Azores Journal 8 by Inge Perreault  e-mail Inge at

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 Azores-Journal 08

A Trip to the Occidental and Central Islands

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View of Pico from harbor of Horta on Faial

While Sao Miguel and Santa Maria are part of what is known as the Oriental Islands we decided to visit and explore some of the Occidental and Central ones, those lying furthest out in the Atlantic, approximately half-way between Europe and the North American Continent.

Right from the start, and we had greatly looked forward to this trip, the weather unfortunately looked ominous and was not on our side. As a matter of fact, the previous day on June 6th 2007 airplanes were not taking off from ANY island, not even Ponta Delgada, due to strong winds. Thus it was questionable if we were going to take off on June 7th, the flight for Horta on Faial leaving very early, at a time that required us to rise at the ungodly hour of 4.30a.m.


As the taxi came to pick us up (the driver’s brother lives on the South Coast of MA) it was pouring and the wind was gusting rendering our take-off questionable. However, once there to our great relief we were informed the plane would be taking off for Pico stopping briefly at Terceira, something it never did. Azoreans are a flexible lot in all areas. Though two hours delayed we finally found ourselves air-born and above the clouds where the sun was shining but the winds did make for a rather bumpy flight. All SATA inter-island flights are older models of propeller aircraft, need I say more?

An hour and a half later we landed at the airport in Horta, capitol of Faial. The islands of Corvo and Flores are referred to as the Occidental Islands, Pico, Sao Jorge, Graciosa, Terceira and Faial form the group of the Central Islands.

We had visited the island of Faial the previous year and wanted to take a boat from Horta to Madalena, capital of Pico. Jumping into a cab we were told by the driver that we would still make the 10a.m. ride and we were delighted. Alas, THAT DAY the boat, though announced to leave at 10 am. for some unknown reason had left at 9 a..m.. – go figure! Having by now taken on the Azorean mind-set we settled-in for the long wait. The next boat was not leaving until 1 p.m. On Faial it was raining and considerably cooler as well. Pico, the highest mountain in all of Portugal (2351 meters, multiply by three and you roughly talk 7050 feet) was shrouded in thick cloud-cover and a group of French mountain climbers seemed rather disenchanted blaming climate change. We kept our US nationality under cover and that was a wise move. Mind you, the Frenchmen were most congenial and I conversed in French telling them I was German. The staunch refusal of the United States to sign the Kyoto Treaty is a European hot-spot as weather patterns have already greatly changed in Europe and there is grave concern. That and the “Freedom Fries” don’t make travelling on a US Passport very popular but my husband can always pass for a Canadian and I for a German due to my looks and linguistic skills.

Since we were familiar with Horta and had spent a week there the previous year, we had visited the world-famous Peter Cafe Sport, hang-out and watering-hole of serious sailors such as Ted Turner, Walter Cronkite and others from all over the world circumnavigating the globe. It is here they make their first landing and can pick-up their first mail as well as spin their yarn.

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This is where sailors from around the globe
can pick-up mail and spin their yarn.

So we took turns going there to eat and have a drink while the other watched our luggage at the dockside waiting room preventing it from getting drenched. Quite a motley crew can usually be found at Peter Cafe Sport: sailors who quite obviously have been without female companionship and are scanning every woman who walks in the door along with couples, mostly European, downing a beer or a glass of wine with lunch while smoking-up a storm. So I had lunch burying my face in a book, went back to guard our luggage and then my husband went to do likewise.

This time we only ended-up seeing the peak of the volcano from the air when we departed. Promptly at a quarter to 1p.m. the boat started loading and we literally had to jump aboard.
Our luggage was put outside and covered with a tarp since the waves were crashing mightily even in the protected harbor.
I guess at a certain age you start enjoying things that used to put fear into your heart when younger, although that does not seem to apply to my spouse. Once a member of the Coast Guard no less and also having taken flying lessons, his hands were clutching the railings. The waves were awesome and the boat at some points almost tilted to the “tip-over-point.” Instead of getting seasick I loved it while my husband’s face showed serious concern and a greenish tint.

