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FAIAL AZORES DRIVING TOUR

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Faial, one of nine Azores islands in the mid-Atlantic, is a popular stopover for yachters. Since 1817, sailors have stopped in its safe harbor on journeys between Europe and North America. Among them was Joshua Slocum, who made the first solo voyage around the world, Sir Francis Chichester and yachters from places as diverse as Sweden, Samoa, Bulgaria and Toronto.

Superstitious yachtsmen leave paintings on Horta's seawall to prevent accidents at sea.
Superstitious yachtsmen leave paintings on Horta's seawall to prevent accidents at sea.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

How did we know? Hundreds of colorful paintings and inscriptions line the concrete sea wall and sidewalk in Horta, the capital of Faial. Signed with names and dates, some are faded with age.

Others are freshly painted. They depict puffins, whales, mermaids, logos, multilingual captions and yacht names, like Magic Turtle and Paddle Duck. No one knows how or when the superstition began, but all sailors leave works of art to prevent accidents at sea.

Driving around Faial

You can drive around the 21- by 14- kilometer island in one day. On our driving tour, we felt like we were flipping through pages with colorful images in a child's storybook.

Black-and-white cows grazed in neon-green pastures. Two bright red windmills overlooked Faial and the neighbouring island of Pico. Hedges, which burst with blue hydrangea globes in early summer, lined roads and separate fields. White homes, with red tile roofs, clustered around sapphire harbours.

We noticed swimming pools, sheltered by volcanic grottos along the coast, and black lava fields from a 1672 eruption, named mistérios by people who didn't understand volcanic phenomena. After snaking up the road to Caldeira, we gazed in awe at a two-kilometer-wide, 400-meter-deep crater, now carpeted with heather and cedar.

Viewing ash from Capelinhos Volcano eruption
Viewing ash from Capelinhos Volcano eruption
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The rain-filled lake at the bottom disappeared through cracks, which opened when Capelinhos Volcano erupted, one kilometer off the west coast, in 1957 and 1958. We eyed the chain of dormant volcanoes between Caldeira and Capelinhos, as we drove to the lunar-like field of charcoal-colored ash.

Volcanic eruption

Starting with gas bubbles from a 50-meter-undersea eruption, Capelinhos Volcano spewed out so much ash and cinders that it buried the base of a lighthouse (now an interpretive center) and increased the length of the island by a mountainous 2.4 square kilometers.

Ash covered many homes, leaving 700 people homeless and without farmland. We saw roof tops piercing the fallen ash.

Café Sport

Where did they go? We found out, over dinner at Peter's Café Sport, a casual yachters hangout across from the marina.

"Many moved to Toronto," said Sandra Dart, who lives in Horta. (Although Portuguese is the official language of the Azores, many people speak English.)

Scrimshaw depicts a whaler and harpoon engraved on a sperm whale tooth.
Scrimshaw depicts a whaler and harpoon engraved on a sperm whale tooth.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Currently, the majority of the 500,000 Portuguese immigrants and their descendants living in Canada are from the Azores. Some of them, after gettiing jobs and saving enough money to re-establish their lives, returned to their beloved Azores.

Scrimshaw Museum

Above Café Sport is a museum with one of the world's largest collections of scrimshaw. Detailed engravings on sperm whale teeth and bones depict the lives of Azorean whalers and their families.

The oldest scrimshaw in the collection dates back to 1884. One sperm whale tooth is engraved with the image of Jacques Cousteau, who visited the Azores.

Seafood restaurants

Faial restaurants serve wonderful fresh seafood. One evening, we grilled delicious tuna on a hot stone at our table and enjoyed it with a variety of dips at Canto da Doca Restaurant in Horta. Another day, we dined on whole sea bream, grilled with garlic and olive oil.

The importance of the sea to Faial, Azores, is still evident today.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

VisitAzores

Azores Airlines

More things to see & do in Portugal:

Lisbon - One Day Pre- or Post-Cruise Tour

Sao Miguel, Azores - Tea Plantations, Pineapples, Gardens and Volcano-Cooked Stew

Terceira, Azores - UNESCO World Heritage City, Holy Spirit Houses, Wine and Cheese