The Azores are an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, about one-third of the way from the continental coast of Europe to the east coast of America. They are of volcanic origin and lie in an area of frequent tectonic activity. Plato placed the approximate location of his mythical Atlantis in this area. Our desire to discover and explore Sao Miguel: Arrival in the Azores brought us to the Azores.
To be clear, this journal was written as a memoir almost two and a half years after completing this holiday in the summer of 2019. Fortunately, we have a perfect memory, so the eventual reader will not be deprived of anything. At the same time, I reserve the right to fill in the blanks with fictional characters and events, and any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.
Much of the credit for creating the diary goes to the main character of this story, my wife Ajka, who chronologically wrote down in bullet points all the experiences, trips and disasters of this adventure. At the same time, some of the days are written from her notes and thus from her perspective. And ultimately, without her, this diary would never have been written. I was forced to write it after several years of procrastination and under the threat of direct physical and emotional violence perpetrated on my person by her.
The Azores are an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, located about one-third of the way from the continental coast of Europe to the east coast of America. They are of volcanic origin and lie in an area of frequent tectonic activity. Platon placed the approximate location of his mythical Atlantis in this area.
We were brought to the Azores by our desire to discover and explore. We bought our tickets in January, so we had time to plan everything carefully. Unfortunately, we systematically filled the planning time with passive “enjoyment”. We started doing things more actively two weeks before departure.
Ajka wrote down what was worth seeing and experiencing, and I translated these tempting visions into a list of destinations marked on a map with an approximate schedule of our trips.
There are 12 islands in the Azores, and we figured that Sao Miguel Island alone – the largest and most populated – would keep us fully occupied for our entire stay. Ajka’s assessment was, “At least we won’t stupidly use them all up in one holiday”, so we can take comfort in knowing that we can return at any time and pick up where we left off. I had intended to immortalize the whole experience as an epic poem. Still, as time passed and the muse took a wide arc around me each day, I relented a bit and wrote Ajka that accurately describes the whole experience:
We also attach a diary to complete the picture that captures our sorrows and joys.
27. May – Wednesday
Two days before departure, we try to do the check-in. Our enthusiasm and inattention almost cost us an overnight stay at the airport right at the start. Check-in looked something like this, me at the computer, Ajka by my side polishing my hiking boots and coughing over my shoulder.
“I clicked,” I say.
“Try double-clicking,” Ajka advises.
“Try a double-click but faster!”
“See, I’m clicking like an asshole. Click it yourself when you know better!!!” I lose my patience.
“Don’t yell at me!” Ajka goes on the defensive.
“I’M NOT YELLING AT YOU!!! THAT CHECK-IN IS NOT GOING TO CONFIRM ME!!!” I say in a completely calm and composed voice.
“WHAT?!… I mean, WHAT?” Ajka is holding a calendar in her hand.
“Today is only 5/27. If that check-in can be done 24 hours before departure, that may mean we’re not flying until the day after tomorrow.
“WHAT…I mean, What?”
Have the trip under control
So we almost started a day early. The apartment is cleaned up, the packed backpacks are resting by the door, and the gas is turned off, we just need to get dressed, put on our shoes and head out. But as we find we have one more day to go, we sit in the living room and turn on the gas… to cook a roast in the morning.
28. may – Thursday
We sit on the couch and stare at nothing.
29. may – Friday
By train to Prague
It’s Wednesday 29th May. Our next adventurous journey is about to begin. We start in Žilina and move to Prague. We will treat ourselves to luxury, travelling 1st class on the train. The price difference is not much.
At a lecture on the Trans-Siberian Railway, we heard from an expert that the lower the class, the more authentic the experience, but this is not the Trans-Siberian Railway, and we prefer a cappuccino in a comfortable armchair to the colourfulness of the lower class. We even have a small immobile caravan booked on the island, so the tent stays home.
We travel comfortably, and the line also serves refreshments and offers daily newspapers. The journey in comfort passes quickly. For some reason, there are only female passengers in the entire carriage. I have an “estrogen spa”, Lubko, the only male passenger, assesses.
Fly via Lisbon
We travel to Prague, the Václav Havel airport. The airport connects Prague with almost 130 destinations from all over the world. Our destination is Lisbon, at the southwestern end of Europe. The capital of Portugal we would like to see has two and a half million inhabitants, it is situated on seven hills, and you will find the longest bridge in Europe.
