The Land of My Peoples
09.05.2014 - 09.11.2014
9/12/14 at 1532 (London time)
My time in the Açores is complete and I'm now on my way to Istanbul, Turkey. I loved the islands and have never had such a feeling of belonging with a place and its people before. I guess you could say the Açores saved my experience in Portugal. It's not that I didn't like Lisbon, but the connection I was searching for was found in Pico, Faial, and Terceira. I have done so much travel and been to so many amazing places, but this is distinctly the first destination where I absolutely know that I must come back. There have been so many places that I enjoyed and want to return to, but the islands were just different for me.
Next time, I want to climb Mount Pico, I want to find the spot of land where my family lived, I want to have a picnic overlooking the ocean, spend the time to walk along some of the trails, find a spot on one of the misterios where the lava remains rippled, perhaps do a whale watching excursion or a scuba dive.
I spent the majority of my time on Pico, the island where my great-grandparents were from. I also spent a good amount of time trying to research the family names and attempted to find an address where I may see their home. I had seen a photo of the home when I was young but did not have a copy with me for reference. I did not anticipate how important this would become for me.
The home my great-grandfather lived in on Pico.
I stayed at Pousada de Juventude do Pico at Convento São Pedro de Alcântara, a hostel in Sao Roque. It wasn't until I was settled in that I learned Sao Roque was the same city as my great-grandfather was from. My great-grandmother was from Silveira, on the opposite side of the island.
My hostel in Sao Roque was an old converted convent. However, the chapel connected to it is still in use by the locals as a place of worship.
The two areas of the island where my family members were from.
Sign for Silveira, the city where my great-grandmother was from.
Realizing how expensive taxi fares were on the island (approximately 18€ one way most places) I got a rental car for $53 USD and spent my days driving around, listening to unfamiliar radio, and exploring. The trip around the island took about 3 hours or so, not including the time I spent going in to each little city or neighborhood I came to. Below are little tidbits of my journal while there, followed by more photos. Another post will be to follow with "Things I Want to Remember" . . . it was truly a special time for me and I hope I've been able to capture some of the essence of the Açores here.
The coast off Madalena on Pico Island.
I never was able to find out what the giant concrete cracker-jacks were for.
9/6/14 at 1616 (Sao Roque time)
Blood sausage . . . one of the only culinary experiences I've had where I am verbally trying to calm myself down before taking my first bite.
Blood sausage . . . "It's going to be OK, it's going to be all right, you can do this."
Let's just say I wasn't a fan . . .
The woman who appears to own this restaurant also works at the whale watching company in the adjacent building, perhaps owning that as well. We began to talk and she gave me several suggestions on how to find any information on my family, including attending church, asking anyone who looks 'old', and talking with a local historian is 100 years old 'or older'. She described his home and gave me a handwritten note to help with the conversation as he does not speak any English and I do not speak any Portuguese.
Note to the local historian to help me in finding any possible family members.
9/6/14 at 2017 (Sao Roque time)
The time I decided to order take away from a fancy restaurant so I could eat it by the waves and the waiter & I couldn't communicate properly on what fish to order . . . so he brought them to me raw on a silver platter so I may select what fish I wanted. It was so sweet, even though it made me consider ordering a salad instead.
9/6/14 at 2019 (Sao Roque time)
Adorable Portuguese waiter notices me standing in a corner, typing away as I wait for my unknown fish selection to be grilled. He clears a space on a fancy table in a corner away from the hullabaloo of the fancy guests at the other fancy tables so I can sit quietly to do my "work". I'm really loving the Açores people.
9/6/14 with time unspecified
It is now the end of my first full day in the Açores. I arrived last night into Horta on Faial island, took a cab to the ferry 10 minutes away for 12.50€. The 30 minute ferry ride was only 3.80€ and once to Pico island, a 20 minute taxi ride to my hostel cost 20€. When I realized how much taxi's were going to cost, I asked about renting a car and was lucky enough to find one of the very few automatics on the island.
NOTE TO SELF: Attempt to learn stick shift again . . . and good luck on not killing the car this time.
