July 17, 2014

Day 16: Ilha das Flores, east and north

I thought it would be good to rent a car and see the rest of the island. Of course, there are a lot of people coming here now for the big Festa do Emigrante (Feast of the Emigrant) that happens this weekend, so rental cars are in short supply. But César managed to find one for me back in Santa Cruz and volunteered to drive me over there (25 km) to pick it up, because that's the kind of guy he is. I thanked him for going to so much trouble on my behalf and he said no problem, it's his "responsibility." Stand-up guy, that César. I stopped at a grocery store to get some food to make at home, but there was very little on the shelves. There is a ship that supplies the islands that comes every two weeks, and they are waiting for it to arrive tomorrow. Things like that really remind that we are on and island in the middle of nowhere.

Nearly everyone I've met here has told me that Flores is the most beautiful island in the Azores. I can't verify that, and I'm not about to diss anyone else's island, but I can say that Flores does indeed pack a whole lot of beauty into a small hunk of rock. It's about the same size as Faial, but with less than 4000 people has about a quarter of the population. Flores is also the most far-western edge of Europe. I'm just going to post a bunch of photos working my way from Santa Cruz on the center of the east cost to the northern tip in Ponta Delgada. Please don't expect me to remember where they all were taken. But it's like this at pretty much every turn in the road. And yes, those volcanic rock fence rows are all covered with hydrangeas.

The photo above is looking down at Ponta Delgada, the town at the north end of the island. (Note: many of the islands have towns with the same names as towns on the other islands, so this is not the same Ponta Delgada I was in two weeks ago — that was on São Miguel.) This Ponta Delgada is of interest to me because I think it may be where my great-great grandmother Maria Isabel Avelar came from. I went to the cemetery and indeed there were many more Avelars buried here than in the Santa Cruz cemetery, and relatively few Freitases.

Apparently, putting volcanic rocks the size and shape of large yams on your roof helps keep the tiles in place. I don't recall seeing this technique anywhere else, but it seems to be common practice here.

From town there's a road that goes out to the lighthouse on the northern tip of the island. You can see the tiny island of Corvo in the background.

From here there's nowhere to go but up. So I headed into the mountains, where there are numerous volcanic caldeiras with lakes in them. And lots of clouds. It's very windy, and the landscape changes dramatically to wind-blown cedar, short grasses, and heather-y ground cover.

When I got home I had a visit from Regina Meireles, the cousin of John Vasconçelos, who I know only from the Azores genealogy email list I subscribe to. So this is a cousin of a guy I've never met and only exchanged a couple of emails with, and they haven't seen each other in something like fifteen years. Regina generously made time to come over and meet me (I can see her house from my porch) and we had a nice chat in English and Portuguese. She kindly invited me out to their other house at Fajã Grande tomorrow. Her daughters from São Miguel and other family are visiting and staying out there to get away from the noise of the impending festa here in Lajes. I was planning to see the west coast tomorrow and go to Fajã anyway, so this will work out nicely. She also has a neighbor out there who is a historian, to whom she wants to introduce me.

After our meeting I went and had some dinner and then did some more recordings of the cagarros. Instead of going down to the cliffs by the harbor, this time I headed up the road toward the lighthouse here in Lajes, where I got lucky and came across a few individual nests just off the road. I was able to record from maybe ten feet away, and it was great to get the isolated sounds of just a few birds as opposed to the insane cacophony of the entire flock. I also recorded the frogs that live right outside my window. They are loud and very active, but I enjoy them immensely and they don't seem to keep me awake. I've slept better here than anywhere else on the trip.