According to the locals, you don’t walk through Lisbon, you drive through it, and you don’t look. You dream. However, it is only our transfer station. We head to the airport, which is almost in the city centre. We were initially going to stay at the Paranauê hostel here, the night had already been booked, but then Lubko checked out what it looked like via Street View (so we could find it in the dark and tired).
So we cancelled our reservation. As we cancelled 48 hours before the scheduled arrival, we were entitled to a 50% refund of the amount paid. Despite several emails ranging from a formal request for a refund to acknowledgements of receipt of the request to urgencies to a sarcastic thank you note we sent to the establishment, we were never refunded this amount. Only the official mail always reflected how much they looked forward to seeing us. We spent the night at Hostel Beatriz, where a friendly Portuguese man picked us up from the airport in the evening and drove us back in the morning.
Expedition wanderings in Lisbon
30. may – Saturday
We panicked a bit in the morning, not knowing what time was on the ticket – Slovakia is GMT+1, Lisbon is GMT, and the Azores are GMT-1, i.e. they lie in three different time zones. Apparently, we last flew somewhere a long time ago. Intuition says it will be the time at the point of departure, but when you are in a foreign city, in a foreign country and loaded with luggage, you don’t trust anyone, not even your intuition.
We weren’t wrong, so we landed happily at Aeroporto Joäo Paulo II near the Capital of the Azores, Ponta Delgada. The Azores are an autonomous territory and, as such have their Capital. It used to be the city of Vila Franca, but as I mentioned in the introduction, the islands are pretty wild from a tectonic point of view. In 1522, someone, somewhere, pressed a button, the lithospheric plates were set in motion, and the Capital became a pile of rubble.
But as Ponta Delgada became the only urban centre on the island with buildings higher than one storey, the governor and his family packed up, moved and changed the Capital.
We have rented a Peugeot 2008 car for the whole length of our stay, 13 days with full insurance and in low season it will cost about 400 €. The vehicle was chosen by Ajka (according to the color).
From the airport, we fly to the campsite in a rented car. The landscape has a rural character. Thick and high stone walls cut the fields. If good fences make good neighbours, the island of Sao Miguel must be full of good neighbours. We arrive at the Parque de Campismo Rural – Quinta das Laranjeiras campsite, near Rabo de Peixe’s village.
In the campsite
Parque de Campismo Rural – Quinta das Laranjeiras
We’re here early. The campsite opens at six o’clock, so we have time to learn about the local culture. We go to Rabo de Peixe. It’s a cute little village near Ribeira Grande, which means “tail of the fish”. It got its name from the topography. Specifically, one of the coves looks almost exactly like a fish’s tail. According to another legend, the tail of a large species of unknown fish was found in the area.
Around the 15th century, Flemish and Moorish settlers colonised the area. Fishing and agriculture – fish processing and dairying – dominate the region. The plain extending from the Rabo de Peixe to the Ribeira Grande served as a military airfield during the Second World War.
Getting to know the local area
“Park in the centre,” Ajka advises. “This village only has a centre.” I point out. The kid checking us out as we leave the car gives Lubko a euro and instructs him, “Don’t fuck up the car.” In a moment, a whole bunch of children are with us. “I should have changed a hundred,” Lubko shows his empty hands. The kids understand and scatter, watching us from a greater distance. We are left alone. “No money, no love,” I state. We walk through the village. Not many tourists come here; the natives eye us warily, curious but shy. At the shore, we take a dip in the ocean.
Lubko raves about the local cuisine, but we see nothing here but self-service. Here they heat two triangles of pizza and make us a coffee. An old urchin sipping coffee and reading a newspaper at the following table can’t stand it and succumbs to his curiosity. He sits down and converses with us in broken English.
Our home for the next 12 days
As six o’clock approaches, we head to the campsite. We are greeted by the local owner Renato, who has a god-like jovial attitude, immediately asks where we are from, and, to honour our guest, raises the Slovak flag in our honour.
Rabo de Peixe camp
The campsite is small but clean and well equipped. We are here in low season, so it is deserted, with one couple of Czechs and a family of Germans. The campsite is teeming with lizards. Immediately after “camping” in a nice cabin, we head to Ponta Delgada, where we visit the O Churrasco restaurant.
I chose Penne with smoked salmon and Lubko filet steak with rice and beans. We also indulge in a dessert of pineapple and delightful strawberries. The sun-kissed fruit tastes completely different than at home.
Tomorrow we’ll check out the tea plantation and the Lomba d’el Rei circuit.