Category Archives: 2014 07 AZORES – Sao Jorge

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’…

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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