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August 2014

Monday On a Hike in Sao Jorge

#MG_0732 (2)We were delighted with the island of Sao Jorge from the very first day when we’d anchored under the cliffs of Velas. We were thrilled with the call of the Cory's Shearwaters who nested in the cliffs. We were impressed with Jose, the harbor master, and we found the town charming – particularly the dragon statue in the praza.

#MG_0768 (2)Nothing prepared us for the glorious Numero Um hike one Monday on Sao Jorge with Leo.  We three walked, talked almost non-stop, laughed, and took hundreds and hundreds of photos. The hike begins at the wind farm at Serra do Topo  on a wide path or farm trail,  and goes from mountain pasture to mountain pasture, bordered by stone walls and hedges of the beautiful hydrangeas, and separated by charming rustic gates. Leo told us stories of growing up on Sao Jorge, visiting his relatives who lived on a small faja that we would cross that day, and enlightened us on some of the things we saw along the way.

The perfection of the day was marred only when the sole began to detach from my hiking shoe. I tied it off, first with my bandana, and later with a spare shoe lace gifted to me by a German hiker. It worked just fine, but EW and I laughed to remember when the sandal of one of the cruiser/hikers sandal blew out at the top of the Death March in Grenada. At first we tied it off with a piece of rope for what would have been an uncomfortable hike. Fortunately, when Bill and Joann from S/V Ultra caught up with us, he was able to proffer not an extra shoe lace but an extra pair of hiking sandals that fit! Such is the charmed life of cruising sailors.

HikeBut I digress. The bandana and shoe lace worked just fine We were slowed only by stopping to take photos, and did so often enough that we took much longer than Leo had intended to reach the Faja da Caldeira de Santo Christo. I was hungry, and had packed plenty to share with Leo – but remember, we’d only met the day before and hadn’t really discussed logistics other than transportation. Leo didn’t want to presume to eat our lunch, and hadn’t had anything on hand suitable for a hiking snack. We had reached a small bridge over a mountain brook when I decided to lay out our repast of Sao Jorge bread, cheese, and fruit. Leo turned from taking yet another photo to say, “Oh! I thought we’d wait to eat.” “Really? I guess I could wait a bit.” He assured me he had a place in mind and I (mostly) good naturedly repacked our repast and followed him and EW down the trail. 

IMG_9164First we detoured to the waterfall and watched two local guides rig lines and rappelled down the falls. Then we continued toward what I hoped was a lunch break, stopping to fill our water bottles at a spigot fed by a clear mountain spring. I was charmed to see plastic piping peeking through the foliage, carrying water down the hillside to a home above the faja. Life is simple in this part of Sao Jorge.#MG_0840 (2)

#MG_0692A faja is a land area at the foot of cliffs and just above the sea. At right, Faja dos Cubres is the closer one. In the distance you can see Faja da Calderia da Santo Cristo.

This photo was taken at a lookout on the road down to Faja dos Cubres. There is no road to the fajas in the distance.

Most fajas are the product of landslides, but  Faja du Ovidour, which EW and I had visited on Sunday was made from flowing  lava.Generally fajas have very fertile soil, and if it were possible for people to traverse down the cliffs to the fajas they built homes of stone, surrounded by stone fences and corrals, grew crops, raised cattle, constructed churches, and created small communities accessible by steep, twisting cliff side roads.

Our hike took us down the mountains, among old volcanic craters, now flowing with hydrangeas, through the pastures and the woods to the sea and Faja da Caldeira de Santo Christo. This faja has never been accessible by car, yet at one point the population sustained a small Catholic church. Even today, those who visit or who live there leave their vehicles in a lot at Faja dos Cubres and walk along a trail just above the water. Between these two towns perched on rocks just above the sea, are two more smaller fajas, each with four or five homes. In recent years, the trail has been maintained and widened so that four-wheelers are able to travel along it. Supplies for those who live there, for the guest houses and for the restaurant arrive via these trail riders or by boat.

#MG_0788 (2)The hike down from the mountain was fun and Leo was charming, but I was getting peckish and complained that he was letting me starve. Finally he told me he’d  planned to dine in little restaurant in this remote faja, where he (of course) knew the owners. There we found other hikers, local tourists, and surfers who were staying in one of the small local guest houses. The restaurant offered good Azorean meals with American style French fries or batatas as a side – and a view of the “lake” a natural lagoon where a few tourists swam and tried out paddle boards for the first time. After lunch we explored the faja and then began the final part of our walk, along that path above the sea to Faja dos Cubres

Leo’s aunt and uncle used to live in a stone house in one of the small fajas we passed.. In the winter, it was very difficult to get supplies, and his aunt told Leo she was glad to live so close to the sea so she could take her bamboo fishing pole out to the rocks just off her house and catch dinner. When he was a young boy, Leo spent a few summers with them. Later, someone else bought the property and still later it was destroyed by a landfall. There have been landslides and earthquakes in the Azores and we’ve seen many properties that have not been repaired. It was humbling to watch Leo point out the yard and home he once knew. There is no roof and the floor has fallen in. A tree grows inside the walls. Still, a neighbor’s cow grazes between the cliffs and the shore.

This is the Azores: spectacular hikes, breathtaking flowers, living history, nature’s favors and adversities, and warm, welcoming, good-humored people.

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A note about the photos: I took over 600 photos that day and EW and I really enjoyed them, but somehow the disc was compromised. A young man in Velas recovered the photos you see here, but I’m missing so many – from my tied up sandal to Leo walking into the ruins of his aunt and uncle’s home.

Leo gave me the photo of the guides at the waterfall.

