Sao Miguel, Azores

As mentioned in my last blog, I spent three months working on a ship this summer, and was able to explore interesting ports of call.  The first stop in my recent three month ocean trip was to the island of Sao Miguel, which is part of the Azores island chain, in the country of Portugal

I found out a few days before we were scheduled to dock, that our visit to the Azores was in jeopardy.  There were some issues with our approval to dock, and therefore, we were told we would not be able to set foot on land.  This was incredibly disappointing to me, since my great grandparents were from Sao Miguel and I wanted to see where that part of my family was from.  One set of my great grandparents was born and raised there, and after their fourth child, they moved to Fall River, Massachusetts.

azoresMaking the inability to dock even more difficult, we had to let people off and pick people up from the island, so we were teased by visions of the island as we circled around it for days.  What we could see from the ship was that Sao Miguel was a gorgeous island with beautiful green fields, mountains, and coasts dotted with red roofed homes.   After several days of this torture, we heard that we were on our way to the Canary Islands instead, and I saw the Sao Miguel Island disappearing from view behind us.

Imagine my surprise when a few hours later we changed direction and were steaming back to the island.  Apparently our paperwork had been approved after all, and we were being allowed to enter the island.  After a night of delays, we finally arrived at the pier.

My journey to the homeland began.

We started exploring the Azorean island of San Miguel as soon as we could.  During the first day of our exploration, we stayed close to the ship and just explored the city of Santo Domingo.  We visited the Fort of São Brás which is now a museum of weapons/tanks/etc.  We wandered through narrow cobblestone streets, exploring a few shops, purchasing and mailing post cards home, sitting outside in a café, enjoying a beverage, soaking up the sun and people watching.

The following two days we explored the island; one day by rental car in an easterly direction, and one day by bus with about 15 other ship-mates, going west.

azores view to the oceanSao Miguel is a BEAUTIFUL place!   There are deep, rich, green meadows everywhere, which reminded me of the green land in Ireland.  There were cows grazing all over, dotting the tops of mountains, and the sides of mountains.  Apparently, since the weather is so good all year long, there are no barns – the farmers bring the equipment to the cows to milk them, and two of the major imports from the island are milk and cheese (as well as tea and pineapples).  We explored gorgeous inactive volcanic mountains and calderas.  Landscaping was even done on the sides of the roads, and the narrow roads could wind their way beside steep land, which was covered by gorgeous flowers and shrubs.

We were able to see evidence of the strong Portuguese Roman Catholic heritage.  Not only are there a huge number of churches (it seemed as though there was about one per block), but the community activity of the Azoreans surrounded church-related activities.  On Sunday, we were in a small town of about 700 people, and fireworks went off several times.  Apparently, from Easter until the end of June, Catholic Azoreans celebrate the Holy Spirit with a festival every Sunday.  About an hour before mass they light off fireworks, everyone walks down the streets to church where they have a ceremony, which is then followed by mass.   It was certainly a unique experience to hear and see fireworks, and then see the doors of all the small homes open, as people all started walking into town in their Sunday best.  They seemed to take great pride in their traditions.

The island food was excellent.  We had three dinners and one lunch and everything was delicious.  Absolutely no complaints from this diner!   Our meals started with lots of cheese; a common type was white cheese which was a combination of cow and goat cheese.  Since we eat a lot of meat on board, I chose fish for all my meals.   Seafood is very common since the Azores are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and fish are bountiful.  I tried some local fish, blue mouthed rock fish and parrotfish.  The rockfish was seasoned and fried and the parrotfish was baked in a delicious fruity sauce.  I had a squid kabob which included squid, prawns, veggies and some dipping sauces, and I had a Portuguese cod dish with onions and beans.   We tried passion fruit crème brulee , delicious dry red wine, prosciutto with pineapple jam, black sausage (yes, I know it’s basically blood) with pineapple.  The food was absolutely awesome.

I didn’t meet any relatives, since I hadn’t investigated properly before I left.  But I was able to determine the Azorean people are warm and wonderful, and I could have sworn I saw my late grandmother’s twin from time to time.  I’m positive I still have relatives on the island.

Bottom line, I was thrilled to be able to see the island of Sao Miguel, Azores, and if I’m able to, I’d definitely return someday.  In fact, if I were a famous writer or had another totally sufficient position, I could see living on a gorgeous mountain top somewhere in the Azores.

Then it was on to the next stop!

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