Monthly Archives: July 2014

Oh, the people we meet, the fun we have!

We haven’t been meeting a ton of people, but, those we have, have been truly special.

You may remember our time in Santa Cruz with Ana and Orlando,

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and the Sunday feast at Orlando’s with Ana 2, Ricardo, Pedro and Peter,

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Jorge and Emmanuel of Marisea in Faja Grande,

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Edurado and Carla whom we met at dinner when our Maine crew, Ricardo (aka Dick) and Gail, were aboard,

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followed by our explorations with Tricia and David on Sao Jorge and Graciosa.

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Not to mention Stefan and Carina and Audrey and Roger off two boats we met in Sao Jorge,

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and, Jose, the amazing dock master at Velas marina.

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Now, in Sao Miguel we’re continuing to run into warm and interesting folk.

The first people we met were Emmanuel and Francesca. From St. Malo and Paris when not on their beautiful boat, Emmanuel appeared at our pontoon to see if we needed any help tieing up the Sunday we landed. Soon after, we met Francesca, and before long we’d asked if they’d like to come by for wine and cheese (yes, we were brave, for I find it always a bit daunting to offer the French a glass of vino they haven’t selected).

All was wonderful until I spilled the red wine all over my side of the cockpit. Fortunately, Francesca didn’t catch any splatter, thank god, and she immediately asked for cold water to help me clean up.

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So there the two of us were, scrunched down in the cockpit while Max and Emmanuel were trying to keep the wine from migrating to their side of the boat and spreading more disastrous staining. (FYI: I had JUST used some special wet sandpaper to get off all previous marks on the white fiberglass… it worked, so at least I know what I can use this time…)

Francesca and Emmanuel were graciously laughing, which eased my chagrin.

We discovered this courtly couple had met when Emmanuel was 14 and Francesca, nine.

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Originally from Venice, Francesca’s family would travel to France for summer vacations because her father felt his five children should learn other languages because it broadens the mind (talk about one smart dad). They kept in touch and later married, beginning their own family life, one that always included a boat.

The next day they asked if we wanted to stop by for dinner. Max and I would have had to have been blockheads to turn that invitation down. Somehow the French always make the simplest ingredients taste like heaven, which is exactly what Francesca created. Speaking of heaven, towards the end of the meal Emmanuel pulled out some red wine that was like nectar of the gods. (I wisely stuck with white until I couldn’t stand it any more and just had to sip some of that French red.)

By the end of the night we asked if they wanted to come on a road trip with us the next day. So, on Thursday, July 24th, off we trooped, finally locating the car rental agency where we had reserved our car, one that looked, I might add, like it had participated in one of the car rallies that travels these islands.

We drove east along the coast due to cloudy weather inland. We saw Caloura, one of the prettiest little villages (with a hotel both Francesca and I agreed would be ideal for two days of reading, swimming, and room service).

Once again clean rest rooms greeted us at public beaches,

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along with a lovely natural swimming area, viewed close-up

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and afar,

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miradouras with walls,

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(can any one spot something different about le captain?)

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and, if you’re traveling with two diehard sailors, there are always harbors and more boats to check out, which we did in Vila Franca do Campo.

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The wharf gave Max an opportunity to impress our company. Obviously, he’s lost any inhibitions he had regarding this M.O. as by now I could make a book of his wall walks.

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When the guys were looking elsewhere,

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Francesca and I spotted a mini car on the boat launch.

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Because her language skills verge on genius, we discovered there was cliff diving competition the next two days. The car was a promo piece, and later we saw them towing this (plastic) vehicle to a craggy island, Ilheu da Vila, where the trials and finals were being held.

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We didn’t see anyone diving but did manage to spot some divers and crew waiting to do so,

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something that scares the beejesus out of me.

That night we met up with more cruisers, Joseph (France) off s/v C/LODY and Martin (Wales) and Arnie (Ireland) off s/v CHARDONNAY.

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Conversation flowed with topics from politics (Presidents and Prime Ministers) to economics (the effect of 2008’s too-big-to-fail organizations) to sailing (safe moorings in Balierics) to one of the most interesting: whom aliens would consider the most intelligent life on planet earth (whales).

Needless to say, what started at 6p went until 9:30p. Martin left a bit earlier to start dinner, followed by Arnie who was going to eat the dinner. The three of us (Joseph, Max and myself) then headed off to a tapas restaurant Joseph had discovered.

Let me tell you, Joseph’s recommendation has ended up being one of our favorite restaurants in the Azores along with Marisea in Flores. We plan to visit it several more times before leaving these Azorean waters.

More conversation over excellent tapas and fish along with wine, and before we knew it, time had travelled to almost midnight.

Later that week Martin and Arnie sailed to Santa Maria (one of the smallest islands approximately 50m away) for the weekend. Martin decided to go since they’re just waiting, at this point, for his son to arrive in Sao Miguel from a wedding in Vancouver, B.C. (don’t think we didn’t think of you two, Shawn and Rob :) on August 1st. We hope to meet the son, an engineer, as he was in Qatar when Max’s son Chris was teaching there.

On Sunday (July 27) Joseph with his crew who had arrived Friday night (his sister and boyfriend and one other friend) left for Lisbon, Portugal.

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And, that’s the one downside to meeting new friends: everyone generally leaves for a different port.

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However, we have exchanged boat cards, so beware: the people we’ve met and the fun we’ve had may just be continued in Europe… :)

Second impression

With just a twinge of queasiness (on my part) and another magical dolphin display during our 24-hour passage,

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we arrived Sunday, July 20, at Porta Delgada, Sao Miguel’s largest port and city. After being directed straight to a berth at the new marina (as opposed to the old one where we were in 2002),

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[FYI: we’re the furthest boat out on the left]
we went in search of food, laundry, and showers, almost in that order.

After the tranquility of the previous islands, I enjoy being amidst some hustle and bustle. Lots of people watching, lots of boats, lots of activity, and lots of places to poke around. There’s even a large mall where, blasphemy, we took in a matinee (all US movies are subtitled in Portuguese vs. dubbed AND they maintain the vocal track so you can hear the actors instead of mumbles under any sound effects/music). Even more surprisingly, we searched all of the clothing shops looking for shorts for MAX. No luck so far but not from a lack of trolling the stores.

Interestingly, neither of us remember too much of the city the last time we were here; however, we did know it was going to be quite different from our times in the previous six islands. Every now and then something would prod our memory, but the recalls were faint and fleeting.

After making arrangements for a car rental later in the week, we took off on foot exploring the older part of the city.

The city definitely has rural ambiance while incorporating the cosmopolitan energy of increased tourism and commerce. Down a block or so from our marina three arches face a lovely plaza. The arches date from 1783 when the plaza was part of the harbor and gateway into the city.

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A fortress at one end reminds one of the times when pirates scoured these islands

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and, throughout the city you’ll find architecture reminding you of Sao Miguel’s heritage and age

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Porta Delgada has lovely parks, the largest we have yet to visit. However, one tree in a plaza looked like it had hairy tarps dangling over its large limbs

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On closer inspection we discovered the tree was actually shedding bark, one of the strangest tree features I’ve seen.

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Because the marina doesn’t offer wifi like Sao Jorge’s, we found the public library, which not only offers a quiet and cool place for Internet use

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but also a lovely, inexpensive cafe

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In addition to the reminders of the city’s earlier settlers, there’s plenty of evidence of the newer residents

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All in all, Porta Delgada is an energetic blend of what once was with what is now.

Yesterday the captain of a newly arrived boat disappointedly stated he didn’t leave Antwerp to be greeted by such a modern city. Understanding he was looking for the peace and rustic charm advertised by other islands, Sao Miguel’s commercial and industrial appearance could be a bit off-putting. Yet, for me, my second impression has topped the first. And, even better, I know three times a charm.

DWARF DONKEYS? Right…

If you thought scouting out flattened Pedro on our descent from Pico do Experanca was difficult, let me tell you, that was nothing compared to Tricia’s and my hunt for the elusive Dwarf Donkeys on Graciosa.

But, let me back up and tell you how, and then why, anyone would even think of a dwarf donkey hunt. It all began when the four of us decided to take a ferry to Graciosa, one of the most tranquil islands in this central group of five.

To give you an idea of the ranges in peopledom on these nine islands… the central group is composed of:

Terceira (56,000)
Faial (15,000)
Pico (14,000)
our favorite, Sao Jorge (9,100)
and Graciosa (4,400)

A 24-hour sail to the west are:

Flores (3,800)
and Corvo (430),

and a 24-hour sail to the east are:

Sao Miguel (137,8000)
and Santa Maria (5,500).

