photos were taken in May of 2001
on the islands of São Miguel, Faial, Pico and São Jorge.
The Azores consist of nine islands, comprising three separate groups over three tectonic plates. From a geologic and meteorologic standpoint, one could say that these islands lead a very active life. Volcanic erruptions and earthquakes are a fact to be dealt with, while drastic weather changes occur throughout the day in this permanent high pressure center. The trade-off for living with these unstable conditions is a land of outstanding natural beauty: vegetation is lush, flowers bloom exhuberantly all year long, birds and marine life abound.
Storms are frequent during the winter months, however, temperatures don't vary much, resulting in a permanent growing season. The fertile terrain is uneven and rocky, making for small, intensely green fields divided by stone fences edged with intensely blooming flowers. The flower most associated with the Azores is the hydrangea, blooming rioutously throughout the islands, lining the roads and fields. Other abundant types are calla lillies, daisies, rhodedendroms, ginger, gladioli, sweet peas and others too many to name.
Each island is unique, possessing its own beauty. I would recommend that anyone spending more than a week in the Azores make an effort to visit several islands. The only way for the independant traveller to reach the archipelago is by air. From North America it is possible to fly on SATA, the Azorean airline, out of Boston and Toronto. There may also be flights out of Montreal and California during the high season; otherwise there are flights out of Lisbon, Porto, Frankfurt, Madeira and ocassionally other destinations. Once in Sao Miguel, flights to other islands can be arranged. Ferries are only an option on the islands that are close together. The best way to see the islands is to rent a car, as bus schedules are generally unrealistic for tourism, except on São Miguel. Taxis are another option, with organizations of taxi drivers giving set tours of the islands. Driving is easy, since there is virtually no traffic on the road, however, expect hairpin turns and switchbacks, as well as herds of cows, the ocassional donkey cart or farmer on horseback.
One surprise for anyone who has toured mainland Portugal, is the number of people who speak perfect, or near perfect English. The immigration of Azoreans has been principally to North America, with a far greater population domiciled there than in the islands themselves. The entire population of the islands is around 260,000, with 60,000 living in the relative metropolis of Ponta Delgada. This sparseness of population makes people civil, relaxed and patient. Apart from the many older Azoreans who have returned to retire to their native lands, there exists a surprising number in their 30's and 40's who have returned from North America and are happily living on the islands.
Me, enjoying a sunny day in Faial