Before we met our guide for the island of Faial, and during a three hour wait between island flights, we went for a long walk and ended up at a snack bar where a table of 10 or 12 robust working men were having a year-end dinner. When I asked if I could interview them, they giggled like school girls, and became quite flustered. I chose the best-looking man. They all laughed nervously.
“What type of work do you do?”
“We’re construction workers.” Big smile.
“Do you have a good boss?”
“He’ll be a `good boss’ if he pays the bill – I don’t know.” Peels of laughter.
“Do you like living on an island?”
“Oh yes, it’s like a family, and with the sea all around, it’s peaceful.”
“Which island do you like the most?”
“Flores is the most beautiful, though I have never been there – I have only been to one other island. But I don’t think I could live anywhere but on an island.”
We lost track of time as I jocularly conversed with them, and we dashed out the door to make the two-mile walk back to the airport. As we were nearing the airport, two cars sped by us with arms waving out the windows and shouts of greeting flying into the air. Faces with wide grins pressed against the back windows, and then, within seconds, the faces faded into the distance.
We were off again on another plane trip, this time to the island of Faial, and we were shocked when the driver stopped in front of our “hotel”. It was an elegant 16th century fort sitting on the edge of the harbour, and looking very menacing with it’s steel-toothed gate hanging threateningly over the large double doors. Within a few seconds we recognized it as a `pousada’ – an old fort, mansion, convent, or other historic building restored and recreated into an hotel. Pousada Forte da Horta
We were even more shocked when a middle-aged man in a taxi pulled up abruptly behind us and jumped out anxiously. Profuse with apologies that he had been given the wrong arrival time of our flight, he seemed truly concerned. This was our introduction to Humberto, our guide on Faial, a truly charming and entertaining gentleman, who proudly showed us his island.
From the Pousada de Forte, we had a splendid view of the town of Horta, Faial, and its world famous harbour where yachts and ships from all over the world drop anchor for a mid-atlantic rest in the Monte da Guia volcanic cone in the Bay of Horta. Humberto told us that all of the houses in Horta face the sea, and in the summer one can expect to see over a thousand international yachts pass through the harbour.
As our eyes panned the picturesque horizon, Humberto zealously began a profound treatise on the history of the island, interspersed with witty and off-hand remarks, while I laboured furiously to take notes, then in the end, gave up, because I was laughing too hard! It was nearing sunset and the clouds crossing over the sun gave one the false impression of an early sunrise. At one point Humberto suggested that it appeared that the sun was rising rather than setting.
“What’s going on – it’s sunrise! – Must be a maneuver of my friend on Sao Jorge!”
These offhand remarks were sprinkled liberally throughout an otherwise intellectual conversation.
Can you picture being given a history lesson by someone who drops hilarious remarks along the way?! An unbelieveable guide! Wish every tour guide was like him! Heck, wish my history teachers were too. Humberto should start a college for tour guides! Not only was he hilarious though; he was extremely emotional when he spoke of the Azores Islands, and we couldn’t help but feel, I mean really feel what he felt.
“After a dictatorship of 40 years, the the April 25th, 1974 Revolution brought freedom. Freedom is something touchable in the Azores. Visitors, books, newspaper, TV, new people and new ideas changed everything in the Azores. Before the revolution the church had a tremendous infuence on the people; after the revolution, the church lost much of it’s power. The conditions of life are better now. The economy is better and people spend more money, and live a more modern life. But the human values of love, friendship, and relationships between parents and children have been lost. Children are distant from their parents, and have become more independent. And this thing of living together – ahhh… I suppose it is a Thing of the World… Not that long ago a woman who did not respect the expectation to wear modest and classic apparel would have difficulty finding a man. From a tradition of virginity, society has moved to the accceptance of having as many relationships as possible before marriage. Divorce is more common today and women are emancipated, but men are more timid.”
“Faial is the most liberal of all the islands. Since most of the other islands are still quite traditional, the youth who come here feel like they have gone abroad.”
Humberto was a man of passionate emotion and their was a poet deep within him. He spoke of the loss of the famed latin romanticism, and how young men of the modern day talked about cars and sports, instead of love and women. He suggested that women prefer the style of the traditional men whose words of love and flattery flow easily.
Humberto talked about the wind.
“The north wind is the best wind. We hate the south wind because the atmosphere becomes very humid. Everyone becomes agitated and there are fights at home. If there is a north wind, the sky clears and there is no wind, and children are happy. And when there is rain and sun together, the traditional thought is that the witches are getting married.” Humberto’s hearty and genuine laugh was contagious, and now we were hanging on every word.
We could hardly believe it when we were invited into a closed restaurant on Christmas day to share the meal with a large family gathering. Humberto had gone to ask if they were open, and they simply invited us in! We enjoyed soup, codfish with oil and vinegar, rice, lettuce salad, boiled eggs, coleslaw, yams, potatoes, stuffing, pork, pork ribs, and beans, and for dessert – flan, a chocolate mouse layered dessert, a coconut chocolate meringue, cheesecake, fruitcake, and apple pie.
On all of the islands, it really is like a big family; everybody knows everyone. Doors are seldom locked and trust is a given.
On another island another time we were walking around a town and ended up in a gift shop that was piled floor to ceiling with a variety of inexpensive tourist trinkets. We met Antonio, the owner, a handsome man with a beaming smile. He could not speak English and I could speak very little Portugese, but we discovered that he spoke French and I could understand more French than Portugese so with good-natured effort, we communicated in French. He was open and friendly, and told us that he had recently visited his son who lives in Toronto. Perhaps we knew him. Oh well, he would give us his phone number, and we could call him.
When we were just about to leave Antonio’s gift shop, he asked hopefully if we would have one drink with him. I said OK, and he quickly ushered us out, locked up his shop, and excitedly took us a few doors down and upstairs to his home. His wife was in a housecoat, lying down, and watching a game show. Her embarrassment was quickly replaced with indignation. She was obviously furious with her husband, and my sympathies were with her.
She went off to another room, changed, and came out a gracious and warm hostess, and they fed us wine, and a luscious assortment of seven or eight desserts that she had made for Christmas.
There house was full of authentic antiques and exclusive china from many countries. We talked about antiques, and travel, and our children, and we felt as though we had known them for many years.
While Humberto was a guide like no other, smart, funny and charming, all of the people we met in The Azores were equally gracious, charming and big-hearted!
Azores Tourism website: Azores Tourism