Flores, Azores – a Ilha e o Mundo

Travel

The title of my last blog entry (for now!) about the Azorean archipelago comes from Pedro da Silveira poem’s title ‘The Island and the World’, picturing perfectly the remoteness of the island of Flores.

Só isto:

O céu fechado, uma ganhoa
pairando. Mar. E um barco na distância:
olhos de fome a adivinhar-lhe, à proa,
Califórnias perdidas de abundância.

 

Flores is one of two islands in the Westernmost part of Azores, and it was the last stop in my last year’s journey around the archipelago. To go there, I chose to sail on a cruise ship, operating every two weeks from the main island: São Miguel.

It stops at all of the islands of the archipelago and it’s prone to late arrivals, due to sudden, tricky weather conditions. When I boarded the ship in Horta (Faial Island) it was ‘only’ a few hours late and it took all night to arrive in Flores. The sea ride was rather shaky, but the inconvenience was well rewarded by arriving on the island exactly when the sun was rising! I can’t pick any words how beautiful was the view and the feeling of the remoteness of the island that appeared out of blue, in front of the ship.

 

Those who arrive by ship usually land in the coastal town of Lajes, which is the main industrial port of the island. Lajes is also the Westernmost county of Europe, the next land at this latitude is Canada.

 

I stayed at Residencia Matheus in the picturesque village of Fajã Grande, again the Westernmost spot of the island, infamous for difficult sailing conditions (for instance, RMS Slavonia is still wrecked close to the rocky peninsula nearby). It was close to various trail paths, within a walking distance from the lava beach, surrounded by the waterfalls and thousands of bird species which not surprisingly choose Flores for their nesting period.

 

I was discovering the village in awe and was offered a very complex tour around the island with the local guide, Armando Rodrigues from Experience OC, who gave me some extra tips about not only natural wonders, but also places to eat out and enjoy the sunsets at the tip of the European continent.

 

Flores is famous for its lakes, situated at the top of the mountain ranges, and is one of a few places on the planet Earth where there’s an excess of potable water. I managed to see all of the lagoas and admire the remote landscape from above, as the only other island spotted on the horizon is Corvo.

 

And this was also the only failure of my stay on Flores; I planned poorly and did not manage to visit the neighbouring island of Corvo. The boats operating between Flores and Corvo offer very limited seats and can be sold out easily, especially if there are any festivities taking place (and it’s usually a case during the summer season).

 

Instead, I took some time to discover the island on foot, and walk to the ancient and currently uninhabited village of Cuada, where there is a restaurant with a descriptive name: Por do Sol (Sunset). It offers the dishes typical of Flores, such as erva patinha – something I’d describe as algae ‘falafel’.

 

After dinner, I contemplated sunset in a bar Maresia looking at the Atlantic depth with a glass of local wine, listening to great music played live from vinyls at the end of the world.

 

In the night though, the only sound that one can hear are the chants of the Azorean squeeky bird: cagarros. Some like it, some freak out for the first days.

 

Apart from the wilderness, the capital of Flores is Santa Cruz and it’s divided by a landing stripe, bordering the old town from the French quartier, established by the military stationing on the island since the 60s. The landing stripe is in use for the local SATA airlines, connecting Flores with Corvo, Terceira and São Miguel.

 

I took some time to explore the local museums and was very impressed by their content and how many facts I’ve learned about the history of Flores and Corvo.

 

On my last day, I was wandering around the town, waiting for the plane and looking at the depth of the Atlantic. I realized, many other travelers do the same, as the airport’s check-in area is accessible within 5 minutes walk from the beach. I was wondering about my fellow travelers where are they coming from, what they are, where are they going – quoting Gaugin, only that set in the Atlantic, and not Polynesian paradise.

 

During the take off returning to Terceira, I had a chance to look back at most of the islands I’ve visited during my trip, and eventually managing to see the peak of Pico. I promised to myself to return, for much longer and I’m convinced I will keep my promise. Obrigada, Azores!

 

 

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Ilha de Faial – encounters in the middle of the Atlantic

Travel

This month I would like to look back at the island which attracts thousands of wandering sailors in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: Faial.

