The Azores & Canary Islands

2011 Azores with Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, Canary Islands & Madeira Field Report

Sara Mulnix|June 30, 2011|Field Report

Thursday, May 5, 2011 - Granada, Spain: Upon arrival in Granada, we were able to take in the sights, walk around town, or simply relax at the beautiful Alhambra Palace Hotel. A welcome dinner with speeches by the staff got everyone excited for the upcoming journey.

Friday, May 6 - Granada / Malaga / Embark Clipper Odyssey: Our first full day of the trip greeted us with sunny skies! The birding group headed off with Peter Harrison and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours representative David Wolf, while the rest of us enjoyed a tour of the sprawling Alhambra Palace and the Generalife Gardens.

After a massive lunch we went straight to Malaga, birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and the Clipper Odyssey, our home for the next 13 nights.

Saturday, May 7 - Gibraltar, United Kingdom: This morning we awoke to a light rain and cool temperatures, though nothing could deter us from exploring “The Rock.” Once the birders set off, the rest of us left for Europa Point and the winding streets of the island just as the weather started to clear. We stopped to see the 100-Ton Gun, as well as St. Michael's Cave, complete with impressive stalactites and operatic acoustics.

After lunch on the ship we visited the Ape's Den where both our tour guide and geologist Tom Sharpe managed to stay calm as the Barbary apes hopped among them. We also visited the Under Seige Tunnels and passed the Moorish Castle before returning to the ship.

Sunday & Monday, May 8 & 9 - Casablanca, Morocco / Agadir / Taroudant: Upon arrival in Casablanca we visited the Corniche district, getting a special chance to walk through the intricately designed City Hall, as well as the Anfa Quarters, and the Law Courts. We were then able to see the stunning Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest in the world and the only mosque open to non-Muslims in Morocco. This stunning seaside building includes a 688-foot minaret, visible for miles.

A visit to Morocco wouldn’t be complete without stopping in the proverbial carpet shop, and we got quite a show of courtesy from the store owner. Then it was back to the ship for lunch and a lecture by our Harvard Museum of Natural History representative Amity Wilczek.

The next day brought a relaxing morning at sea and a lecture by historian Tim Baughman on Ataturk. On the way from Agadir to the walled city of Taroudant, we were able to see a herd of camels in the street, as well as goats actually climbing the argane trees for a snippet of food. We wandered through the alleyways of the labyrinthine souk before heading back to the ship, meeting up with the group from Marrakech, and journeying on to the Canary Islands.

Sunday & Monday, May 8 & 9 - Marrakech, Morocco: After the birders headed off along the African coastline, the rest of the group drove through the stunning Atlas Mountains and the Chaouia Plain before reaching the rose-red city of Marrakech. Once there we explored the Koutoubia Mosque and the imperial Saadian tombs, toured the medina—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and visited the Bahia Palace and the vibrant Djemaa El Fna Square, which was bustling with activity. Everything was available for purchase, from jewelry, leather, brass, and gold items to massive doors and lamps. Magicians, snake charmers, and acrobats were all there to entertain us.

The next day, the birders left early to search for Eleanora’s falcon, while the main group explored the beautiful Majorelle Gardens, the date palms of the Palmeraie, and the bustling souk, complete with fresh produce and colorful textiles. A drive through the Atlas Mountains finished the day before heading back to the ship.

Tuesday, May 10 - Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain: The day began with a lecture by Peter H. on Seabirds: An Introduction, followed by Peter Zika telling us about the Flowers of Atlantis.

Once we arrived on Lanzarote the birders set off and found the Cory’s shearwater, while the rest of us split into two groups. One group visited the village of Haria, walked through a lava tube cave, and toured the Jardin del Cactus. The other group experienced the thrill of riding camels in Timanfaya National Park, and were treated to a show displaying how hot the rocks beneath their feet actually were—placing a dry bush in a pit, it caught fire within minutes. They finished the day with wine tasting in a stunning vineyard.

Wednesday, May 11 - Santa Cruz de Tenerife: Arriving in Tenerife this morning, the birding tour set out to find the endemic blue chaffinch—and was successful!

The rest of us were able to explore Parque Nacional del Teide above the cloud layer with exceptional views of Mount Teide, the highest volcano in Spain. We stopped for lunch in the town of Puerto de la Cruz and experienced the biggest dish of paella known to man, before taking a walking tour of La Oratava. We then headed back to the ship with the option to have dinner on shore.

Thursday, May 12 - La Gomera: This morning began with the opportunity to take either a cultural island tour or go for a hike above the cloud level. Those of us on the hike were able to see the endemic Canary Island palm tree, the sap of which is used to make palm syrup. The cultural group learned about the native flora and fauna before both groups met up for tapas, wine, and a whistling language demonstration.

