Monday, April 1, 2024

Azores 2024 – Baby Jesus, Botanical Gardens, and Local Sailors

Religion here in the islands is a big deal. Catholicism is woven into the fabric of everything – how they build, how they spend their time, how they talk. Every little town has its own roster of religious festivals and you can hit up a reli-fest every single weekend of the year if you don’t mind doing a bit of island driving. There are religious icons everywhere you look – carved into stone buildings, arranged into the cobblestoned sidewalks, depicted on tile murals on peoples’ homes, the white and black lavastone steeples of churches grasping for the sky, saintly air fresheners hanging from rear view mirrors in cars, rosaries and crosses hanging from peoples’ necks, and biblical street names carved into the classy stone markers on every corner. Tio Manuel has a baby Jesus mannequin on the bureau in the living room. I give him a little high five every morning when I come down to boil water and it makes me feel pretty good. I’m sure he’s been lying there for 50 years. In the bedroom Ana and I are using, there’s a glass globe with Joseph and Mary and a little kid who I assume is Jesus. I keep thinking a parrot on Joseph’s shoulder and a mini eye patch would be pretty funny but I don’t dare just in case I get busted and am not invited back.

The weather this morning is awful. The wind has shifted to the south which means our side of the island is now getting the shit-kicking. We decide it’s a good day for administration so we’re out the door by 9 and head to Pont
a Delgada to get some documents required for the land we own here and to get Ana’s Portuguese citizenship card renewed. The citizenship place is at the Parque Atlantico shopping mall so after we’re done Ana hits the stores while I sit in a coffee shop with a book and read for an hour.

 Sometime after noon the rain stops and the sun comes out, completely transforming the day. We go to the Jose Do Canto Botanical Garden and I enjoy it so much it makes me wonder if I still am a hard drinking, hard partying, bad-assed, youthful, rebel motherfucker. Besides the thousands of exotic plants and trees there are a bunch of roosters, chickens, and cute little chicks running around that almost make me feel weepy. Before I completely surrender to old age we crawl to the top of the chapel situated at the edge of the property and get into the bell chamber and I chime the bells just to see if that starts some shit.


We drive down to the main Avenida in the city and go for lunch at a café in Portas do Mar – the cruise ship terminal. There’s a cruise ship in port – a big one – so we’re surprised the restaurants here are so quiet. Mind you, we are having lunch at 2:30 so that might explain it. We’re finding the prices here are still good, and some things are downright cheap. Our lunch is 30 euro, but that includes beers and huge meals. The odd time we go out for lunch in Canada these days has been costing us north of $60 after all the wretched taxes and tips. Restaurant prices here are definitely less than home, grocery store prices are the same or less, gas is 40% more, and admission fees (when they do charge admission) are still very low. Maybe things go up in the summer when most tourists visit, but to me it feels like things here really haven’t changed much in six years.


Beside the cruise ship terminal is a huge marina and we stop by the marina office to check out prices and find those too are still cheap. Residents can rent a yearly slip for about a thousand euro. For non-locals it’s over four grand, but that’s still cheap. The monthly non-local rate is only five hundred euro which seems like a bargain to me. While in the office, we meet one crew who are just leaving for Spain and had come from Martinique a few days before. It took them 26 days, which was about 8 days longer than normal due to weak winds. They expect the trip to Spain to take eight days and have no hesitation leaving in 45 kph winds and a boiling sea state. That seems scary as hell to me, but I think that once you’ve got some ocean experience under your belt you know what you and your boat can handle.


We also meet a Dutch sailor that sailed into Sao Miguel two and a half years ago with a busted engine and had the bowsprit of his boat knocked off when the coast guard was trying to tow him in and instead plowed his boat right into a concrete dock. After weeks of more frustration and disaster trying to sort everything out, he discovered he loved the island and decided to stay and get his residency. Marcel’s his name and I expect we just may run into him again and maybe get a tour of his boat and the inside scoop on living in a marina in Ponta Delgada.


During the drive back to Tio Manuel’s we pass several beaches, all of which have people out enjoying the late afternoon and swimming, playing volleyball, having drinks, or just sitting in the sand. Amazing the difference a few hours 
makes on the islands.

 We consume leftovers for dinner and are joined by Pedro, Carmelia, and Bella. And just when I am thinking the night is over, Bella takes us out to her boyfriend Carlos’s pizzeria restaurant for coffee and we get to meet his lovely mom who spins up the magic pizzas in the back room. We make a date to return Thursday for dinner.

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