Growing up an islander in Flores Island, Azores

Growing up an islander in Flores Island, Azores

Every time I say “I’m from the Azores,” one of these two reactions is expected: “oh wow, that is awesome, you’re so lucky!” or “oh now I get why you left, it must be awful to live in an island.” 

Not to mention the occasional jokes or unbelievable questions: 

“When the tide is low, you must be able to cross from one island to the other, hey?” 

“Are there any cars?” 

“Are there any schools,” 

“How come you don’t have the same accent as the others?” (and by the others, they mean people who live on S. Miguel island). 

Over time, I’ve learned to take these harmless hits with a smile and patiently explain what it’s like to be from the Island of Flores in the Azores.

Last week I took you to Corvo in a glimpse. Flores will probably not take more than a glimpse too. 

It’s not because there isn’t much to say. I assure you there is, about both of them. 

But the best way to know these islands is to visit them and experience them.

Island of Flores, the Azores, where Europe begins.

Legend (or History) has it that the island was named Flores because it was covered in flowers when Diogo de Teive discovered it in 1452.

This 143 square-kilometer piece of land is the most western point of Europe, marked by a tiny islet off the coast west of Fajã Grande called Ilhéu do Monchique. That little tip of rock is where Europe begins.

Ribeira Grande waterfalls | Island of Flores, the Azores, where Europe begins.
Ribeira Grande waterfalls

When you grow up on an island and have the urge to see the world, home always seems like the same old same old, and feels small. I didn’t understand what the fuss was about when foreigners fell in love with my homeland.

Then life goes by, time is shorter, and the trips back home become more scattered.

Lately, I find myself missing the things I never did while living there, like the emerald green and bluish-gray lagoons.

When I meet people who’ve been to the island and listen to their experience, I can’t help to think, “how on Earth did they find this place.”

I never ask.

I want to share it with the world, of course, but I don’t want to give all the goods away in one shot. Yes, it is a territorial thing.

Usually, I will make some absent-minded comments about the seven lagoons’ silent beauty and how sad it is that the weather doesn’t always allow you to see their full potential.

The population of almost 4,000 people now always shifted a lot.

The French set a military base on the island in the 1960s. I remember attending kindergarten with a few French kids; starting first grade, they would go to school at the base.

They always mingled with the islanders: on the grocery stores, in the cafes, celebrating Carnaval. In reality, their separate block of houses was a mere formality.

I remember being little and knowing that the day after my birthday always meant fireworks at the French quarter. When I got older, I realized the fireworks were for the Bastille Day on July 14th (I secretly thought they were throwing me an after-party).

By the early 1990s, they left and shut down the base. Some say the island’s economic balance has been shaken ever since.

But they left us the first airport, a hospital, roads, electricity, and a dam. More than the Portuguese government had done for the island.

Island of Flores, the Azores, where Europe begins.

Nature is all around you. It’s the Azores trademark, after all. I find myself trying to remember how Spring and Winter feel like in Flores. And I can’t.

I can’t remember the last time I was there when it wasn’t Summer. It doesn’t matter in which season you choose to visit. The weather on an island in the North Atlantic will always be unpredictable.

But I believe that’s part of the experience. Don’t expect a tropical resort where everything is thoroughly planned to satisfy you.

Of course, people will be more than glad to show you around or point you in the right direction when you seem lost. But here, as in Corvo, you have to strip to your rawest self.

It’s a destination that takes some patience (and love) to get to, so I believe who gets there comes for the passion of being an islander.

Island of Flores, the Azores, where Europe begins.
Ponta da Fajã

The hills and valleys call for a hike.

The waterfall of Poça do Bacalhau calls for a quick dip.

The warm sea of Fajã Grande calls for a swim.

The sunset in Fajãzinha calls for a local cuisine dinner at the Restaurant Por Do Sol (“sunset” in Portuguese).

You can’t say this island doesn’t do its best to call for your attention. Every time I see photographs of Ireland, I can’t help to think how alike they look.