But all went well, never seen waves of this magnitude while on a boat before, not even crossing the English Channel in the month of February a life-time ago. The trip only took about 30 minutes and we landed in Madalena on Pico. Renting a car at the airport we set out to find Casa Omega in Prahina where we had made reservation to stay for 5 nights.

The difference between Pico and Sao Miguel was quite obvious. Most houses are still the ones built in the authentic way plus restored as such and constructed of very dark lava stones. So are the walls surrounding the vineyards which, due to the climatic conditions, seem to need more protection from the salty wind. The island being 300 miles further out into the Atlantic is cooler and I was amazed at the difference this made in the amount of flowers as well as in the slower growth of vegetables. On a cloudy, rainy day like this it looked very BLACK.

While here on Sao Miguel the third harvest since last November is underway, fields on Pico looked downright puny in comparison and the amount of happy dairy cows was considerably less. One main road, immaculately clean, leads around the entire island of Pico – unfortunately the main attraction in form of the mountain remained illusive for our stay.

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Entrance to the house we rented on Pico in Prainha,
charming beyond words.

Casa Moega was wonderful. A very old remodeled homestead and former mill restored to perfection reminding us of a museum we had it all to ourselves. From the second story balcony we now and then were able to see Sao Jorge, the long and narrow island producing the famous Sao Jorge cheese, which is very pungent. Unfortunately the weather prevented us from crossing the straight that separates Pico from Sao Jorge. Boats were not leaving and thus our plans to visit were foiled. We did enjoy the view of the steep cliffs dropping off thousands of feet into the ocean as well as the light from Velas and other towns and villages clearly visible to us at night.

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View from our rented house along the straight to the island of Sao Jorge - home of the famous Sao Jorge cheese that is delicious.

The rough seas and winds also prevented us from going on the much anticipated whale watch out of Lajes do Pico, something that I had looked forward to for a long time. We did visit the local whaling museum, an old wind-mill and had a most wonderful lunch in Lajes with congenial people. Likewise we visited the capital Madalena with the ONLY “Hypermercado” (supermarket) since all the other towns, even Sao Roque do Pico, depend on mini-mercados.
Churches are plentiful and rich in baroque treasures. How the poor inhabitants found the funds to build this many churches holding such treasure is an enigma to me. Was it the preaching of “fire and brimstone” or did Rome contribute?



I have not been able to determine who paid for all the churches and chapels because considering just how poor the inhabitants were and to a large extend still are, outside funds would have to have been made available.

We found beautiful parks when it was NOT raining, read a lot of books while cozy in the surroundings of Casa Moega and rested. All too soon the day for our departure arrived and we were off again to the airport in Madalena heading to Flores, one of the Occidental Islands and known as the “blue island” due to the abundance of hydrangeas.

Unfortunately nobody had told us that the best time to visit Flores is not June but July! Thus yet again the weather was not in our favour. A short flight took us to the capitol of Santa Cruz where we rented a car right at the airport. The owner of the car-rental agency had been born in New Bedford and left again at age nine. His English was a wee-bit rusty but in typical Azorean fashion he gave us the keys to the car and told us we did not have to pay a penny until we brought it back 4 days later. Well, where is one supposed to go on an island the size of Flores??????????

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On the island of Flores we stayed at a restored ancient house of the abandoned village of Aldeia Cuada

Much like Pico the houses are mostly dark and we made our way to Aldeia da Cuada, an abandoned village 250 plus years old that was purchased by some enterprising fellow and turned into an authentic resort with houses that did have modern bathrooms but otherwise were pretty much reconstructed or renovated the way they were first built. Our kitchen sink for instance consisted of volcanic rock, a wood-stove provided us with heat and the luggage had to be taken down the rough path by means of a four-wheeler.
Since the days were mostly cloudy we took it easy, made little day-trips to the nearest town  Fajazahina
with the most magnificent church and a small plaza in the
centre, to Santa Cruz which has the ONLY “farmacia” but a physician who makes house-calls as we were told by an elderly British couple.



