July 11, 2014

Day 10: Horta

Slow day. Rode the scooter up to the little Chapel on the bluff above Porto Pim. This will get a lot of use in the coming weeks, during the Festa do Mar (Sea Festival). I think there is a procession down from here. Or maybe I am confusing that with Espirito Santo? Anyway, at some point it gets used for a procession to honor whalers and fishermen.

At the bottom of this hill is the museum in the old whale factory, run by OMA (their offices are also there). I have to say I find these whaling museums both interesting and completely depressing. Interesting because this is the truth of how these people lived, it was a hard life and they had few other options, and yet they persevered. Depressing because killing whales is an ugly business. Most of these museums that I've seen heavily feature old film footage (50s and 60s) of whale hunts. It hurts to watch these amazing creatures being killed and then rendered. But as painful as it is to see these films, this is a big part of the reality of this project that I can't turn away from. This happened, and in some places it still does. And the old whalers take pride in what they did, the hard work and the camaraderie among their peers. Like going to war, you probably had to be there to really understand the experience and the bonds that form between those who share it. 

Portugal ended commercial whaling in the early 1980s, joining the world-wide ban. (The only countries that still do it are Iceland, Japan, and Norway.) Ironically, it was petroleum that saved the whales. The market for whale oil basically evaporated with the influx of cheap(er) oil from the ground. What is interesting, and makes the past slaughter a bit more bearable, is that now whale watching is a big thing in the Azores, as is cetacean research. The children and grandchildren of retired whalers have taken that traditional knowledge used in whale hunting and applied it to preservation and observation. The old shore whaling boats have been preserved and are now used in rowing and sailing competitions.

Later in the evening I had dinner with Angie, Vasco and Lidia at Cafe Atlético, a very good seafood place near Porto Pim. The point of the gathering was for them to introduce me to their friend Rui, the cetacean scientist, but he did not come. Oh well. Another friend of theirs, a very nice woman named Veronica, came instead. She was really interesting, involved in studying sea birds here. She had fun info to share about terns and shearwaters and such. After dinner we headed over to Peter's Cafe Sport, which is sort of the big meeting place/watering hole down by the waterfront. Everyone goes there, which I why I never have. But there was live music and our crew was interested, so we headed over there. Turned out to be a completely generic rock/blues band playing outside, very loud. I lasted about two verses of the first song and headed home to bed.