28 August 2017

Flowers of the Azores

Although not indigenous, hydrangeas are much loved and border the fields along with ancient stone walls.  
It is very difficult for me not to write about the flowers we have encountered while in the Azores.  They are prolific, wild, colourful, tiny and huge - absolutely glorious and everywhere.  Unlike the bougainvillea that have dominated much of our previous stops, the plants that grow here love the temperate climate.  In the summer, when I would normally be trying to grow flowers on the Canadian Shield, I have instead loved hiking through fields of known and unknown wildflowers.
Morning glories are huge.

I am a person who has loved to dig around in the dirt, sweat buckets and attempt to create palettes with blossoms.  In my other life, it was my therapy.  And on Milly, there is no dirt - Peter is allergic to soil of any kind.  I now have an epiphyte hanging in a sea urchin shell which dangles and sways on our passages - without dirt! But it is green and has soothed my yen for gardening a bit.
Juniper bushes which I have pulled out by the dozen, are protected here.  Gin in a favourite alcohol and the juniper is called the Azores cedar - somehow much nicer.

But I miss growing things...so please indulge me and enjoy the pictures my photographer has patiently taken (his favourite photo subject as you have probably noticed is boats, particularly Milly).

Great bones with lovely colours.


Cala lilies in front of a drying rack for corn.

Agapanthus, I think. Growing wild.


This juniper, I mean "cedar" was a tree!

Lantana grew wild all over the place in pink and pale yellow or in orange and mustard.  These were loving the soil in a crater.

A strange tree we had not seen before - fire tree, I think.

The lichen loves this wall in wet and wild Pico. 

An unknown...maybe fuchsia?

Wild roses and hydrangea.  It almost made me fall off the scooter getting a picture.

Zen wood.

Oh yes, and then there was the cheese...in huge rounds lining the shelves.  I liked that, too.

Sometimes it's about the background.

Wild yellow ginger, an invasive species, has an amazing yellow flower but it's roots are strangling the native plants.  It's everywhere and the botanists are worried.

In southern Santa Maria, the desert plants abound.

Can't get enough of that!

Bullfights/Runs in the Azores

Really it's more like bull baiting or teasing with a lot of running (men) then fighting.  The Azoreans love their bullfights and proudly proclaim they do not harm the beasts but instead admire them, even revere them.  There is not supposed to be any blood.  Four strong young men hold onto to the bull via a leash which they whip up and down to get the bull riled while other men, young and old, run in front of the bull.  The brave ones try to outstare the bull as it looks at them and then run around in tighter and tighter circles with his hand on the bulls forehead or close to it.  The bull can't manage the tight curves and eventually gives up, hopefully before the guy.  The brave but not so brave ones, yell or whistle at the bull and then take off in the opposite direction to climb a wall, hide between houses or jump into the water depending on the venue.  All watching clap, jeer and/or drink as the entertainment requires.

We saw two bullfights - one in San Jorge on the sea's edge and the other in Angra do Heroismo in the middle of the city.  Although glad to be part of the audience, twice was enough.  It was fun to see the tradition and the enthusiasm of both the crowd and the bull fighters - not so much the bull who always looked a bit dazed and relieved to be shut back into his crate after the production.

In Sao Jorge, the young and inexperienced men waited for the bull, ready in bathing suits to dive into the water as the bull almost sauntered by with a occasional thrust of his horns.  Braver than I but...compared to their elders, they had a lot to learn.

The guys with the black hats controlled the beast, running after or perhaps being pulled after the bull when on the move and trying to vex him with the leash when he paused for breath.  They appropriately climbed the walls if the bull made an about face and started towards them.

This was an older man, dressed in red, who teased and then leapt but only at the last minute.  He'd done it before and obviously enjoyed the thrill.

Several of the men had umbrellas they used as the stereotypical red cloak.  They would twirl the brallie, hold it slightly to the side and when the bull charged....

pull it away.  Poor, frustrated bull!

And again, and again, and again...

A little bit of teasing to get the bull antsy.

And here's the very brave, doing tight circles, while looking behind him.  Yikes!  He really shouldn't trip!

This show all took place in the port on a Sunday.  The port was closed but the staff had been busy all day arranging the containers into bleachers with forklifts.  At first we sat in the first row, legs dangling but bulls don't leap so we felt safe.  Then we moved to TomTom to watch from the water with many other boats.

New bull, same antics.  Between bulls there was lots of beer served to both audience and the guys in the "ring".  As the men became more lubricated they, of course, became braver.