It’s located in the central archipelago of Azores and it takes roughly half an hour to get there from Madalena on the island of Pico. If you are lucky, you can see a disapperaing tip of the volcano as you cross to Faial. Or dolphins and whales alongside your boat!

I spent a couple of days on Faial, namely in its capital: Horta and on the North-Western tip of the island in the romantic bay of Valadouro, known for its natural lava pools, lonely lighthouses and dramatic coastline leading to the Capelinhos volcano.

Since this is an island of encounters, as a solo traveller I had so much luck meeting extraordinary people in various parts of the island, mostly while hitch-hiking. Digital nomads from Poland, refugees of the hi-fi civilization reconnecting with nature and living the life in accordance to minimalism/simplicity philosophy, sailors seeing the land for the first time in weeks or retired Azoreans returning from life-long migration in Canada or East Coast of the USA. I also had a chance to bump into some of my fellow travellers hopping the islands like me, only in a different order.

During the time I stayed in Horta, there was a local festival called Semana do Mar, one of the most attended festivities on the archipelago. There I witnessed the relativity of what’s exotic: one of the most surprising attraction was to watch Slovakian traditional dances, something I found pretty surreal to see in the middle of the Atlantic. Everyone else seemed pretty amused though.

Horta offers lively bar nightlife, with its famous gin & tonic at Peter’s Bar – a legendary sailor’s spot for encounters in the middle of the ocean. To be honest, its gin & tonic tasted exactly the same like anywhere else on Faial, the only difference was the spirit many sea life stories or adventures which are told on a daily basis at it’s counter.

However, the cruising ship’s marina is not to forget. Thousands of paintings on its piers, done by the sailing crews from all over the world tell stories of distant travels, sea adventures and their original destinations. It was very emotional to me to see Berliner, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish or Brazilian paintings being so far away from my ‘homes’.

Porto Pim in Horta offers a wide, white-sand beach and plenty of bars or restaurants, and is a great place to chill out after a whole day of (hitch)hiking and gin-tonic tasting.

Unfortunately, I haven’t made it to the great caldeira – a crater in the middle of the island, given that I lacked not only time, but also food and water necessary to complete this 20 kms hike. I went on alongside the Westernmost coastline to the Capelinhos where one can walk at the verge of the volcano remnants and go underneath an impressive and interactive museum dedicated to… volcanos, lighthouses and planets, alongside with the geothermal history of Azores. I found this combination interesting at the beginning, but later it all made sense to me. Maybe it should be called a Principezinho (port. ‘Little Prince”) museum.

At the end of my stay, I met various artists from the local Sociedade Filarmônica preparing for the annual parade in Horta. They all spent long days practicing their repertoire and choosing the clothes representing their local communities. I was very impressed during the whole journey, how important was to preserve local music, dances and craft on these remote and distant islands.

After spending a few days on Faial, my longest journey was about to set off: I was boarding a ship which goes only once in 2 weeks during the high season to the paradisiac island of Flores. It was delayed and the storm was kicking in. The last chapter of my Azorean journey in 2017 will be continued in 2018…

Ilha do Pico – around the peak of Portugal on a bike

Travel

After having visited Terceira, and São Jorge islands I departed on a shorter, 45-minutes passage to Pico, an island named, not surprisingly, after the highest Portuguese peak.

Spoiler alert: I will not describe any hiking adventures in this post, as my feet were too damaged after hiking during the whole week and the weather conditions to approach Pico were unfortunately not good enough to risk it, even if it was early in August.

Instead, I will focus on another way of discovering this island: on a bike. Pico is actually quite flat on the coastline, offering hundreds of kilometres of bike paths around the wineyards of the famous lava wine.

Even though the days were very warm and humid at the coastline, the weather in the interior remained cloudy to the point I could only sneak peek the famous peak, and not the gorgeous mountain. I was much more lucky when returning on a small plane from Flores island over a week after though, where I could admire Pico from the bird view perspective.