Cruisers on s/v CHARDONNAY had taken the ferry over earlier in the week (no marina and very little, if any, safe anchorages, similar to the other Azorean dots in the sea). Like the buses on Sao Jorge, ferries to Graciosa are few and far between: they caught the Sunday night one and returned 24 hours later. We caught the Wednesday night and returned on the next one back (Friday night).

Since it was peak holiday season (remember Amaro and family members?), it was recommended we book a room ahead of time, and arrange for a car as there were not necessarily taxis waiting to cart passengers off to hotels or inns. It was a bit like russian roulette as Tricia and I scouted out available rooms while Max and David looked into ferry tickets and a car rental. We didn’t want to buy the ferry tickets until we knew we had a room, of which there weren’t a lot around. And, since the ferry terminal wasn’t always open, we discovered we couldn’t buy tickets until an hour before we were suppose to board. Can you tell it was like a bit like catch 22?

Fortunately, all came together in one big swoosh, and off we went for two nights and two days to Graciosa, waving good-by to Spirit of Amport (red boat in the background) and Juanona (green-bottom dinghy on deck)

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The ferry ride was like being on a gently swaying horse (at least that’s how I’ve seen some cowboys moving in movies). Not having any responsibility other than making sure we got off at our stop, we were entertained by people watching, eating popcorn (the smell was too enticing),

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and just languidly moving to and fro.

That changed when Max shouted and pointed “WHALE!”.

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Conversation shuddered to a halt and half the passengers rushed to crowd around the port side railing. Well, he DID see a spout. I saw it, too. Unfortunately, no big body of mammal arose from under it; but, it turned out to be a good way to potentially grab a better seat.

However, once we were standing next to the rail, we just kept doing so for watching the sea can be mesmerizing (as long as your stomach isn’t also mesmerized by it). Alongside us was a woman trying to take a selfie. Offering to do it for her, we discovered she was from Vienna and was traveling these islands for fifteen or so days.

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Ana-Louise said she did this often, these solo ventures, and was looking forward to experiencing Graciosa. This conversation is all in excellent English, and, when asked what other languages in addition to German she spoke, she reeled off French, Spanish, and some Italian. No doubt she’d be speaking Portuguese before her trip was over. (This is more often the case of visitors we meet in the Azores. Multilengual Europeans put us to shame and provides an incentive to stumble through more foreign tongues regardless of how badly we mangled the pronunciation.)

We watched the pilot boat escort us in as we approached the southeast coast of Graciosa

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Once docked in Praia, we got our taxi to Santa Cruz, found our hotel (clean and comfortable), walked to dinner (not so good), and slept our first night on this tranquil island.

Next day our rental car was delivered and off we went. It was at this moment when leafing through the small tourist pamphlet lying about our hotel that Tricia said ‘did you know there are dwarf donkeys here?’ Our hunt began for this not-to-be-missed local interest.

But, first we drove to the one real tourist expedition on this island, the cave.

Hopping out of the car at the site, I noticed a honeycomb pattern at my feet. Looking more closely I saw it was formed of plastic and used to hold the gravel in place.

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I find different countries’ ways of doing different things fascinating, which is why I take pictures of patterns and now pea gravel. And, brace yourself, this one of the most interesting items I saw on Graciosa.

Anyhow, we descended to the visitor’s center thinking this is what they meant about 184 steps to the bottom.

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Once again the visitor’s center was impressive and the guides selling tickets helpful.

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Purchasing four we continued on to the cavern’s opening and found no, THIS is where the 184 steps are. We began descending narrow stone steps, which, fortunately, had some light glancing off them as well as peep holes off to the side for resting aging knees

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Reaching the bottom we entered what Max exclaimed would make a great James Bond setting.

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Off in the distance you could hear the hot mud plopping (not reassuring) and straight ahead was a rowboat floating on a lake so dark at first you thought it was sitting on the ground.

After stepping carefully around the craggy, uneven cavern floor, Max noticed the sign alerting visitors to what we had read about

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Of course that only led to his pantomiming his demise,

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which David and Tricia wisely ignored.

Ascending the 184 + 184 steps we were all ready for a good meal, and we meant GOOD as all of us were a wee bit tired of the regional fare having listened to my assurance that, YES, this WAS that cafe that served a wonderful lunch according to the guide book

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It oh so definitely wasn’t.

After my meal of bread along with Tricia and David’s cabbage soup and Max’s attempt to eat dish of the day, we actually found the one I had read about… down the road. This error only confirmed my navigational skills, so the next destination used group skills.

Having read about a NEW restaurant that got great reviews, we piled into the car (actually, jumped) and headed towards Quintas das Grutas. The selling point? “Proprieter has lived in Austria.” We figured that qualifier and the fact “with sophistication” was added to the description of “serving typical regional food” would equip us with a favorable meal. Why, we didn’t know, but desperation will make one latch on to anything the least bit promising.

Tricia and I had not forgotten our hunt for Graciosa’s dwarf donkey. At this point, we were thinking some entrepreneur should have dug a two foot-deep ditch on one side of their garden walls, planted a regular donkey in there, and hung a sign on the street pointing to “Graciosa’s one remaining dwarf donkey–you know, the one you read about in the pamphlet”. But, no dwarf donkeys were espied along the roads in our other search, the one for tasting GOOD food.

Finding the sign (yes, Quinta das Grutas actually had a sign) we turned into the driveway and came upon a charming building, authentically restored to what a wealthy Azorean would have built in the 1700s

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We took a quick peek inside only to be greeted by a warm and welcoming young woman who gave us a tour. We were sold and made reservations for dinner that night.

Promptly at 7p (when it opened), we presented ourselves and our growling stomachs to our tour guide who also happened to be the sole waitress. We gave ourselves into her hands and were we ever so glad we did. Our meals were spectacular.

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When we exclaimed how wonderful our dinner was as we stuffed our mouths with some of the best tasting food we’ve had in the Azores, our waitress told us the chef was only 21 years old.

Wanting to give our thanks in person (after we wiped our salivating mouths), they let us take their photos in spite of being a bit shy of it all

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Another beautiful, memorable time in these islands.

But, the night wasn’t over yet. These towns seem to come awake only when I’m typically asleep, and Santa Cruz was no exception. After arriving back at our hotel, we wandered the few blocks to the main square and were amazed to see the ghost town from earlier in the day come alive with multiple generations. Even toddlers ramble around until midnight or later in these summer evenings. Even more amazing, these are non-whiney, smiling, playful toddlers keeping their parents and grandparents company.

Some vendors were selling their wares, one of whom sold leis of garlic. Tricia decided to buy some to perfume their boat,

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which only led to Max following suit

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(and, no, it’s not too bad as the cordage smells more like hay, which lessens the garlic aroma).

A small band paraded past onto the stage,

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and our first 24 hours in Graciosa came to an end.

The next morning we repeated our search while meandering once again around the island, only this time going counterclockwise (we figured the land would look different from this view).

We stopped for a brief stroll and perches along the waterfront,

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and… (sigh…)

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examined more of the lovely stone walkways (the Governor of Horta started paving the pathways with white stones from Portugal and black from the islands, and the practice has spread throughout the Azores),

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admired Santa Cruz from afar,

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as well as the colorful homes

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and grazing pastures,

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and, of course, the brilliance of the saphire sea

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It was during this tranquil meandering when all of a sudden we heard an extremely loud HEE-HAW, which prompted Tricia to shout ‘A DONKEY!’

Finally! A DWARF DONKEY!! A DWARF DONKEY!!

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Max screeched to a stop, although I think it was more to get us two excited females out of the car as opposed to stopping for our photographic opportunity. Tricia and I couldn’t get ourselves out of the vehicle fast enough for we were NOT going to NOT see this donkey up close and personal.

However, a gentleman across the street started telling us (in Portuguese) something. Only aware he was trying to tell us some thing, we took the cautious path and decided not to get too up close and personal with our donkey.

After a few minutes of inspection we decided, no, this was NOT our dwarf donkey.

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As hard as we tried we could not shrink this braying animal into our elusive dwarf donkey. Tricia and I had to admit we had not found even one of those 70 miniature beasts.

Our 48 hours in Graciosa was coming to a close.

We headed back to where our adventure first began Wednesday night when we landed at Praia.

Waiting for our ship, Max inspected the colorful fishing vessels

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while I took note of the local fauna

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At 6:15p we boarded the ferry for Sao Jorge and said our Bom Tardes to Graciosa and our hunt for the to-be-seen-to-be-believed dwarf donkeys.

