We met the priest of the church just when we wanted to leave and he offered to explain his church to us. Unfortunately his English wasn’t as advanced as his enthusiasm was (and neither was our Portuguese). But we really enjoyed the tour where he told us about the saints exposed in the church, the Flemish style paintings in the classic Portuguese altar, the baptismal font out of “singing” stone and the 400 year old seats and cabinets of “iron wood” from the Brazilian colonies. He even tried to explain something about the Jews, the Portugueses, the Spanish and the British how they lived together at the time and how it should be possible today, we tried to understand and it appeared to be really interesting, but unfortunately we weren’t able to get it.
(I found the solution on the next house)
Angra by night and some restaurant recommendations
Just a short hike along dirt roads, because it rained and it was our last day on Pico. But the colors! And the waves! I could stare at the sea forever during this kind of weather.
Our hotel had its own old whale watching tower. I sat there for a while, starred at the sea and tried to imagine how the vigias (the whale watchers) did do their work with only some normal low-tech binoculars. But I came to only this insight: The ocean is fucking big!
Pico, the island, has the same name as its mountain. With 2531m, Pico Mountain is the highest mountain in Portugal and one of the biggest European volcanoes. The last eruption has been in 1720. One of the former eruptions created another tiny mountain inside of the caldera (I’m quite sure that geologists would chose different words for this outcome :-), which gives Pico its characteristic appearance. It looks like the mountain would wear a too small party hat. Despite this funny exterior, Pico has a diginfied and wise aura.
Trigger warning: this article may contain disturbing pictures.
When reading Melville’s Moby Dick or when looking at the faces of the old Azorean whalers you can see those archaic, old stories made from blood and fight. Man against beast – this tales can be told one million times without losing its fascination.
The hunt for whales, was practiced from the early 19th century until 1984 when it was internationally banned. There are two occasions on which it is still allowed: indigenious hunt (subsistence hunting from traditional societies) and scientific hunt (for scientific research).
Today Denmark, Canada, Russia, St. Vincent and the Grenades practice indigenious hunt. Japan, Island and South Korea practice scientific hunt. Japan & Norway have rejected the moratorium and continue hunting. Of course there is a lot of bribery and intrigues going on on this matter. (But Norway? WTF? Those peaceful nature lovers? I guess I have to revise my image of the Norwegians.)
Today more than 2000 whales are killed every year. Around 1000 by Japanese ships for “scientific reasons”, 600 from Norwegian and Icelandic fishers and around 350 from indigenous people in the US and Russia.
*in the first place people thought it is sperm – therfore the name “spermwhale”
*in reality the 1,5 tons of spermaceti in the head of a spermwhale are used as kind of a radar system for the orientation of the whale
There are some occasions on the Islands where it is possible to learn more about the whaling history of the Azores. We have been to three of them.
The most impressing one for me was the museum in Sao Roque. It is more about the processing of the whales and it is placed on the original “crime scene” where you can still see and even smell the atrocity of the handling of the huge whale cadavers. Same in Horta, but much more in its original state in São Roque. Additionally the great architecture of the museum in Lajes should be mentioned.
Remarkable in those pictures is the ambergris – amber – found in the intestines of sperm whales. There are several theories about the production of it. Sure is, that the hard parts of the whales favorite food (beaks of squids for example) is embedded in it. Some researchers think it is produced because of a metabolic disease, another theory say, that it serves as an antibiotic wound closure for the intestinal wall of the whale.
I always asked myself how the “vigias”, the men who sat in the watchtowers, communicated the position of the whales when having spotted one of them. The map on the picture in the middle shows that they used a system, which divided the area in small squares. I’m still not quite sure, how they used this kind of maps and I would be happy for more details.
On this last picture, you can see one of the ramps where the whales have been pulled out of the sea. As I have understood, most of the Azoreans today still have great respect for the bravery of the whalers, but the compassion and fondness towards the animal clearly wins.
Pico: Lajes do Pico and Madalena, day and night