And that photo of EW in the cave? That’s mine, Leo told us that these caves were hollowed out by farmers so they would have some shelter when they were tending their cattle during the rainy days of an Azorean winter. Some of these little shelters had stone shelves carved in to store their lunches.


Sunday with the Car in Sao Jorge … and Leo

IMG_1933On our epic Sunday in Calheta, two farms each presented two bulls with their team of handlers, with a half hour intermission for the switch from one farm to another. EW went off in search of music and a beer, and I wandered along the top of the wall and watched the people. I heard someone say, “Did you get any good photos of the bulls?” and when I turned I recognized a gentleman who had moved to give me a better shot during the last run. “I hope so, thank you.”

And so I met Leo who introduced himself and his cousin, Manuel. Leo was born on Sao Jorge, and emigrated to California with his parents and siblings when he was 15. He said his folks planned just to stay long enough to pay off the land they owned in Sao Jorge and save up some extra money, but their kids grew up and had kids and they all became citizens and stayed. His folks are close to 90 and still like to return to the Azores each summer. Because Leo didn’t think they should be alone for three months he took three weeks of vacation time from his job as a U.S. Postal Carrier and brought his folks to the island.

IMG_1737(At left: A postal “van” in Calheta. When I took this, I had no idea we’d meet an Azorean/American US Postal Carrier from California.)

Of course it was easy for Leo and Manuel to see that we were tourists with no ties to the Azores or to Portugal, so Leo asked about our vacation. I’ve learned to say that we are on a barco a vela– a sailboat. (I speak English with Portuguese words thrown in as I know them. So far that works pretty well.) We talked for about ten minutes, with Manuel saying not a word in English, and few in Portuguese – until they asked about our plans for the island.

When we’d visited the tourist information center, we had been helped by Lena, who takes her job very seriously. Sao Jorge is known for its forested parks and trails and there are seven trails that are promoted to tourists. There are seven maps for the seven trails, and Lena carefully explained all of the walks, marking and numbering each of them on our master map of the island. EW and I decided that on our second day with the car we’d hike the Number 1 trail. Lena had been careful to tell us that it was a 10 kilometer one-way trip. She suggested that we drive to the starting and highest point, walk to the end and get a taxi to take us back to our car.

EW is -- shall we say “optimistic” about what he, I, and any others he cajoles can do on a hike. (Any of you remember the infamous “Death March” in Grenada?) He suggested that we plan on driving to the high point, walking down and returning back to the car by foot. What’s 20 kilometers among lovers? I cautiously agreed, but reserved the right to call a cab, and I blithely told Leo and Manuel our plans. This is when I found out that while Manuel doesn’t speak much English, he understands it very well. As soon as I voiced our intentions for Monday, Manuel began speaking in rapid-fire Portuguese to Leo, beginning with, “Nao!” I knew “No!” when I heard it.

#MG_0721 (2)There was a spirited three-way discussion with Leo going back and forth from American-accented Portuguese to Portuguese-accented English. It turned out that Leo’s younger son had completed walk Number One a few years back, but Leo had never done it and wanted to. Manuel had to work on Monday, but that didn’t stop him from making plans for us. Leo’s parents’ car was in the shop waiting for parts from Lisbon. However, he would meet us in the square or praza in Velas and we would take our car to the end point of the hike and leave it there. Leo would arrange a ride from there to the starting point. We’d hike from the top down, and simply drive back to Velas once we finished. Manuel was relieved.

EW joined us shortly after I had made this arrangement, and I introduced him to Leo and Manuel and informed him on our new plans. It says something about some of EW’s finer points that he readily accepted their advice, and welcome having Leo -- who was essentially a strange man I picked up at a bullfight -- join us. Just then, the rocket went off, the bull was out, and we all chose our spot to watch the next round of tourados da corda.

The next morning, Leo met us at the marina and tracked down a taxi driver who has retired back home in Sao Jorge after living for many years near Leo’s California home in Watsonville. Marco followed us to what would be the end of our hike at the Faja dos Cubres, then took us in his taxi to the overlook near the wind generators that is the start of hike Numero Um.

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This taxi driver was the first of many people we met through Leo – most of them from Watsonville California or that area of the state. Leo is an extrovert, charming, and funny. Once his parents were settled for the morning he would take his camera and wander the town. Over the next few days, we would invariably meet Leo on our way to the mercado (grocery store) or on a walk in the early morning. We met him so often that I joked  that there had to be three of him and EW thought he must be a CIA spy. Each time we met him, he introduced us to someone who was born in Sao Jorge and who now lived in Watsonville. We met so many people from Watsonville that we wondered if the last person who left for vacation had turned out the lights.

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We may have started our Monday in a taxi with a stranger, but by the time we ended our day at Faja dos Cubres, we had made a new friend in Leo – who may have saved our marriage. Finding a taxi at the bottom of that faja would have been very difficult and If I’d had to walk back up that mountain, I would have killed EW.


Current Events in Graciosa

IMG_3879This blog is now two islands behind but I’m working to catch up. The islands are addictive, though the Azores are not perfect.

IMG_3981Right now we are anchored in off of Graciosa the second smallest island in the Azores. There is a very small marina, almost full of the local fishing boats, but we don’t want to stay in marinas anyway. The anchorage was rolly when we arrived on Friday, but nothing we didn’t see in Prickly Bay, Grenada. Unfortunately this is the summer of “unsettled weather” as one European sailor said. Two of this island’s major attractions are small mountaintops and the views from them. We have west winds and low clouds; there are no views.