The next morning Max and I untied from our pontoon saying farewell to Tricia and David who helped see us off and started our 24-hour passage to our last Azorean stop, Sao Miguel, where Steve Palmer will arrive August 5th.

Yet, we can’t leave Sao Jorge without giving homage to another form of fauna that captivated us: Cory’s shearwaters.

We had seen these birds swooping and floating amidst the waves during our passages,

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and discovered at night they flew to their nests in cliffs above the marina, serenading us from twilight until midnight with their incredible eerie calls.

So, I put on my Animal Planet hat (what Max has dubbed me on my nature films…) and started recording…

And, you know? I’d take these flying, laughing, crying birds over a dwarf donkey any day.

Bom Dia, Sao Jorge

We’re getting ready to leave this lovely island, one of hydrangea (I know, I know, you must be tired of hearing about those but, surprisingly, we’ve never tired of seeing them),

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and cows,

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and tuna.

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Our friends Katie Wilkinson and Peter Stoops had warned us about how beautiful this island is, and, along with Flores, it’s been a wonderful treat to spend two weeks here.

Several of the last few days we’ve explored more walks and roads with Tricia and David, some in the mist that always seems to find us

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and not just us…

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However, even in splotchy sunshine we enjoyed snapping photos and looking around

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There were numerous car stops, thanks to Max’s willingness to stop whenever he heard an ‘Oh’, such as a field of seagulls, where David was going to take a pic

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until I said ‘wow’ and they took flight… a big stupid whoops on my part…

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We drove down hairpin turns to reach another small village, Faja dos Vimes, where more interesting trees

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and WALLS greeted us

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Believe it or not, we did step foot in Faja dos Vimas’ small chapel

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where we should have sent prayers to those who command the weather to request a completely blue sky for the ridge road views.

Don’t get me wrong: we love poking around the small villages and watching Max navigate the narrow roads and hear Tricia gasp whenever he pulled off beside a drop off (like me, she’s terrified of heights). But, we really wanted to climb the tallest peak (I should say hike as it’s not a steep mountain, but climb sounds more impressive).

Well, someone must have uttered some incantation in that chapel because a few days later, on July 14th, we got a somewhat, high visibility period (key word, ‘somewhat’). We hopped in the car and drove to where the trail starts. This four-hour hike would take us past the small detour to the highest point on Sao Jorge, Pico da Esperanca. We weren’t planning on the entire hike, just to the part where we could get to the top.

Of course, we had to have sustenance, which consisted of half-melted power bars squooshed from my always managing to sit on my backpack when getting back into the car…

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Now well fortified, we began what we hoped to be our ascent.

The wildlife we saw was basically roadkill (more on that later) on the way up the gently winding trail road

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The terrain was fascinating. What looked like wet, dark soil was actually dry, crumbly rocks. If you picked it up it was like crumbled oreo cookies without the cream inside

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and, in some instances, like a hollowed out walnut casing

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We were definitely in Vulcan’s land.

Max had the trail map, and was checking to see just how many bends we had to turn before we reached the trail to the top of Esperanca

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For it went on

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and on

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After an hour and a half, we knew whomever had uttered that prayer hadn’t put enough heartfelt plea into it (yes, the cloud cover was back). Plus, it was getting close to cocktail hour.

We decided to head back to the boat and return the next day to hike to the top; so, we completed an about-face and started back down the gently winding trail

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We came upon our Pedro cottontail to whom we left a memorial thanks to Max

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[In case you can’t decipher my scribbled writing…
“Here lies Pedro with a flattened tail, He wasn’t quick enough for the Sao Jorge Trail.” Didn’t I tell you Max was good at this :]

Driving home, we ran into a bit of a traffic jam, one which only adds to the ambiance of Sao Jorge

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And, we ended the night with having friends aboard, Tricia, David, Stefan, Carina, Audrey, and Roger

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using the best ice in the marina, thanks to Max :)

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However, we were in luck. Someone DID say the magic words for the next day dawned that clean sky blue with no clouds at the top! Today was the day the four of us WOULD ascend to the top of Pico de Esperanca.

This time we decided to skip repeating our walk from Base Camp I and just drive right to Base Camp IV where you start the short climb to the top (no one would call us hiking purists).

To prep, Max couldn’t resist putting on his high-altitude gear (now do you understand why we’re together?).

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Fortunately, Max decided to forsake his high-altitude gear, and we set off and followed the lumpy grass trail to the top and around the caldeira

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Within 15 minutes we were standing atop the tallest peak of Sao Jorge at 1053m. The view was, as promised, stupendous

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so, we posed for the requisite ‘we’re at the top’ photo (excuse my hillbilly look, I didn’t realize just HOW bad it was until I downloaded the photos)

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As we were taking our ‘we’re at the top’ photo, we spotted a group of hikers coming up the other side of the caldeira. Not being shy, we started talking and discovered the lead climber, Amaro, had emigrated to Ontario from Sao Jorge 26 years ago.

With the death of his wife in 2006, he decided to show his children his country; so, every two years he returns for four to five weeks to spend time with his family. He’s one of 17 and the only one of his siblings who emigrated to Canada. In addition to his 16 siblings, he also has/had nine aunts and uncles on his father’s side (didn’t get to his mother’s branch). If you attempted to do the math like I didn’t, you can imagine just how many familial visits Amaro could be making during his Azorean vacation.

Two of his kids had travelled with him, with the youngest and several friends climbing to the top where we were, so before too long we had to have a group photo. Can you tell which one is Amaro?

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Amaro LOVES this island

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He was telling us how he’d bring the cows up to this peak during the summer months. He also shared with us how he played with the frogs in the small bog resting inside the caldeira. Amaro then tried to get the frogs to answer to his call

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and, my god, they did

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With a final pic of our hiking buddies

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we set off for home as the mist descended

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with one final note, a ‘Bom Tarde’ to our day-before-memorial to Pedro of Sao Jorge as we descended:

MOOooooooo

Earlier this week our friends on s/v Spirit of Amport, David and Tricia, arrived in Sao Jorge. A few days later the four of us trundled off in a rental car to tour. Our goal: the cheese factory where they give tours Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For once, we knew how to get there having visited the previous day when they were just about to close. Well, almost get there for we did take one wrong turn, but only one, and it was only a five minute diversion.

Now, cows are a huge resource here. Everywhere one turns when out of a town you should see at least one if not multiple of the spotted and solo-color things

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We even followed some up the road to a milking station

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where we asked if we could take pictures only to have the wife and children waiting in the truck think we were nuts (nothing new there)

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So, touring a cheese factory is like visiting an art museum in some other countries–it’s a national treasure and one of which we have definitely partaken. Yes, we have enjoyed and are enjoying the prize-winning food of this island. Which means I should be jogging alongside, not riding in, the car to the cheese factory.

 

[BLOB BLOG WARNING: GIRLY NEWS!  When one consumes five pounds of cheese a day, two things happen: even your stretchy pants get tight and you never have to go again, ever… at least in the foreseeable future. And, if you don’t know what I mean, then you’ve never eaten a bunch of cheese.]

 

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One of the lovely surprises when you start your tour is you get to wear an outfit. Of saran wrap. And like the pic of me running in a bathing suit, it is not a good look.

This was just the beginning when Tricia and I solemnly began our initiation into OMG, do I REALLY have to wear this?!

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The guys didn’t seem to mind at all

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And, okay, I’m going against my instinct here and voila!

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I say against my better judgement for it looks as I’m the one they have to milk.

Of course, our tour guides were handsome in theirs. And, even after I begged and pleaded, they refused to give up their hats in exchange for mine. Wonder why.

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Both were students, so these were summer jobs. One spoke excellent English and provided information that explained WHY all the cows.

Basically, there are 90 farmers each with 20 to 30 cows who milk their cows at 4:30a and deliver their milk either to this cooperative or to another gathering place to save them the drive to this factory.

The milk begins its cheese process at 8:00a, where it’s stirred for five hours and a few items added based on their artisan recipe. After the cooking, the cheese is shaped into wheels and cured for two weeks on wooden boards (to absorb the moisture)

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From there it goes to another resting place for up to seven months or more

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Each lot is labeled and tasted throughout the process to ensure quality control and standardization in order to sell it under the Sao Jorge brand

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They sell Sao Jorge in the form of three months aged, four months, and, to us one of the best and strongest, seven months. They also make and sell some under local town names (Beira, Lourais, Topo). (After all that I’ve consumed, I’m sure there will be a Lynnie brand soon.)

