Going to the Azores was a very special experience for several reasons. Trevor kept it a secret from me and it came as a great surprise. We were watching the news in Lisbon about a hurricane approaching The Azores. I said I had always wanted to go there! The following day as there was unsurprisingly a delay in our flights Trevor let me know our true destination before arriving at the airport. He had booked this all without my knowledge for his 70th birthday. It was a very special place, although I did find it rather unnerving being a blue dot on my phone map in the middle of the Atlantic. Any apprehensions about flying there and leaving a carbon footprint in the sky diminished. I would never want to sail there!
I’ve also thought about travel and air flights and do feel it is important for us all to see different places around the world. It can help us be more connected and can be the life blood for those who need tourism and for the places where the wild life and natural spaces need protecting. I think now our individual consciences suffer and as concerned individuals we do what we can for this beautiful planet but the corporate and governments that don’t do the vital work needed or continue with destructive practices are the most culpable.
And so to the Azores. Do go. Or go again! The people there need more individuals and less of the package deals Those who try to look after nature there also need our help. Airlines, like Easy Jet are now operating there with good deals. I wouldn’t usually plug an airline but Easy Jet had to cope with financial loss on our flights. We were delayed twice because of bad weather. So though better than sailing not a trip for the fainthearted! There can be delays and you are flying across the Atlantic. The climate is mild throughout the year but there can be rain. The hurricane force winds were unusual and part of the unpredictability of a changing climate. January 2015 we were told was warm and sunny.
The Azores is famous for hydrangeas but there were only a few blooms still hanging on in January winds. The camellias were abundant and so much other sub tropical vegetation.
The Azores are an archipelago and we visited the main island San Miguel. Punta Delgada is the main airport but the Azores island SATA will fly you on to other islands for free if you follow some complex procedures. The islands are not that near one another!
The beauty of the place is in the volcanic mountains, craters with lakes, hot springs, lush vegetation and rugged coastlines with the sea seen from most vantage points. There is also a richness in the sea and whale watching is a major attraction. However, as an island there are some interesting endemic fauna and flora. And seabirds too that use the islands for nesting like the Cory’s Shearwater and Storm Petrels. My aim is to write a love sonnet for the Shearwaters that fly vast miles over the Atlantic but return to meet up with their mates to raise young!
The weather was often windy and rainy and poor visibility for the peaks but there was plenty to do from museums to vegetarian lunches and a trip down inside a lava tunnel.
These islands could be considered a paradise with the mild climate and abundant rain. The island had a whaling and fishing culture and so the change to more watching is good for the whales but there was poverty in some of the small fishing ports. It has not always been easy to make a living here and there has been a lot of emigration. Crops of oranges failed badly with a blight and then the land was turned over to more and more dairy farming. Tea plantations were set up in San Miguel and are the only ones in Europe! Well, the islands are Portuguese. The islands are also volcanic and there could be eruptions. On San Miguel it was about 400 years ago and on Faial in 1957. Azorean folk seem very philosophical and one man said how he felt about ‘living in the mouth of a volcano’ in Furness. They carry on with their lives and like to stew food in the hot springs for tourists to eat. The churches were white with black basalt stone, well cared for and prayed in. There was a sense of the fragile nature of life for fishing folk and potential volcanic activity, and a gratitude to God for such a beautiful island. In the Museum of Emigration in Ribeira Grande it showed the loss and longing for their native islands and family traditions.
There was a struggle with conservation issues. The natural vegetation of the island has been so cut back for farming that there is only a small amount of the laurisilva forest left. ( More on another post maybe) Here lives the most endangered bird in Europe, the Priolo, an azorean island hawfinch. Islands can have unique species and the chaffinches were marked with more green on their backs. The Furness volcanic lake has also become polluted and poisonous and this has led to a major restoration programme of local flora. We met some very committed conservationists in some of the nature interpretation centres. One told us about saving the Cory’s Shearwater, usually the young. These birds get confused by town and car lights and there is a programme to ensure stranded birds are collected and freed when it is safer for them. The islands are a vivid microcosm of the way we humans have impacted the environment but many also care about conservation and restoration. The photos below are from around Furness lake and the interpretation centre there. Also one of the largest Norfolk pines planted in a botanical garden.
As the weather was a bit inclement we decided to return in September when we can go to another island Faial and hopefully do some whale watching off the coast and some more bird watching. This time SATA had reasonable fares and I can fully recommend a trip to this special place.
Trevor enjoying his birthday and the Quinta Da Hortencias where we stayed.
Delays need patience and a chance to expore an airport! On the way out we met a wonderful tibetan monk who was visiting the Azores to see if he could set up a retreat there. We also met a young German couple twice as we were on the same flights. We could share the German joke of ‘ Same procedure as last time’ from a Freddie Frinton comedy short that German folk watch at New Year. Our artist friend Ruth Koenigsberger introduced us to this. Having been on an island and grown up on the British Isles I am not sure it is a good thing to be insular! This time it was good to see the coast of the mainland and Portugal after all our delays and adventures.