The Acores – whales, cows and European feeling

After three weeks on the North Atlantic Ocean with stormy weather, really big waves that reached the quarter deck and many adventurous watches, we saw green islands on the horizon. One of our lookouts shouted “land in sight” and everyone rushed on deck to see it after so many days with only water as wide as you can see.

On this day we arrived in the harbour of Horta, the biggest city on the island Faial. The first thing I noticed were the various colourful paintings along the pier. This is a ritual for sailing boats in Horta: everyone is allowed to paint a patch on the stone of the pier with any possible design. Many people draw a sailing boat, waves or a whale, the typical animal of the Acores, and also add their names and the year they have been in Horta. The KUSis also paint a picture every year and the last weeks a group of students spent a lot of their time to create ours. On my first walk ashore, I walked around with some of my friends and looked at all of the creative paintings.

Near the harbour, there is the famous café for sailors, Peter Café Sport. The café is furnished with wooden tables and chairs, and on the walls there are many banners, photos and greetings from sailors who have visited it. For over 100 years, this café has been a meeting point for Atlantic Ocean crossers and sailing fans where they can find tasty food, a cosy and special atmosphere and also notes from people searching a person to sail with them. On top of that, you can send letters to the café for people at sea who can collect them when they arrive in Horta.

One point of our program that we were all looking forward to was climbing the Pico, an inactive volcano and also the highest mountain of Portugal. From the pier in Horta you can look at the Pico with clouds hanging around the peak, making it look a bit mysterious. In the morning of our visit, the sun rose next to it and bathed the mountain in a wonderful light. We took the ferry from Horta to Pico, the island next to Faial, and went by bus to the base camp halfway up the mountain. There, everyone got a little GPS in case we would get lost and also hiking sticks. The climb was a bit tiring, but the view from the top was really worth it. At first we were walking in the fog of shallow clouds, but after some time we were above them and had a great view on the white clouds, which were looking like cotton candy. Along our way there were small plants with frosted water around their leaves and even some snow. Later it was possible to form snowballs and some of us used this chance to get into a snowball fight.

The whale watching tour in the bay of Faial was great. We didn’t see big whales like the sperm or blue whale, but lots of dolphins that swam directly next to our boat. It is fascinating how fast and elegant these animals can move in the water.

Another highlight of our stay were our expeditions in smaller groups. In Grenada we had already been on expeditions like this, but just for one day. Here on the Acores, they were four days long. Before leaving, we packed our huge hiking backpacks with warm clothing, tents, sleeping bags and lots of provisions. Every group planned by themself which material would be needed for the four days and what the best route would be. One of the groups stayed on Faial while the other two were on Pico. My group climbed over huge lava stones next to the sea, went swimming in natural stone pools and walked through the beautiful landscape. Everything was vitally green, colourful flowers were growing and there were many cows and horses standing right next to you. The people were very friendly and helped us to find a good place for our tents and told us about their villages and the island.

My first impression, the green and vital landscape, is also my favourite one and the one I’ll remember when thinking back to our stay on the Acores years later. You feel that Europe isn’t too far away anymore and the nature is more like England than the Caribbean. This gives me a feeling of slowly coming home and I am a bit sad to leave the other countries and landscapes behind me. But I am sure that I will come back sometime!