The past week on Terceira

July 3, 2009

My new friends Senhor Antonio and Peixoto; a street bullfight; hike to Pico Alto; and other fun stuff. Take a look at this post during the next few days cause Ill be posting more pictures.

It´s been a little bit difficult to get on a computer to write news of my time here, but generally the week has been beautiful. Last Sunday I spent a slow day at the festa watching a children´s parade with the family and then heading to the carnival, where my cousins pedrinho and Inés played on rides while Lena, my tia Natalia and I looked at the booths where all sorts of things were being sold by Indians and gypsies.

On Monday I spent a slow day at home until around 2pm, when I started down the road towards Porto Martins. Porto Martins used to be a small fishing village until about 30 years ago, when Americans and previous immigrants began building their summer homes there, and now the town is a small colony of ex-patriots from Canada and the United States. There are also some very nice natural swimming pools there and a dock with good fishing. I was about halfway down the road when a dilapidated little truck stopped after passing me. I saw an arm come out the window and wave me up to the car. It was a red faced fat man with hardly any teeth with his family in tow behind in the back seat.

«You going down to the piscina?»  he asked.

I hesitated and said, «Umm yes, wherever»

«Salta» he told me to jump into the back of the truck.

With that we continued down the road past locals walking up from the coast with their beach towels and little old houses lining the roads. On every empty piece of land there is food growing, whether its a vegetable garden, pastures for cows or corn for feed. Iwas sitting at dinner yesterday with Lena´s husband Pedro´s family. His father is a farmer and a long discussion started about their little piece of land behind the house and how sad it was to see the land go to waste. Some ideas were tossed around (Maybe two or three orange trees at least? The land is so good and it´s just sitting there!).

Gardening isn´t so much a hobby as it is a fact of life. It´s as though families who don´t keep a garden when they have a piece of land are neglecting a normal part of housekeeping. Two days ago I was sitting up in my room and looking out a little field full of weeds that belongs to the next house up. I looked down at my book for 10 minutes and when I looked again, there was a whole family in the field working, the parents, grandmother and children. In about half an hour the land was cleared and now it sits empty waiting for the next piece of work to occur. Im curious to see what they plant.

Anyway, the old fat man had just waved me into the car and we were on our way down to coast. We arrive pretty quickly and I jumped off the back of the truck. We were at a little water front with a café and some breakwaters built out into the ocean a little ways to form swimming pools that filled at high tide. Along a road about 1/2 km north along the coast there is another fishing dock with one or two other cafés. Two the south there is an area of rocky coast where two days early Pedro had instructed me that I could catch minhoca, or sea worms, that are good bait.

The man stepped out and introduced himself. His name is Senhor Antonio and he´s a semi-retired farmer who has a job as a gardener working for the city. He had just come down to Porto Martins to water a little field of sunflowers that he maintains in front of the swimming pools. He has a huge paunch and only a few teeth on the right side of his mouth and wears sandals because his toenails are swollen and black with fungus. Out of the car came his wife Fatima, who after two days of visiting with them has only said 5 or  6 words to me, his two little grandaughters and a friend of his whose called Peixoto. Peixoto is another character, he´s a lot smaller and darker than Senhor Antonio and about the same age, late 50´s or early 60´s. He wears a bushy moustache, walks with a limp and talks with a foreign Portuguese accent that later I realized was from Angola.

Senhor Antonio asked where I was from. I explained to him that I was from California, that I started an organic farming project in San Jose and that I was hear to visit with family, take care of some family business in regards to my grandfathers land, and see the agriculture of the Azores. That satisfied him and when he found out that I had come down to the coast to fish, he referred me to Peixoto, «Hey! he doesn´t know how to fish.»

Peixoto nodded and told me to follow him to the rocks that were a little off to one side of the dock. It was as though my not knowing the local techniques of fishing was a problem that had to be quickly remedied. This kind of thing happened all the time, and it was the responsibility of the older folks to take care of it.