The famous grape vineyards on Pico island, with volcanic rock enclosures to protect the grapes from the salty ocean wind.
The fog gets quite thick the higher you travel up Mount Pico, the highest point in all of Portugal.
Each of my taxi drivers were so flippin' adorable though. The first one was Abel in Horta, who drove me to the ferry from the airport. Abel was very proud of his family in Pico that participated in the whaling industry and were featured on a memorial wall. He told me tidbits about Faial and recommended that I stay there with my two extra unplanned days as there is not much in Sao Jorge. At the end of the trip, he gave me his card, an alternate number and wished me a good time in Pico.
My second taxi driver in Madalena on Pico island was the first I made eye contact with, we both shrugged, and gave a look like, "Why not?". He spoke limited English and my Portuguese is more on the Spanish side rather than French/Italian-esque, so we had some interesting conversation. He told me that he loved Disneyland and Disney World in America (so we hit it off), and that he has family throughout California. He also told me that he has 27 cows and a fishing boat where he fishes for his family (two daughters who are 6 and 12). He struggled for words and was apologetic but I told him repeatedly that his English was far superior to my Portuguese. He showed me an English book he is trying to read and is almost 500 pages in. He told me that by the time I return to Pico he should be fluent in English.
I also learned that I have been severely mispronouncing the name of the islands, although in line with English pronunciation. I also learned that my convent is not in fact the convent that possibly my great-aunt stayed at because it was male only, then subsequently a prison. "And the walls have not been changed!" exclaims the hostel clerk proudly. It is pretty impressive for a volcanic rock structure built in the 16-1700's. I wonder what I'll learn tomorrow . . .
9/7/14 at 1320 (Sao Roque time)
Driving around the island, getting lost and having a fabulous time listening to classical music and unfamiliar tunes, even those in English. I'm pretty surprised at the variety of stations available on the island.
A photo for my mama, who rightfully said she knew her daughter was one to enjoy the wind and the moment, not caring what others think. I was enjoying the wind from atop the extinct volcanoes.
Treated myself to a double-caramel ice cream bar, which was amazing. I wanted to enjoy it while driving but then my rental car wouldn't start, so I enjoyed it in my car as locals passed by giving me some quizzical looks. Tried a few times with no luck, but of course, once the ice cream was done, it purred like a kitten.
Also, today may be the first time I have made way for a man riding a donkey . . .
9/8/14 at 1428 (Sao Roque time)
I slept in this morning, which really put a wrench into my plans. I think I'll still be OK. I called Albino, Rita from AirBNB's friend who lives on Faial. He is off the island and at Flores at this time but said otherwise I could have stayed at his home. I asked if there were any other friends who may want to rent a room for a night and he referred me to a friend Tomás, who said that he would pick me up from the ferry and I could stay with him. The power of networking! I already talked to Albino about possibly staying with him next year and he said absolutely. I'm astounded. Tomás said he is close to the library and knows the director of the Horta library as well, so that should help with some of the family research.
A traditional Açorean style whaleboat from the whaling museum in Lajes do Pico.
Oleos e Farinhas (oils and flours) is visible in these photos, outside of a whaling industry museum in Sao Roque. I didn't visit this museum but it goes into detail on the products and industry of whaling, as opposed to the museum in Lajes do Pico which covered the whaling hunt itself and scrimshaw artwork.
Scrimshaw, or bone carving, in the whaling museum of Lajes do Pico.
A museum of sorts on Sao Roque; there was little explanation of the awards and dolls on display.
I was directed to the Sao Roque cemetery by the housekeeper at my hostel, but unfortunately was not able to find any family ties.
I tried the Lajes do Pico municipal area, but they had no records from the years I was searching although she pulled out several old books from the 1900's. The clerk suggested (like everyone else) that I go to the Horta Biblioteca.
I also checked out the Lajes Biblioteca, which was said by the whaling museum to have large books chronicling the families of Pico. They told me that they had been checked out previously and they had some neighborhoods but not Lajes (where Silveira is) or Sao Roque. They referred that I go to Horta's library instead.