I stayed overnight around the major town of Pico: Madalena, rich in great restaurants and bars, some of them traditional and the others, with a fancy modern touch. Cella Bar located on the South-Western tip of the island, overlooking another island: Faial is definitely worth recommending for a romantic sunset with a glass of local wine. To be followed by laying in the hammock surrounded by the sound of nightingales that would never stop their love songs till the early morning.

Wineries of Pico are listed on the UNESCO Heritage Site and there are two museums dedicated to the art of wine making. Another interesting fact is that the stray between the islands: Pico and Faial is very rich in whale and dolphin population, so one quite easily spot them while passing on the local ferry line.

There various small villages and towns worth visiting on Pico: the biggest one of them are Lajes and São Roque. They are definitely more rural and sleepy, but have dedicated spaces for the local craftship and whalers. On the way from Madalena to São Roque one can pass by the formation of rocks called: cachorros (‘dogs’), due to their resemblance to a poodle.

With wind in my hair, blue skies, ocean and endless green wineries in my eyes and wine in my head (only in tasting quantities though), I spent two days riding around the island on bike and would never forget this experience of careless freedom of discovery.

 

 

São Jorge – walking on the dragon’s back

Travel

It’s high time to describe the next chapter of my Azorean adventure this summer, after my initial stay on Terceira, which is the Spartan-like hike around São Jorge.

It’s one of the least visited, and challenging islands to discover among the Azores, yet I would definitely say: one with the most stunning wildlife and views. It is only possible to get there by a regular boat service during the summer season, given the roughness of the ocean tides, but there’s also a connection with the major airports of Azores by SATA airlines.

São Jorge’s shape reminds of a dragon laying in the middle of the Ocean, as its steep volcanic mountain ranges create a landscape very similar to the one I described earlier this year in a totally different place on Earth: Dragon’s Back in Hong Kong.

To see and experience the most of the island, I chose to hitchhike and hike anyway, often up to 1000 m up and down on the slippery, yet very picturesque slopes.

What is very special about São Jorge is fajã – a lava-origined coastal structure, on the tip of the volcanic mountains, where natural pools (poços), lakes and little villages are located. The structure of fajã exists all over Azores, yet it differs a lot from island to island. That’s why visiting all of them can be such a great adventure!

I chose to walk the Northern trail between Poços Simão Dias, Norte Grande, Fajã dos Cubres and Fajã de Santo Cristo, rich in the natural species like noisy bird-musicians: cagarros, sparkling waterfalls and flowers like conteira, brought to the island from Himalaya (!), among the more endemic ones like cubres or hortensias. The weather changed every 10 minutes and so the visibility.

I was often alone for many hours on the trail, making notes to self about the impossible to describe beauty I see, listening to the birds, wind and the ocean. It was a very transcendent experience to me, appreciating the time, space and surroundings that still exists very remotely on our planet.

It took me some time to make a decision if to describe and publish the photos from São Jorge, as a part of me doesn’t want this place to be visited by anyone else, anymore. I know how unrealistic, and partly selfish this wish is though. So, take your time, enjoy, and smile to yourself.

Again, I can only appeal to discover places like these in a respectful way for the nature and local culture, and for now it looks like the visitors comply with it. I left São Jorge with tears of joy and instant saudade feeling, promising to myself to return, possibly for longer, to lose the track of time, space and simply indulge in the natural beauty. Não adianta chorar. On the board of Gilberto Mariano boat (again!) I could see the peak of the island Pico (which, not surprisingly, means ‘the peak’ in Portuguese and its volcano is indeed the highest mountain of Portugal!), where I spent the next couple of days.

Tres dias na Terceira

Travel

After visiting São Miguel – the biggest island of Azores, I promised to myself I will return one day to discover the rest of this incredibly beautiful and remote archipelago. This year I had enough time off to plan a trip around five other islands: Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Flores. I took thousands of photos and collected unforgettable memories which I will hopefully share in the course of the forthcoming weeks. I will start with Terceira, which was the first (and not the Third – as its Portuguese name says!) island I visited this year.

How did I get there? Terceira, similarly to São Miguel, opened up its runway to cheap airlines and is one of the connecting airports if you want to go to the more remote parts of Azores with their local provider: SATA. It’s fairly well connected with mainland Portugal, as well as USA and Canada. Aviation is very well developed around Azores, since the sailing conditions may be too hazardous during the winter season.

