Azores from A to Z: Santa Maria Island

“Does a rock grow?”, asked Gabriel while kicking a big boulder next to the road. – “Yes, but very very slowly”, I told him. – “Can we wait here until it grows?”, he proposed. – “We would all be long gone before it does!”, I retorted while catching a glimpse of Jules raising her eyebrows. – “Gone? Where to?”, insisted Gabriel. “Hey guys, look at that cute horsey!”, interrupted Jules, worried that I would trip over myself trying to explain the transience of life. After all, I had already fumbled the whole Santa Claus matter.

It was perhaps too soon for Gabriel and too early in the day to discuss the fleetingness of our lives. It was nevertheless the perfect timing to reminiscence over our more recent past. Precisely three years ago, we were spending a foggy but beautiful day at Flores, the westernmost island of Azores. We were now back to Azores, this time in Santa Maria, its easternmost island.

The balance of being at the archipelago’s edges exactly three years apart had happened by pure chance (after all, we had left The Plan back in Italy). Our return to Azores did however have an ulterior motive that went beyond the fact that this is probably our favourite place on Earth. Moved by a collector’s urge, we had returned to visit the three islands that we missed on our first visit: Santa Maria, Graciosa, and São Miguel.

Read about our previous Azorean wanderings at Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores, and Corvo.

Not ones to pass on a good deal, our stinginess had led us to catch the first flight of the day to Santa Maria. It was not yet 8:00am when we found ourselves in the island’s main town – not much more than a street connecting the airport to the harbour. Desperate for a coffee, we went into the only café that was open, which was packed with cow herders. After an early start, they were all enjoying a mid-morning beer.

As we made our way towards the counter, we could hear the beer bottles being placed back on the tables and sense the many pair of eyes following us. In a place where everybody knows everybody, the only trio that was not holding a beer and covered in manure stood out as a sore thumb. Behind the counter, the patron put his face mask on and hesitantly welcomed us.

The hesitance was only natural. With zero covid cases in the island, outsiders posed the biggest risk of letting the virus creep back in. After a brief chat about the tests, hoops and hurdles we went through to get there, the familiar Azorean hospitality was back. After a few confirmatory “are you sure you don’t want a beer instead of a latte? It’s almost 8:00 am, after all”, we were enjoying a hearty breakfast with plenty of São Jorge cheese. – “That one came from my cows!”, joked one of the herders sitting on a nearby table.

Over the next few days, the virus slowly left our minds. Unlike our Lisbon hometown, there wasn’t much difference between BC and AC in Santa Maria. Indeed, little had changed in Azores since our last visit.

What about us? Jules and I had aged a bit – the former more graciously than the latter – while Gabriel of course had grown by leaps and bounds, from a tentative toddler of one to a spirited boy of four. Long gone was the kid that stumbled his way around before quickly going back to his baby carrier, replaced by one that insists on rolling his own carry-on through airport security. Instead of falling asleep the moment he enters a boat, Gabriel now enthusiastically directs the pilot to explore this cave and follow that bird. He maintains an interest in all critters, but fortunately lost his knack for plucking hair from unsuspecting cats. His monosyllables also evolved into full-blown sentences that he machine-guns one after the other.

But perhaps the most interesting change is how Gabriel’s notion of beauty has expanded to make room for Azores. Three years ago, he ignored sunsets and much preferred clothes pegs. While his admiration for everyday objects has not diminished – and neither has his fascination with construction machinery – Gabriel now also enjoys spending time in a place that has more cows than people.

It would only be fair for Jules and I to meet Gabriel halfway. Back at Lisbon, the three of us spent an entire morning sitting in our balcony, intently following the erection of a construction crane across the street.

Verne*

You can find high resolution versions of these photographs (and many others that did not fit this text) here, under a Creative Commons license (meaning that you can use them freely but are required to credit the author).

19 thoughts on “Azores from A to Z: Santa Maria Island

  1. A Jules Verne post!! How lovely that you got to return to your favourite place on Earth. What a joy with wonderful images and that drone video is amazing. I wonder if the waterfall made it wet. So good to see that you didn’t have to drink beer at 8 am, that you forgot about the virus, and that Gabriel likes the cows.

    Thank you so much for the link to all your other photos. I can see why one would wish to return. I found one photo there that I love in particular, of the barking dog from Velas. If I may, I would post it one day, sign your name and link back here.

    Oh, I sent you my Calendar 2022 to your email on December 26th. In case you didn’t see it, you can view it here on my cloud:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1NZ01T3xFkb1nn2P2mdVAKUzMRGB8Wk0m/view

    Be well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Manja! The drone didn’t get wet, but funny that you mention it though… on our previous trip to Azores we had planned to take a drone with us, but shortly before the trip it met its demise on the bottom of a river. It took us three years to dare buying another one, this time fully insured 🙂

      Of course, please go ahead. That barking dog was quite the grumpy fellow, but after a few days (he lived nearby the place we rented) he sort of warmed up to us 🙂

      Thanks for the heads-up on the awesome calendar, I replied to your email directly.

      – Verne

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It all looks so familiar and yet different. Intrigued by Poco de Pedreira and I like the style of the vineyards here as opposed to on Pico. Loved your photo gallery, and Gabriel looks a charmer.. Occasional blue skies, too! One day I’ll be back but there are slightly different priorities at present.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jo! I think I know what you mean, each island of the Azores feels like a unique variation of a common theme. The unpredictable weather is unquestionably part of that common theme, each day seems to contain all four seasons! 🙂

      – Verne

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Always a delight to read your posts. I remember the first time you wrote about the Azores, I was immediately captivated. This remote part of the world is, after all, among those places I really want to see. And to notice that there’s another, more recent adventure from these islands by the three of you made my morning. Despite the initial hesitancy from the patron, I’m glad in the end what you found was still the same charming and hospitable Azores. It’s crazy to think how fast kids grow — and with that, comes a barrage of never-ending questions, which is (mostly) cute.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The Faroe Islands is especially high on my list (figuratively speaking, as I don’t have such a list per se). Look forward to reading your stories from those islands!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Watching rocks grow sounds wonderful! 4 years old! My, mom and dad are ancient by now! 🙂 My oldest grandson is 10. “Feelingness” of life indeed. Wonderful writing and images. Thanks for sharing the journey.

    Like

    1. Thank you! Waiting for rocks to grow was quite out of character for Gabriel, he’s usually running around until his parents feel ancient 🙂 How many grandkids do you have?

      – Verne

      Like

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