International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:
Atep Back in Time
Azores, Portugal consists of nine major islands. They are actually
the tops of some of the tallest mountains on the planet. Located
in the Atlantic 1500 Km from Lisbon, this area is also known as
the Autonomous Region of the Azores.
Not many people that I know in the US have any idea where the Azores
is located. Off the coast of Africa? Near New Zealand? It is not
a place that too many Americans visit unless they are, of Portuguese
origin or are trans oceanic sailors.
I am very particular
about my travel. There are definite no-nos. No bus trips with strangers.
No cruises of any sort. I get violently sick from motion and crowded
dining rooms. No nametags, no resident tour director and no babies.
I do not make friends with Americans just because they come from home.
In the past I have always traveled with the tested friends, my husband
and adult children. But I like new places and am very easy to please
other than the above. Mostly, I like meeting new people, seeing the
way the live and appreciating our differences.
Sadly after several self navigated trips to the UK and Ireland we have
added another restriction to our list of travel prohibitions. We are
getting to old to travel without a driver.
It was fortunate that we found the perfect answer. Our package, a three-island
tour, featured English-speaking drivers, who met us at the airport.
They were at our disposal for daily tours in Mercedes taxi cabs or small
We had a direct flight from Boston, Massachusetts to Ponta Delgada on
the Island of Sao Miguel. From there we flew the175 miles to Horta on
the island of Faial. We were immediately impressed by the vast stretches
of green fields and awesome cliffs as we flew over them. Very little
development was evident beyond the towns and small cities.
As we learned very quickly the Azores are a step back in time. What
we saw from the air was pretty much all.
But, then, that was what we were looking for. I left computer, ipod
and cell phone behind. We were looking for a relaxing place to unwind.
The hotel in Horta, Do Canal, was perfectly appointed. Our room and
balcony looked out on the ferry dock with mountain on Pico dominating
our view. It is an incredible sight. It can be totally obliterated by
clouds and then a few moments later you have full view of the summit.
The harbor looked miniscule with the mountain as a backdrop. We photographed
the ever-changing moods and colors of the sky as rain gave way to sun
On our second day, we took a day trip to Pico by ferry. I felt close
to death on the way over. For some reason I chose to sit on the upper
deck. We were going into the wind and it was very rough the ferry lilted
to Starboard and a few times I was sure we were going over. I do know
that by the time we docked I was willing to pay whatever it took to
fly back. If necessary I would throw myself on the mercy of the American
embassy or worse, get arrested so I could stay there. To my dismay that
was not an option.
Our driver on Pico was very much of a character. Having gone to live
in Canada for fourteen years as a young man, he spoke perfect English
with a Canadian accent. He drove us to the usual tourist sites but also
incorporated his custom tour of the island. We stopped to drop off his
computer for repair, to see his fathers still (an operation where
local clear rum like mixture. (In the USA this is called white lightening
or hooch. It is made from the left overs of wine production. ) and a
stop at his Moms to deliver something from his wife.
Pico is known for its wine production in fields of stonewalls that are
as remarkable as any site I have ever seen in all of my travels. UNESCO
protects it as an international treasure, which cannot be changed or
developed. The grapes are grown on stonewalls in enclosures of volcanic
stones. Each enclosure is quite small and is attached to another and
so on. We were told that the walls protect the vines from the wind and
the dark rocks provide warmth. With the moisture from constant rain
showers, the grapes are grown in perfect conditions for a rich harvest.
is a very old town, which had been devastated by earthquake and
eruptions. The people there are very resilient and proud. They seem
to take these monumental events in hand as a normal part of life.
The islands grow with each eruption and also fall away with erosion
and quakes. Houses are rebuilt with the aid of the government.
Horta has a famous
and colorful port, once defended by a prominent fort that is now a hotel.
It is tradition for sailors to paint a replica or motto of their ship
on walls and walkways before they depart and it is considered unlucky
not to do so. Peters Sport and Bar at the harbor, is most famous
for its legendary gin and tonic. It is a Hortas equivalent
to the watering holes of Key West in Florida. A bit like
a Hemingway haunt, locals and tourists gather to eat mediocre food,
read and smoke while they sip their gin.
