Pico, Azores: 10 to the negative 12th

pasta with meat, wafers with filling, macaroni and cheese, bacalau, bananas from the backyard.

my mom's 82 year old cousin Mariana presented a buffet of foods to us during our after lunch visit. we informed her we had just eaten and were full but in traditional Portuguese fashion, this was taken on as a challenge: 
what food can I offer not-hungry people that will be good enough to make them over-eat?
sweet waffle cookies and a bag of unopen chips came from the next room.
no takers.

bread and Portuguese cheese appeared.
alright, ya got me.

their cheese-crumbed mouths jabbered in Portuguese as I frantically used Mariana's WiFi to get details on our next excursion.
after hearing my whale watching tour this morning was postponed due to weather, I was determined to do at least one amazing thing today.
Gruta das Torres is a 3 mile long lava tube that formed on Pico island in the Azores up to 1500 years ago. I had - weeks earlier - booked us a tour for today at 16:00h. I was going to navigate us there via coordinates (because nothing has addresses here... and if it does, they cannot be trusted), we were going to wear ugly hard hats, wave around utility flashlights, and explore an amazing volcano butthole.
this was going to be.

after 20 minutes of "no, I do not want to take your 2 dozen bananas but obrigada" and "I'm so full - I don't want another cookie" and finally "OK, one banana, and 4 cookies", we were on the road.
there is only one main road on Pico. and it has no name. it is simply "the main road".
there are only 2 speed limits on Pico. 50 kph and 80 kph. or as my mom calls them "slow down" and "SLOW DOWN!"

after a few u-turns and swear words (on my part) we made it to Gruta das Torres right on time.

my proud march of an entrance matched my announcement "my name is on the list - I booked this previously via the interwebs".
"ah," man looks at *the book*. "Kathleen?"
"yes! that's me!"
"yea so, we have a problem"

my spoiled, California, only-child ass wanted to cry.
"a large rock in the ceiling of the cave fell yesterday" he says. 
"we are awaiting specialists to inspect it before allowing any new visitors" he says.
"it is for my safety" he says.

in my brain, I am throwing things; I am telling him I don't think I can ever afford to return here to do this; I am losing confidence in myself; I want to eat 2 dozen bananas and a box of cookies.
we are allowed to wander along the rim, squint in to the dark decaying abyss without seeing anything, and watch a video showing off all the badass shit I am missing out on.
my mom seems content with the change of plans, which adds to my frustration.

kicking rocks back to my rented transport, I mulled over how to get over this.
the velvet cows were startled by my stomping - they thought about moving... but were too lazy and instead, continued nibbling on grass tucked between volcanic rocks.
the air smells of ocean, which shines at me in sunny patches less than 2 miles away.
somewhere birds squawk with a foreign accent.

...nothing is wrong with this.

I had made this trip to be an agenda of adventures revolving around me, and me.
yet my happiest moment thus far was when Mariana, her daughter, and her son-in-law surprised us at a restaurant. they knew we were staying in Lajes and decided to - unbeknownst to us - drive around looking for us. as I Facebooked at an outdoor table with my mom pretending not to watch over my shoulder, the 3 of them walked up with secret smiles, asking if I was Kathleen.
once I realized I was not getting arrested, I cried.
this is why I am here - I just didn't know it at first.

in other news...
...the house we are staying in has hot water for just 10 seconds at a time, fuzzy mold growing on the walls, framed Jesus sketches everywhere, no electricity half of the nights, and the creakiest floors I have ever heard in a horror movie.
but I got my own bed so, all good.
...my Portuguese family thinks I am hysterical because I keep saying "Oh Jesus" in Portuguese (which is simply, "aah Jhejeush"). I'm not sure what that says about either party but, it says something.
...I miss my boyfriend, and my dog.
and you - I miss you too.

142 solitaire matches later...

unexpected thunderSNORES at midnight.
and 3am.
and then 4am.

my feet stress-rubbed together under heavy blankets for about 4 hours last night as thunder raged outside our thin glassed doors and my mom lamaze-snored beside me. in our rented house there is no alternative bed to resort to; no big couch to sprawl on; no alternative.
4 hours later, I was still alive and decided to sleep walk throughout the day. no big deal.
rain sprinkled down in the morning as we nibbled on scrambled eggs and sipped the tastiest cappuccinos. after stocking my mom up with fruit, we set out on our long walk to Vila Nova de Gaia, which means we wandered around narrow roads until I got so lost a local offered help.
after finally finding Taylor's Port house, port was a terrible refreshment. I was hot and irritated and just wanted to poop and have a frozen yogurt. (what's new)
I took 1 (or 3) for the team though and drank my ports while watching my 3 year old neighbor swirl grape juice in his wine glass.

that night we decided to have a traditional Portuguese dinner consisting of bread, fish, and potatoes. which happens to also be the desired diet of felines.
I think I know why one gets so many potatoes in Portuguese meals - every destination is somehow at the top of a flippin' hill.
we zig-zagged our way back to our house through a cigarette-lit alley; a maze of drying laundry, sweet-smelling desserts, and cats.
235 stairs later I asked my mom if she is okay and her response is a tired laugh.
Porto, done.

in other news...
...mom while holding the cable remote: "Kathy, how do I turn off the TV?"
me: "mom, this is the remote for the cable box. You need the TV remote"
mom: "I know"
...45 minutes to get from one plane to another on Terceira island. think we can do it?
...(yes, we did)


3 hours in Chicago

my mom frantically flips through the plastic safety "menu" of details as the using-your-seat-as-a-flotation-device instructions play on the little tvs.

we are on our first of many legs heading to Portugal, or as my family calls it, the MOTHERLAND.
and while my mother was born on that land, she has not returned since she was 5... and she is not much of a traveler.

so, I took the liberty of planning this 12 day trip for us. which means something will go wrong. maybe my passport will get stolen or my chromebook will explode when I forget to use the voltage converter or my luggage will fall in to the Atlantic or my mom will accidentally PURCHASE drugs in Lisbon and take them.
which is pretty bad.
(or... is it?)

several people have asked me "why Portugal?" in regards to vacation locations.
my grandparents - Manual and Isilda - are from the island Pico, one of 9 islands in the Azores 900 miles off the coast of Portugal. Pico is about 35 miles long and carries a volcano on its back.
mom tells me as kids on the island, her and her sisters used to chase chickens and roll a wheel around with a stick to entertain themselves.
luckily, I will have no time for that.

we have just 4 days on the island and they are jam packed with whale watching, volcano cave touring, caldeira balancing, ferry riding, wine tasting, and not accidentally driving off any cliffs.
(it has been a long time since I drove a manual stick shift)

but until our Pico adventures, we are roaming around Porto Portugal... drinking wine from our garden patio that faces the Dom Luis bridge and listening to seagulls that sound SO MUCH like screaming children (once you get used to it, it is nice).

in other news...
...turbulence. a reminder that you may have just paid hundreds of dollars to die.
...in Philadelphia, in transit to Lisbon, my mom tells me "I'm getting punchy". I step a punch-distance back from her and ask what that means. 
mom: "I haven't had any fruit or taken any walks"
me: "oh so, cranky?"
her: "yes - punchy"
OK then. I have adjusted our agenda to include walking far to purchase fruits.
...as my mom takes a photo of me writing this post she says "OK tell me when"
me: "OK, now"
mom: "OK, hold on"
...after taking said-photo she asks me "you aren't writing anything embarrassing are you?"
me: "nope"
...I had a birthday. and I will not hesitate to announce it was the best yet.