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Discover the World focus group #DiscoverAzores Day 2

So, Day 2 dawned and it was drier!

Apparently the Azores is another area that lays claim to the legend of Atlantis. The archipelago has authority to an area of over 1million square km, however only 2’346 square km is dry land. The 9 Islands are now unified as an autonomous region but geographically form three distinct island groups.

We learned how the Azores has been a pioneer for Portugal in sustainable energy, for example creating the first HEP and geothermal power stations or wave platforms. There is a real drive for renewable sustainable energy and efficient resource use, with a series of companies such as Renault or universities such as MIT using the Azores for research and development into sustainable energy. The region is part of the Green Islands initiative with the government aiming for 60% sustainable energy by 2050, and looking to achieve at lease 50% on current trends. Geothermal energy accounts for 30% and these energy sources are allowing the region to reduce reliance on foreign imports and become more self-sufficient. Additionally, for four consecutive years they have won the a Sustainable Tourism Award. So there is a huge amount of scope to use the Azores as a case study to hinge upon sustainability and resource use. This could tie to many key stages and be interlinked to many curriculum areas.

First stop today was the Centrale Geothermico do Pico – the main geothermal power station in São Miguel island. It accounts for 43% of all of the island’s energy, with 6% from hydro and another 6% from wind energy. Admittedly the island is small and has a limited population, but then this is a good case of resources being well used on a small scale. The energy is purely used to drive turbines for electricity production, not for the creation of hot water or central heating (unlike Iceland) due to the nature of the geothermic fluid and the differing composition of chemicals that would require treating to become safe first.

After this we visited Salta de Cambrico waterfall. This involved a walk from the power station up and down some steep hills past fumeroles through the grass and to an older remote controlled HEP station. The cataract was very pretty through the canyon, but there was quite a challenging walk back out. This involved climbing over the HEP pipelines on rickety metal mesh walkways and scrambling over tumbled landslide debris and trees. All quite exciting for some adults and intrepid geographers, but would be a challenge for many! There are alternative routes out however.

For lunch we stopped at Ribeira Grande town, one of the three largest towns on the island. We strolled around and explored the town for an hour, investigating how you could use the area for a field trip. Suggestions include land use (and perhaps comparing to other areas), redevelopment and gentrification (particularly along the riverside), culture (interesting to see the differing architecture and the personalisation of houses – particularly very ornate plaques depicting the household saint and family that lived there displayed above each doorway), investigating globalisation and tourism. It is a very safe feeling and small town that would be easily navigable by students of many ages in small groups.

For our relaxation and enjoyment we visited Caldeira Velha (Caldeira here meaning <em>cauldron</em> or hot place) gardens and thermal pool. The area felt like something out of Jurassic Park or Costa Rica with dense lush tropical vegetation and steaming waters. A simple tourist centre described the area and local volcanism. Then there is a choice of two small bathing areas. At the top, a cold waterfall and plunge pool and at the bottom a bubbling hot spring leads into a lovely warm iron-rich soaking pool. Be warned though – jewellery does get a yellow coating here!

We drove across the caldera rim and observed Lagoa do Fogo nature reserve and lake, then headed back to Pousada Lagoa and visited the <em>Observatorio Vulcanologico e Geothermico Dos Acores</em> – a small volcanic activity observatory. At present this is being renovated but largely feels like you are rifling through the loft of someone’s belongings! There was a variety of artefacts of different rock types and fossils from around the world, however this is not particularly tourist friendly as yet. But there is great potential. Interestingly, the area forms one of a few places that is located accurately for measuring geological movement and so a Chinese university has placed equipment in the basement in order to track and monitor tectonic shifts over time – and the Azores is currently moving and growing by approximately 2cm per year.

So, another busy day! And we all slept well. I was route marched round the Lagoa town for a hilly coastal 30minute run by a colleague so all good training!

 

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Discover the World Teacher Inspection trip to Azores Day 1

Discover the World are a travel company we have used a good few times for our trips to Iceland, plus a non-student trip to Morocco. I’ve always found the company so helpful, with great administration and very well organised. The tour guides we’ve had in Iceland were always excellent and really made an effort to enthuse students, sharing local stories and myths. DTW have recently starting looking into offering a new destination of the Azores, and so a group of twelve teachers (mostly Geography or Earth Science) were invited to go on a teacher inspection trip this week in order to road test the trip

The idea of this week is to visit as many locations as possible, and sample a wide variety of activities in each place that you might build into a student trip itinerary. We are also investigating the accommodation and services in order to see how feasible the trip is, and whether it would meet with curriculum requirements / health and safety / logistics etc,. Since the Azores has not been used before for student trips this is quite a big undertaking, and we have discussions throughout each day about what kinds of activities you could ask students to participate in and what they would get out of the trip itself. Since direct flights are limited (only one flight, once a week on Saturdays) this means you would be most likely looking at an 8 day trip including travel so is is quite a chunk of time to fill

Part of the evening time is given over to focus groups in order to troubleshoot and to plan suitable teaching style activities as well as considering what ‘awe and wonder’ activities you can partake and evening entertainment etc,. On our return to the UK we will also be involved with creating teacher study guide resources for teachers throughout the country or access for free (akin to the excellent Iceland and Norway study guides already available for free through the Discover the World website). Discover the World are teaming up with the Geographical Association for a three year contract to create a broad bank of resources for teachers and students to use before, during and after a trip as well as just use in the classroom to teach about place or case studies – this will be being launched soon and will build up over time to including every destination they include in their package

This week has been led by Nick and Sonia from DtW as well as Simon Ross, an experience Head of Geography, senior member of the GA and author of various teacher resources, textbooks and GeoActive resources. And the team of teachers who have been chosen come from a wide variety of backgrounds, of differing lengths of career and varied teaching styles, with a range of skills and with a wealth of experience of planning and leading school trips. So it is in good hands!

