Sunday, September 7, 2008

The New Blue Island

8:45 am sitting in (not on) the stone seawall that stretches from part of the old fort to the Porto Pim beach, thinking and listening to the small sounds the waves make as they snuggle up to the black volcanic rocks in this protected harbor. It rained last night, and I imagine that is a very common occurrence. The lava rocks are sharp above the high tide marks and smooth below; they have no doubt weathered a lot of tides. Pico dominates. It is enrobed in clouds this morning, and that seems to make it look closer, as though you could walk to it. The seawall is made of black lava rocks, but the mortar is pure white; what a pleasing sight. It is warm and breezy. I am at peace.

Saturday – September 6th – Faial

Today is the day to explore Faial. It is a small island (21 km long and 14km wide), but too large to explore by foot. Rich has rented a van for the day and as I return to our apartment from my sojourn to Porto Pim I am greeted with the news that we (Rich and Lu, Kathy and I) are relocating to another, similar townhouse just a couple of streets away.

They (Rich and Lu) had slept as poorly as we had, with the cloying aroma (I still think it's too often used, too seldom changed cooking oil), the heat, and our three-family bathroom sharing plan, a change was necessary. Rich had a "little chat" with the landlady and in minutes we were packed and carrying our suitcases up to our new rooms. Our new temporary home is owned by a woman and her grown daughter, is immaculate and smells clean. There are no locks on our bedroom doors, but we don’t think them necessary as there are enough religious pictures/statuary around to ward off any evil doers. The owner is very nice, and when Rich asked if there was a laundry nearby she offered to do their laundry for them.

Before we headed off to explore the island a stop at the farmer’s market was in order. Just off the center in Horta, is a very pleasant vegetable, fruit, and fish open-air market. It was a real pleasure to watch local commerce as I think we were the only tourists in the area. The sidewalk café up the street gave us an opportunity to relax and plan our excursion while getting our pastry fix.

Our first stop is the village (I hesitate to call it a town) of Cedros. Our target is the church of St. Barbara, the parish of my grandmother Silveira (and one of the more intriguing branches of our family tree). She took her mother’s maiden name (Dutra) instead of her father’s (Laranjo), and I find it charming that her mother’s first name was Innocencia. Her husband, my grandfather was born and raised in Praia do Norte, just to the west of Cedros, but still a pretty good walk.

The church is located in a peaceful setting, on a hill that affords a spectacular view of the Atlantic. As we entered the church the custodian was vacuuming the floor, but was very gracious, giving us a tour of the church and explaining (using the stained glass windows as teaching aids) the story of Saint Barbara. We introduced ourselves and upon hearing “Silveira” led us upstairs to a room with pictures along the wall. One of the pictures was of Father Luiz Silveira (dated 1936 if I remember correctly), after whom the church library was named.

Other pictures showed the church as it was in the late 19th and early 20th century (left, below, and right as it is today). Much of the church was rebuilt following a fire if we got the story straight.

Our hostess offered to point out the houses where Silveiras and Laranjos currently live. We passed on that.

Across the parking lot was a building with the words “Nucleo Etnografico Dos Cedros” on the façade, just above an inviting set of steps. (I’m going to take a shot at translating that to mean: Center for the study of Cedros Culture.” It looked like a cool backdrop for pictures, and we made good use of it. Peeking through the windows there appeared to be the inside of a house staged as it would have looked around the turn of the century, with no electrical or modern conveniences in evidence. There was however a shrine with devotional candles encasing a crown from a Festa do Spirito Santo. I could almost smell the sopas. We wondered who held the key to this time capsule, but that would have to wait for the next trip. So much to see and so little time.

Continuing counter-clockwise (is Rich left handed?) our next destination was Praia do Norte, my paternal grandfather's place of birth. This village is perched in a small valley, and seems to be a collection of small white farmhouses, and of course, a beautifully maintained church. Kat has noticed that almost every church has three dates (usually embossed in the masonry somewhere) associated with it: the original date of establishment, the date some disaster (fire, earthquake, or volcano) destroyed it, and the date it was rebuilt. Turbulent little islands. This church looks new (as does St. Barbara's in Cedros), but does not even have the traditional black stone bell tower. The other side of the street looks down on what we imagine is the Praia part of the town. It's a long way down, and we pass by the cutoff with barely a murmur. We are on a mission.

Ahead of us is the youngest piece of earth on the planet: Caphelhinos. In 1957 and 1958 the island trembled, a fissure drained the lake in the Caldeira (more about that later), and a lava flow created a new coastline on the western edge of Faial. The eruption buried many of the houses nearby as well as a pretty tall lighthouse. That is our destination. From readings I knew that no one was killed during the eruptions, however a mass emigration took place (Can you say “fed up”) with many islanders settling on the west coast of the United States. The lighthouse still stands, right next to a new, underground visitors center and museum. Lucy, Sarah, Kat and I (I can only assume it was because we were in the best physical shape) climbed to the top and were rewarded with an other-worldly view. It was windy, cloudy, warm, and weird. We could barely hear each other, but the ground crew could clearly hear every word we said. We waved and made fools of ourselves, and perhaps even sang a little song. It was great. We descended and proudly marched ourselves back to the van, more than a little pleased with ourselves.