We also are having trouble with the outboard. We stayed in Angra in order for a highly recommended company to fix it; had to wait for parts, the highly recommended owner went on vacation; and the mice played. The motor was returned with the new part, but not fixed. EW almost blew a gasket. A different employee solved that problem, admirably.

IMG_3891Unfortunately he also didn’t check everything. We got to Graciosa, hunkered down for the night, and took the dinghy ashore on Saturday to check in and wander the town. When we returned to the dinghy it wouldn’t start. So I rowed. (EW’s right elbow is bothering him so I try to do some of the things that inflame it – like rowing. And I like to row the dinghy, when the motor is up and I’m alone. With a load in it, this inflatable sucker rows like an old iron tub.) Once I rounded the break wall, I was rowing into the wind and the current was pushing me beyond La Luna.  That is not a good thing.

Ultimately two small pleasure boats came to our rescue and the first to arrived towed us to La Luna. The next morning, EW worked to see whether he could find the problem. He found the symptom: the spark plugs get gooped up after 15 to 20 minutes of use. He now has all 6 plugs available out and cleans them after each use. We take tools in to shore so he can change the plugs and clean things up, and he must repeat the cycle after every ride. I’ll not be taking the dinghy alone until it’s really fixed, but we’ll get to see Graciosa – that’s the main thing.

IMG_3927IMG_3921On our Saturday visit, we stopped by a little café and ordered “cheese toast” their translation for a grilled cheese sandwich. These were made with the local cheese – every island seems to have their own, all different and all delicious. There was a gentleman alone at the table next to us and a couple came and sat on his other side. We assumed they were Portuguese and gave everyone a cheery “Boa Tarde.” They smiled, replied in kind, and greeted each other in English.

IMG_3899Not just English but clearly New England accented English!  You know I jumped in!  Eddie now lives in California, but his family emigrated to Massachusetts when he was eight. He drops his “r’s” with the rest of us. Al and Olga are from the Lowell area. Al was born here, too. We all chatted about New England, accents, the Azores, and their families until Al and Olga had to leave. On their way out, they paid our lunch tab to welcome us to the island. Sweet!

We stayed and chatted with Eddie, who is a hoot. He now lives in California and is a retired construction worker. IMG_3970He and his two adult sons are fixing up a property he bought here on the island. When we had wandered one end of the town before lunch, I had been a bit dismayed to see so many “for sale” signs on run-down structures, and thought that this island my be having tougher times than the others. Eddie told us that the tough times were in the 70’s and 80’s when the Portuguese dictator wouldn’t allow people to leave and there were 15000 residents here. Now there are just over 5000 and according to Eddie, “If you want to make money, there is opportunity here. Folks do OK.”

He gave us directions to the restaurant with the best fish stew, a Graciosa specialty. After lunch we wandered the town, rowed to the boat, was rescued, and spent the evening marveling at the Azores once again.

These islands aren’t perfect, but they are magic.

 

At right, stairway art next to stairs to the top of the break wall in the marina. How cool is that?

Below, La Luna at anchor. That sunset the first night was off our stern.

AND the best thing about this anchorage? I have the WIFI antenna up and I’m on line on the boat. I love Graciosa!

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Still Sunday With the Car in Sao Jorge–Tourados da Corda

IMG_1842-002We had gone to Calheta on our Sunday drive because we were told they were going to have a Tourados da Corda – Bullfighting on a Rope --as part of the festivities. This tradition was developed on the island of Terceira and has spread to the other islands in the Azores. According to one of the tourist websites:

In this modality the movements of the bull are conditioned by a rope held by a group of men, formerly called “mascarados da corda” (masked men of the rope). The bulls, bred in the pastures of Terceiras’ central region, are chosen for their ability to follow figures and be cunning. The bull, with its horns padded, is then let loose on the streets of the parish, the windows and balconies of which are crowded with people eager to cheer the spectacle. Fireworks are set and men and bull immediately start running about, with steps that are sometimes luckier than others… "Bullfighting on a Rope" has evolved with the passing of time and now held in locations such as near the ocean, on beaches and shallows where boats are run upon for repairs. In it, everyone, including the bull, takes repeated baths in salt water in the midst of the laughs, shouts and hisses of the spectators.

IMG_1779The break wall and cargo/ferry pier in Calheta creates a small harbor that may offer some protection from the north and west. The harbor side of the break wall is the ferry and cargo dock. The break wall itself rises up about 15 feet and steps at both ends allow walkers, fisherman, and view seekers to walk along the wide top. It’s the perfect safe seating zone to watch the Touradas a Corda.  During the festival,  jet ski races roared on the west side off the pier,  while on the harbor side, they held races for kids steering smaller (and hopefully slower) jet skis. Just a bit closer to shore someone had set up a ride along a cable for which participants were delivered via dinghy to a small navigable cliff, clambered up to the top, hooked their harness into the cable and slid down into the water. Nearer shore, kids and adults were swimming to cool off during the heat of the day. As we watched all of this, more and more people began to fill in along the upper level of the break wall; cars and fisherman moved off the lower inner level, and two flatbed trucks arrived, each with two large wooden crates.

IMG_1798Each crate contained a full grown bull. I was nonplussed as we watched the drivers, bull handlers, and front end loader operator work together to move a crate full of bull from truck to the far end of the break wall. Once the four crates were lined up, the first group of handlers got out a very long, heavy rope, stretched it out fully along the quay and marked the halfway point. Young boys wearing swim trunks lined the water side of the pier, and young men wearing jeans and sneakers skulked around with umbrellas, jackets, and fabric draped over a broom handle or dowel.