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But, Sao Jorge brand is the one that is most prized and has won numerous competitions for best cheese in Portugal. One huge wheel was being prepared for an upcoming competition, and you can imagine how many cows it took to make this one when the smaller wheels require over 120 liters each…

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I did find it interesting that one of our guides said he missed the individuality of each town producing its own cheese; but, economics has led to this joint cooperative among farmers, with this factory producing 500 wheels a day.

We ended our tour with a visit to the store, purchasing yet some more of this island’s delicious cheese. On the way out, we said a goodbye to the cow

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and our driver prepped for the next stop

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We decided to drive to the north side of the island where there are more fajas (lava flows or rock falls) and check out another natural swimming pool and grab some caffeine.

We ended up in a lovely little village where, oh god, there’s a wall

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another great looking public restroom,

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a natural pool that needed some water, but was still beautiful,

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and, some of the rock formations populating a lot of these islands’ shorelines

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Enjoying some cafe lattes at the restaurant above the swimming pool, we saw a family digging up potatoes. They already had a huge amount stowed in their shed, so they obviously knew how to grow these spuds.

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And, no surprise, we saw the restaurant’s peelings, most likely as a result of fries offered on the menu

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David thought it’d be a good idea to buy some fresh ones, so he asked the restaurant owner if the family would sell him some. The owner checked, came back in, and said yes, not a problem. David and then Max went out to purchase some, and the woman started filling up a plastic bag

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And, she kept filling, and filling, and filling until the bag literally was just at the bursting point.

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With this gargantuan load of spuds, we’d be eating them ’til the cows came home (couldn’t resist).

Not only were these really wonderful to have, they were free. The family would not accept any money. After trying to give them some, David just quietly put some next to a mat so they would have to take it. Then, with David on one side, Max on the other, these beauties were carted to the trunk

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Driving up and out of town, which is quite steep and involves a lot of hairpin turns requiring honks to alert descending drivers, we turned off at another miradoura. Peering down at the village, I located the restaurant (on the right-hand side up the hill above the cement boat lift/dock) and almost began drooling as I thought of the numerous, spud-delicious recipes we’d all be trying.

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Not to let another opportunity go by for ticking off another Jose, must-see landmark, Max thought we should visit the tuna factory. Located on the opposite side of the island, we piled back into the car and headed for another very memorable tour.

The tuna factory, according to a sheet Jose had given us, was in Faja Grande, just down the road from Calheta, the second-largest town on Sao Jorge. There was also a natural swimming pool he’d indicated as his favorite. No surprise there. This natural pool had a shower and changing room with creative labeling

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a bar, a picnic area with BBQ grills, and a pool straight out of a Mediterranean grotto with a long walkway out to the sea

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We didn’t have our suits, and it was a bit chilly in spite of the sun, so we just tested it with our toes and enjoyed the view

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But, our sought-after destination awaited us: the tuna factory.

Earlier in the week (when looking for the above, natural pool we didn’t find) , Max and I had passed this building that looked suspiciously like some sort of industrial workplace; yet, no signage… anywhere.

So, this time we parked, exited the car and looked again for any hints of yes-you’ve-found-the-infamous-tuna-factory. After searching for some sort of formal door, then asking a passer-by who indicated we were standing in front of the factory, Tricia turned the knob of a decrepit looking, iron door and voila! We were in!

Just so you now I’m not kidding about decrepit, when turning around, this is what you saw as the entrance to this national tuna company

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which didn’t inspire too much confidence in what was going into cans.

As the 3:15p whistle blew, we saw blue-jacketed, white-capped women finishing their 15-minute break and heading into this large building on our right. Further down, someone beckoned us into an office area where we met Marlene, a quality control inspector and our subsequent tour guide.

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As the tuna aroma began to waft around us, I began to have second thoughts. The second thoughts turned to real alarm when our sweet Marlene began handing out these suspiciously familiar plastic packages. With military precision and countenance she instructed us we must put these on to tour the factory.

With dread I carefully opened the small wad to find, yes, once again, twice in one day, the totally unflattering plastic hat, robe and shoe coverings. For some reason the guys never seemed to mind donning this type of outfit

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whereas Tricia and I were a bit more solemn, although Tricia did admit she liked the green better than the clear wrapping as she helped the guys tie up

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The best news of the day? Marlene asked us to turn around and pose so she could snap a photo for the company’s FaceBook page. I felt like the poodle that comes out of the groomer wearing some jaunty decoration only to feel utterly humiliated. Oh well, it could be worse. We could have a eau d’tuna cologne we’d have to wear… which, after an hour of tuna touring, we did.

But, I’m ahead of myself. The cologne was slowly added to our bodies once we entered the first step of Santa Catarina Tuna Land.

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I must admit Marlene was one of the most enthusiastic tour guides we’ve had. In spite of the eau d’tuna, she gathered her charges (us looking not quite green at the gills) and led the way throughout the flash freezing of skipjack (they use the smallest of the tuna family here)

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resulting in, you guessed it, tons of frozen, ungutted, heads-on tuna,

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which Marlene told us she sometimes ran her finger down and licked it when she felt hungry. At that point, I started looking longingly at the exit behind us; but, she was so earnest and engaging, I knew I couldn’t desert. So, I faced forward and started mouth breathing.

Next stop, the waste area

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where the bits and pieces that were shaved off the frozen bodies were collected for disposal (hopefully, that’s what happened to them).

Marlene then began explaining the different forms the skipjack took, one being big slabs of fillet

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some of which are packaged in jars for the Italian market (they only like them in jars)

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We followed the packing and sealing of these fillets

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as Marlene pointed the lowest grade of tuna (shredded)

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versus the middle-grade, a chunky version. All of these were packaged in cans or jars, and we watched in awe as tins were filled,

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jar lids and containers tumbled from the sky,

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and the tuna received its Santa Catarina branding

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During our tour there was a short break to inspect where Marlene did her quality control (she had received a degree in it six years ago and was coming up on her five-year anniversary at Santa Catarina). We were introduced to two young students who were as friendly and warm as Marlene, although a bit shyer

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Then, not being able to delay our tour any longer… back into Tuna Land! Whoopee!

Before the sterilization was complete, each jar and can was washed

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then placed in a large, holey, metal basket

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and, heated the heck out of it

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The skipjack was now ready for consumption, and I heaved a sigh of relief.

But, nooooo… there was packaging to be done

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Tricia and I both agreed working in packaging where the tuna perfume was less invasive would be the better of the two areas in which to toil.

I snapped a photo for Tricia to send to her Italian friends of just how up close and personal she came to their tuna delicacies

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Not quite finished with our ride through Tuna Land, Marlene shepherd us out the door where I stopped mouth breathing, gulped and filled my lungs with air carrying just a tinge of tuna.

Glancing around we saw Santa Catarina had its own pallets

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and containers

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for shipping their tuna overseas,

all-in-all a pretty impressive operation completed by approximately 140, primarily female, workers filling over 50,000 cans daily (in one shift 8:30a-5p with only 45-minutes of off time).

(Serious hat on) Not only is the production impressive coming out of such a nondescript, unsigned building, but Santa Catarina Canning Industry has and continues to win awards for its sustainability fishing method (2012 Greenpeace), quality (Portugal’s ‘Best of Best’) and contribution to the country’s promotion of Portuguese brands. Check out their pole & line fishing method described on their website [http://www.atumsantacatarina.com/en/inicio/] (Now, all of those poles standing to attention in the stern of those fishing boats make sense…).

And, I must give kudos where due, a company that has Marlene as part of its make-up is, indeed, a fortunate one. Being hosted by this polite, professional, warm, and informative young woman, it’s no wonder Santa Catarina is winning awards.

She’s also a good saleswoman as she led us to the canteen where products were available at a 10% discount

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(Goof hat’s back)… but, I still can’t imagine having to earn a living working in a tuna factory. Cheese and clear, plastic wrapping outfits are looking better and better.

And, if it looks like we’re scurrying out with our products at the completion of our tour, now wearing eau d’tuna,

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you couldn’t be more right.

Tired but happy with the day’s touring accomplishments, we headed for home with a car filled with cheese, spuds, and tuna.

As Max carefully picked up speed and we settled into our seats, he mentioned it’s just like a cow heading for the barn. All he needed to add was a ‘MOOooooo’…

For my bro

If anyone who’s met my brother Cam and family, then they’ll know why this is for my bro. He and his two sons, Iain and Thomas, love to surf, and surf they do

Cammy surfing

Iain surfing

Thomas surfing

Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador… they’ve ridden a lot of waves along the east and west coast of the Americas.

