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A Month in the Azores: Tis Gets Island Fever

Updated: May 9

Views for Days...Along with Endless Wind!  (photo by author's friend)
Views for Days...Along with Endless Wind! (photo by author's friend)

After a year in Lisbon living with an Incompetent Portuguese Slumlord, I decided to head out of the capital city and spend a year exploring other parts of my new country. After spending the first month of the year in the town of Lagos in the Algarve region, my next stop was the town of Ponta Delgada in the Azores Islands.

Apprehension Upon Arriving for a Month in the Azores

I arrived on São Miguel Island, right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to spend a month experiencing life on the island. I had rented an apartment in the center of the main town, Ponta Delgada, a city of 67,000 residents. Not so recently removed from my life in busy NYC with its 8 million residents, to now spend a month in a remote island town with less than 1% of the population of my previous life, I was concerned I might get a serious case of island fever and catch the next flight back to the mainland. 

My apprehension was not helped by flashbacks to my recent viewing back in Lagos of “Turn of the Tide” which was set in nearby Rabo de Peixe and told a grim story about the residents of that impoverished town. However, as this year was all about exploring different parts of my new country and trying new ways of life, I knew there was no turning back. I just had to get on with it and see what happened in each place.

Hora do Cafe After Hours (photo by author)
Hora do Cafe After Hours (photo by author)

Settling Into Island Life

For me, a critical element of settling into a new place is finding my local spots which include markets, a few restaurants, a bar to watch football games and of course, a lively morning café. After I identify these spots, I feel more at home, as people start to recognize me and I begin to feel like a small part of the community. My first morning in Ponta Delgada I headed out to find a café in hopes of identifying my morning spot. 

Not knowing much about Ponta Delgada, I randomly turned right out of my apartment. About two doors down, an open door appeared and I peeked in to see a café buzzing with people. Miracle of miracles, there was a bar with four stools. In Portugal, bars where single people can sit are as rare as a productive Friday afternoon meeting in the summertime, so this was a true find.

I love the energy of a café in the morning, with people popping in and out, having a chat and a coffee. I headed in, sat at one of the stools and ordered a galão, which is similar to a latte. The man working behind the counter did not seem so warm and fuzzy but I had a month to get him to warm up a bit. I was up for the challenge.

The Nonna’s Teeth and Tomato Special Pizza, with Scissors (photo by author)
The Nonna’s Teeth and Tomato Special Pizza, with Scissors (photo by author)zza, with Scissors (photo by author)

The Parade of Crappy Pizza Continues

After working in the morning, it was time for lunch. I am still in search of good pizza in Portugal and sadly there have been no strong contenders. There were two pizzerias close to the apartment so I picked the one just around the corner. I should have known by the name, “Nonna's Teeth and Tomatoes”, to run fast in the opposite direction. What does that even mean? Surely Nonna, who I assume refers to someone’s grandma, does not have a set of teeth she wants to brag about.

When I walked in, Nonna’s Teeth oddly felt like it was trying to be cool and modern but failing miserably. Again, Nonna and modern? Not a good fit. There were two rooms, a bright, sun-filled one in the front with a few empty tables, and a darker, empty one in the back. A salty looking young woman, who looked completely uninterested as to whether or not I ate at Nonna’s Teeth, grunted at me as she pointed toward the back. 

Um, no chicky. I am not going to sit in the dungeon. Then a friendly waitress who smelled an American-sized tip came over and said I was welcome to sit at the bar in the sunlight. As I settled in, she brought me a menu and described the special of the day which was local chorizo with olives. Sold!

After putting my order in, the tip-hungry waitress brought me a pair of scissors and some napkins. She explained that here at "Nonna’s Teeth and Tomatoes", everyone cuts their pizza with scissors but she could bring me a fork and knife if I wanted. Not wanting to do anything that would cause the grunting one to take a break from scowling to go in the kitchen and spit on my pizza, I took the pair of scissors. 

This better be some fabulous pizza.

When the pizza finally came, I conducted the visual test. The mix of toppings/sauce/cheese looked okay but the crust did not have a good char. After taking a bite, the sauce was runny and not very flavorful and the crust was chewy. Fabulous. My search for pizza will continue. Meanwhile I have to cut my pizza with scissors while the youngster running this crappy place snarls at me from behind the register.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades (photo by author)
Lagoa das Sete Cidades (photo by author)

Surly Tour Lady

After settling into life in the town of Ponta Delgada, I decided to take a tour of the island that was gifted to me by a previous client as a tip. The full-day tour would take me to two of the most beautiful lakes on the island as well as a pineapple plantation and one of the only tea plantations in Europe.  Perfect, right?

On the morning of the tour, the van pulled up in front of my apartment and the guide asked if I wanted to sit up front. I accepted, climbed aboard, and greeted the only other people on the trip, two ladies who were good friends and traveling together. As we prepared to leave town, the guide, Bruno, stopped to give us a quick overview of the island while referring to a laminated map. 

After that quick overview, Bruno pulled back onto the road and started heading out of town. The van was silent for quite some time. I knew that I would have to get things going if this group was going to gel and have a fun day. I started with Bruno, discussing football and our favorite Portuguese teams.

Suddenly, the woman seated directly behind me started hammering Bruno with random questions, wanting to know the name of every town we passed and its significance to life on São Miguel Island as well as numerous questions about the cows on the island. As these towns were nothing remarkable and we'd discussed the cows extensively, Bruno’s answer was usually something fascinating like, "The town has 7-8 houses, one café and is called Relva.” 

This was going to be a long day. 

Bruno, the Age Appropriate, Hot Tour Guide

Despite the surly lady, I had a fun morning. I tuned her out and focused on Bruno who luckily was age appropriate and quite easy on the eyes. During his childhood, his parents had a house on the first lake we visited, and he had spent his days exploring their little corner of this island paradise. With the combination of the picturesque lake setting and the gorgeous tour guide, there was beautiful scenery for me to focus on all around!

During the afternoon, we picked up two college-aged girls who helped to liven up the surly lady. We made stops at the pineapple plantation, the tea plantation, the other major lake and a beautiful waterfall. Just driving around the island was enough of a tour as the landscape was breathtaking, with amazing views from every turn in the road.

When we stopped at the waterfall, we had to climb out over a couple of treacherous looking rocks for the best view. The young girls bounded out ahead of us all, while the surly lady’s friend took things a bit more cautiously. After she made it out onto the final rock, the surly lady decided to go the safer route with less of a view which left me as the last one standing there.

Bruno went ahead of me and looked back from the rock, holding out his hand. I asked him to estimate the chances of me falling in the river and floating away. He replied in a slow, confident voice, “Zero.”  Well since you put it that way. I grabbed his hand and made the leap, arriving safely just next to him on the now crowded rock. This is definitely worth whatever my client paid for this tour. 

After our stop at the waterfall, it was sadly time for the tour with "Bruno the Hot Tour Guide" to end. When he pulled up in front of my apartment, he came around to open the door for me and thanked me for joining him on the tour. He handed me his card and said I should contact him for more tours as he would be happy to take me around anytime.

I am going to be broke after this tour-filled month

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