On the way to Poça do Bacalhau | Island of Flores, the Azores, where Europe begins.
On the way to Poça do Bacalhau

The island’s population extends beyond its 16.71 Km length and 12.26 Km width. Most of our families live in the United States, and I’ve always felt closer to the American culture than the European.

Growing up with brands like Crayola, and Fisher-Price and M&M’s, Barbie dolls, and Cabbage Patch Kids was ordinary. Culturally, Massachusetts is a lot closer to us than Lisbon.

People say my English accent is a mix of regional variants with a pinch of Canadian. That I’ve never been able to tweak (and I’m not sure what to work on in the first place).

Rocha dos Bordoes | Island of Flores, the Azores, where Europe begins.
Rocha dos Bordoes

An abandoned village called Aldeia da Cuada was a ghost town since the 1960s. A couple of locals bought the houses and turned them into a rural tourism village.

Apart from the necessary interior renovations, they kept the facades and essence of these stone houses. Each house has the name of the previous owner.
There is careful attention to local culture details: in the wool quilts, in the old iron beds.

Aldeia da Cuada | Island of Flores, the Azores, where Europe begins.
Aldeia da Cuada

Each of the seven lagoons is an extinct volcano, and it’s their pristine state that makes them so appealing. A kind of quietness and beauty that you can only appreciate from afar.

Life is peaceful, but this kind of isolation comes with a price. 

A stronger storm means a cut off on supplies (groceries, mail, communications).

A hospital that isn’t decently equipped means an evacuation for something as common as appendicitis.

Demand higher than the supply makes essential goods cost more than they should.

I can’t tell you all the secrets when you have a whole island to explore. Still, I can assure you it’s worth the flight (and all the layovers in between). It’s worth the jet lag. It’s worth the tight grip of your hand on the plane seat armrest (chill, these pilots have been landing here for years, they can do this!).

All the pictures on this post were kindly made available by Pedro Hamdan Saramago. Pedro is a talented illustrator (and part-time musician). You can check his work on his Facebook page here.

Read other personal posts about the Azores:

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8 thoughts on “Growing up an islander in Flores Island, Azores

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Sandra,
      My GG Grandfather was born in Flores, the Azores. May have been from Porta Delgada because I have several DNA links to this area. He called himself Joseph/Jose Dix (Dias?) but was also known as Joe Flores and Portuguese Joe. He jumped ship in the South Pacific onto Chatham Islands off the coast of New Zealand. The locals hid him from the Captain of the Whaling ship. He eventually married a local woman, Katarina and they had many children with their descendants now scattered in many parts of the world: Wales, USA, Australia, Vanuatu, and most of us live in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands. Joseph and Katarina would never have envisioned how large their family tree would grow. Kind Regards.

      • Author gravatar

        Hey Sherryn! What a lovely story 🙂 Thanks to DNA websites and the internet everyone’s able to trace back their Azorean roots and I think it’s amazing. Have you been to Flores yet or will you in the future? Let me know if you need help with something.

    • Author gravatar

      Happy Birthday!

    • Author gravatar

      Fine post! I adore your images. They are really awesome. Keep up the awesome work!

    • Author gravatar

      I appreaciated your article very much! I gotta say i disagree with all the people who made of you, ive been looking at photos of the azore islands for days now, i am hipnotized by them. The idea of growing up in your own little paradise sounds amazing to me. Im from mexico and im planning a trip there next year. I was actually thinking about gojng to irland but the moment i saw these islands i decided i had to go there! Cant decide which islands to visit since theyre all so beautiful, i think for sure i will be going to Flores . The traveling part will be very tricky and im sure there are alot of other beautiful things to see that i wont find in any magazine. I would just like to ask you, whats the cost more less of spending two weeks there ? Cant seem to find a realistic price
      Thank you so much for your article

    • Author gravatar

      This is a beautiful post with amazing pictures. I love the way that you describe the culture and the real qualities of the natural tourist attractions. The rural tourism village seems so interesting and welcoming and I hope to make it there one day. I’ve never been to Flores but this has convinced me to visit. Thanks for the post! – Emme @ Green Global Travel

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