And, it’s a passion. I’ll never forget the time Cam, Winn Crawford and I were hired to paint the Carver’s house two streets from the beach. Well, actually Cam and Winn were hired. I was subcontracted. They put me up on the back side, on the roof of the porch. There were no ladders involved where I was, so I didn’t mind. Until Mrs. Carver poked her head out and asked ‘you’re painting here?’ to which I replied ‘yes’ to which she replied ‘I wouldn’t. It’s not a good roof to be standing on.’ Thank you, Cambo.

But, that’s not the best part. The best part was calling for Cam towards the middle of the day only to discover he wasn’t there. He’d gone surfing, for the smart bugger had figured out the best vantage point to view the waves. He was gone with a capital G. Yet, even his painting position held some peril, such as when he fell off his ladder and left a human imprint in one of the Carver’s bushes.

So, when Max and I heard there was surfing on Sao Jorge, we decided to head there in honor of Cam, Iain, and Thomas. It was actually in one of the most isolated villages on this island, Faja da Caldeira de Santo Cristo. There is a path but not necessarily for a car. Rather, there were signs at the beginning and end of this ‘road’ listing times ATVs and motorcycles could use it. Other than those modes of transportation, it was two feet.

This walk was the final leg of a five-hour hike, which started on top of the island and wound its way down to these two little villages, ending in Faja dos Cubres. Looked like a nice way to spend a day.

Driving to the north side (Velas, where our marina is, sits on the opposite coast), we decided to take in the view from one of the ridge roads dissecting the length of the island. We passed the requisite pastoral scenes

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stopped for a wall walk

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and then took in the view… in mist

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drove up a bit further and saw more mist

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and even more mist

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We also passed a sobering monument to the victims of a 1999 plane crash

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At one point, the wheels weren’t getting any traction as we tired to climb this one-land dirt lane. All I can say is it was a good thing Max was driving. If I’d been behind the wheel, we’d still be up there.

Arriving at the beginning of our hike, we decided to start with lunch at the little cafe in Faja dos Cubres.

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It was a pleasant spot but I wouldn’t say one goes there for the food. We both ordered hamburger and fries, and what we got was definitely dead cow cooked so much to death it resembled a hockey puck and anemic fries that mushed when you looked at them (NOT that we needed the fries). Fortunately, the coffee tasted like coffee, so all was good.

We started off after driving as close to the beginning of the path as possible (don’t want to waste the energy). It was relatively easy, with only a few ups and downs, and soon we came upon some potential surf

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Turning the corner we saw our destination

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and continued down to the Caldeira de Santo Cristo

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It was beautiful

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We walked along the rock top trying to get closer to the surf

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however, the path only went halfway around. We thought we’d try a short cut across the gushing water, so Max ventured a tentative step or two

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but the current was too strong and the rocks too slippery. We backtracked but not before snapping more pics of potential surf

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We knew we were on the right path when we were passed by our first ATVer and passenger, surfboard and all.

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Walking into the village we found walls strewn with aloe,

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lots and lots of aloe

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We also spotted the abode of a surfer

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Some tour-guided hikers (roughly 20) were on the last leg of the full hike, but, other than those visitors, there weren’t a lot of people around. It was actually a little depressing since this beautiful spot felt empty and a bit run-down, the first time we felt this about one of these villages. Having achieved our goal of checking surfing, we quickly about faced and headed back home.

On the way we espied a paddle boarder heading out to catch waves

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a billy goat

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the ubiquitous cow

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and another ATVer, this one carrying garbage out of the village

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We also met a hiker from Portugal who worked in Angola. He and his wife were civil engineers and had taken jobs there, lured by higher pay. He had hiked ahead of his group of four, which included his wife and two friends, the latter living and working in the Azores. Later, Max saw them at the marina and invited them down.

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They didn’t stay long as their ferry back to Horta was arriving soon, so we said our goodbyes and then settled down, posting one of the potential surf pics on FaceBook for my bro Cam and fam.

Go east my son

or, just go round and round and round, which is what we did this past Tuesday morning after picking up our rental car from Elsa, the very pleasant, young rental agent.

Jose, the amazing dock master here, who’s earned his stellar reputation by being just that, stellar, notated a map with places to go and things to see. And, we’ve started ticking those off, two of them today. Should have been at least four but you know how it goes when I’m navigating.

First stop was overlooking the coast line just up from Velas

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The sight was dramatic, but, as a pool craver, I also spotted and drooled as the turquoise sparkle caught my eye

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So much for nature.

Honestly (serious hat on/goof hat off), there are amazing, natural swimming pools here. You may remember one in Santa Cruz just down from our friend Orlando’s home. We plan to definitely jump in some of them after ensuring no jellyfish are floating by, which can be the unfortunate case. Pics will be coming of that, although not one of me in a bathing suit. (I once had someone post a photo of me on FB in my suit… running. Talk about not a good look.) Back to the drive…

We couldn’t leave, though, before another tradition was captured

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Got to love him :)

A breakfast stop was our second call of the day, and we did that, twice. The first time I spotted a lovely looking cafe. It entailed turning around (what else is new with my driving directions), but we did, and then walked up the steps to the outdoor tables and chairs.

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Max sat down, and when I joined him he said there’s someone drinking coffee so we, at least, should be able to get a cup. He had also asked the woman sweeping inside if we could sit there and she said yes.

Three minutes later she came out and we asked if it was okay to order breakfast and she looked at us like we had two-heads on each of our tourista shoulders and said no. You know that du-uh no, like ‘were you born stupid’ no. Seems they only serve lunch, which was an hour and half away.

So, when Max asked if it was okay if we sat, she must have thought we wanted to take in the view… of the empty sidewalk.

I must admit it was lovely but coffee would have been lovelier.

Up we get and continue our sojourn where we finally do find a spot, only it’s lunch time by now. They did serve coffee

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and the usual cheese and bread (the good, squishy, holey type).

Feeling quite full we struck off further east to Calheta and a village to the east of there where Jose noted was his favorite natural pool.

We couldn’t locate the pool, but we did find a wall, and you know what that means…

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At this miradoura (or lookout) it was startling to see a tree struggling to grow

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This sight was so forlorn juxtaposed against the winding roads lined with flowers

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and verdant pastures, which I photo-bombed with a no-thigh pose.

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Two places we wanted to check out involved the artisan weaving and coffee-growing.

We did find it (after passing it twice before and stopping, getting out of car and wondering is it THIS house?).

The weaving was above the Cafe Nunes snack bar, so we strolled upstairs to check out this artisan craft.

We saw looms, a small one

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and two large ones with one of the finished products

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but no weavers.

Once out of the weaving room, we notice the plant-covered patios

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Starting to smell some roasted coffee, we followed our noses to the house attached to the garden. A man came out and I tried asking (in Spanish, of course, then hand signals) about coffee-growing. He smiled and gestured for us to follow him further up the hillside.

He wasn’t alone for as we were going up, two women, one with a microphone and another with a video camera started up behind us. The microphone holder was a reporter for ITV and she asked if she could speak with us, meanwhile the video camera holder starting filming (lovely. not only thighs but backside would be captured).

The microphone holder spoke perfect English, telling us she covered all the Azores for ITV, providing them with special features. Oh boy.

So, while Max is snapping a few shots of the plants and beans…

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so are the ITV women.

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ANYhow, once we exhausted the photo ops of the beans, I asked the owner if we could purchase what we were smelling:  heavenly, to-die-for, roasting coffee beans. Alas, he said no but did provide me with some so I could start my own plantation

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We followed him down, trailing our now camera crew, to where his wife was stirring the little brown beans over the stove.

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She, too, refused to let go of any beans with a gentle smile that reminded me of Eduardina of Horta. So, with a sad farewell to the best coffee I’d smelt in more than a month and to the women who possibly would be sending film of our visit along with my thighs and backside to ITV, we descended to the snack bar and drove away.

Later, when back in the car and reading in the guidebook Gail left, AZORES by David Sayers, Edition No.5, and published by a company Katie Wilkinson recommends (Bradt), we see why no folk in the weaving room: there are evidently only two left working these looms, taking over a week to make one double bedspread costing a buyer 500 euros (p 177 of above guidebook).

We also read in explicit detail how to find Cafe Nunes with the weaving and coffee-growing. Nothing like a good resource one doesn’t use until after the fact. Although, getting lost does have its own seductive charm, which we’re increasingly discovering in our circular drives.

Time to head home.

On our drive back we saw our first graveyard in the Azores

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We had been wondering where all the bodies were. Of course, we haven’t set foot in one of the churches around here so there could be a stash of them in a courtyard area. My guess was they were probably all around the bus stops.

