The seas around the Azores are teeming with life. The deep waters are perfect for incredibly large whales including the elusive Blue Whale. Sitting in your little inflatable speedboat your mind starts racing when you see the size of the creatures under the water. Surely a whale in a bad mood could turn the boat over with a flick of his tail? Stories of enormous sea monsters suddenly don’t seem so ridiculous after all.
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fin Whales are the second largest mammal on Earth after the Blue Whale and we were lucky enough to see a small group of them. They can grow up to an incredible 27 metres long and when they’re only about 100 metres away from you that’s not far in whale body lengths! A glimpse of a huge jaw and an eye peered at us. And if the biologist on the boat was right we only saw a third of him. He was gone in a flash, hiding his bulk beneath the waves. They seem like shy creatures… In 1916 RC Andrews called them “the greyhound of the sea…for its’ beautiful slender body is built like a racing yacht and the animal can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship.” (Wikipedia)
From the sedate grace of the Fin Whales, the Orcas were just there to have fun or so it seemed. They leapt and rolled and dived along with the boat. They examined us from all angles; they peered at us from underneath the boat and examine the engine up close. Born entertainers – beautiful to see their characters in the wild. The crew was incredibly excited to see them – apparently they are rare visitors to the area. A lone male appeared in the distance and the females left their play time with us to go and join him.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It was a magical performance in the middle of the ocean.
Our trip was booked through Sunvil Holidays – www.sunvil.co.uk. Whale watching trips can be pre-booked.
There is an air of mystery that surrounds the Azores. When you mention them, people tend to say “Where’s that?” There seems to be an air of mystery around them and once you have been there you kind of hope it stays that way. Often surrounded by mist and rolling waves you can imagine what sailors in ancient times must have thought as they stumbled across them. From the sea they must have looked like unapproachable lumps of black volcanic rock. But for those who persevered, a paradise awaited them.
The Azores archipelago (including the islands of Flores, Corvo, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Santa Maria and São Miguel). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The nine Portuguese islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic ocean between Portugal and America. Discovered during the 15th century, it’s hard to imagine what those first sailors saw. Black cliff faces, the crashing Atlantic seas and untamed vegetation. Even now the vegetation grows so densely that I can’t imagine what it was like if it was untamed – it would have represented a jungle. The first settlers must have had a battle on their hands hacking their way through to create habitable areas to grow crops. On Pico for example (not visited on this trip but have previously seen) the vines grow out of the volcanic rock in very little soil.
Strategically, the islands were a perfect stopping point for sailors and traders travelling between Europe and the New World and the main towns were well defended against pirates. In more recent times the Azores became a lifeline for the Allies in the First World War who used Horta and Ponta Delgada as safe harbours. In World War Two the Azores joined the Allies late in the conflict but built small airstrips on several of the islands for the British and American troops. The Azores proved vital in protecting trans-Atlantic crossings from German U-boats. And although the loss of ships was large the arrival of the airstrips evened out the numbers and then turned those numbers into the Allies’ favour. Post war Santa Maria’s airstrip became a stopping point for transatlantic flights until planes were able to do the journey non stop.
The small and unassuming islands have an incredible history and so few people have heard of them. They don’t lend themselves to being shouted about – they are relaxed, quiet and an explorer’s paradise. The natural beauty is outstanding and you can feel like the first person to discover a crater/lake/rocky inlet. Imagine what those first settlers felt when they saw these things…