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…

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.

Far Out Faroe Islands

Travel

Various times I have mentioned about my primary inspiration when it comes to travels: one of my favourite books of Judith Schalansky ‘Atlas of Remote Islands’. The extended title of the book says ‘Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will’.

I don’t care too much about the extended title though. Since I like challenges, this book marked some of the destinations, including Svalbard, Cabo Verde, or Azores. Faroe Islands makes the next landmark in my Atlantic wanderlust, and is in a way the antonym of Faro where I used to live. It’s also home to Sheepview 360 – the only European archipelago without the Google Street View whose struggle to creative solutions of mapping the territory let to amazing results with the help of sheep and iPhone cameras.

Even though Schalansky did not list any of the 18 particularly shaped Faroe Islands in her guide to remoteness, I knew I wanted to visit them for various reasons: my passion for the Northern and polar landscapes, their isolation, their particular culture and last but not least: their breathtaking nature.

I also needed to get away badly from the known and predictable: even in terms of the weather. So I was not disappointed: it did not stay the same for 10 minutes long. Hail/torrential rain/mist/scorching sun was all included.

In order to get there, I flew over to Copenhagen and then boarded the national airways of Faroe Islands, Atlantic Airways. Currently, as of 2017, they have a fleet of two Airbus 319/320 planes and two helicopters and definitely know their game. It was probably one of the most scary landings in the mist I’ve experienced, but I had a full trust in the pilots trained on the misty islands’ approaches to runways.

Since I only had a budget to stay during a few days, I wanted to make the most of it. During the first day I spent in the lovely town of Midvagur on the Vágar island I discovered my first hiking trails and saw a lot of people riding little, white horses, like in the fairytales. Later I learnt that horses not necessarily bring luck in the local legends – some of them are believed to be connecting the world of the living and the dead, through the most emblematic lake of Leitisvatn.

The next day did not promise spectacular views either: I was planning to sail to the Westernmost island of Mykines and underestimated how difficult the weather conditions may be. Again, I was lucky. We did not crush our boat shattered by the Atlantic currents on one of the volcanic ridges.


I immediately fell in love with the village of Mykines: with all the houses covered with the grass rooftops (and mowed naturally by the ever-present sheep), connected with the rest of the world by bi-weekly boat and helicopter connections (should the weather permit).

If I were to retire from life and find my boredom/creative peace, that would be the place. To the point that there are no shops, roads, only the green, sheep and bird chants.

Mykines is known as the home to thousands of birds, including puffins, fulmars and gannets. I noticed that their behaviour is not interrupted (yet!) by the human presence that much. At one point one have to be very careful not to step into puffins’ nests, as they don’t run away as quickly as e.g. on Iceland or in Norway. Wise enough, the tourism on this island is strictly regulated and is due to decrease, since the local authorities have been concerned about the peace of mind of the species.

I have to admit I had to spend some level of energy not to fall from the cliff trail, following the sheep, equally not bothered by the human presence. It’s a good practice to collect the remaining wool from the trail and hand it over to the sheep farms – I guess if I was attentive enough and focused, I’d have a material for a few great quality sweaters (let alone I am not a fan of sweaters).

Around the afternoon the weather cleared and I was able to enjoy the stunning views of the island, the cliffs and surrounding nature. The way back on the boat was incomparably picturesque, passing by various islets and I was amazed how much has been covered in the mist. It was almost like the weather playing with one’s expectations!

The next day I took the bus to the largest island of the archipelago: Streymoy, to the islands’ capital: Torshavn. Not surprisingly, the town offered amazing caffeine heaven with the locally roasted coffee (I experienced the same in Iceland, Norway and Denmark already), and great local record labels.

At the same time, it was perfectly normal to spot a sheep mowing a grass rooftop in the centre of it, or geese walking freely with their chicks, or the horse herds roaming around next to the hostel/five-star hotel.

I would absolutely recommend a relaxing hike between Torshavn and Kirkjobour, a village with a 12th century church ruins, and a Michelin-star restaurant: Koks. Which I could not afford anyway.

Funnily enough, Faroe Islands’ status is fairly autonomous. It’s not a part of the EU and remains a lot of freedom, including a different currency (Foroyar Krona, 1:1 to Danish Krona). It has no prison though, so as an effect Faroe Islands are sending all of the troublemakers back to Denmark.

Since I spent a Saturday night in Torshavn, I was amazed by the richness of its musical culture and how lively it was (let alone it was barely getting dark). I also learned about a pretty amazing electronic music band, Orka and local attempts to bring the freedom for the LGBT movements.