In Angra do Herismo, the four bulls arrived in crates totally encased.  We stood on a private patio overlooking the street which was jammed with others watching, men strutting their mojo, guys hawking snacks and drinks (we had a great caipirinha).  Lots to look at, tons of fun and a true cultural event.

And the bull is released, dazed and not too happy.  Felt sorry for him :(

The senors at work.  They ran down the street at full speed after the bull and then 45 sec later were back following the bull who, I guess, was lost.

This guy seemed a bit nonplussed.  Not really into it.  

Another part of the tradition, which the women were part of, was to hang colourful, handmade blankets over their balconies.  These were all along the street and certainly added to the ambience.  The women were smart to show off their prowess from the safety of their balconies while the men were on the street with the bull.
We left quickly down the bull fighting street between bulls, having had our fill.  This bull had been hurt - big pools of blood were splashed on the street.  He was definitely relieved to get back in his crate.

These bull fights seem to occur almost every day somewhere in Terceira and on the other islands, perhaps less frequently.  I'm sure it's a tourist event but the people we saw in the audience and on the street were locals.  It's a tradition that is carried on with enthusiasm.  Really fun to see - but I wouldn't want to be the bull.

Hiking the Azores

In the Azores, the chickens have right of way...almost.

During our seven weeks cruising the Azores, Peter and I have explored seven of the nine islands.  They are stunning - like nowhere we have yet been.  Although each is unique, they each rise steeply out of the very blue, exceptionally clear water with treacherous black volcanic cliffs.  These are topped by bucolic, steep hills of green patchwork fields bounded by ancient rock walls or blue blossoming hydrangea hedges.  And on top of that lie the volcanic cones and craters.  The highest are topped with Azores heather and cedar (juniper in Canada).  The lower of the cones and many of the craters are lined with more fields, the main crop of which is grass for the many cattle with some corn - also for the cattle.  And some vineyards - for the humans.

Hydrangea hedges, steep, green hills.

Our first hike, found by luck.  Each island in the Azores has very well marked trails.  And you know that if they are official, they are worth hiking - at least, in what we experienced.  Each is sensational.  And, yes, they are a bit tougher than they are rated by those bureaucrats.  The above was on Flores, perhaps our favourite island.  We went down a steep 200 m and back up the same route.  And this after 11 days on the boat.  A bit chuffed but the views were exhilarating!
A typical trail, bounded by ancient stone walls where cows or bulls lounged on the other side, curiously watching while chewing...incessantly.  One of the sole exports and proud products of the islands are unique cheeses.  Rounds dipped in wax - the perfect cheese for long passages.
These islands have a rich history of seafaring, privateers, fishing and hardship.  I don't think life has ever been easy here.  They share a definite European flavour with a distinct tradition.  They are more affluent than any of the Caribbean islands, tidy, clean, with educated but rather melancholy people.  Many have been exceptionally kind and helpful but the average one on the street, unlike many of the islands, particularly Bermuda, where you are greeted by one and all, does not smile or meet your eyes - kind of like Toronto.

We have hiked high and low always accompanied by glorious birdsong which seems more insistent, varied and beautiful than we have every experienced before, perhaps because there is such little white human noise.  There are always more hikes, harder hikes, higher hikes but we have done a pretty good job.  Hiking has become our sightseeing preference.  So here goes, in order of visiting - I've tried to limits photos but it is not easy!
We cheated on Flores by taking a day taxi tour with Lee.  Silvio took us all over the island, stopping at each and every Miradour or viewpoint where we had to get out and exclaim and take pictures.  Each stop was magnificent but, truth be told, after way more than twenty, it got a bit tiring.  The above are two crater lakes, one at a higher altitude and different colour than the other.  Both are protected.  

Hamlets on all the islands are nestled in valleys or on fajas which are flatter pieces of land, at the coasts' edge where the lava flowed into the ocean.  They are often microclimates where crops can more easily be grown.

We stopped at the only mill still running on the island of Flores.  And this is it.  A tiny house and lovely garden,  run by the woman in the middle.  Farmers bring their corn in bags to be ground, marked as good for cows or humans. 

Water goes under the bak of the mill in two meagre looking streams...

which gush under to turn the cogs of the mill in a surprisingly powerful blast.
which in turn, turns the grinding stone, while the lever skimming the stone lets one kernel of dried corn off the spout at a time...no kidding!

Many of the trails, especially in Flores, were old roads or paths, each laid with stones/rocks to create a relatively flat surface.   Incredible work!  Stilettos would not be appropriate. 

