Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Azores 2018 : Day 7 - Safety rules in Sao Miguel (a.k.a. Hanging with Bella)

When you visit the Azores you have to realize it’s not going to be like home, no matter where you are from (except maybe Madeira). Most of the differences will be interesting and cool, but some could be dangerous. Let me explain.

The roads in Sao Miguel were originally built for horses, buggies, and maybe cows. They were not built for transport trucks, Ford F150’s towing a powerboat, 40-foot long motorhomes, or giant garbage trucks. They are narrow. And in some cases, barely passable, therefore the vehicles that people drive are very small. I saw a Toyota Yaris the other day and it looked large compared to all the standard European makes that you see - Peugeots, Renaults, Volkswagens, and Opels; most of them tiny four door hatchbacks that you and your buddy could probably flip over like a turtle.

Now imagine a small car having trouble fitting down a street, and then imagine that you are also walking down that same street at the same time. There is not much room. Which leads to the first rule of safety in the Azores:

1.       Walk, don’t mosey

By mosey, I mean walking around sloppily, wandering from side to side, staggering here and there, and basically not paying attention to what you are doing. If you do this at the wrong place at the wrong time, you will get smoked by or, worse, slowly smeared against an ancient rock wall by a car. Kids are the worst, because the path they take when moving looks like a stock market chart - a random walk and totally unpredictable. If you don’t want them ending up as a hood ornament, or a greasy stain on somebody’s front door, then get them to walk in a straight line, or tie a leash to them, whichever best fits your parenting technique.

2. Pay attention

People here drive fast, and they are exceptionally good drivers, but man, do they fly down the roads in those tiny cars. You simply must pay attention to what’s going on when you are walking near a street, or even walking out of somebody’s house. Many of the narrow streets have no sidewalks, so you can take one step out of your aunt’s door and WHACK, you are creamed by a car. You will notice that when people park, they always fold in the side mirrors on their cars to avoid them being knocked off. Don’t be a side mirror.

3. Don’t fall into calderas

Remember those calderas - the cauldron-like holes in the ground full of hotter than boiling water, found primary in Furnas? Don’t fall into them. The folks here told us about a tourist that died many years back when they were backing up, trying to take a perfect photo, and they tripped into a caldera and were boiled alive. Since then they have constructed a fenced path that you are supposed to stick to, so stick to it.

4. Don’t expect safety devices to save you from stupidity

In North America we like to try and save people from themselves by putting up Danger signs everywhere, erecting fencing, forcing you sign waivers, building guardrails everywhere, and trying in every feasible way to make things idiot-proof. They don’t do that here. When you are in a tobacco museum that has a big machine with sharp blades on display, they assume you are not so stupid as to stick your hand into it. There is no sign saying “Don’t stick your hand in here” because it’s so obvious. When you go for a hike on a trail into a volcano crater with steep sides, you shouldn’t need a sign telling you to be careful, so there won’t be one; you just know to be careful. Pretty obvious huh?

5. Beware the ocean

I didn’t even see an ocean until I was 13 and didn’t swim in one until many years after that. The ocean is dangerous. It is not like a lake. There are jellyfish to sting you, sea urchins to step on, tides to strand you or wash away you stuff, and rip currents to suck you out to sea. I’m not even going to mention the sharks, because that’s the least you need to worry about in the ocean. I swim in the ocean everywhere we go, so you don’t have to be scared, but just know what to expect and use your head. Don’t swim alone. If you get caught in a rip current and start getting dragged out to see, swim parallel to the shore until it lets up. Check the shoreline for washed up jellyfish. Watch where you step. And never, ever swim alone at night - that is just asking for trouble, because if you are swimming at night you are probably wasted.

Well now that I got that out of my system, let me talk about today.

Ana’s 15-year-old niece Bella was off school this week and decided to spend the day with us. We didn’t have any big plans, and the weather was cool and windy so we decided to find some indoor activities to do.

The last time we were in Sao Miguel, Bella was a cute little 9-year-old girl, so my mental image of her was pretty much stuck at that point in time. When we arrived, I was shocked to find a 15-year-old young woman, all grown up, beautiful, and in high school. More intriguing was that her older sister Sofia (also beautiful) had given birth to a gorgeous little girl Matilda, who was already two years old. Both are lovely young women and I think knew a lot more English than they were letting on but were just a little shy to speak it with us.

We first visited a nearby ceramics factory, which was cool in a “hanging out with grandma” kind of way, and we then went downtown to the natural history museum and ran into Tiago, who works there and is the boyfriend of Bella’s sister Sofia. He showed us around the museum, which was full of specimens of local fish, game and plants, and many international ones too, such as a Great White Shark and a Two Headed Sheep. He also had a small bird that had hair just like Donald Trump, which was currently the hottest exhibit in the gallery…or at least was getting the most laughs.

We went out for a big late lunch, and then had a snack before hitting the local cinema and seeing a new Steven Spielberg movie called “Ready Player One” which was…interesting, but a bit too drenched in 80’s nostalgia for my liking. I lived through that era, and I think that somehow when they replay it today (as they seem to be doing everywhere - music, movies, fashion) it’s comes off as being quite a bit better than it was at the time. Or am I just an old sourpuss that didn’t like Wham in the first place?

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