Zoonie in Santa Maria - 'car' day 1

Sat 12 Jul 2014 12:33
The Azores are part of the Atlantic Ridge mountains that extend 10,000 miles down from north to south and are twice as wide as the Andes. The central part rises 5000 – 10,000 feet above the seafloor with another mile to go above the summits to reach sea-level. The peaks that do reach the vision of mariners form island groups including the Azores, the Rocks of St Paul, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, Gough and Bouvet. In places if you stepped more than a few feet from the shores you would be lost in a half mile depth of water!
While Pico island, with its same named peak, rises 27,000 feet above the ocean floor, its upper 7000-8000 feet showing and is the highest in the group, Santa Maria can boast the oldest town. Only two weeks after its civic inauguration in 1460  privateers from Europe  landed and tried to take the town, Vila do Porto, by force and SM had to fight off marauders from Spain, Britain and Algeria many times between the 15th and 17th centuries. There is a photo which looks up the volcanic cliff to the whitewashed fort, built on the rise of land at the sea end of the flat, long, ridged hill, flanked by two valleys and overlooking a wide, relatively sheltered bay and just perfect for defence from above. The town runs back up the slope with three roads and intervening pathways. Today these lend themselves to many shops and businesses and beyond small estates of houses expand the local commerce from meeting the needs of the island’s inhabitants to those of tourists, sailors and second home owners.
In 1957 a harbour wall and dock were built, then in 1986 a long harbour wall was created from the western side and in 2010 a second harbour arm was built from below the fort to enclose reclaimed land and the new marina, all but eliminating swell within the walls.
The marina is home to the local fishing fleet as well. In tiny open boats, lovingly cared for and brightly painted to bigger fishing boats that can go to sea for days. The times of the whaling industry may be past but these waters are home to many useful fish.
We are moored between French boats, in fact they comprise most of the visiting yachts and many are made of steel or aluminium. There is one other English couple and a few yachts from Germany and many skippers are single-handed. The French are natural sailors and more willing to go alone than the English I have always noticed.
Sitting in the cockpit in the evening we watch terns in flight squabbling over their meagre catch of tiny mullet and fisherman laugh and joke together, while watching their floats, sitting on the rocks opposite. The odd little fishing boat comes home and a launch has been used to transport loads of bikini clad young ladies to the sandy beach in a bay just around the corner. Youngsters from the local sports college are learning to sail and paddle and collect their gear from the boat shed under the Naval Clube.
Reeds was right about the opening time of the marina office, Joao (in the picture) explained that the islands are one hour behind Portugal time. So when we ordered the hire car for nine thirty Miguel was not only not late in delivering it, he was actually 10 minutes early.
Around the Island in two days. Driving clockwise from the airport in our Renault Clio we passed very dry, blonde fields of a few cattle and tethered goats; in the villages, tall hedges of bamboo protected tiny fields of pineapple and maize and then suddenly, on nearing Baia dos Anjou we entered the Monte das Flores, stopped the car in a stand of pine and eucalyptus trees and emerged to the smell of the scented oils and the sound of birdsong. Everywhere birdsong. The lack of natural predators like hawks and magpies and these little birds thrive.
The roadsides for many kilometres are bordered with pollarded maple trees, blue and white hydrangeas, purple blue agapanthus and orange monbretia suggesting the imminent arrival at a country mansion, maybe planted in the past, they have self sown and spread.
On the more verdant east coast of the island the high cliffs in places flow, like the sides of a bowl towards the waters edge and the bays also curve around suggesting they may once have been a complete circle, a caldera of a volcano. On these slopes are the vine terraces and along the ribbon of road between the water and the slope are the little white walled, terracotta tiled houses. All the inhabited ones kept pristine, with lines of washing and patches of vegetables.
The first one of these we came to was Baia Sao Lourenco and in a little restaurant we had fried tuna steaks for lunch and chatted with the owner, who has run the restaurant for 42 years. Now he is retired and he lets a couple do the work while he sits and gazes at the ocean or chats with locals and visitors alike. Many of his regulars are local fishermen who supply him and keep their cigarettes and lighters in the terracotta wine rack by the bar.
They are a very busy and creative people the Azoreans. Where ever we drove men were working on the roads, keeping the surface sound and the borders neat. In the miradours or lookout stops much care had gone into building shelters, seating areas, barbeques, with pretty white and blue tiled areas and always a fresh water tap.  Delightful gardens appear in unexpected places around bends and a good distance from the nearest habitation. Everyone you pass waves, from road workers to farmers and old ladies walking home with their days shopping in the bottom of a plastic carrier bag.
We did the first of two big shops at the end of our first ‘car’ day. Essentials like beer, island liqueurs and wines, fruit and fruit juices and some cake and biscuits. We had supper at the Clube Naval, then Metaxa in the cockpit as the daylight ebbed away.