The next day, I visited the second biggest island: Eysturoy with its capital Klaksvik where I took my first helicopter ride back to Vágar, having a chance to see the panoramic view of all of the 18 islands I was not able to visit during this four-day stay. What a thrill!

On the way to Klaksvik I passed through the only bridge on the Atlantic Ocean, amazed by how strong the Gulf Stream is: the water seemed like a river, not a sea.


The helicopter airport was quite something itself. A sole house with a crew of a pilot and traffic controller and a cheerful dog that welcomed me and a few other romantic travellers at the end of this world, including a Finnish man who run throughout the archipelago (~250 km) during 5 days, with a sole luggage of 9 kg. Fun fact: he also went to work on a Monday morning after all that, just as I did.

Before leaving from Vágar back to Copenhagen I had a chance to hike around the picturesque waterfalls and lakes of the island, making a promise of coming back at some point of my life. Takk fyri, Foroyar!

Islands of the eternal spring: Ilhas Canárias

Travel, Uncategorized

On the very first day of Spring edition 2017 I would like to dedicate some space of Lusofonetica to a place where spring lasts 24/7, 365/6 days per year.

It is not a secret that for people based in the Central/Northern Europe the winter seems to last forever and that one of the most popular getaway destinations are the Canary Islands. Since I have moved to Berlin in 2014, I have already visited  Fuerteventura and Lanzarote and would like to share some of my best photo shots and memories.


Canary Islands are the Norternmost islands out of the archipelago, which makes them accessible within less than 5 hours of flight from mainland Europe. They are located in between the other Macaronesia islands: Northernmost Madeira and Porto Santo, Westernmost Azores and Southernmost Cabo Verde. They are the only one where Spanish is spoken though! While Fuerteventura is more flat, offering vast white-sand beaches, Lanzarote is a smaller yet more diverse island in terms of its volcanic landscape.

Some of my Fuerteventura’s favourites include the beaches close to the town of Corralejo and it’s Dunes Park, and more remote village of El Cotillo with cosy, white houses by the portline.

On the Southern shore there is a vast coast of surfers’ paradise Playa Jandia. One can easily test the beaches for longer than a week, or drive inland to enjoy the Martian landscape of the deserts and volcanic hills.

Lanzarote offer similarly stunning beaches, and surfer spots like Caleta de Famara yet it’s worth mentioning that it’s more of a dramatic landscape with stronger winds and waves’ impact.

Some of my top picks of the Southern part of Lanzarote include the rocky Playa El Golfo and the volcanic Parque Nacional de Timanfaya.

The biggest town of Lanzarote – Arrecife is very pleasant and beautifully designed, inspited by various artists that influenced the island.

To the North of Arrecife, some interesting spots include Jardin de Cactus, or a surprisingly secluded community of El Charco de la Feliz.

The art pieces one cannot miss is the Monumento al Campesino or expositions of the Fundación Cesar Manrique or the inland town of Teguise. From the architectural point of view it’s worth visiting Omar Shariff’s house and enjoy the 360 degree view of the island (if you are a nervous driver like I am and can’t climb up the Mirador del Rio!).

Escaping the winter means also trying the local cuisine – some of my highlighted restaurants include ‘Sol y luna’ in the romantic town of Punta Mujeres and ‘La Tabla’ in downtown Arrecife, offering modern tapas and great selections of local wines.

Similarly like in Fuerteventura, the Southern part of Lanzarote offers endless beaches of Costa de Papagayo nearby a very pleasant town of Playa Blanca.

And like Madeira, Canary Islands are an interesting location to visit around the carnival, where local festivities take place.

Both Fuerteventura and Lanzarote can be visited during one stay, as there as various ferries connecting these two islands, but I enjoyed greatly coming back to Canary Islands and escaping the winter. I hope soon I will have an occasion to discover the remaining islands!

 

 

 

Ilha de Formosa – Taiwan

Travel

During my latest journey to Asia, I took a chance to visit Taiwan, mostly its Northern part and its charming capital: Taipei. By reading more about this beautiful country, I realized that it is heavily influenced by Aboriginal culture and when Portuguese set foot in Taiwan for the first time, they named it ‘Ilha de Formosa’.

In this post I would like to focus on the town of Keelung, Yehliu Geopark, Pinglin and the Thousand Island Lake, as these are the short getaways I made within the Northern part of Taiwan.

On the way to Keelung, I stopped at the Da Fo Buddhist Temple which amazed me by its authenticity and colours. As well as some quirky, almost ‘kawaii’ elements, which were remarkable along the town. However, I learned from the local guide that Keelung has lost its prosperity. In the past, it was one of the main port entrances to Taiwan and in the times of airplanes, it has lost its strategic meaning.

