeiras da Lagoa; where high temperatures in the ground were used by tourists and locals to cook food. Little mounds of dirt were fenced off, each speared with a wooden stake engraved with a number. People milled around, some chomping on freshly cooked corn cobs.
This was also a reminder that this volcano was active. A thought that always brought a tremble of excitement to my belly.
Onward I walked. Through a picnic area where families lunched, and then a forest where the lake waters lapped almost at the trail’s edge.
By all accounts the Loch Ness Monster’s cousin calls Lagoa das Furnas home – he got sick of Scotland’s cold weather and migrated south, the information placard said.
For over an hour I wandered along the peaceful shore through forest shadows. I watched families having picnics, some people read books, others stretched out asleep while the afternoon sun played through the trees leaves. Two ladies sat doing cross stitch.
Then I was granted a road walk – just as the weather started to turn. Misty spits of rain kissed my skin, cooling it. But steam fizzled from the ground as the droplets of water hit the hot pavement.
The rain was short lived. The sun soon returned to bathe the greenery in all its golden glory. And I returned to the village of Furnas for a well-deserved cup of tea and to rest my weary legs.