Today, we arrived at our final port-of-call for this cruise (discounting Tilbury, of course, where we will be disembarking on Sunday), Ponta Delgada in the Azores.
Tracey and I had been given tour escorting duties, which we expected, and didn’t mind at all since we’ve been here quite a few times before. The excursion we’d been give was ‘Sete Cicedes, Crater Lake’, a three and a half hour coach journey through the island, stopping off at a Pineapple farm and Botanical Gardens before heading to the mountain top for a view of the twin lakes.
Unfortunately, right from the first glance outside over breakfast, things didn’t bode well at all, with the weather being extremely inclement; low clouds hiding the hilltops and heavy, torrential rain.
It was raining so hard that boarding the buses was operated in a very controlled, and sensible way, with each coach coming forward at the appointed time for people to climb on board with as little fuss, and rain, as possible.
Everything was going rather well. My coach (coach number 5) was almost ready to go, with only two more passengers required to make up the necessary 45, when who should come blustering their way through the orderly queue, loud, rude and totally without any consideration for anyone but themselves, but – yes, you’ve guessed it… Mr Angry and his wife.
I was literally herding the final two passengers onto my bus, as he barged his way through to the front and demanded that not only he be let on bus number 5 now, and immediately, but that he should be given the two front seats because his wife is disabled, and he had a letter to prove it (which he shouted about a lot, but never actually produced). He tried to fight his way past me, but I blocked him. This happened twice, with me trying to persuade him to calm down and be reasonable in between, but he was having none of it. His voice rose in volume and pitch, and his demands sounded more like those of a petulant, thwarted teenager, or those of a spoilt child, than a grown man.
It was an ugly, stressful moment for all concerned, and all who witnessed it. I insisted that no matter how loudly he protested, he would not be getting on my coach (even if he did, he would then have demanded to have the front seats which had been occupied long before). Five staff where quickly drafted into attendance trying to calm the man down, with a threat of bringing security in on the act; I finally managed to get my last two passengers onto the coach (minus Mr Angry, thankfully), and the bus was away… we were finally off on our tour.
Just for balance, I should say that despite most people being appalled at the scene, with mutterings and protestations along the lines of bullies should not be allowed to get away with it, there were still, oddly, a couple of dissenters, who felt that Mr Angry not only had a point, but that he was in some way being badly treated. For most of those people, it was the first time they’d come across the man, and were totally unaware of the utter chaos and abuse he’s given staff, crew, and by all accounts, other passengers, since boarding the Magellan in Tilbury almost six weeks ago. I, personally, have nothing more to say on the matter; Mr Angry clearly has some personal issues, but it’s his absolute refusal to back down and consider any note of reason that appears to make people not really sure how to deal with him. Thankfully, we will be home again in five days time and this is (hopefully) the last possible encounter I or Tracey should have with the disagreeable little man… he can be someone else’s problem from now on…
It rained heavily at the Pineapple Plantation, and continued to rain at the Botanical Gardens, which was a bit of a shame because they would have looked great in the sunshine. It really wasn’t looking good for our photo stop overlooking the Crater Lake, and when we got there, the cloud around us was so heavy that it wasn’t even worth getting off the coach. We waited a few minutes in the vain hope that the cloud would part, and afford us our view, but it clearly wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
As compensation, the guide told us that we would head down into the crater, to see the lakes from lower down. When viewed from above on a clear and sunny day, the two lakes in the crater look completely different from each other; one being green while the other is blue.
The clouds did start to part for us before we arrived at lake level, so we were able to stop off and grab a few high(ish) level photos. Down in the crater, we stopped briefly in the small village of Sete Cicedes, for a restroom stop, before heading back towards Ponta Delgada.
We’d been warned by the Captain a few days ago that we would be visiting Ponta Delgada on Shrove Tuesday, when the locals hold some sort of carnival that might not be deemed suitable for visitors. Today, on the way back to the town, my guide also told us about their carnival, and strongly advised against going back into the town, along the promenade. So what is the nature of this mysterious carnival that everyone seemed so concerned about? The answer is; a water fight.
We were told that the fighting would start at around 3pm and would go on until around about 6pm. After lunch, Tracey and I headed back out into the town… curiosity was getting the better of us.
By the time we reached the main road along the edge of the marina, many people had already taken a seat by the harbour wall, clearly in preparation for something. Many people had buckets full of clear plastic bags and balloons filled with water. Not just a few bags of water, but literally hundreds. There were piles of them, all ready for the event to come, with cars and trucks bringing more, in preparation. On the opposite side of the road to the harbour, many businesses had boarded up their frontages… you could cut the growing sense of anticipation with a knife.
There were many children about, and families, so we figured that things couldn’t possibly be as aggressive as my guide had suggested. In fact, the atmosphere was quite light and jovial, with occasional flurries of activity, and water bombs being hurled randomly across the road.
And then, just as we were starting to wonder if this was it, with flurries of water-bombs increasing, and the whole thing gradually building in momentum, a series of large open-topped trucks with men in body armour and helmets appeared at the far end of the promenade… and then the whole thing suddenly kicked off big-time.
It was like a riot, but with water. Bags of water and water-filled balloons flew in all directions, but mostly between the trucks and the people lining the route. Folks would hurl a bag or two at the trucks, and be rewarded by a barrage of waterbombs back. There was chanting and drumming, and music from some trucks, and one of the men on a truck even wielded a water cannon.
The whole thing was quite mesmerising. At first. The manic scene just seemed so chaotic, and without any reason or structure at all, that all the bystanders could do was gawp in amazement as it played out. But then, the desire to be a part of the action became increasingly addictive, and I found myself picking up any bags that landed without exploding, and hurling them back.
The whole thing was totally cool, and brilliant fun! The people of Ponta Delgada certainly know how to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (although, I’m not absolutely certain that it being Shrove Tuesday is anything other than a coincidence). Throwing water bombs at people with wild abandon is a cathartic experience, and clearly appeals to young and old alike; everyone was pitching in and simply loving every minute of it. Getting drenched in the process was just part of the fun!
And so our final port stop ended on an unexpected high note. No-one was sure what to expect (and the ney-sayers had helped to set the seeds of doubt), but everyone we saw from the ship who had watched the spectacle seemed to have really enjoyed it.
And so, now we are on the final leg of our voyage. We have four days at sea ahead of us, and we have been warned of some potentially heavy swells. I have three more classes to run, with an exhibition planned for the final sea day. Fingers crossed it all goes as planned…