Waterfalls abounded in this wet, wet island.  Here most of the buildings were stone with red tile roofs.

"Organ Pipes" were amazing volcanic formations.

The tiny harbour of Lajes de Flores didn't have room for Milly who stayed out at anchor.  A bit wild at times as the waves and winds and waves beat her furiously.

Terraced and bounded by stone walls.  How did they do that?

Cows were everywhere.  Isn't it beautiful?

A very odd antenna.  Still haven't figured it out.

Our last hike on Flores was truly stupendous.  We ended up going down, down, down this very steep coast while others attempted going the other way.  We were glad Silvio had told us the right end to start at.

The gates were very crafty - but kept the cows in or out.

Our path between fields of yellow wildflowers.

Near the end, a little village.

On to Faial.  Ponta dos Capelinhos, the newest land on the island 2.5 square km, surfaced in October, 1958, altitude 160m after a volcano erupted.

A double submarine crater on Monte da Guia near Milly's berth in Horta.

We rented a scooter on Horta and froze but circumnavigated the island in record time.

Bit of a hold up but no horns or road rage apparent.

The lighthouse remained standing when the volcano erupted and the keeper stayed to keep the light on.  It is still a desolate place with a great underground museum.

We climbed the crater rim.  It is still ash with only very intrepid tiny plants growing.  

And at the top, steam escaped from this crack in the soil.  Peter put his hand in one, just to test it, you know?  And quickly withdrew after getting burnt.  Truly awesome and humbling.

That determined greenery in a land of desolation.

Milly in the Horta Marina on July 1, 2017, Canada's 150th birthday.  She was the one and only Canadian boat.  We did see a couple of other Canadians, identified by their t-shirts.  Peter hailed them and we had a bit of Canadian pride.  As you can see, the marina was packed.  Boats were rafted up three and four abeam.  We happened to be assigned to raft up to boat whose crew we had briefly met in Bermuda.  We went out to dinner with them in Horta and then again in Sao Miguel.

Horta marina is considered the crossroads of the Atlantic.  Boats pass from west to east, from north to south and from south to north.  Tradition has it that all crew paint "We were here" sign on the walls surrounding the marina.  Painting on concrete is now easy task.  It required making stencils, copying fonts, several coats and knee pads.

with a good end result.

Serious business.  There is a paint store right across the street from the marina.

We chose a new patch of concrete.

Island number three.  Pico.  We wanted to climb the mountain but it was covered in cloud on the day we could go so we took a tour instead which ended up being just the two of us.  Pico is a producer of great wine.  

You can understand why it's expensive when you see the vineyards.  Tiny plots in incredibly volcanic soil, surrounded by walls to protect the vines from the wind.  These people work hard!

The north end of Pico had a multitude of ancient volcanic cones covering the slope of the iconic volcano cone.

A great meal in a tiny, roadside restaurant.  The great thing about tours is that we go to places that we would probably never find on our own.  This was no tourist trap!

Eerie crater lakes cover with mist dotted the top plateau of the island.

Island number four: Sao Jorge.  The volcanic activity left a beautiful but treacherous coastline.

The locals know all the good places.

Milly is one of those boats tucked beneath the precipitous cliff.  Again, no room in the marina, but we preferred the anchorage.  

Another hike, another great view.

We rented a car for a day to circumnavigate and hike.

These two peninsulas were fajas, created from the lava flow.  On Sao Jorge, they are the only places that people have settled.  To reach the towns there are steep roads with multiple hairpin turns.  Luckily, it doesn't snow here but, nonetheless, it must be crazy during the rainy season.

Although it's tough to have a favourite hike among so many great ones, I think this might be one of mine, rated difficult for the 500m straight down and then, of course, back up.  We hiked down to Faja de Alem, the plots of land way below, accessible only on foot.  Boats can't go there because the coastline is so rocky.  

On one of the simple stone houses is a plaque remembering a man who lived there all his 90 years!  The houses are now mainly seasonal cottages but still simple and incredibly remote.

This wire ending at the village in a heap of car tires, was the preferred method of delivering items to the village.  Those small red dots are the roofs of the cottages at the end of the wire.  There was no visible braking system but there must have been something as any bucket going down the wire would reach quite a clip by the bottom.

Milly is anchored at the bottom of this cliff, waaay down there.  Every evening at twilight thousands of shearwaters come to rest.  They chat for several hours before sleeping in a loud, singsong voices with one or two loud mouths.  And then at dawn before heading out for the day, they chat again.  We had never heard anything like it. 