Another wonderful and tranquile place to visit is the Thousand Island Lake. Obviously, I could not name all of the islands, but it has quite a winding and challenging trail where chances are, you will not meet any visitors (if you go early enough), except from the birds, or the dogs. In the surrounding villages the locals can offer a tasty breakfast options containing eggs boiled in tea with mushrooms (and that turned out to be one of the best culinary surprises for me!).

Further up North there is Yehliu Geopark where erosion and sea tides have shaped an amazing, almost Martian landscape on the coastline. If you look closely enough, you will notice fossils aged millions of years or junctions, since Taiwan lays on a quite active spot on one of the  Mother Earth’s tectonic plates.

I was particularly amazed by the flowers looking like shrimps or other sea animals I can’t name, as if the shape of the nature was inspired by the surrounding ocean. Who knows?

Last but not least, the Oolong Tea. And a few more types, including the ‘Grasshopper’ Tea which I was lucky to try during the traditional Taiwanese tea ceremony in Pinglin, a picturesque town laying in heart of the evergreen plantations. I can’t get out of my smell memory the first cup of ‘testing tea’ – it’s like a perfume. Enough saying that since I brought a lot of tea from Taiwan, I cut my daily coffee intake by half. And that means a lot!

I am already missing this place and look forward to discovering more of this part of the world, maybe later this year. This part of Taiwan reminded me a lot of peaceful islands of Azores which I may revisit soon, again.

Poeira de Deus

Travel

My journey to Cabo Verde is not over. After having visited the islands Santiago and Fogo, I started researching about the whole archipelago more and more and it seems that the journey through the available material is endless. Each island represents a very unique history, culture and even more often: a dialect.

So during the cold evenings in Berlin, drinking the flowery moscatel and refreshing white wine from the volcanic soil of Fogo I managed to find a documentary about the Rebelados – a community that inhabits the mountain ranges of Serra da Malagueta, and refuses the catholic religion, that was historically imposed on Cabo Verde by the Portuguese colonisation that lasted until 1974. I find it particularly interesting to see the beautiful mountain landscapes and fascinating celebrations, such as batuque.

I have spent one day hiking around the Serra Malagueta range, and nearby towns such as Assomada and São Domingos, that are the centre of communication to/from Praia and Tarrafal. Also, they offer a bustling marketplaces with food, clothing and what-not. Having in mind that Cabo Verde is a remote archipelago with the majority of its population living abroad, and scarce possibilities for agriculture, many of the goods taken for granted in the Western societies, here are often a basic need to be fulfilled (such as food, or even water).

In some places rain has not appear in years. Even though Santiago is considered the island with the most tropical climate (and hence: cases of dengue, malaria and ultimately – zika are rare, but contrary to other islands of archipelago, may happen due to the presence of the mosquitos).

The magnificent views, however, and the hospitality (morabeza  – the word originating in Portuguese creole) can make up for the certain hostility of the climate on these remote islands. There is a beautiful story to it called ‘God’s powder’ (Poeira de Deus): on the 8th day after creating and sculpting the world, God threw the rest of the powder into the ocean, creating 10 islands of Cabo Verde. Believe or not, I think there is some truth in it.

 

Uruguay: Paz e Tranquilidade no Cabo Polonio

Personal, Travel

Two years ago I was on the road in the Southern Brazil. This was when, by default, I decided to visit some parts of Uruguay and Argentina. I always wanted to visit the ‘Southern Cone’ as they call the region of the southernmost countries of America, given the magical realism literature I was into, people I met in Barcelona coming from there and simply: curiosity to discover the most distant and remote places of this continent. This post gathers some memories full of sun, ocean breeze and laughter of a few days I spent with my friend Jimena in the Eastern Uruguay.

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I met Jimena years ago in Barcelona and she was one of these people I instantly felt that I can get along with easily, so I was very sad when I learnt she was leaving town. I promised her the visit in her home country Uruguay though and – sooner than expected: I kept it. I was lucky enough to visit Jimena in a very remote, and charming location some 300 km east from Montevideo: Paloma, near Cabo Polonio.

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Cabo Polonio is a peninsula where the colourful, wooden architecture is preserved, and you can’t get there by the land road, only via natural park and beach, where access is limited. People live there in peaceful surrounding of the Atlantic Ocean, endless remote beaches famous for spotting whales passing by this latitude regularly. In the wintertime sea lions and seals are also quite often seen guests.

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I would like to dedicate this post to Jimena thanks to whom I could live the perfect ‘local authentic’ experience of a few days so close to the nature, living in a settlement which looked like a moon valley (see above), eat delicious fresh & sea food, and most importantly share precious moments together. As Jimena loves Portuguese much as I do, I’ll only say: muito obrigada, amiga!