So, the trip. We had arrived fairly late on the Saturday to São Miguel Island so only really saw the drive from the airport at Ponta Delgada down to our accommodation at a youth hostel in Pousada de Lagoa. The accommodation appears very new and crisp on first impressions, and with a restaurant attached that is also clearly used as the local restaurant.

Day 1. We were collected by Eduardo our local guide who has been a really keen activist in the drive to try to bring Azores more into the public eye and to encourage tourism. He has an excellent breadth of knowledge on seemingly everything throughout the archipelago which is reassuring. We travelled to Furnas, meaning furnace which is an area of intense volcanic activity past and present. Present is purely geothermal, past included some large eruptions in the 15th and 17th centuries. There is an excellent tourist centre here by the lake Lago de Furnas. The staff of the Furnas Monitoring & Research Centre were clearly passionate and well informed. There is a broad range of information about the geological history, volcanic activity and interestingly what the local government, university and activist groups have been doing in the name of sustainability.

At Furnas the local watercourse has suffered badly from eutrophication and soil erosion as a result of semi-intensive dairy farming (with associated clear felling of vegetation for pasture and use of chemical fertilisers. The lake is within the large caldera created by the last eruption. It was discovered that within the watershed there was a clear tendency for leaching of minerals due to the heavy rains, and that these were being channelled straight into the lake causing a sediment residue build up and then subsequent eutrophication, algal blooms, vegetation blocking out sunlight and reducing photosynthesis elsewhere in the lake, etc,. So local charity and university workers decided to try to reverse this. There had also been a large problem with the introduction of non-native and invasive species such as the Japanese Cedar and Australian Box that had been used as borders around farmland and tea plantations, but which were spreading and choking native plants as well as reducing biodiversity. On top of this, the change of land use to dairy and clearing for pastures meant soils had been exposed and so soil erosion had taken place with vast channels sometimes up to 8m deep being created due to the heavy rains and lack of interception.

There is a programme in place to reclaim the lake, replace the land use and replant the area. The aim is to create a Landscape Laboratory. There is an educational and outreach aspect too. Local farmers were bought out, which has caused some social conflicts although many farmers have also been able to retire comfortably but since the area has naturally rich soils it is understandable how the conflict exists. Part of the agreement also sees farmers being offered silage and food stuffs at reduced cost that have been grown in their old lands that have now been replanted and afforested.

Planting has occurred on a large scale and is still ongoing. Reintroduction of native indigenous species such as blueberry and clover have then attracted more bees which in turn has led to opportunities for local farmers to produce honey and caramels which is then sold in local gift shops. The clover when cleared and harvested is used to create silage for the farmers for feeding cattle. They are also trying to encourage farmers to return to more traditional methods of using natural dung fertiliser to reduce chemical dependency.

It is clear that the project is well underway but has a long way to go. Many jobs have been created through forestry, beekeeping, tourism, etc,. It is hard to tell if water quality has improved much as it is early days but the flow of nutrients has at least stabilised and sediment production into the lake has slowed so that the lake bed is beginning to drop back to original levels. However, it is also clear that the project is lacking in funding for the next two years and so how can sustainability be achieved?

The centre has great resources for children of various ages, and keen staff. You can also arrange with the centre to conduct projects in the area, such as planting / tending / harvesting the area or testing water quality, soil quality, biodiversity, etc,. So this could be a really great place to call base camp for a day and then conduct your own enquiries in the area, perhaps even comparing to other sites in the island.

We also visited a tea plantation factory – the only commercial tea plantation in Europe and which is run on traditional machinery and with leaves hand picked and checked for quality

We explored Furnas hot pool in the Terra Nostra botanical gardens in the pouring rain! Feeling like crazy geography geeks we scrambled around in the cold in the gardens getting soaked and then swam around in huge hot pool for a while – alongside some swans! Very surreal. The water was heavy with iron and sediment so very brown and opaque but a lovely temperature and quite atmospheric with steam produced by the evaporating rain. We also visited some of the village fumeroles and hot springs, including the bubbling hot pools where our food was cooked – a cozido lunch. Large earthen pots laden with potato, kale leave, and a variety of meats are lowered into these pools and covered in earth then slowly boil / roast for 6 hours and then served. The meat did have a slightly eggy sulphury flavour but was very soft. And the Azoreans are very generous with their portions!

Back at Pousada de Lagoa for the evening meal some of us explored the town a little (it is very little!) and saw some fantastic crashing waves against the basalt cliffs and rocky beaches. There was also a stunning sunset.

 

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