IMG_1809IMG_1813One of the farm trucks pulled an open animal trailer with metal banisters onto the quay and unhitched it next to the stone wall away from the water. It’s use became apparent to us shortly after the start of the event. In the meantime, the bull handlers from the first farm changed into gray pants, white shirts, and distinctive black hats. Some of the handlers reached into the trapdoor of the bull crate, attached covers over the bull’s horns, tied the rope to the bull, and somehow snaked it under the door of the crate without getting injured.

IMG_1833We jumped when a rocket resounded with one BANG! The older gentleman to my right smiled and said, “The bull is out.,” The bull was out and he was ready to rumble.  For the next 10 to 15 minutes until he was sufficiently tired, he was teased and by young men wielding flapping fabric or open umbrellas, shouting derisive phrases, and moving to entice a charge. He charged; occasionally knocking someone over.

IMG_1897More often, the young boys jumped off the pier into the water, while the young men ran for the parked trailer -- the only dry safe zone along the length of the pier. The bull’s movements were somewhat controlled by the ten line handlers, five on each end of the line, but if the bull charged the handlers, they, too ran for the trailer, or the safe zone behind the traveling bull sheds. On the shore end of the quay were perhaps 100 thrill seekers, mostly men, who taunted the bull and prepared to run into the “safe zone” beyond the supposed length of the line. It’s easy to see that the bull could sometimes pull free and the “safe zone” would then not be fully safe. An ambulance sat nearby.

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IMG_1851IMG_1877While a few parts of the Azores do have regular bull fights, with toreadors on horseback who must stab the bull with a type of javeline, most of the islands only offer Touradas a Corda. The bull is certainly not happy, and is taunted before leaving the traveling shed so that he comes out looking to inflict harm. I assume the bull could be seriously injured, but saw more evidence of bulls getting tired and folks getting bruised. People have certainly been seriously injured and even killed at these events. We watched sitting and standing along the wall high above the bulls. The event  was fascinating -- by turns funny and scary -- and the young men who challenged the bull worked to perform for the crowd, twisting and turning, and creating a “dance” of man and animal.

IMG_1858When the chief handler determines that the bull needs to rest (and is more tractable) the line is gradually shortened and the bull is herded or pulled back into the traveling shed. Once he’s safe inside another rocket is sent up -- a double one. “BANG! BANG!” means the bull is in. There is a brief intermission to allow viewers to obtain snacks, beer, or soda while another bull is prepared, then it begins again.

So we watched and learned and talked with our viewing neighbors -- and discovered that many were folks who had emigrated to the US or Canada from the Azores and returned home for vacation. Consequently, we could chat with them, learn about the islands, and be delighted to find out they were from Massachusetts, near our home in Maine; or Toronto, near where EW grew up; or California, very near where our son Mo lives in Santa Cruz.

And that brings us to Leo from Watsonville, California. Next time.


Sunday with the Rental Car in Sao Jorge - Home Food, Limpets, and Tomatoes

 

IMG_1641One of the problems with writing about  touring the Azores is that it’s hard to know when to stop. A blog post about a particular day is full of events, food, and people and leads to additional discussions about other similar events, more food, some of the same people and new ones. These islands are small with few inhabitants, and if one stays here any length of time, everything relates, so it’s hard to know when to stop and one blog post could go on forever.

IMG_1559A case in point is the first of the two days when we rented a car in Sao Jorge. We left Velas and took the southern coast road heading northeast to Ponta des Rosais and the national park. We walked the trails through the charming park, drove between pastures of grazing cattle bordered by stone walls and those beautiful blue flowers, and viewed the lighthouse and rocky coast below. After a few hours, we left Rosais along the northern coast road, stopping often to photograph more hydrangeas and other sights which happened to have hydrangeas in them, and took a brief detour to visit Faja do Ovidor. (Some of those photos have appeared in a recent post: A Profusion of Hydrangeas.)

IMG_1680By one o’clock on the Sunday in question, we had visited a park, a lighthouse, and a faja. We had taken many photos, enjoyed deciphering the road signs, and marveled at the portable milking parlors, and open trucks with (to our mind) old fashioned metal milk cans. We were on our way to Calheta, where they were having a festival. Before the day was out we would enjoy a “home” meal at a festival tent, view our first Tourados da Corda, and meet a number of people who call the US or Canada home but who were born in Sao Jorge – the most important of whom would be Leo from Watkinsville California. The fajas, the tourados da cordas, Azorean food, and Leo would become frequent topics during the next two weeks.

The Azores are like that.

First, let’s talk about lunch: Our plan had been to cross back to the south road and find our way to Calheta and the festival. EW was hungry and turned into the parking lot of a busy restaurant. It looked like a nice place but I wanted to eat at the festival, not a nice restaurant on the sea. The driveway and shape of the building actually reminded me of one of the seafood places along the stony end of York Beach in Maine; I wanted something a bit more adventurous than that. EW consented to keep going and a few blocks later we found the small festival, complete with food tents.

IMG_1761The tents appeared to be fund-raisers for specific groups. The largest tent was actually three: a bar, seated dining, and a kitchen with grills. We stopped at the bar and asked the bartender for a menu. He held up one finger to ask us to wait a moment and returned with John, who speaks English. The menu sounded good, we went into the restaurant side and sat at one end of a three long tables - just like at a Grange Hall Dinner. John’s daughter, home from the university in Lisbon for the summer, waited on us. EW had “frango churresco” or barbequed chicken. I asked the young accounting major if they offered a local dish. She said the fish dish – “bacalhau seco”- was “of the home”, and I opted for that, assuming from the familiar sounding name that it was a salt cod dish. (In Grenada, a salt cod meal generally served for breakfast, and somewhere I picked up the Italian name bacala. I was feeling like a world traveler.)

