22/02/2013 08:34 GMT | Updated 24/04/2013 06:12 BST

Canyoning, The Azores, and a Glorious Descent Into Ignorance

One of the great things about travelling is how it can also be a learning experience. Or to put it another way, it can shine a 500 mega-watt torchlight on your ignorance. Which is exactly what happened when I was planning my trip to The Azores. AKA the Archipelago of the Azores.


I said to my travelling companion.

"I have never been to an archipelago"

He looked at me as if I were a fool.

"The British Isles is an archipelago. You live on an archipelago."

Well, I was stunned. For two reasons.

1- Between us we had managed to say the word 'archipelago' 3 times in less than 3 sentences. Surely some kind of record and I suspect that with the wonders of SEO anyone googling 'archipelago' from now on may well end up at this blog, so a big hello to 'archipelago' fans.

2- Which crazed EU bureaucrat had decided that Blighty, ruler of the waves, home of all that is powered by hot tea and Kendal mint cake, was an archipelago? Without telling any of us? Damn you Brussels and your faceless mandarins!

My companion then informed me that an archipelago was in fact a chain of islands, and the UK's membership of this particular club predated its joining of the EU by several million years. Still, I had a good mind to write to the Daily Express' letters page.

So onto the Azores. Less than 4 hours flight from London, owned by the Portuguese, in the middle of the Atlantic and the most westerly point of Europe. These 9 islands have all been shaped by volcanic activity, and they are stupendously green. More about these places in later blog posts I hope, but the little bit of land I'm going to concentrate on for now is called São Jorge.

You don't need a degree in languages to work out that it translates into English as 'St George' and like our patron saint I also faced a fierce challenge. Unsurprisingly though I would not be taking on any dragons (after all St George polished them off years ago) instead I would be slaying the watery valleys, gorges and ravines of São Jorge whilst taking part in the extreme sport of canyoning.

This is how Visitazores.com describes the activity:

"Walking along rivers and streams, rappelling, jumping and sliding to overcome natural obstacles, this is canyoning. In the Azores there are exceptional geo-morphological conditions for the practice of this sport. "

I find the phrase 'exceptional geo-morphological conditions' particularly delightful. As I was sliding down a craggy outcrop on my rear-end whilst being soaked by a thundering deluge of river water, I mentioned to my instructor that this was (although exhilarating) pretty hard work. He responded by saying

"Yes indeed, but what about the exceptional geo-morphological conditions?"

Given that he was holding my life in his hands using a climbing rope AND English was his second language I was

a- inclined to agree.

b- rather impressed by his grasp of my mother tongue.

But the website, and my instructor, had it spot on. It really was a ridiculously beautiful place. I suspect there are few to match it if you want your dose of adrenalin to be balanced by a landscape that demands moments of contemplation and serenity.

Remember though kids, taking a film camera and a tripod down a slippery ravine is rather complicated, so the least you can do is take a seat and watch the results.