Azores from A to Z: Terceira Island

I had been vaguely aware of a slit of light coming from the window and slowly creeping towards me. It moved from the wall to the floor, then to the edge of the bed and finally onto my pillow. I woke up from my slumber when it hit the corner of my eye. I rose up and peeked through the window. A seemingly endless deep blue ocean stretched from a tangle of shoreline trees, with the rooftop of a distant house raising through the foliage. Very close to the window, an old farmer picked up strawberries from his small plot of land.

This was the first morning of our trip through Azores, a Portuguese archipelago that sits on the Atlantic Ocean, roughly a third of the way from Lisbon to New York.  Our trip – scribbled below on drawing paper I pilfered from Gabriel – started in Terceira and went on for five more islands: São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo. The archipelago’s remaining three islands – São Miguel, Santa Maria and Graciosa – will need a second trip.

Azores is probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen, but my usually ice-cold perspective may have been warmed by childhood memories. In my early teens, my uncle – who had married an Azorean – took me on a trip through Azores. We cycled round islands, hitched rides on pick-ups carrying foul-smelling cows, and camped on cliffs overlooking the ocean. At the end of that magical couple of weeks, my uncle dropped me off at the airport and I got to fly alone for the first time, an experience that was both terrifying and mesmerizing.

Jules – who had never been there before – also puts Azores on the top of her list, above this, this and even this. Alas, Gabriel – our recent addition that turned Jules Verne Times Two into a trio, is less impressed. His reasoning is largely lost in translation, as we have yet to master his monosyllabic language, but he seems to resent the lack of construction and excavation equipment, his latest obsession. Indeed, compared to our hometown Lisbon – a city whose new status as a trendy destination has sprouted countless construction sites – Azores is remarkably machinery-free.

He nevertheless quickly learned to take advantage of the quietness and peacefulness that surrounded the small house we stayed at, where only a grumpy old cat and a nosy cow caused occasional disturbances. Gabriel – who learned to walk since our last trip – would often spring out the always open front door, looking for the old farmer and his stash of strawberries.

That sense of quietness and peacefulness extends to the whole island. Green is the dominant colour, as rain is frequent and plenty. Everywhere, knee-high walls made of black volcanic rocks enclose individual plots of land.

Driving is a slow affair, as the next bend often hides cattle taking over the full width of the road while being transferred from one plot of land to another. Instead of impatiently tapping on the wheel while waiting for the cows to get out of the way, as one would do at a traffic light, Azoreans will instead get out of the car and chat with the fellow drivers trapped behind the bovine obstacle.

As fans of adhering to local customs, we did the same, first hesitantly, and then readily abandoning our car in the middle of the road. While Gabriel oversaw the cattle herding operations, Jules and I would get to know the Azoreans.

One of the things we most enjoy about our voyages inside Portugal is to discover the cultural nuances from one region to another. Accents are the most immediate difference, from the clipped pronunciation of Northerners to the sung softness of Southerners. Personalities and wines follow the same gradient, from the energetic North to the mellow South.

In this scale, Azoreans would be further south than even the Portugal’s southernmost Southerners. Centuries of insularity made them shy but kind, quiet but curious, restrained but happy.  Take this profile with the grain of salt due to any sweeping generalization of regions and people, of course.

Indeed, the growing proximity to not only mainland Portugal but also the US East Coast (to where many Azoreans have emigrated over time, following natural cataclysms and other hardships) adds fresh ingredients to this melting pot. Don’t be surprised to hear a local give out directions to a lost tourist in a perfect Massachusetts accent.

Nevertheless, those looking for the sophistication of Boston or the opulent monuments of Lisbon will be disappointed. Throughout the centuries, this isolated archipelago served as an important but modest navigation and trading post, rarely raising much interest among the Portuguese aristocracy and settlers.

Indeed, Terceira’s largest city – Angra do Heroísmo, or Angra for short – has a population of a mere thirty-five thousand. That’s less than Panama City in Florida, US’ 1000th largest city. It may not be grand, but it is certainly fascinating. In the 15th century, Angra (‘bay’ in Portuguese) was the first settled place in the island, as the surrounding hills and extinct volcano created a secluded bay that offered protection from foes and elements.

Over the next two centuries, Angra became a regular stopover port for ships coming back from India, laden with spices and other treasures. Today, a ship travelling from the East to Europe will simply go through the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. But before this canal was dug through Egypt in the 19th century, ships would need to travel around Africa and sail northwest towards Azores before turning back East to Europe (to take advantage of prevailing winds), a convoluted path that added 7,000 km (4,400 miles) to the journey.

