Pictures with a couple of manta rays in great visibility caught my eye in
a dive magazine. It was an article on the Portuguese Islands of the Azores.
Why not try I thought as I had noticed it took me more and more time to
find new tempting and good dive destinations far away. Having done most of
my diving in warm tropical waters of South East Asia and the Pacific, the
idea of diving in the cold Atlantic did not really attract me. However
friends on a dive show talked me into it, there is the Gulf Stream running,
it shouldn't be too bad at around 22 C. I guessed I could and would
survive with a 5 mm semi dry overall, a 2 mm chicken west underneath and
for good measures and safety another 3 mm west to make sure, as I'm
only 1.8o m with 7o kg so not much insulation there.
TAP the Portuguese Airline brought me from Lisbon to Faial, Horta, with
ferry I got to Pico. Accommodation I had booked in advance, it was holiday
time, you better make sure then. I got a small room for 50 EUR a day with
share bath room. Meals I had to find for myself. Life however is cheap
here, breakfast, 2 croissant + 2 latte (=galau) were 3.50; a full dinner
with soup, salad, main course with fish or meat, dessert, wine ran around
15 to 20 EUR max. Often you will find traditional Portuguese kitchen,
delicious meals and some interesting wines. Pico offers a countryside of
contrast, bare slopes, the volcano, flowery plateaus, beaches with the
typical lava outcrops. The main attraction of the Azores are the migrating
whales passing by the islands. Several different species, sperm, pilot,
humpback, blue whales are cruising through on this Atlantic ridge. We saw
big schools of dolphins following our boat out to the dive sites. Even
there we had different species, some jumping and somersaulting out of the
Dives were mostly done by boat or driving to some nice spot on the beach
with shore entry. There wasn't much fish life close to the island.
Interesting are the volcanic boulders with arches, crevices, pinnacles
where you swim through a maze of differently shaped landscape. What brought
me to the island was one special spot far out in the ocean. It's a
sea mount coming out of 25oo m nearly up to 35 m from the surface.
It's called Princess Alice, about 1oo km away from the islands, 2.5
hours with inflatable one way. A tough and bumpy ride which you can only do
few times in the season, when the sea is calm. They normally take a
maximum of 8 divers, to pack all gear and tanks for 2 dives. They have two
rows of benches in the middle of the boat, each seating 6 guys where you
sit like on a horse facing to the front. I felt like a navy seal on a
mission. It's definitely no thing for softies or guys easily getting
sea sick . The dive site however is awesome, vis is endless, the mount is
covered with some brownish algae, most times a strong current is running,
so you follow the anchor line. Once you are down, you just wait and watch.
There is a bunch of silvery trigger fish swimming around, some small lonely
barracuda. You can't see them coming but all of sudden they are all
around you. Mobulas the size of manta rays, brown coloured with pilot fish
in front and remoras on their wings. We counted 15 animals cruising a long
time all around us. It seemed they enjoyed the bubbles tickling their
bellies. Dives like this are once in a life time. It was stunning to watch
all these animals passing by. It seemed the 45 min dive took only few
minutes so amazing was the whole thing, time ran away. Only the cold water
and your computer will at one time tell you to slowly start your ascent.
Gerry our BSAC dive instructor took his job seriously. He was the guide on
all dives, you just followed his profile. Experienced divers would not feel
real happy with that, maybe he then keeps them on long reins. I
wouldn't call the Azores a typical dive destination, but a visit for
2 weeks is really worth it.