You pass a bus stop and this is what you see

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The buses run to two places from one place: Velas. One goes twice a week once a day; the other weekdays, once a day.

There’re probably some headstones next to them saying ‘Here lies Anton’ with an obit relating he died ‘waiting for the No. 1 bus, survived by wife Henriqueta. She decided to walk.’

Honestly, the Bradt guide book says you can catch a bus between Velas and Calheta only on Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving at 8:30 with a return at 15:30. Then there’s Velas to Rosais, 10:15 with a return at 14:45. Not too bad if you have relatives (you want to stay with).

Which is one reason why we decided to take transportation into our own salty hands and rent a car. Driving also allows us to stop and investigate roadside attractions, like this ancient watermill grinder

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where I also spotted one of those giant fern trees

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and, this time, had a perspective tool (pen)

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Having the freedom of your own timetable and transportation also allows one to stop and smell the fresh, wild white flower my friend Ellen has rooting in her gardens (Ellen, what are these?).

If you ever have the chance to catch a whiff of these delectable blooms, do so. For, in spite of their droopy appearance, the blossoms are so fragrant you want to soak in them.

Now, we’re very respectful of people’s property, be it private homes or public parks. But, alongside public highways where you know they’re considered weeds, we figured it was okay to take a few back with us to offset Juanona’s marine smell

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Knowing it was perfectly all right to cut some, I thought Max might like to carry them pass Jose’s office and onto the pontoons with a story ‘a nice lady gave them to us when she saw us admiring them’.

So, we drive home heading west after heading east-north-south-west-east-north-east-south and place our Azorean finds in the head

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I’ve created a monster: PART TWO if I can get this blob uploaded…!

The day before Gail and Ricardo left we took the ferry to Pico to toddle around that island, visit a whaling museum, and any other sights we could find (don’t worry, there weren’t a lot of hydrangeas there).

The ferry terminal, like other newly, constructed infrastructure around here, is yet another stunning example of architecture. And, as you can imagine, I did check out the restrooms, which are modern and immaculate. Ahh, heaven.

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I took quite a few shots, including my husband studiously ignoring me

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Gail, Ricardo and I had some breakfast (Max had eaten his usual marina bar cafe ham and cheese Azorean sandwich earlier).

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Gail was smart and didn’t point to the sandwich, which Ricardo and I did. Turned out it was four pieces of white bread, one lettuce leaf sprawled across one teaspoon of what we now know must be the tuna paste we see on menus, and two other teaspoons of the beige tuna paste allocated amongst the other three slices. Oh well, the soggy bread was tasty.

Not only did we get breakfast, but I also discovered another Gail term, scrapkins (maybe I should call them Gailerisms like I did with my mom’s special words). Like napkins they are used for wiping one’s mouth and hands after eating but, unlike a lot of other table napkins, they’re only large enough for a thumb and a finger or one dab of the lips–you choose. If I had thought to bring my pencil, you could see what I’m talking about.

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FYI: If you look closely you may also see some of a dissected, tuna-paste culinary treat to the right of the scrapkins.

Soon we were ready to board, and off we go

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Yes, more snapping of camera while on the ferry as we depart Horta

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including a local fishing boat heading to Faial

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and, a shot of two passengers who turned the lens on me

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and one of my favorites

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Within 30 minutes we were inside the port of Madalena’s seawall on Pico where a giant’s jigsaw puzzle pieces surrounded the candy cane-striped lighthouse

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Fishing boats, some with drying laundry and some with bamboo poles that are used for tuna fishing, gently bobbed like tub toys.

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Max located a rental car and soon we were on another one of our ten-minute detours, i.e., we don’t know where we’re going and we’ll ask once we get tired of turning around.

We did start out, though, behind a truckload of fish

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reminiscent of another car ride by Max in 2002 when he was behind a truckload of severed cow limbs, which put him off meat for a wee bit.

Heading east toward the Museu dos Baleeiros (Whalers’ Museum) at Lajes do Pico, located on the southern coast, we noticed all these square plots walled by what looked like porous chunks of charcoal but was lava populated with green viney plants

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They looked like weeds but on closer inspection we discovered they were the local vineyards carefully cultivated.

We arrived at Museu dos Baleeiros and I promptly had to take a photo of a cutesy sign (not a big fan of cutesy)

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and a tiled wave on the sidewalk (which I liked)

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Unfortunately, the museum neglected to say until you arrived AT the door that instead of being open 10a-4p they were open 10a-12:30p then again 2p-4p. Ahhh… when will we learn? But, no fears, we found lunch (amazing how food and drink always makes one feel better).

We all ordered something other than the hamburger with the ever-present fries, which are served everywhere here.

 

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Three ordered omelets and one ordered steak. Oh, they come with fries.

Once again, Gail and I pushed ours towards Max and Ricardo but even THEY had exhausted their intake of this national food.

Talk about a wonderful place to introduce a different type of french fry. Forget about boat supplies. Try potatoes.

We began talking about those stringy, curlycue fries dusted with a chili-like spice; and, I recalled our family’s fried potato recipe: (1) peeling potatoes as if you’re going to boil and mash them, (2) fill a baking pan with about 4 inches of crisco oil or, better yet, lard, (3) place prepared peeled potatoes in it, (4) cook the heck out of the potatoes until they’re basically a frizzled, crispy crunchy ball of fried potato with a dime-size bit of meat cowering inside. Now do you know why I’m a fan of stretchy pants?

But, they would need marketing names so Max and Gail, both of whom are good at this, came up with Spud Scud and Potato Bomb. We’re still stuck, though, on what to call those curly fries, so we welcome any suggestions as long as you don’t start a french fry truck business as the four of us may attempt it after we perfect the recipes. We’ll just require extra large seats to accommodate any additional girth thanks to taste-testing. And, my stretchy pants.

Another local food seems to be humongous carrots. (These photos don’t really do the typical Azorean carrot justice. We’ve eaten the largest ones but at least you get an idea of girth)

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For hors d’ouerves I figured we might as well have a vegetable with all the cheese we’re enjoying, so I’ve begun peeling these orange monoliths to add a healthy alternative.

Gail and I were thinking, too, we could carve them into building blocks and start creating edible edifices,

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or simply do carrot art.

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Carrot-carving could become a hobby aboard Juanona.

Okay, enough of local foods. Back to our Pico island tour…
which, just happened to involve another manhole pic for Ellen when walking back to the car from the cafe

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and more examples of the brightly-trimmed homes of some locals

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Ricardo and Gail needed to catch the 3p ferry, so we took the scenic overland road to drive by the mountain, one Max had hiked with John Arndt in 1978 and then again with Chris, 2002

 

 

 

Along the way we saw municipal workers keeping the lanes clear of, what else, hydrangeas

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Competing with my hydrangea mania is my Pico Mountain obsession. When we arise every morning we look towards Pico to see what the weather’s like. This point of Pico is either totally eclipsed,

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or partly eclipsed,

 

in various cloud configurations

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or almost totally uncovered

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Must admit it’s mesmerizing. And, you, poor folk, know what that means… YES! Photographs of exactly the same thing over and over!

We got some wonderful views of Pico Mountain, Portugal’s highest mountain at roughly 7,000 ft

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but, I’ll limit them to the two above… for now.

After dropping Ricardo and Gail in town to catch the ferry back to Horta, Max and I headed for another whaling museum on the northern shore in Sao Roque do Pico. However, while driving along the coast Max noticed a sign saying ‘vinha’, and the car quickly turned onto a narrow road that became an even narrower lane that became one-way in spite of being a two-way street.

We parked and began looking for any signs pointing to this ‘vinha’ place. All we saw was a large plate glass window in this old building with a sign and arrow directing us to an entrance further down. Still no sign but we entered a small courtyard anyway, saw an open door and proceeded inside. Voila! We had found a gem of a museum explaining how Pico became such a fabulous wine-growing island thanks to its dressing of lava from volcanic explosions.

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We peered through the building’s windows captivated by the striking leafy limbs trailing over black rocky ground as they searched for purchase on these laboriously, man-made walls

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It became clear, once we heard the history, of exactly how these small plots came into being. (NOTE on photo: I’m trying to make sure Max could see the examples while also getting into some light as directed by Max while I’m saying, as most of my friends know when taking a snapshot of me, ‘no thighs’.)

 

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Our guide said the grapes are grown in two types of lava, the flat kind located closer to shore and the biscotti kind, which we were seeing.

