Thursday, September 4, 2008

If It's Wednesday, This Must Be Sao Miguel

Let’s see: the shower rotation goes something like Maria the night before, Rich, Me, Zach, Kat, Lu, Matt and Sarah. With the “on demand” instant hot water heater, the showers tend to be short and multi-temperatured. Somehow it all works smoothly and in record time we are ready to hit the road and leave our villa for a few days.

Wednesday – September 3rd – Terceira to Sao Miguel

Our morning starts with a visit to our now familiar local café with it’s local inhabitants. We say good morning as we enter and get a mix of smiles and grunts. It's clear that we are making progress. Rich seems overwhelmed by and talks incessantly about the 4 stand up urinals in the mens room of this small (capacity about 10) café, while Matt, Maria, Zach and I prefer the spectacular view of the hillside across the street. Always the keen observer, Rich indicates the double door in the back wall that suggests a hall of some sort behind it.

Bags packed, we wave goodbye to our house-mother, and head across the island (our first time out of sight of the Atlantic) to the Lajes military base where we hope to wash our laundry prior to our flight to Sao Miguel. Since we are going by it anyway, perhaps we should stop and see the Furnas do Enxofre where the sulphur fumaroles spew a fireworks-smelly gas into the air. Sure, why not? I’d hate to imagine that we had 15 minutes that would be unfilled by some activity. The ride up to it is fantastic, passing through a forested region flowered by the most beautiful wild hydrangeas and large, fragrant, yellow, conical flowers. At the top of this small caldeira a wooden walkway surrounds the steaming spouts, and it’s a great stop. Thanks Rich and I’ll not question your judgment again.

Working his way through the bureaucratic morass that exists across the globe, Rich is able to obtain passes not only for his van but 5 visitors as well. Hmm, there are 7 of us. Looks like the democratic principle of the youngest lose, applies, and Matt and Sarah are left outside the gates while the rest of us frolic on the base at the washing machines. The highlight of my time on base (all military bases no matter the size, are claustrophobic to me) was sitting alone with Maria and getting to know (a bit) this very caring and giving person. I would be glad to have her as my nurse practitioner if I was ill. I asked Rich if the high, barbed wire topped fence was to keep the military in or the locals out and his response was “Both.”

Our time before takeoff evaporated before the moisture in our clothes did so we plastic bagged our damp clothes and headed to the airport. In short order we were airborne for the 40 minute flight to the island of Sao Miguel. As we approached Ponta Del Gada, the differences between the two islands were evident. Beside the harbor was a high-rise building, and the city seemed to flow like rivulets from the hills. We weren’t in Kansas any more.

The available accommodations on Sao Miguel required our party to split into 3 groups. The young and restless had an apartment to themselves, Rich and Lu were at the Casa Vitoriana, and Kat and I had a room at the Residencial des Sete Cidades (7 Cities). Each of the 3 locations was a pleasant 5-10 minute walk from the city gates and large central church (Sao Sebastian) known as the Matriz. Agreeing to meet at 6:00 in the central square (with dinner recommendations) we went our separate ways, with a driver picking up the four amigos and a 9 Euro taxi split for the oldies.

Our hotel room is fine, a little close and warm, but with a fan and a great balcony. The staff is very friendly and seems pleased to have some Americans staying with them (I think their usual occupants are German or British). With hours to kill, we spread our damp clothes out on the balcony and headed to explore the town.

Ponta Del Gada is a beautiful little seaside town with a fantastic harbor. It is from this harbor that grandfather Vieira emigrated. As we gazed across it, an older gentleman approached us to make conversation. Though warm he was all buttoned up in his older person brown barracuda jacket. He told us that what we were looking at (the shiny new promenade and the stone amphitheater) were only 2 months old and that the emigrations took place from the old jetty across the way . He knew many Vieiras and they were “big” in the construction business up in Ribeira Grande. He knew of many people leaving Sao Miguel to begin lives in Fall River (Fall Reeve as we heard many times) and Bristol and Newport, Rhode Island.

With this unstructured time I’m able to corral some of the miscellaneous thoughts, impressions, and observations:

1.) Most of the people we have met have been “gentle people” who live on beautiful islands.

2.) The weather so far has been consistent: Cool (not cold) and damp, warm and damp, and hot and damp.

3.) The construction is all masonry, typically white houses and buildings with red/orange tile roofs.

4.) The towns and cities we’ve visited have been clean with almost no litter.

5.) Ponta Del Gada is the largest city on the islands, but feels small and compact. The streets are very narrow, and in many places the sidewalks dwindle away to nothing as you walk. The knowing pedestrians are quick to duck into doorways as cars approach. It is amazing to me that anyone has side mirrors left (they all do and are typically folded in when the car is parked – it is that close). The drivers drive fast and as noted before, expect the pedestrians to “do the right thing.”

6.) There are few birds even in the squares where the statues are clean, and fewer policemen, smokers, or dogs and I have yet to see a cat.

Back to our story: At 6:00 Kat and I met Z/M/S&M at the city gates and chatted away a pleasant half hour awaiting the arrival of Rich and Lu (seems someone took a little nap). We scouted potential eating establishments and settled on the Alianza, just behind city hall, right off the square. One of the interesting customs here took me a little by surprise. Plates of bread, fresh white cheese, and olives are brought to the table. If you eat them, you pay for them, if you don't they make the rounds to the next table. The cheese is tasteless but has a nice consistency, and when complimented with bread, olive oil, and piri-piri difficult to resist. The dinner and conversation were light and good (and inexpensive compared to some of the recommendations we had garnered).

Leaving the restaurant, we took a short walk to the apartment shared by our young friends. It was at the top of a building that was under construction, and the view from their front window was worth the walk up. The town planners picked a checkerboard design for the sidewalks in this area. Stocked with beer and wine they had made themselves a nice little perch.

As much as we would like to have stayed, I was tired, and just a little concerned that the 10-15 minute walk back to our hotel might not be all that safe. We said our goodbyes, and made our way through the gentle night. We felt perfectly safe, and upon arrival at the hotel chatted with the desk person, who is a real ticket. We headed off to bed with a 7:15 wake up call, and thinking this island hopping was pretty darned cool.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

You give full and lovely descriptions...I can't wait to visit...