The closest town next to the airport (‘aerogare‘ in Azorean dialect) is Praia da Vitória, a lively and probably the most touristic municipality, with a wide, white sand beach. I was lucky enough to take part of the Festas da Praia, famous festivity around the month of August. Some of the highlights were traditional touradas, gourmet food fair offering tastes of the Atlantic cuisine and folk dances from all over the world (for some reason Eastern European bands were very popular this year!). I later learned that I could spot similar kind of parties on each and every island I visited. This one is pretty big though, apparently!

I drove around the coastline of Terceira and stayed in the lovely town next to the capital: Angra do Heroismo (‘The Bay of the Heroism’). As the UNESCO World Heritage site, Angra is full of history, nature and culture (and stunning street art too!). One can easily spend two days just walking around sites like Monte Brasil, the largest crater mountain with the green caldeira transformed into an open air amphitheatre these days, or winding, colourful streets, botanic gardens and drink cafezinhos (tasty and famous Portuguese espresso) in the local pastelerias.

I stayed at one of the Portuguese youth hostels branch: Pousada da Juventude which is one of the best accommodation options around the country. The quality/price ratio is amazing, and the best thing is that if you travel alone – as I often do, you can meet like-minded travellers and exchange tips/share transportation/simply meet interesting souls. Since it’s not the most crowded place on Earth though often, you can find yourself alone with your thoughts (if you don’t count in the cows which are all over the place!), looking at the most stunning sunsets, listening to the waves and the sounds of the marine birds: cagarros. 

On the northern coast of Terceira, there is a natural lava pool site, Biscoitos. It was one of the first ones I visited and I loved the natural sustainability concept: high waves enter the basins where everyone can peacefully swim and enjoy the fresh Atlantic waters.

It was here where I tried one of the Azorean treats for the palate too: lapas grelhadas, a species of grilled oysters, and enjoyed some fresh kiwi/avocados/maracujã desserts. I have a guilty pleasure of visiting the bars at the end of the world, so I also made friends at a local motorcycle club. Guess, if it turned out we have some friends in common in a small town of Algarve!

Since Azores are made for the travellers who are not afraid of constant weather changes, including very strong winds, the following day I experienced mist/rain/sun change spells every couple of minutes and it was actually an amazing weather for the hike around the natural park of Serreta.

Serreta offers hiking trails around the dense Atlantic forest, hidden lakes and panoramic views (when the mist is gone), as well as some hidden treasures like duck fountains in the middle of nowhere.

Even though I heard that Terceira is becoming increasingly touristic and is not as ‘wild’ as the other islands, it impressed me greatly. I stayed there for three days in August and there were days I met no one at the hiking trail. Elsewhere, the people I met were incredibly respectful for the nature, and the local community. Let’s preserve it this way!

During my last hours waiting for the boat to take me to São Jorge, I hang around Angra, tried local specialty: alcatra (try it only if you love meat… and meat only) and found a book that marked the rest of my journey: Homer’s Odyssey.

Then I boarded Gilberto Mariano boat and sailed through the windy Atlantic Ocean for the first time, which was quite an experience itself. Soon to be continued.

Lisboa does not love?

Personal, Travel

First of all: this post is all about love. My everlasting love for Lisbon.

Secondly, it is about sustainable tourism, gentrification and all the negative things that make me think if I should continue writing this blog ever more.

Lastly, it is about the sadness about losing the authentic touch for which I initially fell for when I decided to move to that city, and re-visit almost each year.

So what happen this month? I had a chance to travel to Oporto where not so much changed and then spend a couple of days in Lisbon for the Lisb:On festival and visiting my friends and favourite places.

While I’m very interested to see the rising number of people talking about Lisbon’s unique atmosphere, as well as observing the interest of the investors in the start up scene out there that make the city a living entity attracting expats and creative workforce, I am very worried about Lisbon’s entering solely commercial path.

