Last Week on Terceira

July 13, 2009

I am on Pico Island now and trying to catch up with narrating my trip. This covers my last days on Terceira before I left for Pico last Tuesday. More to come about this week in the following days. And I’m not lying about those pictures: I’ve been taking plenty but it’s been difficult to get them up because of a slow connection.

Saturday, July 4
This past Saturday I went on another awesome hike with Lena’s friend Alvaro, this time with a group of slightly older kids from the school. Are destination was Serra de Santa Barbara, the highest point on the island of Terceira and the only historically active volcano there, even though it hasn’t done anything for a couple hundred years.

We took a beautiful 30-minute drive up to the mountain, with views of the ocean, the villages along the coast disappearing as we climbed higher. The land is full of pastures with fences made of hydrangeas and tall Cryptomeria, imported japanese conifers that are used for wood. There are dairy cows and fields with 20 or 30 black bulls, that will eventually be destined for the bullfights in Angra and all over the island. The pastures and trees disappeared below us and we ended up on a tall bald mountain with a bunch of cellular and radar antennae, Serra de Santa Barbara. From there, the view of Terceira is beautiful – often on this trip I’ve wondered how my parents could have decided to leave the Azores.

Serra de Santa Barbara is also mostly the laurisillva ecosystem but it also has some features that I didn’t see over near Pico Alto, which is a little bit lower and on the other side of the island. Mainly, the ground is spongy and hard to walk in because your feet are constantly sinking into thick moss. In the low places, there are deep bogs that you can sink into up to your waste.Actually, the hike lasted most of the day, and started with a struggle through a large stand of cedro do mato, after which we ended up on the edge of a deep, menacing bog which almost stole one of the students shoes. After finding the main trail, which by American standards is pretty dangerous and unmarked, Alvaro led the way to the edge the volcanic crater.

We continued around the edge of the crater in attempt to get to a mountain lake that is very beautiful and very hard to find, but that adventure was unsuccessful and at the end of it we were all pretty tired. I was impressed with how much the students knew about the local ecosystem and how comfortable they were with getting soaked up to their thighs with bog water.

After the hike, I came home and tried to get some rest, because that night I knew I would be out late again with Pedro and Lena. We visited a variety of bars at the waterline of Praia and then headed over to Angra to check out 3 or 4 spots there. Towards the end of the night we ended up at  a discoteca, a different this time higher up in the mato, which we stayed at until 5am. Pedro and I were tired, but Lena, being the partyer that she is, complained, “But it’s so early!”

On Sunday, the whole family piled into the car and went on the mandatory trip around the island called the Volta Ilha. The day started off with great weather, and we were all ready to go to the beach, but 20 minutes into the trip it started to rain. We stopped in Biscoitos, an area of recent lava flows that is known as wine country because of the poor soil, and there we ate loads of organic strawberries that were being sold by an old farmer man from the area. We passed even more beautiful rocky coast, and also stopped in a place called Serreta. In that area there is another volcano, off the coast in the ocean, that people sometimes see erupting, with large rocks surfacing and then floating back to the bottom.

We all got home exhausted and I spent the rest of the night reading The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. It’s sort of the preface to his book The Alchemist and describes his trip through Spain on the road to Santiago. The book fits perfectly with my trip. At times Coelho describes how he’s unsure of why he left Brazil on this pilgrimage, when he had his wife, his friends and so many important things going on at home. At other times he’s in a state of euphoria because of the important lessons he is learning about himself and the past and the world.

The moral of the story is that it takes courage to fulfill your destiny and your personal legend, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to do. I left California at a time that was very inconvenient. Veggielution had just made a deal with the City of San Jose, and we had just put half an acre of vegetables in the ground. Recently, especially over the past two years, us San Jose folks have built a community concerned with sustainability and social justice. I’ve felt very committed to being a part of that. I had been with my girlfriend Megan for four months, and our friendship had grown stronger, even with my three month absence looming above us. But I had to go. I knew that it would only become harder to leave for any length of time. I knew that to overcome the initial shock and awkwardness of being in a new country, to see what I needed to see and do what I needed to do, it couldn’t be a quick trip of a couple weeks.

Over Monday I thought about all this as the rain beat down fiercely outside. I slowly packed my bags and tried to make contact with more farms on the islands and on the mainland and line up stuff for myself over the next few months. In the afternoon I decided to take a walk despite the harsh weather, and I headed out the door into the dense, cold fog. I started up the road that Senhor Antonio took me when we went up to Serra do Cume.

It was dark and quiet, the pastures shrouded in the low clouds, stone walls covered with lichen and dripping moisture and dairy cows silently grazing. I decided to go as high as I could, under the trees that grew along the road, past corn fields and higher where the wind blew harder and I could see even less. To my left I saw a piece of land with no fence, only a thin rope separating it from the road.

I decided to do what I had always done in California when I saw a beautiful piece of land separated by a fence – I crossed over to the other side and was immediately rewarded. It seemed that the wind picked up behind me and ahead I saw a milhafre – the Azores’ native hawk – hovering over me, flying into the wind. After a second it pause and swung off to the right behind a line of incenso – the native laurel – that was growing into a high wall. I walked over to the incenso, plucked some leaves and crushed them between my hands as I had always done with the bay laurel in california, then continued up the hill. I jumped a stone fence and climbed a little more, staring into the fog in the direction of the ocean, listening to the wind in the trees and feeling the cold and moisture seep through my clothes.

After a little bit I started back down the hill, my shoes soaked through but completely satisfied. On the way back I stopped off by the house of Antonio, and said goodbye to him and his wife Fatima. “Perfect! I was just looking for somebody to do some work!” He said jokingly, pointing to a bunch of boxes of tile that he had ready to redo the interior of his house (he was referring to my offer to help him in his fields someday, which he declined with a lot of laughing).

I told them I was leaving to Pico tomorrow but I would be back in August to pick up Megan from the Airport. We arranged to go on a little passeio together to the furnas do enxofre, some volcanic vents where sulphorous gas comes out in clouds. He quizzed me on other places in Terceira that I might have not seen, and satisfied that Lena had taken me to all of them, said that there are still some things to see. “After all,” he said, “Your cousin is from Pico, she can’t know everything about this island that somebody from Terceira would know!” We had a long protracted goodbye and he said not to forget my new friend. That night I went to sleep early knowing that the next day I would be on a boat early in the morning.


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