Sunday, July 1, 2012

2012 Azores trip - Day 9

Day 9 – Thursday, June 28, 2012

Morning arrived and there was no time to waste as the ferry back to Sao Miguel would be leaving at 19:15 sharp and we had a lot of ground to cover.  The hotel, which was 50 euro per night, included a nice breakfast of fresh buns, cheese, sliced meat, cereal, juice, bananas and coffee.  We threw our bags in the car then embarked on a walk to explore the town, finding the winding streets much easier to navigate with the help of daylight.  We went down to the marina and found a huge, flat, freshly groomed beach, a beautiful cobblestone walkway, promenade with restaurants, shops, all of which was in the shadow of a cliff which had a huge obelisk topped with a bronze statue of Mary, and what looked like a stone walkway cut into the hill.

After a long walk, a stop at a grocery store to pick up snacks and check out the wine deals (99 cents a bottle for white, 1.59 for red), then a coffee break at an outdoor cafe, we assumed the sardine position and packed into our small car, headed for the capital of Terceira, called Angra do Heroismo.  I had asked a few people what the word “Angra” meant, but nobody seemed to know so I’m going to have to visit my old friend once we were back home where online time was not an infrequent luxury.  We decided to take the highway there to save some time so in less than half an hour we had cut across a third of the island and were in Angra.  The landscapes were similar to Sao Miguel, though John did notice that the land was almost all pasture and there were hardly any crops planted.   This made the thousands of cows we saw everywhere very happy.

As we entered Angra we realized we had no plan, no destination, no good map and no clue where we were going so just started following the traffic and soon found ourselves in the centre of the city.  We spotted what looked like a castle, so tried to get there and got stuck into the same pattern as the night before – lots of dead ends, steep hills, narrow streets, one way wrong ways and wild reversing.  We eventually gave up and simply found a parking spot and set out on foot.  The downtown area was frantic – full of shops, people and activity, actually quite different from the centre of Ponta Delgada, which is less dense.

The main claim to fame of Terceira is bullfighting and “bull chasing”.  The former is as you imagine but the latter is completely unique to this island.  The way it seems to work is like this: all the men of Terceira between the ages of 15 and 75 pile into the streets, start drinking at ten in the morning and drink all day long, awaiting the arrival and release of the bulls.  At some point, a big, mean black bull, tethered by a rope to five guys in white suits, is released into the mob.  The drunken dudes have all sorts of items to taunt the bull with, including red flags, umbrellas and assorted projectiles and proceed to do so until the bull is furious and charges the closest person.  Since everybody is drunk, they can’t run as fast as usual and the bull picks off the slowest dude and flips him up in the air, waits for him to do a header into the stone street, then stomps him down.  Since the participants are feeling no pain, they are usually able to pull their injured bodies out of harm’s way before the bull actually kills them, unless they are knocked unconscious, which happens regularly.  If they remain lucid, they then run for the safety of high ground or just jump into any open window.  The bulls have become very smart over the years and are capable of a lengthy pursuit so often smash down the door of the house and chase the victim down until he either gets stomped again or jumps back out the open window and lands on the road.  The bulls can also climb stairs, jump fences and destroy walls so this provides all sorts of opportunity for innocent bystanders to get gored, stomped, knocked over, heart-attacked, head-butted, throttled, dunked and otherwise injured or at least scared nearly to death.

How do I know all this?  Well, every second store we passed had a television in the window playing bull attack videos from years gone passed.  The women had to pry Magnus and I from each screen as it was the funniest thing we’d seen thus far on the trip, though the ladies didn’t agree, except Stella – of course she liked it.  We were tempted to buy one of the videos for twenty euro, but by the end of the day I think we had seen the entirety of pretty much every video.

We stopped for lunch at a nifty cafeteria style restaurant in the marina.  Every meal came out topped with a fried egg, and if there’s anything I’ve learned in Portugal, it’s that you can slap a fried egg on any type of food and it will taste better.  Maria and I polished off a full bottle of wine, which gave our faces a healthy glow and made my jokes for the rest of the day much funnier, at least to Maria and I.

The waitress at the restaurant drew us a fantastic map to the castle and `Monte Brasil` so we walked back to the car and did manage to find it, though the streets were so poorly market it would have been impossible otherwise.  The castle itself was now an active military base, so we couldn`t get in, but we did explore the mountain, which had the best views on the island, and even a small zoo on top.  It was then we realized that we haven`t yet had to pay admission to get into any of these amazing places.

It was then about three in the afternoon so we decided to head back and spend the rest of the afternoon hanging out in Praia da Vitoria.  We thought of taking the backroads along the coast, but the sketchy map we had didn`t really show any good roads along the coast so we blasted back on the highway.  Once back, we parked down by the beach, the ladies and Magnus went shopping, John hit the beer patio and Stella and I went for a walk.  We explored the marina then decided to see if we could climb all the stairs up the mountain.  I had my doubts that Stella could make it but was proven completely wrong as she charged all the way up the 289 ancient stone steps all the way to the top, what a trooper!  And I was happy to find that my new sandals stood up well to the rigors of mountain climbing, I`m sure happy I decided to buy new sandals, I tried telling Ana those crummy old ones were no good, but sometimes she just doesn`t listen.  We snapped a couple photos then did our descent and joined John back on the patio for celebratory drinks.  The ladies arrived soon after then, and before long we were back in the car and off to the ferry terminal.

The trip back was smooth and uneventful and three hours later were back in home port.  We squeezed into the car one last time and returned to tia Ana`s house full of stories, but ready for bed.

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