IMG_1744IMG_1746Our waitress plussed us up with an appetizer of “lapis” (limpets in English) a local delicacy served raw or cooked. These were grilled. I had wanted to try them and am glad I did, but probably won’t add them to my list of favorite sea foods. The food was excellent, and we enjoyed the company even more. These were the musicians, director, and board members of one of the local town bands. The band has been in existence for over a hundred years; John and his two daughters are members, and his wife was one of the cooks in the kitchen tent. We had arrived just after the normal time for lunch and were one of the last parties served before the group got their meals and sat at a table near us. Some of those who spoke English dropped by to chat with us between bites.

IMG_1757These were people who had stayed in Sao Jorge and raised their families here. John worked for the town, one of his girls was in high school, but planning on college and probably that neither she nor her older sister will live in Sao Jorge after college. All the people we met had family in the US or Canada; some had lived abroad a few years themselves before returning to Sao Jorge to settle down.

At one point near the end of our lunch, an older gentleman carrying a shopping bag stopped by to talk with John and the group. I had greatly enjoyed the municipal mercado (public market)in Horta and the fresh fruits and vegetables we purchased there, and had been disappointed not to find a similar market in either Velas or Calheta. IMG_1749The gentleman carried a plastic grocery bag full of the most beautiful tomatoes I’d seen in three years. “John, can you please ask your friend where he got the tomatoes?” John was a bit surprised at my request but not at the gentleman’s answer. “He grew them himself.” “Will he sell me a few?” I asked. John relayed the request and this wonderful man gave me the whole bag! I was embarrassed and concerned I’d taken all of his bounty, but was told that he had picked them to give away as more were ripe than he could eat. I “obrigadu’ed” him profusely, smiled, and even clapped my hands with delight.

We later found out that many folks have small gardens, whether they live in town or in the country, and relatively few must purchase vegetables in season. We also later met Maria Joao in her store in Velas, and I was able to purchase excellent fruits and vegetables there. But that day, those tomatoes were more precious to me than gold. There were also too many. First I offered to take only some of them, but that wasn’t allowed. Once the gentleman had wandered along, I offered them to various members of the band, but they all grew their own or had neighbors with ripe tomatoes hanging from the vines.

After lunch EW and I took the tomatoes to the car and put them in the cool bag we’d brought for our waters and snacks. I wasn’t going to can tomatoes and already had home-made pasta sauce in the freezer, so EW and I decided to share our bounty with a few cruisers. At the end of our day, we invited ourselves aboard S/V Elska where Barry and Maggie had two other couples on board for snacks and drinks. I  accepted a glass of wine from Barry, portioned half of our tomatoes among the three boats, and all of us were delighted.

Back at our lunch in Calheta, I had noticed that there was one American word prominently displayed on the menu board: Donuts.

Donuts? Absolutely. The Azores are known for their sweets (so much that I find it amazing to have seen very few obese Azoreans) and evidently the emigrants to the US sent back -- or returned with --- a love of and recipes for donuts. Like beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes, we hadn’t had a real donut in three years. We shared one for dessert in Calheta. Thus fortified, we finally pushed ourselves away from the table, and went in search of the Tourados da Corda, where we met a number of vacationing Azorean/Americans – most especially, Leo. 

More on the bulls and Leo in the next post – and in subsequent posts as well. Tourados da Corda is a “thing” in the Azores. Leo became a “thing” with us. Trust me.

PHOTOS:

1. Traditional farmer’s home in the national forest.

2. View. Fields and hydrangeas.

3. Rocky coast at the disappointingly ugly lighthouse.

4. Bass drum from our hosts’ band.

5 and 6. Lapis (pronounced Lap-ish) and my salt cod “at home” dinner

7. Our hosts. John is standing on the left  in the sleeveless red tee.

8. Bag of  tomatoes my dad would have been proud to grow.


Beware of Portuguese Water

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Summer is the dry season in the Azores, but our week in Sao Jorge was mostly cloudy with showers. On our first day ashore, EW and I wandered the town, which slopes up from the sea on a grade that increases every couple of blocks. The village square of Velas (pronounced Vay-lish) honors both Sao Jorge, who slayed the dragon, and the Barefoot Boy who emigrated to America to return years later, no longer barefoot,  to donate needed funds to worthy causes. (I didn’t take a photo of the Barefoot Boy’s statue. Sorry.)

The long narrow island of Sao Jorge, with its ridge of mountains and hills, has been compared to a dragon when viewed from the sea, So St. George is a fitting name and patron saint. As we were to discover, it is also fitting to honor those who emigrated to the US and made good; their numbers are legion and they greatly help the local economy.

After a few hours walking up one street, down another, and talking with ladies in the tourist offices, we were a bit parched, so EW suggested we duck into a corner bar for refreshment. There we met Vasco (pronounced Vash-co), a middle-aged gentleman from mainland Portugal who had moved to the island and opened a bar. (Sounds a bit like St. Thomas, doesn’t it?) Vasco’s English was better than our Portuguese and we easily ordered a beer for EW and a white wine for me. We had a second round when Vasco, who does not sell food in his bar, offered us a sampling of the 7 month aged Sao Jorge cheese. Sharp, yet slightly creamy. Delicious. We sipped and ate, talked a bit with Vasco and watched when, at the request of local customers, he twice pulled a small empty green bottle from beneath the counter and filled it with a clear liquid from a larger bottle that was also kept out of sight. EW immediately said to me, “That’s moonshine.”