I am now sitting at a panaderia, awaiting a ham & cheese omelet, drinking Sagres Radler, and ordered a few pastries to go, including Queijada Vila Baleeira, specific to the Açores. Apparently it was a treat of the baleeiraos, so we shall see how it tastes!
Delicious pastries that Pico is famous for, including a cheese tart and a fruit, honey spiced cake. Mmmmmm . . .
At 4:30, I have a reservation to see Gruta da Torres, which is a lava tunnel (or tube) here on the island that you can take a tour of. I tried yesterday but their electricity had gone out. I called today and it's back up so I'm trying again!
I'll make sure to have a delicious dinner for my last night on Pico and then will be sleeping in the car, lava-rock beachside as I wait for tomorrow to come. I'll be sending out a package in the morning with my purchases, including the tile from Lisbon. Then off to Faial before Terceira . . . I didn't make it to Sao Jorge, but perhaps next time. This trip to the Azores has proven to be much more costly than I anticipated, considering the rental car. Restaurants are few and far between, so I have not been spending that much on food because I have not been eating much. My lunch the other day was canned tuna from Sao Jorge, water crackers, and a Coca-Cola. I treated myself to double caramel ice cream bar and my total came out to less than $6 USD for that nutritional meal.
Starting to prepare for my trip to Turkey . . . this has been the perfect pace for a trip, not too fast, not too slow, and so much to do. I know I'm going to miss it.
Gruta das Torres with Cabeço Bravo in the background.
Pathway down to the mouth of the lava tube.
The beautiful opening where the weak roof of the lava tube collapsed.
My blurry self portrait once inside the darkened cave.
Lava ripples are still visible throughout the tunnel.
Victory is mine!
9/9/14 at 0915 (Sao Roque time)
Sitting at a cafe, having "coffee with milk in large cup" with sugar, waiting on my ham and Sao Jorge cheese toast to come. Today is my last day in Pico. I'll be taking the ferry to Horta at 1130, meet up with Tomás, and then visit the library that everyone has been telling me about. All in all, Pico has been fantastic. To be honest, however, I don't know that I would have enjoyed it as much if I didn't know there was a family connection. Most of the magic of this island has been me wondering what it was like for my family at the time they were here.
I am now wondering whether our family heritage may be Spanish, considering Jose and Manuel Rodrigues are in my family line. I think my mother might already know this or maybe not, I am not sure. She, like me, had assumed that names like Rodrigues would be common here, but most in the Azores have told me "I don't know that name."
I was lucky to see this sign, leading me to an artists' home workshop where she showed me her detailed work.
Artesan shops were few and many were closed. I'm sure in the summer more would be open.
I finally found an artisan shop that was open, and I was very excited. Found a small shell necklace where they wrote Pico on the shell in sharpie. Perhaps not the fanciest bit of artisan work, but I was excited to find a shell necklace.
Had a moment of fright where I thought I lost one of my daggers earrings from Ecuador but luckily found it on the car seat, so I was quite excited. I'm taking this as a sign it's going to be a good day.
Slept in the car last night as the hostel was rented out and the cost of a hotel room or AirBNB was equivalent to the cost of the car, aka more than I expected to pay. It was quite lovely, actually. The darkest place near the ocean that I could find in Sao Roque, was in fact, the lower parking lot level of the convent I had stayed at. The sound of the ocean was fantastic as I fell off to sleep and I was relatively comfortable in the back.
Famous rocks (or small islands) off of Pico's shores called "deitado" and "em pé", meaning "lying down" and "standing up".
The ferry ride between the islands, on my way to Horta from Madalena.
9/10/14 at 0213 (Horta time)
My last day & night in Horta, Faial has been more like hanging out with friends than anything else. I was picked up from the ferry by Tomás, who was kind enough to take a lunch break with me by the pier. I met his friend Fernando, who is a philosopher and philosophy teacher. We ate tuna lasagna and salad, enjoyed the view of the ocean and the boats lined up along the marina.
Tomás and Fernando showed me the pier area covered in paintings from sailers who believed that paintings would bring them good luck on the seas. They told me of various sailers who return to touch up or create a new painting in order to ensure their luck at sea. Several were dated recently, including a fun Yoda one.
