To arrive on the island of Faial in the Azores archipelago of nine islands you have to fly or take a very long boat ride.The low carbon emission way would be to sail there. For a land lubber like me who suffers from sea sickness it’s not an option. For those who live on the islands aeroplanes have brought prosperity and may just have halted total environmental degradation of the islands. Ironic , perhaps but tourism is now both important for the economy and for the natural protections needed. Marine research is also based here.
Whale watching instead of whale hunting brings a different kind of work. EU support for restoration of biodiversity has also brought an end to the total decline of the very special island flora and fauna. It’s a fascinating place for botanists, marine biologists, and all those who love the sea, islands and the power of nature. To be honest, nature needs us to visit and help nurture all these projects as well as the people on these far off islands.
In the mid Atlantic these islands have been formed from activity deep within the earth along the tectonic plates of the American and European continents. The last volcanic eruption on Faial was in 1958 and there was an earthquake in 1998 which caused damage. On our first full day on Faial and staying in the main town and trans Atlantic sailing harbour of Horta we were taken on a tour of the island by Alda from a local travel firm. As we had not hired a car we took a tour with her. She had grown up in the valley of Flamengos and showed us the local church that had been finally rebuilt after the earthquake. Her mother remembered the volcanic explosions in 1958. We visited the new volcanic land of Capellinos with her.
We also met an American Azorean whose family had left because of the destruction of their town on the North West of the island. His father had hunted whales and it had been the main industry there. 50 years or more later, his son, who was two when the volcano erupted,has returned. He helps tourists understand some of the many innovative projects that have been a part of Faial’s history; such as the transatlantic cables laid down across the ocean.
The capital Horta has been a very cosmopolitan place and welcoming port. Sailing and Peter’s cafe are part of the maritime history as well as the whaling museums of the whale hunting past.
The colonisation of these islands by the Portuguese navigators and explorers means that we were welcomed to Europe on one of its furthest points west. For me the islands are a microcosm of our recent colonial histories. All nine islands were discovered by the Portuguese from the 1400s. All were forested and had probably been undisturbed for millenia.
The birds, wind and sea had brought plant and other forms of life to these islands. Human beings brought axes and civilisation.The native forests were cut back and the rich brought exotic plants such as hydrangeas which were used as new hedges. Many types of farming have been tried.
Monoculture farming has had and is having its impact. There have been orange plantations but a disease destroyed those and at present it is mainly dairy! There have been changes and for many of the islands it has been tough surviving in these island paradises. But it has also been tough on the unique plants and creatures that first inhabited these islands and evolved here.
Can responsible tourism help restore the biodiversity and be sustainable? I think those who live on the islands would welcome this. Certainly we found everyone there very welcoming.
I shall try and create a series of posts about our trip to Faial and link in with our visit to San Miguel from last January . It was certainly a very welcome break and the beauty of Pico and Faial haunt us. We would like to return.