The husband had taken sick the previous night at a restaurant and was rushed by ambulance (free) to the small hospital where he was treated.
According to him, at 8p.m. there was a knock at the door of his hotel room and he expected the owner but to his great surprise there was the physician who had treated him at the hospital inquiring how he was feeling and was there anything he needed or the Doctor could do for him. FREE. Michael Moore should have included Portugal in his movie “Sickos.” Yes, there are no super-mercados on Flores and it is most difficult to purchase eggs since everyone seems to raise their own chickens. However they are eager to give you some if you are in need of eggs and will be hard-pressed to take a penny.

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Bird song and nature surround the once abandoned village brought back to life in Aldeia Cuada.

Some large new homes with swimming pools have been newly constructed and are most definitely summer-homes of expatriate Azoreans living in the States or Canada but otherwise the living is very laid-back and easy. Here as well the number of cows is not comparable to what we have on Sao Miguel plus you see more barns. Being the most westerly point of Europe Flores is cooler and we used the wood-stove every night in June.

What was most wonderful in spite of some inclement weather was the bird-song and the large variety of birds as well as the fact that they were almost tame. There was no fear of humans whatsoever and we used breadcrumbs galore bringing them to us in droves and very close proximity.


Flowers were planted in the old village in the most unlikely containers like old chamber or teapots; there were old authentic wheels totally made of wood and the individual homes for rent of different sizes all charming and spotlessly clean.

Naturally on the last day the fog that had been hiding what was behind us lifted and disclosed to us a breathtaking view of cliffs with waterfalls dropping 800 or 900 meters, one after the other so that we did not know where to look first or which ones to photograph. It was a magnificent sight and the sound of the falling water was the only sound interrupting the bird-song and the quiet of this magical place.

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Glorious waterfalls on Flores - the green of the surrounding almost seems artificial.

While the hydrangeas were just beginning to blossom I can imagine how wonderful it must look once they are in full bloom. No question that in July the island of Flores deserves its reputation as being the “blue island.”

Unfortunately as we drove to the airport in Santa Cruz the sky finally cleared or should I say fortunately? Some sights were simply so beautiful it is difficult to put into words and I wished we had been able to enjoy them prior to our departure.
As usual, the plane coming from Terceira was an hour and a half late but we are used to waiting by now and don’t go anywhere without a good book to read. The Portuguese are not as “terror-stricken” as the Americans are concerning air-traffic.


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Looking down on a small village on Flores.

There is no removal of shoes but my necklace did set off a metal detector and I was “strip-searched” – just a reflection of the times we live in and the fact that there is a large US air-base in Lajes, Terceira, does not help the Portuguese in their neutrality. Actually the Azoreans knew prior to the US population that the war with Iraq had started due to the refuelling process underway in Lajes.
The pilots of the SATA airline are competent, crews are courteous and we landed in Ponta Delgade on Sao Miguel just in time for dinner.
So I did NOT get to go on a whale watch for my 60th birthday, we did NOT get to visit Sao Jorge nor the smallest island of Corvo but we did have a restful time, saw some wonderfully interesting and beautiful sites in the end determining that whatever those islands have, Sao Miguel, where we now live, has the same and then some.
Plus we do have the luxury of modern super-mercados, good hospitals and physicians, movie theatres not to mention a good Universidade as well as a host of affordable or even free quality cultural activities.
All this within a 15 minute drive of our new home in Caloura where tomorrow the “cow-mowers” will be back (I was forewarned today not to hang-out wash and take-down my flower-boxes.)

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Outcroppings at Moisteros on Sao Miguel - we are HOME.

Plus the other day we hiked around Lagoa Verde (one of the large Caldeiras adjacent to Lagoa Azul in Sete Cidades after having taken the plunge in Moisteros in the piscinas naturais (natural swimming pools) with waves crashing as the tide was coming in. There were little fish and crabs swimming with me and the water temperature was simply delightful. I discovered large air-bubbles in the primordial ooze the size of a small tent where a person could find shelter.

There is nothing like home – even if it is a charming apartment in an old quinta!


Tumbleweed Journal" Copyright 2006-2009 Inge Perreault - All Rights Reserved

The Tumbleweed Journal Reflect the views, opinions and experiences of the author.