in azores

architectural details

there’s a couple of things we noticed in pico, which were later explained by our friendly neighbours. one of them were the volcanic stones on the rooftops that could be seen everywhere around the island.

these are just to hold the roof tiles against the winds, which can be fierce in the middle of the atlantic. volcanic stones are available everywhere you look, so a fringe of them helps protect the edge of the roof. modern roofs in the island are now held with little metallic hooks, which is probably safer though less picturesque.

another thing we noticed is these boxy constructions next to the houses:

they’re called cisternas, and their purpose is to store water, which is a precious and scarce resource in a young volcanic island with no permanent rivers. it rains often in the islands though, so lots of old houses had them attached, with the roof of the house pointing towards the top of the cisterna. our neighbours told us that when they moved to pico, they were worried their own house’s cisterna wasn’t big enough to accommodate a family with three children, but that they could buy more and have it delivered, if need be.

i thought this was interesting — such an elegant and simple solution to a rather important problem. maybe once we buy the house, we can somehow craft a mini-cisterna to water our own garden… :D

in azores

nice neighbours

we’ve been really lucky with the neighbours we’ve had in our life so far, all friendly and polite (or just absent). we hear such horror stories sometimes, that i really appreciate the fact that all of ours have been great. it seems that this rule extends to holiday “neighbours” as well, as the people in the house next to ours in pico kept regaling us with stories about the island and feeding us sweets and produce from their plentiful garden…

… including this huge bunch of 17 (!!) bananas that their son had grown! :D we couldn’t refuse it, but with just 2 days before our flight back to the mainland, it was a challenge to eat so many bananas in such a short period of time… i didn’t even know you could grow bananas in azores, but now the islands taste like bananas in my memory!

in azores

dolphins and whales

all the while we were in azores, we kept watching the sea with our binoculars, hoping to spot something moving in the distance… but it wasn’t until we booked a tour with a local company that we actually saw dolphins and whales for the first time — specifically, sperm whales and four types of dolphins (stripped, common, bottlenose and risso). it was amazing!! some groups of dolphins are curious and will come right up to the boat, jumping around playfully. the whales you need to see from far away so that they’re not disturbed, but they are just these huge masses floating nearby, their breath periodically flagging their location. they really make you feel tiny and piny.

i only had my phone camera around so all my pictures are crappy, but the tour company took these:

it was magical, and i highly recommend it! it’s definitely one of those things you do once and remember forever. :)

foooood in azores

pico bread

i was kind of planning on continuing eating well while we were in azores… but i mean… i’m only human. what does a person do when presented with a delicious assortment of cooked gluten, the likes of which seem to not exist in the mainland? we eat and enjoy it, that’s what we do! :D

our first introduction to pico’s delicious bread was the “pão de milho” that our hosts left for us on the house. i mean…

the photos don’t even do it justice, it’s just so fluffy and unexpectedly moist! we kept buying more from the bakery in the village, and everyday we happily gobbled up pieces of it, loaded with butter, sighing and closing our eyes in contentment.

then, on a random supermarket stroll, we found out about “bolo de milho”. it was still warm and “sweating” inside of the bag when i first spotted it, which instantly made me interested. this one has a slightly sweeter, non-fermented dough that felt barely cooked…

… but was a-ma-zing! we didn’t buy more of this one because it was so good, way too dangerous to have around the house tempting us to eat just a bit more of it. :P

and last, but not least, rosquilhas:

they make these around the time of the holy spirit holiday, which is a big thing in the azores and happened to take place while we were there. they’re more of a dessert bread, sweeter and lemony, but oh-so-good! they have to be eaten a bit faster though, as they dry quickly once cut, but they’re lovely with some local jam.

and i think that’s it for our gluten explorations in the islands — next up, cheese! :D

in azores

climbing pico!

with many things in life, i’m a fan of jumping off into the deep end of the pool and then somehow finding a way out. this was sort of our approach to climbing pico, a “let’s go and see what happens — hopefully we’ll make it!” kind of attitude. so, when a rare sunny day popped up on the meteorology report, we signed up for the climb, checked in to get our gps trackers and off we went!

the tallest mountain in portugal might not be very tall by other countries’ standards, but it was plenty tall for us – and a volcano on top of that! the path there is all volcanic rock, sometimes lava flows that turned into solid rock, and sometimes just loose spiky rocks that slip like sand underneath your feet, making the hike hard. the path is not really a path — more like a collection of numbered wooden posts that hint the general direction you should be heading in, but it’s enough to guide.

the views are spectacular though, and distract you from the pain. on the way up we could see faial in the distance, then we went through some misty clouds for a bit, then popped up above them again as we reached the summit. the last 70m of piquinho’s ascent are extra tough, but worth it for the view from up there and the feeling of accomplishing something hard!

i was surprised to see that the volcano is still showing signs of some activity, with fumaroles evaporating steam up there at the very top of it — the last eruption was in 1718 already! we snapped some pictures at the top, grabbed some lunch in the crater and then started to make our way down, which was extra rough and painful on the feet and knees. i landed on my butt three times, but luckily only scraped my hand and leg a bit (those rocks are sharp!).

after that, we showered, went to bed and proceeded to enjoy the accomplishment and not move much for the following few days… everything hurt! :S