First of all, the Azores are a stunning adventure to take on one´s personal travel list. It´s the perfect mixture of old towns, protected natural reservations, infrastructure, camping sites and of course hospitality. Wow, the people there are welcoming wanderers like me with an open heart and a homemade glass of wine.
Horta. Here in the small cafe in front of Porto Pim, people just pass by for a quick cup of coffee, before going to work. 30 years ago it was used as the harbor for whale fishing. Now it has gone quiet, except for the emigrants who come back in summer telling stories about their life back in the US. Only a few tourists and some sailors find their way here, especially in one of these rainy days like we have one now. On the right end of the harbor there is the old fortress, which was somehow protecting the bay from pirates, on the left end there is the leftovers from the factory, where they made oil from the whales. Back then it was impossible to go swimming because the bay was bloody and many sharks were looking for leftovers around here.
A couple stands by the harbor wall and look onto the horizon, it seems more rain will arrive in the coming days. It is the second day of European summer, but it feels like winter especially for the many sailors who arrive here from the Caribbean, before the hurricane season starts over there. But the charms of this small bay remains and the church on “Monte guia” behind the whaling factory is covered in clouds. It is another perfect day for some writing and possibly the best day for reflecting the last month, that I have spent traveling these islands.
In the beginning it was just a quick call from my friend Matthias, who send me the promotion offer by SATA airlines to go to the Azores for an incredible airfare. I was hungry for some timeout, so it did not take any longer than an hour to book the flights. Until my departure many things happened that gave me more food for thought and heavy soul meals to digest. My grandmother died just a week before I went, and it was hard for me to realize, that one of the most beloved women in my live had gone. Saddled in sadness but mounted with hope I took off to Munich, from where my flight would depart. When I jumped on the train I was alone, but since then never again. The first night in Munich I spent at the house of Jan, the brother of Matthias, it was like back in the days, when we were still at school, but now with style: Schweinshaxn, Champagne and good talks. The next afternoon the plane to Ponta Delgada, Azores was expecting me. In my backpack was not much, but a newly acquired tent, sleeping bag, a mat and some more clothes in cotton bags (which turned out to be great pillows later) among a bunch of books about love & mind, which I have not finished until today. When checking in, it was the shortest row ever. Only one other backpacker was right next to me. On-board we realized that it was a very few people going on this kind of journey. Somehow it felt like a solitary retreat right from the beginning. The only thing I had prepared was a place to stay at in the first night: the youth hostel in Ponta Delgada. Both of us took a cab and the taxi driver not knowing much to say in English, except to point out that his Mercedes has served him for almost one million kilometers and runs only on five cylinders.
Anton from Dresden, as I learned on the check-in in the youth hostel, was about to do some Woofing on Flores. But the first night on Sao Miguel was made with hot dogs and beer, which to our surprise and joy was quite tasty, cold and inexpensive. In the next morning at breakfast I met a girl eating alone in the empty dining room and sat with her, we exchanged our ideas on what to do and hers sounded inviting, as well to Anton who arrived later to breakfast. So we went on a hike up to the mountain lake “Lagoa del fogo” on the very first day. It was nice to have someone with a plan already and just hook up. We also met another swiss girl so our first trek team was of four and did not disappoint any of our efforts. Because the lake was just amazing.
One month and five islands later, the rain is getting stronger and everyone who still coped with the little drops of heaven now fled from the terrace to the inside of the cafe, except two grandfathers who seem to have seen worse than this. Soon the heavy rain becomes a lighter one, only the smooth sound of the waves has gotten stronger as again the wind has gained in speed and strength. I walk out of the cafe to see some more of the scenery around here and in the waves I find a face. A woman is swimming there like a mermaid, diving into the water and coming up again. She surely enjoys the raindrops from above while being in the fresh water. Then as I continue to walk the sun makes her way through the clouds and soon it gets hot and humid again. I can feel the water on my skin forming a layer of extra gluing material. The sun invites my feet to go to the harbor again and work on my photo series about the sailboats and sailors. On the way I pass by at the house, where I am staying at to refill my bag with some food and get rid of some extra clothes, which are obviously unnecessary as I now have a natural extra skin.
The Marina Bars
Back in the Harbor I am starting to take pictures again — like all the other days, nicely asking the people I meet whether I can take a shot of them too. Some say yes and only a few no. Most of them want to know what I am doing and I always take my time to explain. Then one woman sends me to a nearby skipper who is about to show his yacht. So I take off my shoes and jump on board, not without wetting my socks because I was unaware of the water on deck. Below deck I am amazed of what this newly acquired yacht looks like and it surely fascinates me. Every inch of space is efficiently used and beautifully designed at the same time. I stay a while and talk to Emidio. He invites me for a cup of coffee and soon in the marina bar he introduces me to all kind of sailors. Beer, coffee, sandwiches – it´s impossible to leave. Some of them are sailing with kids and for several years now. We continue until the soccer game, which Germany even wins vs. Greece with 4:2. Although I am the only one cheering for Germany, nobody really looks mad at me. After such a compelling game I am bit tired but not tired enough to check out Peters Cafe Sport. The Pub was full of people and the stage was just about to get prepared for some Live Music. When ordering my first drink at the bar, an elderly man asked me: “Do you like to take my picture in a proper outfit?” It is Jean Pierre, who I have met earlier but I did not recognize him at first sight in his evening outfit. So we spent the night drinking beer, talking about love & life. He said when he decided to leave Belgium and go to the Azores people asked him: “But what about your pension? If you stop working now…?” Now, 12 years after moving to Horta he runs a successful yacht repair service.
On the next day I meet Emidio and Jean-Pierre again and it feels like seeing old friends, although I try not to stop by to early but take some pictures before I move into the sailor bars again. I also meet James from the UK who turns out to be a great man in terms of compelling storytelling. It seems that this island is about meeting people who can give me guidance, because they have lived their lifes freely, fought for their dreams, made mistakes and then continued. This is my last station before flying back to Germany and I am becoming very aware of the fact, that it is interesting to meet people who do live their very own lifestyle and make their dreams come true, although most of the times they start just with an intuition.