Selecting a location roughly 75-percent smaller than Rhode Island to test a prototype adventure motorcycle would seem to be a less-than-ideal decision. However, just as one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, never underestimate the level of excitement that can be found in a small space.
Juggling Time Zones
Flying from Los Angeles to New York to Lisbon, then switching direction and flying back to the Azores, I’m discombobulated enough that jet lag doesn’t seem to be an issue. Getting to São Miguel—the largest island in the Azores—via this itinerary plays a shell game with one’s circadian rhythms. It’s October, and arriving to rainy conditions interrupted by brief moments of extreme day-for-night-level overcast doesn’t bode well for our project. I am told that it rains almost daily on the island. Late the following day, however, things clear up and remain that way for the rest of our time there—an extremely rare occurrence.
A series of flights into Ponta Delgada assembles our group, consisting of Touratech’s Herbert and Ramona Schwarz, Filipe Elias of Touratech Portugal, U.K. journalist Jonathan Bentman, a video team made up of Wolfgang Danner and Jan-Peter Sölter, and myself. Other than Filipe, none of us have ever set foot on this island, or anywhere else in the Azores for that matter. In addition to the new-to-us environment, several of the motorcycles we’ll be riding are prototype machines. New hardware, new terrain, and a bunch of cameras to document it all.
Driving through the rain from the airport to the house that will serve as base camp, automated gates open, revealing the small fleet of bikes. Outside, the wind can be heard pounding on the volcanic rock walls surrounding this compound-like residence perched on a rocky cliff over a foreboding Atlantic Ocean. We begin to organize our equipment, pack the bikes, and plan an itinerary that is short on miles but long on curves. With a maximum potential distance of 40 miles from end to end, it appears that we can explore a significant portion of the island during our short time here.
What We Find
In a nod to the historical governance of São Miguel, we roll out as a group would expect to roll out while adhering to a constitutional monarchy—bound to exercise our intent of adventure within the somewhat arbitrary framework prescribed by a combination of both photography needs and the satisfaction of who we are as motorcycle travelers.
Immediately outside our temporary residence is a dirt road that runs along the coast for a short distance. Before stopping for the first of many photo opportunities along this stretch, we are “greeted,” apparently, by a man walking and performing a cheer of some sort for us. The straight-back, bent-knee, arm-waving dance would indicate he traveled to the U.S. and saw Primus at Bonnaroo in 2011. Given the island’s mountainous terrain, there are (fortunately) very few straight roads. The vast majority of asphalt is in good condition, perhaps due to the comparatively limited traffic congestion here versus that of mainland communities. Fully one-third of São Miguel’s 140,000 inhabitants live in Ponta Delgada, the largest city in the Azores. This leaves the remainder of the island sparsely populated, with few other drivers on the roads. Farms and pasturelands dominate the landscape, the green blanket occasionally broken by empty stretches of asphalt winding through the rolling hills.
Spongy earthen walls border the sides of roads, viewpoints, and some residences. A unique feature I haven’t encountered elsewhere to this degree, these mossy barriers rise nearly head-high in some places. While fascinating from a distance, they do make photo opportunities of the vast landscape difficult to come by. Perhaps nowhere else on the island is the volcanic nature of the land more apparent than at Caldeiras das Furnas. Obscured in steam and gases rising from the numerous fumaroles, the geopark displays signs naming most of the vents.