Fernando and Tomás checking out the new paintings on the pier
Afterwards, Tomás returned to work and Fernando walked me to the Horta Biblioteca, where I attempted more family research. Although I didn't find much, I had a good time looking through their digitized records and old books.
I returned to Tomás' home, where we walked together to pick up his son Julião from school. We walked around the pier for a bit later to show Julião the Yoda painting we had seen.
They took me to an old pier area where whaling had once been done, but was now a calm bit of ocean with black sand mixed with the brown, with a small bit of people out on the water. It just so happened that Tomás' friend Fernando was swimming far out and called to us, waving from afar. I told him later I was surprised that he was able to recognize us, but he told me that Tomás' hair is unique. It cracked me up a bit because I have always been told my hair is unique from so far away and this was perhaps the first time someone recognized a group from far away due to hair that was not mine.
Porto Pim in Horta on Faial Island
A young girl enjoys the water of Porto Pim
The night ended with Julião going to bed, nine of Tomás' friends coming over and watching 'Nebraska' with Portuguese subtitles. I had a moment of shyness but recovered quickly as all his friends were welcoming.
The next morning, before leaving for my flight, I was able to feed the chickens some leftover pasta from the night before. I was perhaps a little too excited . . . it was my first time feeding chickens!
9/10/14 with time unspecified
Made it to Terceira island! I was picked up by Paulo, my second AirBNB experience. When I walked out of the airport, I saw a young man who had searching eyes and I asked if he was Paulo. He said yes. Unfortunately, he was not my Paulo, but he was Paulo nonetheless. He told me that he left his glasses on Sao Jorge and his father had found a woman flying to Terceira who was going to deliver his glasses. He was a bit disappointed that I did not have his glasses.
The right Paulo showed up and I liked him from the start. More on the quiet side, his home is beyond old with stone floors and unique architecture. His artwork hangs on the walls and lamps he's made from tidbits he's found adorn the house. Lucy, the cat is a lover as is the dog Chika with one eye.
My living quarters in Terceira, adorned with some of Paulo's original artwork and light fixtures, including the lamp bedside made from an old kitchen scale.
Paulo grows his own coffee at home.
Paulo showed me around town, including a beautiful garden area where we sat for a coffee and good conversation. Later we had dinner at Quinta dos Açores, which included delicious ice cream for dessert.
Exploring cannons and craters on Monte Brasil that overlooks the city of Angra do Heroísmo on Terceira.
My Queijada da Graciosa ice cream, with bits of yummy cinnamony pastry as found in the famous pastries from Graciosa island.
Tomorrow I fly back to Lisboa but once again, I wish I was staying . . .
9/12/14 at 0122 (Lisbon time)
Last night in Lisbon and feeling overly emotional, exhausted, tired . . its officially my first poor experience with AirBNB and I'm finding myself wishing I was with friends, old or new, or a welcoming family. I'm looking forward to flying to a new place.
9/12/14 at 1023 (Lisbon time)
Waiting to board and realized I forgot to send out two postcards! I am quite far from the post office that is in the airport. When I asked two United Airways employees where I might find a dropbox, they offered to drop the postcards for me. I'm not even flying United . . . now I feel like I need to fly with them next time!!
A handful of more photos from my time in the islands . . .
Capote artwork upon the walls of Horta. A capote was a cape the young women from the islands would wear to cover themselves when going out, usually electric blue in color and supported with whale bone. Many on the islands told me it was so the girls did not have to do up their hair or make-up, take care of what they needed to, then return to their homes.
Cows . . . love 'em, even if they don't have the big horns that get me all excited.
Double rainbow on my last day in Pico!
Portuguese street art maintained a playful tone in the Açores.
Natural saltwater pools, about ten minutes from the Sao Roque hostel.
This cow was the sweetest, most curious cow I have come across. And ironically, I've come across a lot of cows. A lot.
In the misterios areas (each area a specific volcanic eruption creating new portions of Pico), you find a lot of wooded areas. I was informed that people from the Açores planted trees with strong roots so as to break up the hardened lava.
Traditional Portuguese mosaic streets were still present in the islands.