We headed toward Capelo and noticed all the new building going on, in some cases right next door to an abandoned (and at one time perhaps, ash covered) lava rock home. This is the town of my great-grandfather and I couldn’t help but wonder at the difficulties they must have endured, trying to farm the area.

We were getting hungry (when weren’t we?) and as we turned a corner we were greeted with signs to Varadouro where there was some sort of festa going on. Always up for a festa, we drove out to the point where there was a lava rock beach (similar to Biscoitos), and more tempting, a great seafood restaurant: the Vista da Baía (Bayview). The festa as it turned out was a whaling boat regatta in the protected harbor and we had first class seats. We left after a first class meal (not surprising), a small bill (not surprising) and a farewell uttered by the proprietor: “Thanks, and come again” in a New Jersey accent (very surprising). I learned later that the restaurant is owned by an American immigrant (emigrant to us) and the reason why everyone travels so far to go there is because “he serves some of the best barbecued chicken with large pieces of garlic bread and french fries” around. And I ordered the fish; who knew?

Our final stop (for me) was Castelo Branco, my maternal grandmother’s home town. As usual we found the church right away, and the van-folk humored me and stopped so that I could take a picture. It was charming with the black stone and white masonry that I have come to enjoy and admire. Unfortunately there was a wedding going on so I couldn’t peek inside, so I contented myself with a picture of the small façade tiled building across the street with the crown and dove (Spirto Santo symbol) adorning the peak. We have seen many of these small chapels (called "Imperios") dotting the landscape. “Style” as Gallagher would say.

Coming full circle we arrived back at our digs on the western edge of Horta. Since “the day was but a pup”, a vote was taken on whether or not to visit the Caldeira. The two nay voters (me and Maria) waved goodbye, and I returned to my sanctuary in the seawall to record my thoughts about what I had seen that day. It was thrilling for me to see the birthplaces of 3 of my 4 grandparents, and to imagine what their lives were like on this little island. I declared the trip a success.

Town life goes on around me. I watched an older woman (at my age I refuse to classify anyone as “old”) in a purple housedress and wide brimmed hat, fish for what I supposed was her dinner. She will eat well tonight, as I’ve seen her land at least 3 pretty good sized fish. Just behind me a family lives in a fairly new house that overlooks Porto Pim beach, and shares a wall with what used to be a stone house. The bright plastic tricycle looks so out of place. The older gentleman who lives in this house (I'm guessing the grandfather) and I have shared a number of pleasant sign language based conversations over the past day that included one prediction: Pico would appear at 3:00 that afternoon. My Sarah believes this and wants the Caldeira road trip schedule to take this into consideration.

No island visit with this crew is complete without at least one trip to the beach. Upon their return the explorers decided a visit to Porto Pim beach was in order. Before I continue, the trip report on the Caldeira convinces me that I was foolhardy to miss it. Lu took some great pictures and I add that to my list of things to see next time. While Kat (not really a beach goer) explored the town, the rest of us visited the sparsely populated beach. The water was clear and warm, and while Rich and I stood in the surf (very enjoyable and now I know why people do that), the bronze and beautiful frolicked in the waves, at one point performing a synchronized swimming routine with all eight legs waving at the horizon. Cute.

We decided to eat at Cafe Sport (Peter) and while good, I didn't think it compared favorably with the meals we have eaten lately. It is the most popular spot in town and I wonder if the large tourist trade has compromised it's menu. Not saying we need a Gordon Ramsey visit, yet.

We sauntered back to our new accommodations, and I thanked Richard again for his decision to raise a complaint. Maria Regina Cardoso Serpa, our hostess, had done their laundry for an agreed upon 3 Euros (about $4.50), and we settled into our fresh, nice smelling beds for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow we take a 4 hour catamaran ride back to Terceira, and I am not looking forward to leaving this little blue island.


Kristin said...

i am enjoying your pictures and narrative of your trip very much. everything looks so beautiful!! keep up the good work. xxoo

Lisa said...

A pleasure to read as always. Who needs to travel, one only needs to read your reports to feel as it they've been there. Can't wait to see where we go next. Write on dear Father.

Alicia said...

FINALLY I have something to do during the looooong day at work. :) Although I have been enjoying Kristin and Lisa's blogs very much! Feels like I am with them every day/every hour. Thanks girls. E, everything is beautiful. Sounds like you had a great trip and everyone looks good. Looking forward to the rest.......