We noticed the lack of Americans as we toured about the small city.
We are easy to spot!
But lo and behold there were a lot of Brits. A huge cruise ship, which
had been on a journey for some 51 days had just moored. The poor folks
had been avoiding hurricane Noel and were hoping to enjoy the pink sand
and warm winds of Bermuda. It was not to be!
What they got instead was the rocky volcanic coast of Faial and nary
a souvenir shop to be had. Dressed in their summer cruise wear they
were a stand out among the more somber islanders and the few Americans
in our dark slacks and sweaters.
We had the pleasure of spending some time listening to their tales of
confinement aboard ship and their absolute need to break from the decks
and walk on terra firma. We met a lovely woman from Boston England who
had been to our Boston early in the cruise. She was particularly amusing
as she detailed their ports of call as they outran the storm.
We were very impressed with the young people who drove us around the
islands taking us to the nooks and crannies that undoubtedly we would
have missed if we attempted to drive ourselves. All of the towns have
black and white mosaic sidewalks and cobble stone streets. Some of the
designs emulated waves, which appeared to give motion to the pavement.
We just could not imagine the labor needed to build and maintain them.
island of Faial is known for its billions of hydrangeas which
bound both road and field. It is worth a trip back in June to see
this incredible show by Mother Nature. Due to this proliferation
of color, the island is known as the Blue Island.
All of the islands
prosper from their dairy production. Each island has its own distinctive
cheese and wine. They are quite different but wonderfully fresh and
have very different textures. I imagine one could live quite well on
a diet of their home baked breads, cheese, wine, meat and root vegetables.
One restaurant treat that I especially liked was having a steak brought
to the table on a flat hot stone. The beef was rare when it was brought
to my place, but as I cut from the edges the center was still cooking.
It was unique and it was delicious.
Later, on the island of Sao Miguel, we were treated to another marvelous
dining experience. Our guide arranged for us to go to an area of hot
springs and spas. The lakes take on spectacular color from the intense
foliage. At this site there was an emerald green lake. I have never
seen anything to compare.
At this locale, there are volcanic vents where large cooking pots are
placed into the ground for a few hours. Inside the pots are layers of
meat, root vegetables, assorted potatoes, cabbage and kale. It is left
there to steam, like a huge crock-pot covered with soil. In the States,
we call it boiled dinner. We watched as they unearthed the
pots and transported them to a local restaurant. Wine, fresh breads
and cheese were included with our meal. The food was perfectly cooked
but the portions were huge. Undoubtedly, if we were home, we would have
had leftovers for several days. We also were treated to fresh swordfish,
which was incredible. (We New Englanders are particular about fresh
fish, and this was the best I had ever eaten.)
We were told that Sao Miguel was one of the only places in Europe to
grow and sell tea. We cannot dispute that, but we did visit a small
tea plantation and watched a few women sorting and bagging tea. The
green tea was superb. We did not get to the ceramics factory where they
manufacture and paint blue and white tiles. Undoubtedly, I would have
Much to the relief of my husband, there were not a lot of opportunities
to buy souvenirs but we managed to find a few T-shirts. As I said before,
it is a step back in time. The islands have tourism, but they are not
"tourist traps" like so many places in the Bahamas and the
Caribbean. Most goods, which are offered to tourists, are made locally.
The residential buildings on the Azores are reminiscent of Irish cottages
however there are not many Bed and Breakfasts. In general I would say
that the villages were neat, but not colorful. Buildings are white with
terracotta roofs, unless they have a special license for color. The
streets are immaculate but drivers greatly exceed the speed limit for
such narrow roads.
Bring an umbrella and wear "layers", the islands have microclimates,
which change frequently and vary by several degrees in a matter of hours.
We did not notice HC accessible ramps and the narrow cobblestone sidewalks
make walking a challenge.
If you love natures theme parks and have patience for authenticity
and history, I recommend this trip.
© Anne Armand August 2009
Hannarose39 at aol.com
Anne is a freelance writer
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