Down at the water’s edge, in the town of Mosteiros, the green grass gave way to black lava flows, frozen into craggy formations. It was a foreboding but irresistible sight, and we scaled their pointy peaks, poked through clear tidal pools and kept an eye on the Atlantic, here a sublime turquoise, as it pummeled the shore and sent salty spray through the air.

After our fill of scampering, we went to nearby Ponta da Ferraria to soak. A bubbling hot spring beneath the lava cliffs creates a heated cove right within the ocean. We followed the trail of sunbathers and adventure seekers past the indoor spa to the black, sometimes jagged, rocks where scores of people lay. We paused to consider the wisdom of joining others in the narrow channel where cold ocean waves rolled through, mixing with the hot water to create the perfect tepid temperature, but also smashed against the rocks before returning to the sea.

Maybe emboldened by the epic waterfalls and literally gaping and burning parts of the island we’d seen, we were compelled to descend into the fray. Warm and churning, invigorating and intimidating, the water bounced us between the rocky edges and a rope strewn across the waterway for safe-holding. For a moment, I felt one with the island’s history, geology and beauty.

On our last day, we visited one of our favorite spots: Lagoa do Fogo, Lake of Fire, a more-than-1,200-acre protected region in the center of the island. Wending ever upward on another winding road to get there, we watched as the blue skies disappeared and we were enveloped in a whole new climate. The higher we went, the denser the fog. Or, were they clouds? As the guard had promised, we had experienced every season — every landscape, climate and element — over the past week across São Miguel’s 290 square miles.

We parked and walked to the trailhead, the wind whipping against us, stirring whitecaps on the volcanic lake thousands of feet below. We again briefly questioned whether we were taking on a little too much adventure, but decided we’d at least start the hike. There was a pumice beach along one of the lake’s edges that we wanted to see.

The farther we descended into the caldera, the more protection its steep rims provided. Gulls and terns screeched their welcome. The air was purifying.

Down at the water, the clouds still floated close enough to seemingly touch. We tramped through ferns and laurel, wanting to prolong the trip to this lush but fiery island, though the wind, and distance to the beach, was finally persistent enough to compel us to turn around.



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