He stepped over the rocks lightly even with his limp leg and quickly found some sea snails and one or two limpets I could use for bait. With his help I quickly set up a rig for fishing among the rocks, one with a couple of different sized hooks and a short leader to avoid getting snagged. While we worked he talked to me about his life.

He had grown up in Angola and was in the Portuguese army when the revolution started there. Angola was like Portugal´s Vietnam and I have an uncle who spent some time fighting there – most families have somebody who went there and came back screwed up one way or another. When the fighting turned bad Peixoto had to escape from the country in the trunk of a car. Peixoto has been living on Terceira for about 30 years, working odd jobs here and there and hanging out with Antonio, his best friend.

After I was set up for fishing he left me and joined Antonio in watering the sunflowers. After about 30 minutes I caught one little rockfish. After a little while longer my line got snagged. It was getting cold and about to rain, so after another hour of screwing around I hopped back in the car with them to get a ride back up to the house. Antonio and Peixoto weren´t done with me though, and for the rest of the afternoon we drove around in their truck visiting the local pastures and driving up to a mountain called Serra do Cume. Up the road we chatted about the way the local farmers maintain the fields, the breeds of dairy cattle, the pieces of land that give good corn and the ones that don´t because of poor soil or exposure to wind or whatnot. We also talked about the different areas of the island that produce oranges, olive oil, tomatoes, onions. «In one village they´ll produce olive oil, but just one village. 2 km down the road and the trees will no longer grow. Each place because of the weather can produce different things.» There are many little pockets of hot or cold air and geological history that affect what´s grown.

Whenever Antonio stated something like, «Now look carefully… this land here? You see this land? This land gives corn too, but only small corn. And this corn also is used for feed. They don´t grow corn for flour anymore!» Peixoto would chime in «Oh yes, this land gives corn, yes it does, but only very small corn.»  It was really fun hearing the back and forth

At the top of Serra do Cume I saw experimental wind turbines and a beautiful vista where I could see a big volcanic valley with a mosaic of pastures.

Up at the vista there was an abandoned dog that ran around sniffing us as we studied a map, pointing out different landmarks. At this point one of the granddaughters, who had been with us this whole time, tugged at my shirt and revealed to me that she had already been up there three times today – once with here father and another time with Antonio. After another look at things it was time to head down.

We took the long way home, and Antonio took me around a variety of backroads surrounding Fonte do Bastardo (Fountain of the Bastard), the village where he and my cousin Lena live. I asked if Antonio had lived here his whole life and he said proudly, «Yeah, I live in the same house that I was born in and that´s where I´ll die! I know EVERY ONE of these roads.»

It was really cool seeing the pride of these simple folks in the land that they live on. They must drive up the road to Serra do Cume  hundreds of times each year, and having seen a stranger walking down the road, they already had showing me these places in mind. It was dark now and after dropping off Peixoto at his house, Antonio drove me back to my house. I said thank you many times and he gave me his phone number. We arranged to meet again before I left for Pico next week.

Tuesday  – Bullfight in Villa Nova
It would be very easy to write such a long winded story about each day, but it´s a beautiful day and I want to get outside. On Tuesday I farted around similarly most of the day. I remembered that Senhor Antonio had said there was a street bullfight in Villa Nova that afternoon, so I gave him a call and we arranged to go together. I took a walk through Fonte do Bastardo and passed a tall skinny man wearing an orange shirt and holding an umbrella more than once. I said hello each time but he just nodded his head and gave me a thumbs up. I thought that was curious but put it out of my mind.

At 5:00pm Peixoto came walking by my house to pick me up. Together we walked to Antonio´s house talking about bulls and the dangers of street bullfights and he told me how when he was a young man, he got tossed around badly by a bull, «There are local guys called capinos that are sort of famous and are very good with making passes at the bull. it takes a lot of practice and a lot of knowledge to be able to do that. Be careful! Don´t go in the street! They toss people in the air like they are soccer balls! The worst is when they get you under the belt by the horns, then it´s over… theyll shake you in the air until your dead.»