I’m tired about being bothered by street selling, exactly the same like in Rome, Barcelona or Venice, being approached by tuk-tuk drivers (what does it have to do with Lisbon anyway?!) or being treated like a tourist anywhere I go. Even if I know the city well and speak Portuguese. And don’t act out like a prototype tourist. Website Lisboa-Does-Not-Love.com lists the reasons why massive tourism is destroying the city and its morale and acts as the code of conduct while in Lisbon, but will it stop the massive tourism craziness?
I had to spit out my frustrations about the changing landscape of one of my beloved cities, and pose an open question: should we advertise for places we think are unique? Of course the sole act of visiting will not destroy the well-kept secret, but the scale of reach out via travel/lifestyle blogs may actually lead to it.
That’s why with mixed feelings, I’d like to leave you thinking about which direction can Lisbon take to prevent from becoming another tourist-fuelled city like London, Barcelona or Venice? I care too much about Lisbon to simply never visit again, as this replicates the scheme for which I moved out from Barcelona and hope never be forced to relocate from Berlin.
I love all Lisbon, much as I do love Barcelona and can’t keep falling in love with Berlin. What I’m just pretty sure about is that they don’t love massive tourism.

Stay True – Boiler Room in Portugal

Music

In my last post I mentioned a lot about how Afrolusobrasilian culture is present in Lisbon. You may also have noticed that I am getting regularly inspired by the Portuguese capital when it comes to sound searching.

I am very happy to confirm that in September I’ll be visiting LISB:ON festival, where I will have a chance to see Brazilian artists like Marcos Valle or Azymuth, not so easy to spot at the concerts these days. This festival, being a part of a summer project called Jardim Sonoro (pt. Sound Garden), will also attract other ambitious electronic music producers such as Matthew Herbert or Dixon, and here is why I would like to dedicate a short paragraph to electronic music in Portugal.

Since currently I’ve been living in Berlin where electronic music can be heard even in grocery shop, no other place on Earth can compete with DJ line ups and a density of EDM producers per square km. However, world can definitely be grateful to Lisboa – Luanda connection for bringing in some truly crazy rhythms to the dancefloors.

Lately, I have taken part in the music production showcase with Dengue Dengue Dengue who were also hosted by the local Boiler Room edition Stay True. More of the inspirational sounds can be seen from its archive:

Stay True: Portugal edition took place a month ago and besides the Dengue Dengue Dengue duo hosted Buraka Som Sistema as well as DJ Marky  whose Boiler Room back in Brazil is already unforgettable classic of its kind.

I am definitely looking forward to re-discovering Lisbon (I can do it anytime anyway at anytime) at my own bpm pace, simply enjoying the musical and cultural diversity.

I hope that thanks to the initiatives like Stay True this city will get even more visibility for the music aficionados.

 

 

Nôs Terra

Travel

Lisbon is especially interesting place for those who would like to discover not only Portuguese, but also Afrolusobrazilian culture.

It is a perfect place if you go to different Portuguese-speaking destinations, either as a stopover location or a final destination. To me Lisbon served as both for the past couple of years. After a brief episode of living in Portugal, I always felt certain nostalgia (cliche term of saudade is definitely relevant here) after this place and longing to travel to Portuguese-speaking destinations.

So last Christmas I gave my heart to the archipelago of Cabo Verde and of course, made a stopover in Lisbon. Apart from some very interesting animation show at the Praca de Comercio, there were some other highlights of that short stay, such as joining capoeiristas by the sunset.
This is where a friend of mine, who is very influenced by afrolusobrasilian culture, introduced me to some cultural associations and places where typically descendants of Portuguese-speaking African countries organize their concerts, events or festas.
I was also lucky to try the typical food from Cabo Verde: cachupa, before actually reaching my final destination. Be it Cabo Verde, Sao Tome e Principe, Moçambique, Angola or Guiné-Bissau, or even further in the world: Timor Leste, Goa or Macau – you will find all the places inside Lisbon, like travelling without moving.
Obviously, this has to do a lot with the history, and multiculturalism of Lisbon is an effect of post-colonialism processes. Upon my arrival from Cabo Verde I started digging deeper the topic of the descendants of the African countries living in Lisbon. ‘Nôs Terra’ shows the day-to-day specificities and also struggles of the Caboverdean community in Lisbon. It shows processes familiar to everyone who ever relocated, the in-between state of not belonging anywhere (the country of origin and current location).
I hope though that the unique multiculturality of Lisbon will stay a value itself. Music industry has already spotted Lisbon as one of the most interesting places in the world and so is becoming with art in general. There is no place like Lisbon, colourful, diverse and full of inspiration.

