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A trek in the mountain forests of the Azores islands


Far out in the Atlantic Ocean, there's a chain of volcanic islands, a distant province of Portugal called the Azores. Parts of the islands look like jungle, but there are also green meadows and farms that could be in Ireland. NPR's Brian Mann went trekking in the mountain forests.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: It's a cloud-swept day, and I'm hiking up a steep trail with a friend, Ines Rodrigues. She's my guide on this trip to one of the remotest islands in the North Atlantic.

INES RODRIGUES: Very lush - looks like almost like a tropical forest.

MANN: There are ferns taller than us, ancient trees.


RODRIGUES: It's gorgeous. It's really gorgeous.

MANN: This is Sao Miguel, the biggest island in the Azores. The trails are steep and rocky, winding like calligraphy along mountain streams. There are birds everywhere, flocking around our heads.


MANN: These islands lie nearly a thousand miles from Europe. Rodriguez is from Lisbon. In colonial days, Sao Miguel was a layover report for ships from her country traveling to the new world. As we hike, we break out of the forest into a wide meadow, emerald grass bordered with blossoming hydrangeas that grow wild.

RODRIGUES: There's cows, black-and-white cows.

MANN: And you were telling me that this is kind of a symbol of the Azores.

RODRIGUES: Yeah, because they are the dairy cows, and all of Portuguese butter or good Portuguese butter comes from the Azores.

MANN: As we explore, this turns out to be a pattern - birdsong, steep trails, hillside dairy farms that give way to tangled forests and rivers.


RODRIGUES: We are by a waterfall, and it's making a little pool.

MANN: There's also a lot of rain, soaking downpours that blow in from the gray ocean.


MANN: The rain is sheeting down through these massive trees. The clouds are sweeping past. You can see curtains of vapor.

Because of the rain and the steepness, we're often alone. It feels solitary as we climb higher, past blossoming red azaleas that also grow wild.

RODRIGUES: It definitely feels like we're in the middle of the ocean when we're at some high lookout point and see water on both sides. There's a roughness or wildness to the place.

MANN: We're soaked through, muddy and tired. But as we turn back toward the village below with its red roofs and white church spires, the clouds break.


MANN: Sun spills over the forest and the river and the stormy sea. Brian Mann, NPR News, on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores.

(SOUNDBITE OF NORTH AMERICANS' "CLASSIC WATER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.