Chapter Twelve, July 15-August 5, 2004


When we last talked, Sharon and John were in Horta and on their way to Pico, across the “canal”.  Seen from Horta, Pico is dominated by the perfect volcanic cone, 2351 meters (7,713 feet) in height. 

While the peak is the outstanding feature, the island is much more.  Again, like Faial, it is agrarian, with small fields separated by stone walls or hydrangea hedges.  We shared a rental car with Chuck and Ann (II), and managed to drive completely around the island during the day, and up over the top twice!  Each time we went up into the heights, we became enclosed in cloud and mist, so we took a bye on the volcanic peak itself.  In Lajes, on the south coast, we visited a very well-done whaling  museum.  The Azorean whalers hunted the whales from small, open boats, about 30 feet in length, manned by 6-8 men.  Whales were spotted from the hills, and the information transferred to the boats, who then went in pursuit.  The museum had a very good film of a whale hunt, and it looks quite exciting, not to say dangerous.

Our impression of Pico is that it is more “Mediterranean” than Faial.  I’m not sure how else to put it, but the feel is certainly different.  There is less of an “outside influence” on Pico; the villages are smaller, and more indigenous.  Our information that the islands were each different and distinct is certainly borne out by Pico.  We had a great day, traveling around the island, picnicking at one of the turnouts so thoughtfully provided along all the roads. 

In the harbor at Horta, there is a tradition of visiting yachts leaving “calling cards” on the marina wall.  

Not wanting to mess with tradition, we (or more correctly, Sharon) left a momento of our visit.  It is a fun thing to do, and we even recognized a few boats we knew who had been here in the past few years. 

We were getting quite comfortable in Horta.  The marina has showers and laundry facilities, a café, and phones.  And friends, too.  On our dock were Chuck and Ann (II), Michel and Marie-Claire from outside Paris (I take back all my “Frog-bashing”!!), and a Finnish family next door.  Oh yes, I almost forgot the young Belgian couple, Sam and Christine, on their way back home after a year in Brazil.  It was becoming all too much like home, and we could have stayed indefinitely.  But it was time to move on.  So we sailed over to Sao Jorge, about 22 miles away.  The harbor here only holds about 12 yachts (in good weather; in bad it can be dangerous), and we are the only American boat in the place.  People are friendly and helpful, and there is always someone around who speaks enough English so we can find what we're looking for.

 To put Sao Jorge into perspective, it is about 50% larger than the land area of Litchfield, Connecticut (our last home), and has 6,000 residents, or 2,500 fewer than Litchfield.  So it’s rural, with a few towns, and many cows.  Dairy is the island’s dominant economy, and cheese-making the principal product.  It is not unusual, we are told, to run into the sort of “traffic jams” we encountered on the bus on our way to Calheta.

We've relied on public transportation to get around, and have had a wonderful time.  Today, for instance, we took the bus from Velas (where we are anchored) to Rosais.  Before we left, two local fishermen approached us in Portuguese.  We didn't initially understand what they were saying, but it turned out they were asking us for a lift out to their boat.  We had  just tied up the dinghy, and they had  seen us, so I started it up again and ran them out to their boat.  It was fun to be on the "giving end" for a change.  On the bus, we missed our stop, but the bus turns around and comes back the same way, so we were able to communicate enough with the driver to just let us off in the center of town on the return.  He spoke no English at all, but we managed.  Rosais has one of the seven cheese factories on the island.  We stopped at the local café for a coffee, then went in to see if we could buy some of the local cheese (excellent, by the way).  We were invited in to look around the little cheese-making plant, which we did.  About five people worked there, and one had spent some time in Toronto and spoke English.  He told us all about the process, and what was going on.  It was so much fun! 

This is not one of those "Guided Tours of the Brewery" one might expect.  People just stopped what they were doing to show off their work. With some bit of pride, I'll add. 

Then, we stopped in a tiny park/playground and had our picnic lunch, watching three little children roughhouse under the watchful eye of their mother.  It was a nice day so we walked the eight kilometers back to Velas.  Great way to spend a day, let me tell you.

With our arrival in Sao Jorge, Sharon and I have, independently, come to the conclusion that this is what we were looking for when we left over a year ago.  This is the first time we've really felt as though we were "exploring" on our own.  Everywhere else we've been in the company of other sailors, Americans and others, and they have sort of prepared the way for us.  We don't feel that way here, even though yachties come here, and have for years.  But here, we are not in a "tourist destination", but rather in a smallish town on a smallish island, where life depends on farming, not catering to tourists.  Hard to explain, but we like it.