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Originally the monasteries and large estates held all the land and, hence, vineyards, and Pico began exporting wine to Europe, the US and Russia; but, in the mid- to late 1800s, a mildew and a pest basically shut down this business, causing a devastating loss of income not only to the owners but to those who worked in the fields as well. Another large exodus, this time to Brazil and California, occurred. Eventually, the vineyards were broken up into much smaller plots and bought by the locals.

Some emigrees later returned home bringing an American grape, which led to growing and producing wine for local consumption.

This excellent wine is now enjoyed by many coming to the Azores (when we asked Silvio on Flores for a good wine he said any from Pico are great. And, they are.). In 2004 Pico became a designated UNESCO World Heritage wine-growing site, and this museum serves to educate visitors on this island’s wine history.

The museum had a wonderful map depicting not only the areas for wine-growing but also ox cart trails (in dotted red) created over many years when tending and harvesting these small plots. Because of the small plots, all harvesting was done by hand, occurring in September.

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After taste-testing two of their three bottles of wine, a smidgen of a syrupy glow (we each only had three tablespoons) accompanied us as we continued to our original designation, the converted whale processing factory now a museum, Museu da Industria Baleeira.

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Inside the museum did have one of the small, open boats the men set off on for shore whaling. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to be in one of those chasing after a mammal the size of a house. (I’d show a pic but no photography allowed.)

Once we finished touring the factory we exited to bright sun and some kids’ laughter along with the sound of spraying water. Sure enough we looked to our left and there were some young sailors just finishing hosing off their Optis. They kindly posed for some photos

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with one sailor taking a lot of pride in ensuring a sail was prominently displayed

 

 

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Time to head back for our ferry-catching

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and home to Horta and the marina

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It being the last night we thought we’d have something special for Ricardo and Gail: PIZZA! Not typical Azorean fare but one the four of us were keen on. We had spotted some pizza-carrying Azoreans after dinner the night before at a famous watering hole for yachts at Peter’s Cafe. (Both Gail and I can attest, if you order their red wine, it’ll taste as if you’re sucking down a purple grape.)

Well, we all eagle-eyed the label on the boxes and then set off in pursuit. It was just down the street a block or two, and with a sharp left, we met the very welcoming owner and chef (many Azoreans speak excellent English, thanks to either trips and stays in the US, school here, and un-dubbed american films). We said we’d be back the next night. Just the menu alone most likely caused our sleep to be filled with dreams of circular food.

Alas, no pics of the night, and one was a really missed photo, and it wasn’t of a pizza but of a pizza picker-upper.

Ricardo and I left to order and wait for the pizza. The US vs Belgium World Cup game was on, so we sat and watched while counting down to dinner time. The TV was above the soda machine and we were about one table-length away from it (unfortunately as it turned out), for lo and behold I had been talking to Ricardo with my head turned to starboard only to then face forward to catch the game. After a gulp accompanied by google eyes I nudged Ricardo and said ‘act naturally but just slowly look forward’.

By then I was starting to giggle and it got worse. Fortunately, both of us managed to not let on what was triggering our growing hysteria. All I can say is the thoughts going through my pizza-deprived head were (a) wow! what a perfect place to put a two-peach-halves tattoo and (b) the moon also rises in mysterious places.

As Ricardo later related to Max and Gail the guy had a vertical line from shirt bottom to pant top of about a foot. Since then I’ve been tugging my pants up when sitting to make sure I also do not moon rise in public.

We ended the night with our now traditional game of Oh Hell. I have been the only one out of the past five nights NOT to win. Meaning I couldn’t pick an animal sticker to place under one’s name on the score card (a regulation, which I instituted). So, some words of caution: if anyone’s planning on teaching Gail and Ricardo a new card game, do not believe them when they say they take awhile to catch on. They were the ones who picked the first two stickers…

 

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Our final, final task of the night was, as Gail aptly coined, ‘flossing and foaming’ (the latter actually came from a term a friend of mine used when I asked her if she minded if I brushed my teeth in front of her; she replied ‘well, as long as you’re not going to foam in front of me’).

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As those who live on boats know, one quickly loses inhibitions found on land. Emptying the pee pot

 

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became a communal chore that none of us found odd, and walking around in outfits normally reserved for next-of-kin or only those whom you know will not point and look in disgust is common.

Thanks, though, to our friend Katie Palmer (whose husband Steve will be our crew to England!) Gail and Ricardo had a semblance of privacy due to a lovely curtain created for the aft berth (Max smartly removed the bi-fold door to allow more room),

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with a decorative edge using our curtain fabric

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(also, thanks to Katie’s as well as Carol Williams’ prowess with a sewing machine) to compliment the main cabin decor

So, that is the tale of the week. Saying goodbye to Ricardo (who was the first of possibly the four of us requiring a Tums for the pizza) and Gail with strong hugs this morning meant the first chapter of our adventure was sadly over.

But, wait, I said I created a monster! That monster is moi and my infliction upon friends of having to wiggle and jiggle to “Happy” aboard Juanona. Now a tradition, this act began with my encouraging Ricardo and Max to do so on our passage…

Beware, Tricia, David (friends from Horta) and Steve, you are next!

And, now, how appropriate for as I close this epistle, with which I have tired your eyes, “Happy” serenades me from the marina bar cafe’s video screen. I guess I’ll just have to dance out of here… :)

What a smart thing to do

Talk about a smart thing to do… Horta’s marina seawall and walks are paved with paintings placed by sailors of visiting yachts. A tradition that’s grown over decades, it’s considered to be bad luck if you don’t create one of these landmarks commemorating your safe arrival in Horta. In Flores, where we first landed in 2002 and in 2014, there also is a growing practice of documenting one’s landing on a friendly shore. And, you get your marina smartly dressed for free.

Like many before us, we, too, have partaken of wall grazing. You know, the type of strolling that results in not looking where you’re going, suddenly stopping to take in a yachtie’s particularly stunning rendering of their boat’s name only to trip up the person behind you. It’s hard not to do for almost every surface is decorated with amazing artwork.

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We did one back in 2002 thanks to Chris’ handiwork,

 

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so, we went looking for our 12-year old sign. The only evidence of our having been here is seeing others around it that have persevered

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However, we did spot some Brazilian friends’ wall sign from that same summer

 

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So, Max got the bug and decided we should do one.
On the second to last day here we purchase paint, brushes and a roll of paper towels for clean-up, most of which I needed.

He located a perfect spot, put on a base coat of white paint, came back to the boat, put pencil to paper and initiated the first draft

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then started practicing the drawing of a lobster by visiting http://www.howtodrawanimals. I must admit I was pretty impressed.

Next step, transcribing the lobster and some letters onto the wall in pencil. Once again his lobster was perfect. My letters, not so hot.

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[and, looking at this picture, I’m wondering when all of a sudden my arms needed hammocks; I already want a chin strap… god, got to love 60+. (Sorry, this is quite a girly thing to write. Next time, guys, I’ll do a warning first, I promise.
Now, on to the more enjoyable info.)]

I asked him, ‘do you think they look okay?’ He said ‘yes’, hesitated, then came ‘do you think the “M” of “Maine” is a little wide.’ I said, ‘Well, no, but you do.’ Again, my artistic husband is smart and did the smart husbandy thing by smartly keeping oh so quiet.

We left, both of us knowing the “M” could definitely use some dieting.

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Next morning bright and early before the sun would laser our eyeballs due to the bright white paint we were using, Max hopped out of bed (well, for those who know our boat, this movement is more like pretzeling out of bed), grabbed the paint, brushes, and the necessary roll of paper towels and headed towards our piece of the concrete rock.

After checking it out (ensuring the surface was not tacky), he returned to the boat saying he could sure use a narrower, smaller brush. I put on my thinking cap and started thinking, thinking, pondering different items we have stowed until a thought bubble rose to the surface of my brain along with an unspoken ‘dang it’. I have the perfect tool: my carefully stowed eyeliner brush.

Well, I kept mum until mentally I had exhausted all of the other possibilities, and then offered up my lovely make-up tool. At least I knew future raccoon eyes would remind me it was for a good cause.

Now back to the wall Max began his masterpiece (and, my serious hat on–I’m not kidding, it is!)

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Then, my turn; and, as I tried ever so paint-stakingly (I know, yuck-yuck pun) to outline the letters (alas, with my good eyeliner brush),

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my smart husband did the smart husbandy thing again (he’s quite wonderful, even if I do say so myself) and let me fust around until finally I, the non-painter, turned to him and said, ‘I think you may be able to do a better job’. And, my smart husband took the brush and smartly finished it off, but only after he assured me my work was fine. Did I say he was smart?