Sitting atop the extinct volcano that protects Angra’s bay, Jules and I contemplated the port below, imagining the flurry of those bygone days. Gabriel was less interested in the view, devoting his attention instead to the nearby playground.

The next day, the three of us made our way to the airport to catch a 30-minute flight to São Jorge, the second island on our Azorean route. Gabriel was eager to get in the small propeller plane, Jules was eager to get out.

 

Read the second  instalment of our trip through Azores here.

Verne*

36 thoughts on “Azores from A to Z: Terceira Island

      1. Well, Azores is surprisingly mild for a bunch of rocks sitting in the middle of the ocean, so it won’t be very cold. But I remember going there a few years ago in winter, and it was pretty foggy and wet.

        – Verne

        Liked by 1 person

  1. The Azores only began catching my attention in the last few years. And maybe because I’m an Indonesian who was born and raised in the archipelagic country, there’s something exciting about small islands — especially if they’re also volcanic. I remember looking up the Azores on the map and I was so intrigued by its remoteness, and further research brought me to beautiful landscape photos of the islands. So nice to see them from your angle!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Bama!

      I hope you make it to Azores soon, it would be great to see it from your angle too. They share a lot of good things with Bali (the only Indonesian island we’ve visited so far, to correct soon) – the lush green, the hospitality, the volcanic landscapes and buildings – but are regrettably also at the mercy of active volcanoes.

      – Verne

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      1. We spent 3/4 days on each island, I would say that’s the sweet spot. The exception is Corvo, which is tiny (it has a single road), and can be seen in a day trip from Flores (a very nice boat ride, by the way).

        – Verne

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  2. Sentada no sofá e ler uma tradução (diga-se de passagem que não é muito boa 🙂 parece que a Jules é do género masculino e o tio do Verne casou com um homem 🙂 …até podia ser, mas acho que neste caso não deve ser…) pelos Açores é bastante agradável e no que me diz respeito, sem qualquer perigo! Não era eu que me metia naquele avião…o Gabriel entrou porque ainda não sabe os perigos que corre :). Fiquei também muito admirada de considerarem os Açores mais deslumbrantes que as ilhas Galápagos, já para não falar de outros locais…por mim, também fiquei a conhecer melhor as ilhas (a Terceira já lá estive) e foi bom ver as vaquinhas e as ovelhinhas a passearem por ali sem ninguém que as incomodasse… Por último, só posso desejar que nos continuem a deslumbrar com a descrição pormenorizada das vossas muitas viagens, pois assim não corremos perigos, economicamente ficam um bom preço e do nosso cantinho ficamos com uma janela ou várias 🙂 abertas para o mundo!

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    1. Nunca tinha lido a tradução do Google para português! Tirando o Português do Brasil e a erradicação dos géneros femininos, está bastante factual 🙂 Mas é curioso ver que mesmo uma tradução tecnicamente correcta perde muito do original. Não é seguramente fácil ser tradutor 🙂

      – Verne

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  3. Como fã incondicional desse arquipélago, que já visitei por algumas vezes, qualquer descrição é sempre um prazer de leitura. Fico a aguardar novos posts e sentires sobre as restantes ilhas, especialmente sobre a minha preferida, a das Flores!
    Belas fotos!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post emanates peace and quiet and joy and beauty. (And yes, I clicked on Nuno too. Thank you for that!) And to think that this was just one island! Also it says a lot if you place it above everything else you’ve been to, considering that you travelled around the world. Your offspring is a joy to behold too. A proper explorer. Looking forward to the next posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, those 4 adjectives sum up Azores perfectly! Granted, your parents would probably describe instead it as 9 rocks in the middle of nowhere and with no highway in sight 🙂

      Gabriel has adapted admirably to travelling. So much in fact that it’s not easy getting him back in daycare when we get back home 🙂

      – Verne

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Try not to do everything so well, please. Excellent research, writing, photography and storytelling. You set a high standard, as always. I liked your tale of waiting for the cattle to clear the road. I had an experience like that 45 years ago, riding with my older cousin, John, when I visited him in Wales. We waited for a herd of sheep to cross, and he got out and talked to the shepherds. I got little out of the conversation, though, since I’d failed to master Welsh before going there, and that’s what they spoke. Well done, again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re too kind. We’re happy to have found a way to cram together many of the things we love to do (travelling, writing, history, photography), and even happier that people read the resulting concoction!

      – Verne

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