Next we sailed over to Terceira, an island about 50 miles away.  Terceira is the most densely-populated island in the Azores, and we weren’t sure we were going to like it, seeing how much we enjoyed the pastoral Sao Jorge.  Such a difference!  We were immediately enthralled with the “city”.  I use “city” respectfully, for Angra do Heroismo is the oldest city in the Atlantic, having been given that designation almost 80 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, 1534.  The architecture is stunning, the streets and houses well-kept, clean and tidy, the people friendly.

We recently set out to the basket maker to have one made for our galley. Size was important so custom was the only answer. We found our basket maker shop located in the garage of his home in a very residential neighborhood. He spoke no English, we speak no Portuguese. It wasn't going terribly well, so he told us with his hands to wait a few minutes. He returned several minutes later with his wife, an uncle and a neighbor all of whom spoke a tiny wee bit of English. You have to give him high grades for his earnest efforts. After all, he didn't come back with just one person, he came back with three! We were finally able to master the plan. While waiting for the interpreters to be rounded up, an elderly man arrived. Actually he happened to be a traveling salesman. He was selling 100% polyester pleated skirts with elastic waistbands in such missy/moderate colors as cranberry, camel or black. He was selling door to door! He didn't know he was dealing with an ex-fashion offifionato/nazi. For sure there could have been a gentler way, rather than the protests that were delivered. It was good for a laugh, we must admit.

There are few supermarkets on the island, "mini mercados" are your neighborhood market in abundance. They look like convenience stores and sell anything and everything. Pots, pans, underwear, potatoes, porcelain china, lampshades, fresh-baked Portuguese rolls, motor oil, you name it. Oh yes, and condoms, too. It's a riot. They're also the size of your living room and usually run by the ancient aging folk who are not terribly interested in you being there although almost always helpful if prodded. Most often the lights are turned on only upon your arrival. Believe it or not, John almost always strikes up a conversation with the proprietor, somehow, someway. We usually end up having a grand time and learn a lot. These are the moments we cherish.

 Last Saturday evening, we went to a bullfight.  The bullfights in the Azores are not like anywhere else.  The bull is not killed, or even harmed, but he is let loose in the streets to see what he can run down.  He has a very long rope around his neck, and four or five big men manage to somewhat control his movements.  The young men of the area get into the streets, and, as one local resident told us, “play with the bull”.  Sometimes the bull has his way, but on the night we went, we saw no one seriously hurt.  We watched from behind a wooden barricade, and the first bull of the night (there are four) charged us right off the bat.  The only thing between us and 1,200 lbs. of angry bull was ½ inch of plywood!  (Sorry, but we were too busy to get a photo of that.) We were befriended for a while by a former Portuguese Navy captain who told us “The only one to get hurt in a bullfight is the one person stupid enough not to outrun the bull.”

There was lots of local color, including an impromptu “marching band”, and a group of troubadours who stopped to serenade Sharon.  Great fun!

The other major city on the island, Praia da Vitoria had a ten-day “Festival of the Holy Spirit” while we were here.  There were food stalls, rides for the kids, and entertainment nightly.  Thursday night we went to a concert by – get this! – The Moody Blues.  Seems incongruous, the Moody Blues sponsored by the Holy Spirit, but there it was. We had to take a nap in the afternoon, since the concert started at 11:00 p.m., well past our bedtime.  We came home at 2:00 a.m.!  But it was fun, nonetheless.

We have run into some very interesting use of the English language, mostly in the translations offered in brochures and flyers.

 In a brochure for a bar/restaurant:

Aquemotion invites you to strong emotions.  Overlooking the historical bay, this is a place with different alternatives.”

In a ferry timetable:

“The transport office informs you no service at vigorous weather.  During meteorlogic conditions we realize compromised service for your safe process.”

But then, both are better than our Portuguese!

When we planned this trip, we thought we’d spend about three weeks in the Azores.  We’ve now been here four, and we have two more islands to visit.  Maybe we’re finally getting the hang of this life after all.

From here, we’ll sail to Sao Miguel, then on to Santa Maria before crossing over to the mainland.  We should be there by the first of September, looking for a place to moor for the winter.  We’re considering Cadiz or Seville; we’ll see.

A bientot!