When the second customer had left with little green bottle in hand, we asked Vasco what they’d purchased. “Aguardente.” This is a drink local to the Azores which is made by some for licensed distribution. Others make their own for friends and family, which is what Vasco had under the counter, and he kindly offered each of us a shot.

IMG_1505Oh my. It was moonshine, but palatable moonshine - and that’s a problem. We talked about how it was made (a number of different kinds of fruits can be used, depending on the chef or vintner), its taste, and its potency. The name, of course, means “Water with a bite”. That gives you an idea of the potency. Oh My.

IMG_1507Of course the commercial aguardente was discussed, a labeled bottle was produced and two more shot glasses filled. It would have been impolite not to imbibe, but we both liked the home brewed stuff better. When we left, we bought a bottle.  (When in Rome, right? If you were Portuguese, here’s where you would say, “Pois. Pois,” which means “ Of course. Of course,” and is pronounced “Pu-ish.Pu-ish.”)

We tootled out to the anchorage with happy minds and hearts already in love with Sao Jorge. EW went below to open up the boat while I locked the dinghy just as our Belgian neighbors were returning from their drizzly day touring the island. I enthusiastically waved them alongside and invited them for drinks and snacks. They accepted with pleasure, going first to their boat for dry clothes.

IMG_1531I made snacks, EW got out the glasses, and we prepared for the first guests we’d had at anchor in over a month. Patrick and Patricia were returning home after two years of cruising in the Caribbean (somehow we’d missed them there) and Patrick's son Loic was visiting for part of their cruise in the Azores. As Loic said, “I only join them on the easy parts.” They were delightful: we laughed, Loic and EW played guitar, we made bad jokes about a few suggestive clouds, drank a little of wine and beer, ate, and told each other about our day and our cruise.IMG_3561

EW eventually brought out our little green bottle of Aguardente and all had a shot. Pois, pois. If you’re counting, you will realize this makes three shots of water with a bite for EW and me. The next day was also overcast, so EW and I used that as an excuse to have had a quiet day on the boat. That evening Patricia invited us to have drinks and a tour of Rih Malti. I drank water. The kind that doesn’t have a bite.IMG_1515

 

 

 

 

This is a cloud covering all but the tip of Mt. Pico on the island of Pico about 25 miles from Sao Jorge. We all thought it looked like ice cream. Really.


A Profusion of Hydrangeas– Or–Munitos Hortensias

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We rented a car for two days on Sao Jorge – another splurge for the cruising kitty.The local guide books offered by the tourist office states: “To visit the island, one can rent a car, use a taxi or travel on the local bus lines, which cover the major village-places of the island.” On an island with about 5000 residents, “major” village wasn’t defined. The only bus schedule showed one leaving from Velas, and going through Calheta to Topo – on Friday and returning on Monday.

We rented a car.

The first day we took a drive, visiting the park at  Ponta dos Rosais at the north east end of the island and driving along the north shore before crossing in the middle of the island to Calheta, where they were having a small festival. The second day, we planned to take one of the hikes suggested by the parks and tourism offices. Both days were a delight in many ways – not the least of which was the plethora of hydrangeas.

#MG_0797When people talk about the flowers of the islands, they really mean the hydrangeas. We’ve enjoyed wild morning glories, cultivated roses, the largest marigolds I’ve ever seen, and stately lilies. But I fell in love with the hydrangeas.  Some of the locals I’ve talked with thought the hydrangeas were native to the islands but according to Wikipedia, “ Notwithstanding the fact that Hydrangeas were introduced from America or Asia, some locals consider them to be a symbol of the archipelago and propagate them along roadsides, helping them to escape into the wild.” #MG_0863 (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess they’ve escaped. They have certainly been cultivated to act as hedges along the roads and in the pastures. They are everywhere. Our friend, Leo, originally from Sao Jorge is fond of saying that while Faial claims the hydrangeas as a tourist attraction, Sao Jorge has more hydrangeas. We saw more of the Sao Jorge countryside than we did in Faial, but I have to agree with Leo. In Sao Jorge, you cannot escape the hydrangeas.

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Who would want to?

Hydrangeas from a blue-bead necklace around the collarbones of a hilltop pasture.

Hydrangeas frame an otherwise utilitarian road sign.IMG_1699

Blue carpets of hydrangeas tumble down the hills to the sea, presenting a welcome matt to every sailor.

IMG_1548Hydrangeas provide a splash of color against stonewalled and whitewashed homes.

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For me, hydrangeas will forever be the flower of the Azores.

 

 

 

 

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Too Much

 

#MG_0711There is simply too much to write about. I’m bursting with the beauty of these islands, the people, and our experiences. It’s overwhelming. We have met a number of (mostly) Europeans who sail the Azores each summer and store their boats here in the winter, returning again and again. I could do that.

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I somewhat envy those who only have two or three weeks here. We’ve met European sailors who’ve spent two weeks to reach the Azores, will spend only three sailing and touring the islands, and will spend another two sailing back to England or France or Germany. At least they have a deadline.

We’ve moved our deadline twice and I’ve already decided I’d like to come back here again and again. I  told EW once we complete this Atlantic circle, I’d come back to the Azores each summer and return to the Caribbean in the winter if he would agree. I love these islands that much.

Their beauty is breathtaking and like nothing I’ve seen before. These volcanic islands have wonderful soil for farming, so the early settlers cut the forests, sold or used the wood and made beautiful pastures, broken up by stone walls and hydrangea hedges.

Still, there are some forests that have been re-planted, and natural parks to protect them.