Meanwhile, the birders were able to seek out the endemic laurel and Bolle's pigeon.

Everyone met back on the ship for an ice cream social and lectures by Tim on the Dreams of Spain, and by Tom on Where Europe Meets Africa.

Friday, May 13 - Funchal, Madeira, Portugal: The morning started out a bit wet; some light rain turned into thunder and lightning storms and everyone was drenched as they made their way to the buses.

The birding group managed to stay somewhat dry searching for the endemic Trocaz pigeon and Madeira firecrest, while the full-day group wound their way to the top of the island. They saw the second highest sea cliff in the world, countless waterfalls, and the endemic purple Pride of Madeira, before stopping for lunch in the town of Porto Muniz. Those who participated in the half-day tour got to visit the local market and walk through Funchal, visiting São Lourenco Palace and the main square, decorated with beautiful purple and orange trees.

Everyone got the opportunity to try some sweet Madeira wine before spending the afternoon in downtown Funchal. The day ended with a beautiful sunset cocktail party.

Saturday, May 14 - At Sea: A day at sea greeted us with lectures by Jack Grove on Marine Biodiversity, and one by Peter H. on the Facts & Figures of our Feathered Friends. A mandatory briefing gave us hope that we may be able to cruise out on Zodiacs, and the day ended with a lecture by Tim on Christopher Columbus.

Sunday, May 15 - Santa Maria Island, Azores: Santa Maria is the oldest and easternmost of the Azorean Archipelago; often dubbed the Yellow Island because of its exposed limestone formations, it was the first of the islands to be settled in 1427. Our tour today took us to the site of the small church where Christopher Columbus is said to have prayed on his safe return from the Americas.

In the afternoon, some of us opted for a Zodiac cruise to the small island of Islheu da Via, anxiously seeking a small colony of Cory’s shearwaters. A few soared above us, but our chum bait was far more attractive to the local gulls. Those who valued the art of staying dry went on a hike on Santa Maria instead.

Monday, May 16 - Angra do Heroismo, Terceira Island: As we docked on Terceira, also known as Lilac Island, we walked through villages crowded with houses on our way to the capital city and World Heritage Site of Angra, which dates back to the 15th century. We walked through the narrow streets and botanical gardens with a guide before we had time to wander the city on our own.

In the afternoon we had our choice of a hiking tour with a visit to the famed Algar do Carvao, or a cultural tour of the island which led us to the town of Praia de Vitoria and a wine museum in Biscoitos.

The end of the day brought a lovely folkloric performance on the ship with beautiful songs and local dances. Many opted to dine ashore before returning to the ship for the night.

Tuesday, May 17 - São Jorge Island: After an exciting morning of dolphin spotting, with the mammals jumping right alongside our ship, we were treated to a lecture by Tom on Island Hotspots.

When we docked in Velas, a first for Zegrahm Expeditions, we had the opportunity to go on a cultural tour of the island or a hike. Those of us who went on the hike were treated to magnificent views of Mount Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, located a stone’s throw away on Pico Island. The island group got to visit the village of Ribeira Do Nabo, home to a handicraft factory, as well as Ribeira Seca, known for its cheese.

The day ended with recap and the chance to go ashore for dinner as we remained alongside overnight.

Wednesday, May 18 - Pico & Faial Islands: As we docked at Sao Roque do Pico, the entire group departed on an island tour. Winding up to the highlands we viewed a small lake, Lagoa do Capitão, and were able to traverse the longest straight road in the Azores—a whopping 9km. Going back down we visited the old whaling village of Lages including a trip to the whaling museum. Before heading back to the ship we got to see Cachorro, a rock formation in the shape of a dog, and try some local grappa.

In the afternoon we stopped at Faial Island to visit the caldera, a volcanic crater over a mile in diameter and 1,200 feet deep, as well as the site of Capelinhos, an extinct volcano.

We were in a slight hurry to get back to the ship, as Captain Peter Fielding had plans for us to cruise slowly through the waters in the hopes of spotting a whale or two. He did a great job and after cruising through a vortex of Cory’s shearwaters, we were able to see more than a few sperm whales. Cocktails were held outside in celebration, and it was a perfect last night on the Clipper Odyssey.

Thursday & Friday, May 19 & 20 - Disembark Clipper Odyssey / São Miguel Island / Home: We bid farwell to the Clipper Odyssey before setting off on our day's excursions. The birding group set out with high hopes of finding the rare and elusive priolo, or Azorean bullfinch, while the rest of us took in the Fire Lake viewpoint before visiting a green tea plantation, and the beautiful botanical gardens at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel. A few of us were brave enough to test the hot springs before a big lunch. In the afternoon we stopped at Furnas Lake before returning to our hotel in Ponta Delgada.

The next day we left as our flights allowed, slowly saying goodbye to our Azorean adventure.

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