We arrived at Antonios house and took a few moments to look around his kitchen. Its a very oldstyle house with cast iron pots and walls lined with gourds, traditional staffs for herding cows, and similar such things. Antonio and his wife Fatima were really proud to show me all this, and then we got in the car and headed towards Villa Nova. When we arrived the streets were filled with people from all over the island. A lot of Americans were there too. I saw the man in the orange shirt again, and I pointed him out. «Oh him!» Antonio said, «That´s the village mute of Fonte do Bastardo. He can´t talk but he´s a very good capino, god he loves chasing bulls!»

Antonio took me up to the bull cages and I was impressed by the scene. There were a bunch of local guys standing all around and every once in awhile you could hear a loud boom as one of the bulls angrily smashed his horns up against the side of the wooden cage. We climbed a wall up behind the cages and waited for the first bull to be released. Someone behind me sent a homemade firework up into the air to signal the start of the tourada and the first bull was released.

I was immediately shocked and afraid about the size of the bull. At the ring bullfight I went to last Friday I saw that they were big, but being so close I realized that it was no simple thing to run past a bull. They had tied a thick rope around the bulls neck as a leash, and 10 men held onto the rope from a safe distance to keep the bull somewhat under control. In the street a bunch of young guys ran around chasing the bulls and following it up and down the street to watch the action, while the older men, women, children and tourists sat watching from on top the walls. I think next bullfight I´ll be brave enough to get down into the road, but only from a safe distance.

There were four bulls that each ran for about 20 minutes, and some pretty good shows from the local bullfighters, who worked with jackets or umbrellas sort of like matadors. On the third bull a man didn´t run away and was mauled pretty badly as he was trying to escape around a corner. The bull got him between his horns and smashed him into the wall repeatedly. An ambulance came and after a delay of about 20 minutes the bullfight started again. I was a bit drunk at this point but even then, I was a little bit shocked at how unphased all the locals were.

After the bullfight we drove quietly home, with a little detour through the backroads to see if Senhor Antonio could catch a rabbit in his headlights and run it over for tomorrows dinner. Unsuccesful, we drove home.

Wednesday – Hike to Pico Alto with Alvaro and his students
On Wednesday, Lena arranged for me to go on a hike with her colleage Alvaro to a natural area of Terceira called Pico Alto. I got into a van with a group of 8-10 year old students and spent the day hiking through a natural ecosystem called laurisilva – a forest of heather bushes, local, trees called cedro do mato which used to cover large areas but were cut like the redwoods and cypress in the United States because the wood resists rot and is very good for construction. It was a beautiful day and Alvaro and I spent the day talking about the Azores local ecosystems, geology and the attitudes of our respective communities in regards to the protection of the environment. On the way we passed an immense caldeira, the crater left by an extinct volcanoe. The students were cool and well behaved except when Alvaro informed them that they could collect obsidian there, at which point they all went crazy looking at the ground for the little shiny rocks.  Tomorrow I might go with Alvaro called Serra de Santa Barabara, we´ll see.

Thursday / Today
Thursday was relatively slow – I took the bus into Angra and walked until the village of Sao Mateus. Today, Im in Praia and will spend the day fishing and swimming. I´ve been enjoying my free time and have read several books while Im here – covering some of the last novels I haven´t read by Steinbeck and a few new ones by Paulo Coelho. I´ve also spent a considerable amount of time with my little cousins Pedrinho and Ines, who are sometimes a handful but very sweet. I have no kids in my family back home so its good to spend time with the little ones, learn to supervise them and have fun playing like a kid. However, it has reminded me that I do not want children anytime soon. This morning at breakfast Lena, Tia Natalia and I talked about this and I said, «I think Im going to start with a dog. Im going to see if I can raise one and train it well, and afte that, we´ll see.»

Pedrinho was screaming in the background and causing chaos as usual, «Well at least with a dog,» Lena said laughing, «You can chain him in the back of the house and put a muzzle on him. And children aren´t so easily trained.»

So Im having a great time, but Im getting ready to get on to Pico, my home island. Miss you all and more news next week.

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One Response to “The past week on Terceira”

  1. Megan said

    Thank you for sharing all of this, I love it!

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