#MG_0692There are impressive cliffs, with tiny villages at the bottom, such as Faja do Ouvidor, Faja dos Cubres, and Faja de Sao Joao. “Faja” is the name for the land upon which these villages are built – land that crumbled, crashed, washed down from the cliff tops to the sea. Some have no roads directly to the village, and folks had to walk along a narrow path just above the sea from one Faja to another. We did that in Sao Jorge.

 

 

IMG_0949The towns are beautiful: clean, with lovely buildings, parks, flowers, and playgrounds (and plenty of public, clean restrooms). The sidewalks are nearly all made of small cubed dark stone, with white stone designs. Some designs are simply flowing patterns, others commemorate the islands’ history, still others were created in the present day and indicate the type of business beyond the sidewalk. IMG_0928IMG_1768

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In front of the optometrist: a dolphin and spectacles. In front of the bank: dollars and euros. In front of the computer store: @.

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In Angra, a park for children, and one for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Azores, parking on city streets is not as important as offering outdoor seating at the cafes.IMG_1476

 

IMG_1474On the three islands, nearly every city wall has little built-in seats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the people – warm, friendly, helpful, and funny. In all the time we’ve been here, we’ve seen one unfriendly Azorean. One. We haven’t yet made it to Flores and still hope to get there. In Atlantic Islands, the cruising guide for this region, author Anne Hammick said of the people of Flores, “Even amongst the friendly Azoreans they stand out …” How could they be any more friendly than those we’ve met so far?

Right now, we are still at anchor in Angra. Our outboard motor died in Sao Jorge and this was the closest island with the potential for parts and repair. Pedro – the guyfor Terceira has ordered the part from Lisbon, and we are happily enjoying Angra and Terceria. We have plans to visit Praia de Vitoria and a deep volcanic cave while we wait. In the meantime, I’m working to catch you up on our adventures, EW is learning “That’s the Glory of Love”, working on the boat, and relaxing. Life is good in the Azores.

IMG_0990A quick note about our cruise schedule: We have decided not to sail up to Lisbon, but to focus our mainland Europe experience on the south Atlantic coasts of Portugal and Spain, areas we can explore in 4 – 5 weeks. We have also taken any African stop off the list. Gambia is simply too close to the ebola crisis. It makes no sense for us to visit there this year. So when EW finally is able to drag me from the Azores, we’ll visit new friends Luis and Julio in Algarve, and enjoy more of Portugal and a bit of Spain before sailing to Madera, the Canaries, and the Cape Verdes.


The Portuguese Language

IMG_2611The Azoreans are friendly and they love to assist you with their language. This means they are friendly and will correct and teach you at every opportunity. I welcome that, so I get corrected a lot.

We expected Portuguese to be much like the Spanish language. Well it is, and yet, in surprising ways, it is not like Spanish at all. Having just left the Caribbean where we have been trained to greet each person on the street, we worked to learn how to greet people in the Azores (and mainland Portugal). My first “instructor” was the lady who managed the shower and laundry facility in Faial.

First, I learned to say “Bom dia” for good morning, and “Boa tarde” for good afternoon. I learned that “por favor” is please and blithely assumed that “gracias” must be used for “thank-you”. That brought a frown.

“No ‘gracias’”, she said. “Obrigada!”

“Really? OK, Obrigada!” I replied and she nodded and smiled.

Now, we knew enough to show interest in the language and therefore to be corrected by any willing native speaker.  After EW said “Obrigada” to someone, we learned that one says “Obrigada” to women, and “Obrigado” to men (though you can say that to genders). And it’s not “Oh bri ga doh”, it’s Ob bri ga due”. If you get confused, anyone can simply say “thanks” by saying “obrigad” – but never “Gracias”, because that’s Spanish. 

Quick pronounciation tips:

  • If a word ends in “o” it has a “u” sound
  • If a word has an “oa” such as “boa dia” or “cao” – the word for dog – it rhymes with town, though that “n” is barely there and may be silent with some folks.

On the first day in Faial, we learned good morning, good afternoon, please, and thank-you, and I felt quite accomplished..

A couple of days later as I went into the laundry area for the second time that day, calling a cheery “Bom dia!” she replied “ola!” I stopped. “So I can’t say, “gracias” but I can say “ola”? Isn’t that Spanish?”

“We say “O-LA!” Not, “OH-la” It’s a subtle distinction. When I left the building, calling a cheery “Bom dia”,  she smiled and replied, “Ciao!”. I stopped in my tracks. “So I can’t say “gracias”, but I can say “ola”, and for goodbye I can say “Ciao”? That’s Italian!”

She nodded, “I know. But we use it.”

IMG_2705It turns out that their official word for “good-by” is “adeus” but I’ve heard no-one use it. Like the stop signs in Europe, it seems that many Europeans have adopted “Ciao”. We’ve heard it from Belgians, French, Germans, and many, many Azoreans.

Both EW and I thought that the Portuguese language sounded Slavic to our ears. We were delighted when Barry and Maggie from S/V Elska agreed with us, and we all discussed it with our, Azorean/American friend Leo. Mostly, it’s because of the “s”. If an “s” is used at the beginning of a word or syllable it is pronounced with the sss sound. If it comes at the end of a word or syllable, it has a soft “sh” sound, like in the word wish. The town of Velas on Sao Jorge, is pronounced “Vay-lish”. While two glasses of red wine is written as “Dois copos vinho tinto”, it’s pronounced: “Do-ish co-posh vin-u tin-tu”. (All of the “O” sounds in this sentence rhyme with doe, a deer.)

