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Why Are The Azores So Horn’y?

 

There was one contrast on The Azores islands that we found intriguing. While the countryside was serene and quiet, the pastoral settings unavoidably relaxing, and the people quiet and gentle, the main streets of the towns echoed with the clamour and whine of car engines and constant horn honking! One might just get ear damage.

 

Drivers zip along the narrow winding streets, their engines reverberating off the buildings as they pass through the small channel perhaps up to 150 decibels! If a driver is unsure of whether a vehicle or pedestrian is aware of their oncoming approach, especially at a blind corner or a narrow passageway, they honk fervently by way of a warning of their pending arrival.

 

It’s alarming as well, when you are walking. When there is a loud beep from across the street, you jump a little, then a louder horn honking right beside you, sets you straight up in the air! And another horn honking at the corner, and another horn honk from the side street! You end up a nervous wreck looking left, right and behind you wondering if you are walking in the wrong place and about to get hit by the car that is blasting his horn! In many places, there are no sidewalks, or cars are parked on the sidewalks so pedestrians need to pass through by way of the street. Dangerous enough, but then a horn-honk has you leaping back onto the sidewalk!

 

It is not that they are impolite drivers, quite the opposite in fact, as we observed them come screeching to a stop and wave pedestrians across their path. Nor are the streets equipped with street lights though we would imagine this may cause traffic jams in the larger towns as there is a good deal of traffic. Yet traffic moves along swiftly by the simple yield right-of-way law.

Street In Angra Do Heroismo On The Island Of Terceira In The Azores A6yca2

 

The horn-honking became quite annoying to us in the end, and we found it somewhat paradoxical when people living in these towns shouted to us that they loved the peace and quiet of their island. Restaurants and shops too are noisy. There was always a TV blaring or extremely loud music, with no indication of reducing the volume when a customer came in. Perhaps they get tired of the peace and quiet.

 

Dr. Sound, explains it all… humorously.

 

There could be a much louder sound though, that would put our whining about horn-honking to shame. All of the islands are volcanic in origin. Many of the islands of the Azores have not experienced eruptions or earthquakes since the 16th century, but in 1980 an earthquake destroyed 80% of the island of Terceira, and in 1957 the Capelhinos year-long volcanic eruption buried a village and the main level of a lighthouse on the island of Faial. A new coastline was formed and one can see the tower of the lighthouse sticking up out of the sand in Faial.  The people have rebuilt most of their homes, often with government assistance.

 

Most of the lakes on the islands are at the bottom of volcanic craters. A few craters are dry, one of which is on Faial with dimensions of 400 metres deep, 2 kilometres across, 7 kilometres in circumference, and 800 metres in altitude. This is a young crater of only 1000 years of age and is responsible for the formation of about two-thirds of the island of Faial. A pathway around the circumference affords an  impressive view of the crater itself as well as a vista of the entire island and seaside.

Faial Crater

 

One may also walk down to the bottom of the crater, and I was told that once you are down there and you shout you will produce some 15 echoes of your voice.

Faial Crater 3

 

In 1957-58, a few days after the main eruption, an earthquake of volcanic origin, shook the island of Faial. At this time the crater was full of water… 

 

But after the earthquake, the water disappeared as if in an eclipse. It is said that the crater is the Mother crater and was sending a gesture of solidarity to the baby craters on the island that belong to the same volcanic system.

Faial Crater 2

 

Volcanic earthquakes differ from tectonic earthquakes in that they do not represent any danger at all. They measure very low on the Richter scale, are slow and gradual in intensity allowing the people ample time to study the situation, assess what part of the island the earthquake is not being felt, and the people then move from one place to another to protect themselves. We were advised that there have never been victims in the volcanic earthquakes that have occurred on the islands.

 

Tectonic earthquakes, which are related to faults in the strata, are very rare on the islands.

 

Also expect to see the remains of numerous volcanic eruptions where only a church tower or a lighthouse tower is all that is left  of a submerged village. These may be as recent as 1980, or as old as the 17th century. 

One of our guides was only thirteen years old during the January 1st, 1980 earthquake.

“I was playing a game with my little sister. My mother was at the window and I remember a funny-strange feeling like the house was moving to the ground and back up again.”

 

 

Volcanic eruptions and religious beliefs are inter-related in the Azores. On Pico, for example, there are four “mysteries”(misterios), each of which began as a way to explain the eruptions of the 16th and 17th centuries, a phenomena which was highly inexplicable and frightening at that time. These “Misterios” were actually places formed by volcanic activity, as they saw “rivers of fire” coming out of the earth for no apparent reason, and destroying their belongings. Today the mysteries still have a mystical and spiritual influence that is respected by the people, young and old.

 

Every town has at least 6 or 7 Roman Catholic churches, every village at least one. All are elaborate baroque structures with intricate carving and decadent gold-embossed detail. The tourist guides list all the churches as major  attractions and while I found one or two churches fascinating to see, more than that was simply repetitious.

 

In addition to churches, scattered throughout every community are Imperios, tiny chapels from which food was formerly handed out to the poor. They too are often quite elaborately painted and decorated.  The Feast of the Holy Spirit is the most important of the religious festivals.

 

 

Religious festivals are celebrated throughout the year, especially during the summer months, and streets covered with flower petals and long processions through the streets are not uncommon sights on any given day on any island during the summer. Sweets and other delicacies are served on these occasions. The Feast of the Holy Spirit (Espírito Santo) is the most important of the religious festivals with the blessing of the bread a significant component.

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Holy Spirit (Espírito Santo) festivities at Silveira. Pico, Azores islands, Portugal

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We loved the Azores, except for this one thing – their love affair with HORNS. 

 

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The Azores

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