The Azore Islands were fun and exciting as it was our first really foreign port. We spent five weeks there learning the language, figuring out the shops and foods, enjoying the many festivals including Mar Semana (Sea Week), playing tourist, and getting to know our many fellow cruisers.
In addition to just having fun, we had quite a bit of business to conduct in Horta. We had steering to repair (Only took three weeks of explaining, prodding, and correcting with welders who spoke no English and had never seen an engineering diagram.), a battery charger to shop for (Have you ever tried to come up with sign language for a 220 volt, 6 amp, 50 Hz, small, inexpensive battery charger?), reprovisioning to do (I now know Portuguese for "no eggs today", and also now understand the difference between the pronunciation for "six, not sixty rolls". Don't even ask how I learned that one!), excursions to plan (They assure you an English speaking driver, only problem is that he's often not in your taxi, just translating for you over the CB from another taxi.), and so on.
Written Portuguese may look like a close cousin to Spanish, but is pronounced like a combination of Spanish, French, German, and Latin spoken with a mouth full of mush. Everything is rolled, trilled, shushed, and slurred together. We learned a very elementary set of expressions, and then found out that even residents of the various islands had difficulty understanding each others' dialects. We still tried, but didn't feel too bad when we failed to communicate.
We soon turned our efforts to more rewarding aspects of the culture. Which for me entailed sampling all the different foods I could get. I had goat for the first time, and it was very good. Better than their beef. And you can keep the grilled sardinhas, but the frango grelhado (grilled chicken ) is very good. Anyway with dinner out in Horta costing about $3 to $6 per person including table wine, it didn't cost much to experiment.
The marina was right next to a public park where they had regular concerts and folk festivals. The performers dress in their beautifully colored folk costumes with a "farmer's" or "fisherman's" hat and perform sort of a square dance to singing and mandolin-type music. But they also have rock groups which do a combination of American rock and Portuguese rock. Very interesting. George says forget the very interesting, it was very loud. It did make the whole boat vibrate.
The shops were fun. The hat shop also sold eggs, tomatoes, and carrots. The Hardware store also sold liquor. We couldn't, however, figure out why so many of the shops never seemed to be open. Then we discovered that since the available spaces for shops were very small and narrow, when a shopkeeper wanted to expand he would take over another space sometimes across town in which to display his additional wares. This extra shop space was a "showroom" only. If, in passing the window, you wanted to examine or buy one of the items, you had to find out which shopkeeper owned the "showroom", hunt him up in another part of town and ask to be let into the "showroom". All very interesting in pantomime. One shopping expedition which usually turned into a slapstick routine was shopping for eggs. They Azorean shopkeepers never heard of "cartons". When you buy 6 eggs, you are handed 6 eggs. How you get them home is your problem. I saw more than a few dozen juggled, dropped and smashed. I always bought my little plastic "saco" of 6 eggs last and never had any problem. Also never had the nerve to buy a whole dozen at a time.
Our tourist excursions included exploring the islands of Faial, by foot, and Pico, by taxi. We visited several scrimshandleries, and a whaling factory on Pico. They whaled until recent years, and are actually planning to continue taking a few whales per year just so they don't "lose the custom" of taking whales by hand thrown harpoon from their specially built 30' open whaling canoes. The Save the Whales people and the Greenpeacers are all in Horta doing their best to frustrate the whalers' plans. As of when we left, they hadn't taken any. Hope they don't as we suspect that their real reason is that they need more whalebone and teeth for scrimshaw for the tourists. We didn't buy any.
And speaking of Pico...George has added another notch to his belt. He climbed the volcano, up to the very top, 7,000 + feet high and spent the night in 40 degree weather wrapped up in what used to be our two best blankets (you should see them now). I'll never hear the end of it, but I declined the climb. (Discretion being the better part of my valor.) Actually, it turned out to be quite a difficult climb according to some young mountaineers who ascended with George, and they report that we should be proud of his perseverance. I heard all about it from the top of Pico at 6 a.m. as the whole gang of climbers started singing over the 2 meter handheld George carried up. Only a really devoted (actually the proper term is crazy) Ham would carry a radio up a 7,000 foot mountain!
Even without the mountain climbing and other excursions, just day-to-day living in the marina was an experience. European flags flew everywhere, and the US flag was the exception. Our neighbors were German, French, Irish, Portuguese, Italian, Belgian, Swiss, Dutch, Japanese, and English. Parties at the marina in Horta often required much mental flexibility as the conversations were a mixture of Spanish, French, German, and English. Some of the stories we heard that way were very interesting. At least I think they were.
Anyway, it was too soon time to leave Horta for the continent. Oh boy, to live again someplace where they don't run out of eggs! It took us 10 days to do the 970 miles from Horta to Cascais, Portugal (5 miles from Lisbon). It was almost boring. We had practically no wind the whole way until the last night out when we had to cross the shipping lanes. I have never seen so many ship lights coming out the dark at us from so many directions. At any one time we had about 10 ships to track. Then just to make things interesting, the wind piped up to Force 6, and we started running in and out of rain showers. Of course, when that happened all the lights would disappear and it would seem we were the only ones out there. Knowing as we did that we had about a dozen behemoths steaming all around us was a bit unnerving. We called several who got too close to ask their intentions, but they never answered. In the meantime, they're all yelling at each other over the VHF in variously accented "International English" to move over, change course, slow down, stop, speed up, and so on. Quite a night. But after about three hours it became, "ho hum another dozen ships on the horizon."
So, we're here. Now what? First on our list is to rest, relax, and celebrate with a few good dinners and some sightseeing. We took the train into Lisbon to tour several museums on secunda- feira (Monday is segunda-feira or second-day, Tuesday is terca- feira or third day, etc.. Clever, huh?); all Portuguese museums are closed on Mondays. We also signed up for a bus tour of Sintra to see the Palacio da Pena, Convento dos Capuchos, Jardins Botanicos and to ride the Trem de Cavalos (tramway up to the top of the mountain). The bus never came. So, we're off to a slow start, but that's Portugal. Several of our guide books warn that the Spanish do everything "manana", but the Portuguese aren't in that much of a hurry. Therefore, we'll report on all the sightseeing in the Lisbon area "manana" (or whenever).
From Cascais we plan to coast hop leisurely down to the Southern coast of Portugal/Spain in 25 to 40 mile hops, all day trips, to our wintering spot in Sevilla. Hasta luego.