 

Imagine my delight when I downloaded information about pronouncing Portuguese and found this:

Don't assume that Portuguese is just like Spanish. Though they are very closely related languages, and a knowledge of Spanish will certainly help you in pronouncing Portuguese, the two languages don't actually sound that much alike. Portuguese shares some idiosyncrasies with French, and to anyone unfamiliar with the vocabulary of Romance languages, it's equally likely to sound like Russian. (Italics mine.)

OK, (everybody says “OK”, too), we’re trying to get it right. We try to learn new phrases daily and ask anyone who will be patient to help us. I finally learned how to say “Please excuse me” the other day. Can’t spell it, but it’s “Dosh-cul-pe” and while that last e is a final syllable of “eh” it’s barely pronounced, more of a breath after the hard “p” sound.

We like these islands and the people, and we try to show our admiration and respect by respecting their language, but we are very thankful that most people speak English. Otherwise, how would I have ever ordered those first two glasses of red wine?

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We had our neighbors over for a cockpit party in Sao Jorge. With, me here are:

With me are EW, English-speaking from the US; Igor and Grete, French-speaking from Belgium; Tomon (dog) from Belgium who speaks French, Love, and Treats; Roel and family-friend Rita, Dutch-speaking from Holland (Roel speaks Brazilian Portuguese); Barry and Maggie, real English-speaking from England.

Our friend Leo took that photo. Here’s one that includes him. Leo speaks idiomatic English with a Portuguese accent and is afraid that he now speaks Portuguese with an American accent.

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A couple of days later I discussed pronunciation with Barry and Maggie who brought up “the Queen’s English”. Barry taught me this:

  • What grows on your head? Hair. 
  • What do you breathe? Air
  • Where does a fox live? Lair

Put them all together, “Hair, Air-Lair” and  you have “Oh, Hello” in the Queen’s English.

(When you try this, it helps to smile slightly and move your lips as little as possible. Also, pronounce the “r” sounds like we do in Maine – not at all!)

And we think Portuguese is hard! (Pronounced Hahhd!)

 

NOTE: The photo at the top was taken on a hike up Mount Brasil in Angra. The sailboat on the right is La Luna.


The Sounds of the Azores

Faial, Horta

IMG_1361We remember each island by the sounds. In Faial, during the World Cup, a regatta for special Olympic sailors, and a general weekend, we could hear live music from two venues for a number of nights. Since it’s light until nearly ten here, things can rock until two AM. Young German sailors who were crewing on a boat returning from Bermuda, partied in the slip next to us until four. Sailors and vendors drove scooters, motor cycles, taxis, and delivery trucks onto the fixed concrete pier, and across the harbor from the marina is a quay and dock for cargo ships that added the sounds of powerful diesels, ship’s horns, and trucks and cranes.  Faial was not quiet, but after the solitude of three weeks at sea, the noise was (mostly) not unwelcome. IMG_1364

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Velas, Sao Jorge

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We anchored under the cliffs of Velas, delighted to once again be swinging on the hook, away from boats, bands, and motor cycles. I awoke very early in the morning after a disturbing dream to find that the sounds of my quasi-nightmare had followed me into wakefulness. The caverns in the cliffs were home to thousands of Shearwaters and their call is strangely human and more varied than the “Mine! Mine! Mine” Disney attributed to Seagulls.

I heard, “Oh my!”, and “No go!” and “Helll -loo” in their two part call. Each bird seemed to have a distinct call -- one would exclaim “Now! Now-ow!” over and over again, and another would reply with “Who me? Who me?” We grew used to them, but are not sure when they slept as we could hear them from sunrise to sunset if we were awake.

They did clear up a mystery. The shearwaters fly far out to sea and can dive 15 meters for fish. One morning as EW woke me for my watch he described being startled by a large bird which flew along next to the boat and screeched at him. I gave him a “yeah sure” look at the time, but believe as he does that he’d been visited by a typically verbose lone shearwater who had things to say. British sailors Barry and Maggie from S/V Elska told us that shearwaters mate for life, spending up to seven years at sea maturing and looking for a mate. Someone better tell that shearwater that EW is taken.

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P1000566O barco Holandes a entrar na baia

 

Angra, Terceira

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We are anchored off the beach in Angra on the island of Terceira. This island of 40,000 souls has many churches and those churches have bells. We can hear three of them twice an hour, twenty-four hours a day. First, the Misericordia Church, rings with an entry of 2 tones, and then strikes the hour. On the half hour, we hear the two-toned entre, and then one bell for the half hour. Immediately after first one, than another church sounds out the hour as well - so we hear a minimum of 32 bells at ten-o ’clock.

S/V La Luna is well-timed, as our ship’s clock peals four bells at ten -- right after the Misericordia Church completes its round. In Angra, the bells are ringing for me and my guy.

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Photos, from the top:

Faial

  • Replica whaling boat, sailing past the ship quay.
  • Two boat signs dedicated to our jam friends in Grenada – especially Peter from S/V Too Much Fun  and a;Dave from S/V Troubadour.
  • Two of my favorite things in the Azores, in one photo: hydrangeas and tiled sidewalks.

Velas

  • Photo of La Luna at anchor, taken by our friend, Leo Teixeira before he met us. How cool is that?
  • Tomon (spelling is most certainly wrong) from S/V Miss Terre, on board with her people for a party on deck.
  • The ubiquitous hydrangeas.
  • Panorama view by Leo Teixeira, our friend from Velas and Watsonville, CA.

Terceira

  • La Luna at Anchor from the fort to the west of the anchorage.
  • View from the deck; the second church to chime each hour is in the back on the far left.
  • Close up of the Misericordia church – and old world church on the shore of a modern marina and break-wall, surrounded by shops and cafes. Yep, we’re in Europe!