Terra Incognita

Some facts about the Açores

Açores, islands (1991 pop. 241,592), 905 sq mi (2,344 sq km), in the Atlantic Ocean, c.900 mi (1,448 km) W of mainland Portugal. Administratively an autonomous region of Portugal, they are divided into three districts named after their capitals: Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Angra do Herosmo on Terceira Horta on Faial The nine main islands are São Miguel (the largest) and Santa Maria in the southeast; Terceira, Pico, Faial, São Jorge, and Graciosa in the center; and Flores and Corvo in the northwest. Ponta Delgada is the largest city. The fertile soil yields many crops and supports vineyards. The islands are also a resort area, although there is volcanic activity. The United States maintains a NATO air base in the islands. The Azores may have been known to the ancients and were included on a map in 1351. Portuguese sailors reached them in 1427 or 1431, but colonization did not begin until 1445 under Diego de Sevilha or Gonalo Velho Cabral (who may have been there in 1431). During the colonial period, the Azores were a stopover point for treasure fleets returning from the New World, and many ships were lost there due to hurricanes or pirates. The islands were used as a place of exile and were also the site of naval battles between the English and the Spanish. In the 19th century, they were used by supporters of Maria II against Dom Miguel. In the 20th century, there has been a large outmigration to the United States.

Shore Leave

Finally we are ready for a walk around Ponta Delgada. We enter the pier and suddenly the world starts moving. The solid concrete building seem to list over. After two weeks in a constantly moving world, we are not accustomed to the motionless land any more. It takes some time to readjust. We walk along the pier and at the end we reach an old fortification, still in use by the Portuguese Navy. There are two routes to get into town. Nils, a shipmate, takes the shortcut, and we have to wait for ten minutes for him to catch up. We reach the town and change some money to the local currency. We start to have a look at the town. Except one large tourist center at the waterfront, everything is in the original state. There are narrow streets and sometimes it is hard to escape the cars. Soon we reach an area, where there are no cars allowed. Meanwhile we have lost Nils.

We enter a cafeteria and get us some cups of coffee. For the first time in two weeks, our chairs don’t move. We just stroll around the town. Soon the evening arrives. We are looking for a place to have diner. Finally we stop in a small restaurant. After two weeks aboard, we long for a real piece of meet, so we order a “Supersteak” with chips and salad. With the help of a bottle of wine we are able to eat all. After some coffee and added pineapple liqueur we are finished and walk back to our ship.

Tour around São Miquel

Early in the next morning we rent a small car to take a trip around the island. The ßubsbench”, Nils, Christoff, Rolf and me, is off to discover the new country. We enter the coastal highway, but at the end of the town, the highway changes to a narrow winding road along the beautiful coast of São Miguel. Soon we turn left into the mountains, and soon we reach the lake near Furnas with its warm wells. Nils insists to take a swim in the lake. The weather is constantly changing, sometimes we are driving right through the clouds, that surround the mountains, then the sun is shining bright. We visit the only tea plantation in Europe, where we buy some local tea for souvenirs. Late in the evening we return to Ponta Delgada, for another supersteak. When we reach the ship, everything is in a turmoil. It has been decided to leave port tomorrow and not on sunday. The fees of the harborpilot are outrageous on sundays. John has to find everybody and tell them about that change of plans.