All…garve pt.3: Barlavento

Travel

May is already here, summer is forthcoming soon (even in Berlin!), and I am still not done with describing one of the most charming locations in Europe: Algarve in Portugal, where I was lucky to travel and live for a while.

So far I have dedicated most of the entries to the Leeward, Eastern side of the Southern Portuguese coast, given my sympathy and know-how of Faro and Olhão regions as well as Formosa river’s natural wonders.

The other side of this wonderful 100-km coastline stripe: Barlavento (eng. Windward), on the West, has been traditionally recognised by the surfers, beach testers and festival-lovers (famous festival Sud Oeste, taking place: as the name says: in the South-West Portugal). Infamously, this part of Algarve has been also known as the land of the massive tourism and disappeared child called Maddie few years ago that made this region a pretty bad press. With or without the scandal’s impact, I would avoid places like Portimão or Albufeira which are huge beach resorts with soulless architecture for rather lazy, all-inclusive kind of tourism. Sad places to see in such an authentic country like Portugal.

Coming back to the wonders of Barlavento, I would name a few: coming there outside of the season would be probably the most beautiful experience, since massive rocks and strong winds, while few people around create altogether a very dramatic and picturesque atmosphere.

My to-do list would include wandering around little towns with rich history, such as Aljezur, Lagos or Sagres (famous also for being a name of one of two most popular Portuguese beers!). For the romantic spirits, I would absolutely recommend facing the sunset at the most South-Western tip of Europe: Cabo de São Vicente. Whereas villages like Raposeira or Porto das Barcas would be on my surfing paradise list.

Last but not least, even in the surroundings of Lagos, one can find very particular beaches – among the numberless and funnily-shaped rocks. Beware that Barlavento: as the name indicates is the land for wind-loving people, but if you do, you won’t be disappointed by the natural diversity of this coastline.

 

All…garve pt.2: Sotavento

Travel

Following up on my post about Far Out Faro, I would love to focus on the Leeward (port. Sotavento) side of the Algarvian coast. This part of the region includes Faro itself, but also picturesque towns like Tavira, Loulé, Olhão or Vila Real do Santo António, bordering with Spain by the Guadiana river.

Leeward coast is particularly close to me, as during the time I lived in Faro, I was often visiting the neighbouring towns, as well as inland points of interest. Worth mentioning that I stayed for a couple of weeks in the village called Pechão on a volunteering service for the local communities, preparing the international part of the anual Festa. If you visit this region between spring-autumn, you will be amazed by the quantity of festas, local festivities, for different reasons: fishing season, cattle growing, and much more (and even more abstract – as there is always a good way to celebrate good times!). Many of these festivities are closely linked with the Catholic festivities (like name days of various Santos, patrons) but they incorporate a lot of ludic elements.

During my stay in Faro and Pechão, I was exposed to some very forward-thinking manifestos of the left wing activists, promoting well-being and equality on different levels. Worth mentioning that this part of Algarve is interesting for various, often borderline awkward reasons. The traditions of building bone chapels in small villages, the architecture showing years of different impact of various cultures and religions as well as food are very recommendable.

Moreover, Algarve is not only, as majority may think, the picturesque coast. Bordering with Alentejo you may find gems like Pego do Inferno, crystal clear waters waterfalls on the hilly trekking path. If you have time, I would recommend cycling around the region, as my Portugal-loving friend does it actually quite regularly!

Last but not least, you might consider taking a local ferry to several islands around Faro and Olhão where you can watch birds (including storks and flamingos!) and enjoy the remoteness. And, oh well, the sunsets… Or this dog, selling cigarettes in the local loja (port. grocery store).

If you are still not done with the beauty of the South of Portugal soon I will take you on the trip to the West side of the coast: Barlavento.