Imagine you’re sitting on a stone wall at the edge of a cliff letting your feet dangle below. Accompanying you are your closest friends and loved ones sharing the spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean. The waves roll onto the obsidian shoreline in the distance and you’re all there with a cup of freshly brewed coffee to warm your hands. It’s sunrise. And right behind the mountainous landscape the sun rises into the opulent sky.
When you come to the Azores for the first time it isn’t difficult to see why these nine islands have risen to the top in tourism destinations. People all over the world come here to experience the sensation of adventure- outdoor, rural tourism activities surrounded by vast green landscapes and the constant meditative sound of the ocean. From June to the last few weeks of September the small aldeias of the Azores are swarmed with curious travelers.
This past summer I spent the majority of my time working at a local restaurant serving tables. Besides the locals, the majority of customers were from European countries (mostly France, Germany, and Spain) on vacation visiting as many islands as they could within a week’s or two time.
I wonder how many tourists passed by, came and went, as I stood in the entry way of the restaurant. Hundreds, thousands?
I wonder more so what all those people made of this place. Was it everything they expected after doing their proper research, scrolling through instagram, watching YouTube videos, reading blog articles? What did they feel on the ride from the airport to their hotel? Did they feel what I felt the first time?
Towards the end of August, after Semana Dos Baleeiros ended there was a noticeable difference in the number of tourists. Everyone seemed to pack up and leave as soon as the festivals were over. The town grew quiet through the month of September and on my daily walks back home from work I didn’t see any intrigued tourists taking photographs of the ivory-covered, abandoned building or the palm trees infront of Lajes’s church.
Instead I noticed the orange hues in the trees and how the wind carried all the fallen, dried leaves into the road’s corners.
The tables outside the popular bakery “Sabores e Aromas” remained vacant of pastry- munching, cappuccino sipping Europeans.
The only people who roamed the streets were the locals on their daily rounds.
Two years ago was my first time visiting the Azores during the summer. I spent the months of July and August experiencing the Azores as a tourist. I went swimming most days, I went sight-seeing, I ate at the best restaurants, took the ferry to other islands and finally climbed and summited Mount Pico.
I felt like an explorer charting new territory, discovering the unknown.
For my last two weeks I backpacked around São Miguel Island and visited all the top attractions: Ponta Delgada, Sete Cidades, Vista do Rei, Furnas, Lagoa do Fogo, Vila Franca do Campo ect. That trip gave me a strong sense of what Azores tourism is all about and I understand clearly why every year the visitation numbers steadily increase.
When I arrived on Pico Island this past June I experienced the Azores more as a resident than a tourist. I served tourists and locals alike. I gave people recommendations and directions. There were times where I wanted to be in their position, navigating around the island for the first time astonished with the surrounding countryside.
I envied their wanderlust. As beautiful as this place is, I became adjusted to it.
Now that it’s late October and winter is approaching the dust has settled, so to speak. Theres less people, less movement, less happening and this grants a certain flow to time that feels slower, steadier. The days get darker earlier and the sun doesn’t shine as bright. The ocean water is colder and less appealing without the aqua-blue surface dazzling under the summer light.
Yet with with that, I’m discovering my appreciation for this island again. The empty streets call attention to space and time. I look around at the old, stone buildings lined along the sloping roads, I hear the cagarros in flight, I smell fresh bread wafting through the air, I feel present and hungry, I taste the salt of the Atlantic Ocean on my lips. Is this what it means to be Azorean?
Living in the Azores is much different than visiting and I guess you could say that about any place, however here, in the middle of the Atlantic, theres a certain novelty I can’t quite put into words. At any moment during the day whether I’m working, driving, having a conversation I can stop what I’m doing and tune into the ocean. There it is if you pay attention, that meditative sound which pervades everything here.
Although autumn and winter aren’t necessarily the prime time to visit the Azores, I think they’re actually the best representation. Sure the festivals are over, tourism is at it’s lowest and it’s too cold to swim everyday, but this allows one to wander at their own accord and to observe the local life-style and culture without it being inflated by tourism companies.