Our friend, Tricia, stopped by on her way to the market and took a photo (if you notice, he’s holding a brush; I’m holding a screwdriver) documenting the progress-to-date

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After two hours of this (most of my time spent looking, thank god) we stepped back and admired the final work

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Since it’s a wonderful activity to do while people of all nationalities are strolling about (we met vacationeers from Germany, Holland, Portugal, Netherlands), we asked a young man to snap a photo of the artist and helper

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Now, when we stroll by on the way to the marina bar cafe and back, we’re always casting our eyes port (to cafe) and starboard (from cafe) to this sign of Juanona. We’ll be remembering both of her sails to these islands along with crew members Chris (2002) and Dick (2014).

And, as I passed by it most recently on my way to take a shower, I did notice my “M” was a wee bit wide. Yet, somehow I knew if my husband thought the same, he would just say how wonderful our painting looked and keep us gently strolling by. Oh, what a smart (and lovely) husbandy thing to do.

I’ve created a monster: PART ONE

That’s what, I fear, I’ve done due to a combination of Max operating the GoPro camera and my insistence on christening certain events (mid-passage, Gail’s arrival, newly met friends aboard…) dancing to “Happy”. So, I’ve created a monster and it’s moi!

But, more of that later if you’re not offended by middle-agers prancing about in very small spaces.

Anyhoo, let me share with you some highlights of our recent time with Gail and Ricardo these past few days. As you may know it all began with her arrival in Horta where Ricardo met her at the airport (If you’ve got eagle eyes and her husband did for he took the photo, she’s third from the left in the back row of deplaning passengers).

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A bit easier to spot with this one:

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A few days later we’re off to explore Faial in a car rental. Fortunately all of us don’t mind taking detours because the first ten minutes showed us the one and only highway around this island doesn’t necessarily mean one doesn’t get lost. And, so we did, rather quickly, I might add, due to my back-seat navigation. I gave it up with happiness to Ricardo who managed to do a much better job.

We were also looking for an industrial hardware store (quell surpris). Our last stop asking for directions, I hopped out of the car with the scribbled store name to ask this young man working in his yard.

That part was fine. What wasn’t so good was he had a dog behind a fence that looked like it could crack concrete with its jaw and proceeded to show me those said jaws. Swallowing and trying not to show fear (more like terror), I cautiously approached, the man kindly came to the fence and with a smile and lovely accented english pointed me/us in the right direction. Unfortunately, the staff weren’t too helpful but now we knew where to direct any other non-Faialian to this shop (we think).

Our second stop was some natural park off to the right. They had landscaped a small picnic area with tables and stools for those much younger than I

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amidst ferns that were trees (Timothy Vail, your expertise, like your wife’s geological knowledge, is sorely needed)

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I should have asked Gail to stand in front of this so you could get an idea of just how big this fern was–at least 5′ tall–or travel with my pencil.

Not quite believing this was REALLY a fern, I stepped closer and, sure enough, there were the tell-tale signs

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The park also had an enclosure with deer, which we thought interesting but also a good thing they weren’t running wild (and, they think bunnies are bad…)

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and, plenty of perfect spots for portraiture

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In addition to the natural landscaped flora and fauna area there was an actual house set up as an example of a traditional rural one.

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Touring the small backyard we found, to us, a unique outbuilding labeled “Poco”. It could either have been a cistern or a Roman bath. The guys liked the first idea, Gail and I were all for the latter.

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It was interesting, but what we all really wished we had snapped a pic of was the sign with its hours for visiting: 11a-noon, closed for lunch, opening again 1-2p.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few groundskeepers but no one to answer any questions about anything other than where to use the loo, which I did. And, let me tell you, it was beautiful!

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I took a video of it for it was truly one of the loveliest public park restrooms I’d ever seen, which I ALMOST posted here much to Max’s fear.

Next stop was a site Max, Chris and I had visited in 2002: the lighthouse on the NW corner of this island. In September 1957 a volcanic eruption, along with associated earthquakes, occurred. Activity finally subsided by October 1958. By then a small village had been buried, a new headland over 300 ft had been added, and approximately 15,000 people had emigrated to the US (hence direct flights from Boston to the Azores).

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[fyi: I don’t know the people in the photo; but, I do know they didn’t fall off in spite of the guy sitting on the edge of the cliff, which, for me a fearer of heights, would be a nightmare and engender a trip to the loo.)

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The new visitor’s center was stunning, especially the concept of having it mostly buried into the remnants of the eruption.

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Inside we partook of some libations to fortify ourselves for the next round of sight-seeing.

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Exiting the center I couldn’t help but take some quick shots of the fine, silky volcanic soil covering everything on this point of land. For some reason I really love the idea of bringing the outside into my home (for once I’m being serious here so bear with me). Because of this I take photos of designs I think would work well for fabric, something I’ll never end up designing but at least like the thought. Okay, serious hat off, goof hat back on…

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While walking to our car, I spotted a manhole cover and my attention was diverted to a pic for Ellen, my manhole cover diva previously referenced in an earlier blog.

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Finally we’re off in search of the caldera (volcanic crater that is one of the reasons Faial is here) and, what else, more food.

It wasn’t with some relief we were leaving the eruption site for our sailor book on Azores has a paragraph headed with a red-lettered ‘Caution’. It suggests avoiding a certain area (with longitude and latitude coordinates supplied) NE of Faial due to “intense underwater seismological activity”, which had been detected in May 2010 (ATLANTIC ISLANDS, AZORES, MADEIRA GROUP, CANARY ISLANDS AND CAPE VERDES, by Anne Hammick, Imray Laurie Norie & Wilson Ltd., 2011, p50).

It also asks anyone to report anything unusual when sailing within that area and provides an address, telephone number and email. And, if you are so stupid, I mean, curious, as to venture within that area, please don’t forget to take photos of your boat being surrounded by spewing lava and pumice torpedoes. That’s if you’re lucky enough that your boat isn’t one of those spewing lava and pumice torpedoes.

So, we begin anew another ‘do you think it’s this road?’ search for the volcano crater sitting in the middle of the island.

We find a cafe along the side and eat our ubiquitous hamburgers and fries, although Gail and I offload the burger from a huge bun and push the fries towards the guys who never seem tired of seeing more of them.

Next, the caldera. But, we do have breaks from looking for road signs because we have Max demonstrating once again his prowess of wall walking

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which he has done before such as in 2003…

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and, more recently in Santa Cruz at Orlando’s case, which you may remember.

We arrived at the almost-top of the caldera after zigzagging up a road watching for descending vehicles, of which there was only one.

The caldera was huge and the wind effect was amazing: stand three feet away from the opening and you could hear yourself talk; stand on the cusp and it was ‘eh? what did you say?’

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On the way down and back to the marina and boat we stopped for photo pops of hydrangea-lined roads (didn’t need pencil as car served for perspective)

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hydrangea-walled fields

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more hydrangea-lined streets (with Pico in background)

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and, did I tell you we saw hydrangea?

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(sorry, couldn’t resist…)

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Okay, that’s it. I truly promise although I will still be taking photos of these as I truly can’t resist (obviously).

Another highlight during this past week was eating at this restaurant our friends Katie Wilkinson and Peter Stoops, both frequent visitors to these islands, suggested. It’s Canto da Doca, which serves its meals on hot stones on which you place your order and cook-to-order. It was EXCELLENT, and, as a review said, you can never complain to the chef…

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and, as is usual, the best part was butting into our neighboring table to converse, resulting in introducing ourselves to Edurado and Carla,

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both of whom quickly became an addition to our time in Horta. Don’t tell me you’re surprised.

We invited them to stop by the next day as neither had been below on a sailboat (had to tidy up a bit).

They arrived bringing even more wine (only the difference being Eduardo actually knew what kind to get), and it was, yes, another opportunity to dance to “Happy”. The night ended with invites to Portugal where they both live.

(am trying to find the pics I took and the GoPro video of, what else, dancing to “Happy”)

But, one of the best topics of conversation, at least for Gail and me, was the REASON they were in the Azores… it was yet another time Eduardo had surprised Carla (her birthday is coming up) with a trip where she only knew what clothes to pack. My friend Carol Williams had that happen to her for her anniversary just last month. Hmmm…. Max and Ricardo, are you picking up any hints? Of course, for me, I AM on one of those trips.

And, I am promised a land room with a TUB so blob blogger sailor girl can take a TUBBY. Cause for celebration! And, best yet, I have witnesses of this, Ricardo and Gail :)

[End of PART ONE with PART TWO soon to appear…]