Onward to Angra do Heroismo on Terceira.  Angra was named a  UNESCO World Heritage city in 1983 and it's old city was charming and a little more sophisticated with a European flair.  On each of the islands, sidewalks no matter how narrow were made with small, irregular black or white cobbles arranged into intricate designs.  Some were so polished from wear that they were slippery to walk on.

No ordinary sidewalk cafe.  The bar surrounded the elderly tree.

Angra do Heroismo.  An earthquake in 1980 damaged the buildings that now have brighter terracotta roofs. 

We were far from home.  There are many immigrants from Azores in Toronto.  People we met always had a cousin or uncle who lived there.

A signaling station on Monte Brasil near Angra.  Until quite recently Azorean fishermen were world renowned for their whaling abilities.  The islands are dotted with whale watching stations.  The watchers would signal the whalers in boats along the shore with flags, smoke or, later, flares.  Even now the whale watching tour companies hire or pay free lance whale watchers to keep a lookout and let them know where a pod is spotted.  We saw several of the watchers but none of the whales - a pod of dolphins though from a long way up looks like a moving patch of rough water.

We rented a car - thank goodness it wasn't a scooter - to explore and get to a trail head.  Here I am on the highest point of the island, encased in cloud, and buffeted by wind.  Didn't last long.  The view was nonexistent.

Through a lovely cedar forest.  This trail had "railings" and metal steps up the steepest grades.  This was an exception but many had timber or carved rock steps in the middle of nowhere.

We walked along the edge of this crater.  The greenery at the bottom grew along the route of the lava flow.

We descended more than 100m into a vast cave system, Algar do Carvao, not fully explored until the 1960s and some of which is 3200 years old.  This vent is 17 x 27 m and drops about 45 m.  Huge cathedral-ceiling caverns dripping with moisture at the bottom of which was a subterranean lake at about 80m from the top of the vent with a depth of 15 m.

A few kms away was a second cave system, Gruta do Natal, a "lava tube" and completely different.  Low ceilings required hardhats.  We scrambled along a "path" viewing incredible formations left by the lave flow.  When the cave opened to the public on Dec 25, 1969, a Christmas service was given.  Hence, the name and the continued practice of holding services every Christmas in this dark and rather eery place.

On to the next island, Sao Miquel and the capital city of Ponta Delgada.  The island peaks were cloud covered the entire time we were there so, although others name it as their favourite island, we did not see it at it's best.  Sao Miquel brags the highest population of the archipelago and Ponta Delgada is definitely a city complete with shopping malls.  An outdoor concert held each evening in the old town was a highlight.

Beaches are almost nonexistent on these volcanic islands.  Instead, the coastline is rocky.  Any sand is black and often gravel stone or larger.  "Natural pools" on several of the islands were water and surge among the huge boulders with, sometimes, concrete poured for walking or lying upon.  Other places a cement pad provided a dock for plunging.  Here a saltwater pool was built beside a concrete beach and the harbour for those who preferred the waves.  This harbour was not really appealing being inside the city port.

We bused to a lovely hike along the coast in Sao Miquel.  Straight down and back again and then walked home to Milly.

Another town, inaccessible by car but we did see the occasional scooter parked beside a simple home.  

Again, we bused to a hike at around two lakes, one blue and one green separated by a bridge.  Apparently the algae and minerals contribute differently to yield two colours which, although free to flow one into the other, do not mix.  We hiked from the lakes which were in the crater of the volcano to the rim, around part of the rim, and back down to get a ride back to Milly.

A view from the rim.

A smaller crater in the foreground inside the larger crater with the lake.  We were on the rim of the larger crater.  Fields are inside the rim of the smaller crater.  Hydrangeas bordered the trail that we hiked.

Two lake, green and blue. 

Santa Maria was our final and most southern island stop.  Less developed but the seasonal home of some wealthy Portuguese.  We loved it.

Santa Maria was sedimentary rather than volcanic and did boast several real white sand beaches.  The coast was still rugged and dramatic.

At the top, looking down to a fantastic secluded beach.

Does this seem out of proportion to you?  It did to us - all the chimneys were much higher than the roofs.  Not sure why.  No one could tell us in English.

A second hike took us across the island to more incredible vineyards.  An Azorean man who emmigrated to the USA and was back on vacation, hosted us to homemade sweet red wind at the end.  He served a thimble full - it was strongly alcoholic.

The hike was finished off at a defunct whaling station.  Each of the islands had several that featured a large ramp to butcher the whale.  

As you probably gather by now, we loved the Azores and would highly recommend it for a nature holiday!