Santa Maria, Azores

Santa Maria

Only arrived two days ago, we already felt like at home on this small island. Santa Maria, the oldest isle of the Azores, measures only 9x17km and is inhabited by roughly 5'500 people and the same numbers of cows. But most surprising are the two totaly different contrysides; the east, covered often by low clouds and therefor turns out very green with big humid forests. And the western part, a very dry patch like a prairie and even with a desert, where the sun shines a lot. The island was first discovered and inhabitanted in the 15th century – it was a hard life without help from outside and many attacks from well known privateers. Only when the americans built an army airstrip in the second world war, life began to chage. After the war, Portugal received the airport and for almost three decades it served for thausands of airplanes for the necessary stops for continetals flights (the distance was still to far for direct flights). But as soon there was no need any more for stopovers, the income for most of the population stopped. Lot of families where forced to leave for Canada or the USA. Only recently, due to the start of tourism (mostly inhabitans from other islands of the Azores), some families came back and opened restaurants, B&B's and other businesses. But still, the little villages and landscape retained a lot of its unspoiled simplicity.



This time we ignorred our beloved to-do-list for a long time and started explore the countryside by foot. Our favorite trails leads along the southcoast – first over medows (the shortcut over the breakwater wasn't a great idea, Danielle got almost stuck) with hundreds of lucky cows (which swiss cow can enjoy a sea view?!), through cactus and agave fields, down to a green coast with black beaches and great surfing waves. From time to time you come trough a small village with nice, typicall Portuguese houses and always a small restaurant for refreshment to fantastic prices (burger, fries, coke, coffees and cakes for 12 euros). But the first time we had only our creditcards with ous – a big mistake, because only in the main town and in few places they work. But the owner, a women who came back from boston didn't really care. She told us we can put the money in the postpox of her cousin, who lives beside the marina. Generally the trust is very high and there is little crime, because everybody knows every one and there is no place to go. Often the keys and helmets are left on the scooters before the super market and on the beaches one can often find bags with purse and keys left unattended in the changing room.


On the way back or to get to the starting point of the hikes we often hitch-hiked and always the frist car stopped. And late in the evening, when there are no more cars leaving the villages, we took the puplic busses – 1 Euro to cross the whole island.


After one week we dared to longest hike over the whole place. Starting in the east, up to the highest point (Pico Alto, 587m) in the fog, trough the wet forest, down to the green banana plantation and into the prairie. After five hours of walking you might think one must have seen everything, but then the landscape changed again in colours and we had to cross a red desert. The last part, along the windy coast was again agreeable to walk and as in most of the villages on the sea, a sea pool awaited us on the end of the trail (always for free). Those are huge basins, built out of corncret into the sea and overwashed with fresh water from time to time. One can swim protected, the water is warm and even some fishes are swimming around you.


On the way back we hitch-hiked a gain. A family with a young kid picked us up and even their english wasn't very good and we know no portuguese, the communication with “hand and feets” worked well. Even the little boy participaded in the intense discussion, holding once is nose with his fingers and pointing to us – we must have still smelled from the long hike...


Island and Harbor live

The small marina was again very pleasing – there where a lot of sailers we met on the other islands before, so there is a lot of time with talking to each other or helping out if there is a problem. We also met a lovely german couple, who's sailing between the Azores and the Canarys for two years. With their marvelous 19.5m steel ketch “Milagro” they have also a lot of work all the time and the topic for longer conversations was found, followed by long and interesting evenings. You can always learn something new.


One weekend, the famous Blues festival found place on the north coast of the island -with some thausand visitors Santa Maria came a bit crowded - but we didn't wanted to miss this big openair. Again we hich-hiked to the place and first enjoyed the many regional food and drinks. The music was also great, a mix of blues, country and rock heating up the atmosphere. Even there was a lot of alcohol passing, the festival was very peaceful and not one agressor or problem. We really enjoyed it late into the night (missing most of the next day).


Another day we rented a scooter to visit the most remote places – among them the biggest and oldest light-house of Santa Maria on the eastern cliffs. When stopping on front of the place, the light-house keeper came out and asked us if we wanted to see how everything works – yes for sure!! With a lot of pride he showed us first how it was working the old days with the big lanterns, then the old generators and in the end the huge, shiny lenses. He must polish it once a year, a process that thanks more than two weeks...


But there was still a long to-do-list awaiting us. So before our guests arrived, and to be ready to sail to the next island with them, we spent four intensif days working on the boat (sanding, painting, exchanging filters, checking the rigg and hull below water and looking around for a good place, where we can leave our Happy Day for the winter).


Sailing to Terceira

After three month alone, we welcomed our first visitors (Jürg and Annelise, Danielle's parents) on the boat :-) Stocking up the provisions took this time half a day and six trips to town with the scooter. Although there are four different small super markets, some shelves are often empty and then you have to look in the next place for the articles.


Also the weatherforecast changed all the time and the weahter window to reach the island of Terceira wasn't very good. But we had to give it a try, as Ben had to fly to Switzerland from there in five days. The start led us, using only the engine, towards low clouds and a lot of rain. Fortunately towards noon the sun appearad and in the afternoon the wind finally came up. In the mean time a handfull of fishes bit our lures, but we lost every one of them back to the sea. And in the distance a small group of whales crossed our way.


The trip, especially the night with a lot of sleep was very pleasant, because now we were able to split all the work and watchout through four person. But in the morning, the wind abandoned us again and the engine had to bridge the rest of the way to the village of Praia do Vitoria. The marina lies between two nice beaches and you can swimm directly from the boat to the next one. To our surprise we saw a lot of different fishes in the water around the boat and even stingrail, almost on the surface.