"WTF am I doing here!?!" was my thought after about an hour into the hike. My legs were sore due to the steepness of the trail, my shoulders were aching due to the weight of my backpack, my stomach was burning with hunger.
Before coming to Pico, I had talked to fellow divers I met at the shop in Faial about hiking the famous volcano because they all seemed to know so much about the region. I implied that I might try to hike up to the summit and asked what they thought about it. I also told them that, even though I was living in Switzerland, I was not a hiking enthusiast like most Swiss as well as the fact that I was so out of shape. Everyone gave me the same agreeable and positive answer that I should do it with the hint of ‘you will regret it if you didn’t do it.’
“It’s not that hard, you are young, you can do it!” Jane, Steve and Tiago were very supportive of the idea and cheered for me to do it. Joanna, on the other hand, was the devil’s advocate. It was not like she told me not to do it but she was more of ‘do it but do it safely’ kind of supporter. “Do not go there by yourself, hire a guide with you. be careful especially around the volcanic sand section as it is slippery, people have fallen, broken there limbs and died there every year. Bring 2 big bottles of water with you, it’s super hot up there. there is a risk of dehydration….!!” Underneath those scary comments, I felt the care ;) So basing on democracy, I relied on the majority without ignoring the minority. I decided to hike up Mt.Pico as my first time hiking as safely as possible (to hire a local guide) Yay! The adventure begins!
It only took 30 minutes by Ferry crossing to Pico from Horta. The first thing I noticed once I arrived the port was that there were so many people. So ‘touristy’ so many restaurants and bars and they were mostly packed. ALL tourists. So different from Faial. It felt strange.
I headed straight to a dive shop that was recommended to me by Tiago to inquire about the possibility of shark diving. The only answer they gave me was that they were fully booked. Nothing to offer until next week! Damn it! Never mind. I’ll sort this out later. I could see that it was about to rain. Now have to go to the hotel I have booked first. I didn't actually look up where the hotel was before.
The accommodation turned out to be quite far out of the city. I waited at the bus stop for a very long time. There was so sign of any buses. So I turned and asked an old man sitting there but then he could not speak English and spoke Portuguese to me. Me, who do not speak any Portuguese, could not understand anything he had just said. I politely thanked him and walked back to the dive shop and asked them how to get to my hotel. They told me I should take a taxi and not a bus. OK. Sure Taxi it is! The taxi here are super hard to find, they don’t drive around like in any other places. So I asked the shop to call them for me. Then it started to rain and people were starting to disappear.
All of the sudden, the lively town became so quiet. I didn’t know where all the people had disappeared to. I waited 15 minutes for the taxi to arrive. Ran into the cab and I was on my way out of the city. At one moment I could see Mt. Pico so clearly from the car window then it got super dark and foggy and the rain was getting heavier and heavier. I was bummed. Not as much as the first day of the trip though as I did not plan to do anything on that day anyway.
The only time I went back to town was to another dive shop for my shark diving experience. Other than that, I spent most of the time on the island outside of Pico town. I wandered around the outer area of the island seeing houses made out of volcanic rocks and jumping into natural pools along the coast. These pools are for sure the family get together spots. The water in Pico felt a bit warmer than in Faial.
Hiking Pico was somewhat frustrating to organize. It rained non-stop the first three days on the island, so no operator would let people hike up there. As soon as I checked the weather forecast and found out that the next day would be the only day with clear weather out of the whole week, I called around until I found one operator with only one spot left. YESSSSS! I was put into a group with a Portuguese couple and a German couple. All of them are experienced hikers. I, on the other hand, only had a pair of hiking shoes with no real experience.
I showed up for the hike with nothing prepared except the 2 big bottles of water as Joanna suggested to me, which I ended up not drinking because I was not too comfortable peeing in the bush LOL. No energy bar or nothing. WHAT A NOOP!! Luckily, the local guide had prepared us some light lunch box so that was a life savior. Although it was not much but had no choice! Before we started the hike there was a short team briefing explaining what to expect up there, how the trail looks like, how steep or what to worry about. The minute we finished the briefing, IT RAINED!! (damn it! it was my last chance to hike Pico as I’m flying to another island the next day!!) The guide said to be patient it should not take too long before the rain stops. He was right! We waited for 20 minutes and the rain finally stopped.
There was no clear trail but there were posts with numbers on them from number 1 to 45. With no clear trails, you just need to look for the posts. It is actually pretty cool so you know how long you’ve come and how far away you are from the summit. I think it would be no problem doing the hike on your own with no local guide but as it was my first real hike ever, having a guide was much comforting. The hike was beautiful. The scenery was spectacular! There was no cloud so you can see all the way to Faial island. The view made me realized how remote I actually was. I was just half way through and the view was awesome already!!
The higher I was, the steeper the trail got. Hiking turned into a bit of climbing. I was exhausted. It made me realized how out of shape I was but I had to keep going. The old ladies of the age around 50–60 years old from another group were passing us with a smile on their faces and no sign of exhaustion. They gave me some motivation. If they can do it so can I. It was a big effort for me until I got to the crater. Standing at the edge of the crater, the summit seemed to be just a hand reach away!! BUT ooooh it was definitely a lot more than a reach away!
The summiting was hard!! We spent some time climbing up with both our hands and feet! but I made it!! The view from 2,351 meters above sea level was awesome!! I could see nearby islands down below. Little clouds moving beautifully. Everybody was super happy. We took a bunch of pictures then finished the food up there. Stayed there for a bit then we started to climb down to have a bit of a walk in the crater.
I thought the ascent was hard, the descent was even harder. I spent all my energy hiking up so when it was time to come down, I could barely stand still without shaking. I fell on my butt so many times because it was very slippery and I had no strength to stop it. The guide must had seen the desperation in my eyes because he turned around and gave me his trekking stick. It helped me but only a little bit. My energy was still missing. By the time I got to the bottom, I had so many bruises. But I did it!! So proud of myself as this was my first 2,000+ hike with no preparation!! (I did not learn my lesson. A year later I did something 10 times more challenging)
The next day I could not do anything. My whole body was aching and sore. I could barely walk around with crippled legs then went to the airport to catch a flight to my next destination. While waiting, I met a French couple whom I met during the shark diving and they showed me the pictures of breaching whales they saw today during their whale watching trip! My eyes burned with jealousy. I also wanted see whales! Now I gotta see those whales!!