Our readers share tales of their ramblings around the world.
Who: Zeke Lee (author) and his wife, Rhonda Lee, of Carolina Beach, N.C.
Where, when, why: My father was stationed at Lajes Air Force base on the Azores island of Terceira (Portuguese for “third”) in the early 1960s. I was 7 years old back then, and recently decided to return with my wife to recapture some of my vivid memories of a fishing village, street bullfights and dark, foreboding forests.
The Azores are an archipelago of nine volcanic islands located about 900 miles west of Portugal. Terceira sits within the Gulf Stream and has a subtropical climate. We rented a car for our five-day stay and did not need GPS; a map in the lap worked fine. We booked a condominium online in Angra da Herosimo, the largest city on Terceira. Angra is a UNESCO World Heritage site with wonderfully restored palaces, churches and forts. It has a vibrant, walkable downtown with mosaic streets and sidewalks, gardens, ample dining and shopping, and live outdoor music at night.
Highlights and high points: A highlight was visiting Praia da Vitoria, Terceira’s second-largest settlement, where I lived as a child. I found the house where my family lived, which was much smaller than I remembered, and toured the neighborhood. We walked down to Praia’s beachfront via the Rua de Jesus. The fishermen unloading their daily catch were gone and replaced by beachgoers sunning themselves along a strand of restaurants and ice cream stands. We then toured Praia by car looking for imperios, chapels that honor the Holy Spirit. These tiny and colorfully painted sanctuaries are found throughout Terceira. Finding and photographing them topped our daily to-do lists.
We left Praia and drove up the coast looking for that afternoon’s bullfight. The season runs from May through October with a main attraction being daily street bullfights hosted through a rotation of sponsoring villages. They are known as tourada a corda — bullfight by rope. Hundreds of spectators sit on walls or in balconies, doorways and windows to watch young men polish their skills at taunting and outrunning bulls. A team of pastores — herdsmen — loosely control the bull using a rope; however, they are not always 100 percent successful. Locals assured us that the aim is not to harm the bulls during or after the festivities. Roaming vendors sell doughnuts and potato chips while beer and food trucks contribute to the happy-hour atmosphere. It was definitely a fun time!
Cultural connection or disconnect: On our way to some volcanic tourist sites, we drove past several farms with small bullfighting arenas. One had a beer-and-food truck parked on the road, so we stopped to investigate. Surprisingly, we recognized one of the vendors from the previous night who served us the local delicacy bico de cracas — beaked barnacles. He and his wife were hosting a village lunch where bulls for that night’s bullfight were warmed up by chasing soccer balls tossed by village adolescents. Our new friend invited us to share a lunch buffet of fried chicken, potato salad and sweets. Several folks explained to us that each village takes pride in the quality of its bullfights and that there is a competition of sorts between villages to put on a good show. We relished the opportunity to meet with local Azoreans, all while eating great, free food! What a memory.
How unexpected: One afternoon, we set out for the village of Altares on the northwest coast to have dinner at a highly recommended restaurant, Caneta, which is known for its meat dishes. Amazingly, as we approached the town, the traffic was stopped. We got out of the car and looked ahead only to see the telltale signs of our predicament: beer-and-food trucks. Altares was in bullfight mode and the street was closed, as was the restaurant. Oh well! We stayed for the bullfight/happy-hour combo and returned to Caneta the next day for a hearty lunch of pot roast and steak. It was well worth the wait.
Fondest memento or memory: One thing I wanted to accomplish more than anything else was to seek out the fairytale-like forests that so dominated my many memories of the Azores. To my amazement, they weren’t hard to find. Mainly in the interior of the island, these forested reserves contain tall cedars forming an almost impenetrable canopy, with little to no underbrush except for a carpet of mosses and lichen that are seemly everywhere. We visited several of these parks throughout our stay, further crystallizing my memories of these enchanted forests.
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