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Updated: 05-Jun-2008

Terceira Island

Terceira was the third island discovered by the Portuguese: hence its name, which means "The Third". Lush, green, peaceful, and colorful, it has over 250 square miles of land surface. From almost anywhere on the island you can see the omnipresent ocean. There is much to see on this island, from magnificent parks to volcanic ocean pools and from towns dating back more than 500 years to beautiful beaches. Its chief city, Angra do Heróismo, has a population of 30,000 and is graced by beautiful homes hundreds of years old, great churches, castles, and coastal forts. Surrounded by mountains and covered with subtropical vegetation of all kinds, the city offers many hours of interesting experiences. Angra contains the major cultural, educational, and commer- cial institutions on the island and is center for entertainment and sports. A first-class, 18-hole golf course is 15 minutes drive away. Scuba diving, hunting, fishing, boating, camping, and hiking make the island a vacation wonderland. There are two castles worth visiting: São João Baptista and São Sebastião. One of the island's better hotels is located in Angra, as is its most beautiful municipal park. Once you have arrived at Lajes and settled down, its a good idea to take a drive about Terceira. Be sure to visit the beautiful towns of Biscoitos, Quatro Ribeiras, Altares, Terra Chã, Angra, Alguave, and Doze Ribeiras. If you like wine, stop at the Wine Museum in Biscoitos for verdelho--its great! The park of Serreta is surely one of the most beautiful you will ever visit. Located on the extreme western side of Terceira, its a great place to go hiking or picnicking or just to gaze at the ocean through a tropical rain forest. The island is famous for its food, especially a beef stew made in a wine sauce called alcatra a moda da Terceira. Also worth trying are its fish stews, acordas, and lobster salads. A special dessert called papos de anjo is a must.


The Azores are located in the mid-Atlantic some 2,300 miles east of New York and 900 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal. consisting of nine islands, they are, in fact, the tops of a series of volcanoes. Fertile, and lush green throughout the year, the islands were discovered and populated by the Portuguese in the mid-15th century. When first discovered, the only signs of life on the islands were sea birds and the land hawks (os acores) for which the archipelago was named. The islands are the oldest Portuguese possessions of what was once one of the largest colonial empires in European history. This empire included millions of square miles and hundreds of thousands of subject peoples. It stretched around the world form Africa, Indonesia, and India to Labrador and Brazil and was ruled by one of the smallest and most under populated nations of Europe. Even today, Portuguese cultural traditions continue as the core element of many of these diverse areas, especially of the Azores. The people who settled in the islands came from the agricultural sections of Portugal--the northern area (Minho) and the extreme south and south- western sections (Alentejo and Algarve). The new settlers were farmers from the day they arrived. Their chief interest was agriculture. To this day, the Azoreans are an agricultural society supplying Portugal's needs, as well as its own. Each year, the Azores ship thousands of tons of dairy products, beef, wheat, and corn to Portugal in exchange for the industrial output of Portuguese industry. Besides agriculture, the Azoreans have also developed extensive fishing fleets which search the North Atlantic for its undersea wealth. Each year much of this fleet leaves the islands in search of the codfish along the shores of Labrador and Greenland. As with its agricultural output, much of this ocean wealth goes to Portuguese markets.


The climate of the islands is temperate, protected from extremes of heat and cold by the Gulf Stream. Summers are generally pleasant, with sunny days, cool evenings, and occasional rainy periods. The warm period extends from April through October, when temperatures range from 55 to 75 degrees. Winter on the islands can be unpleasant, with high winds, heavy rains, and overcast skies. From November to March, gale-force winds lash the islands for days on end, interrupting inter-island sea traffic. Winter temperatures remain relatively mild (45-70 degrees), but the ever-present combination of extremely high humidity and constant wind makes the climate seem colder than it actually is. Warm clothes such as sweaters and raincoats are essential in this ocean climate. Contrary to popular belief, the Azores are not a group to tropical islands.


The Azores were discovered in the mid-15th century by Portuguese explorers sent out by Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal to explore the then unknown seas of the North Atlantic. Sometime between 1427 and 1432, Goncalvo Velho Cabral landed at the Azores and claimed them for Portugal. Settlement of the islands began after 1450, when Portuguese were encouraged to move to the islands and establish agricultural communities. Because of their location, the Azores soon became a center for further exploration of the North Atlantic, with Portuguese searching the shores of what are now Labrador, Greenland, and New England. Columbus used the islands as a stopping-off point to replenish food and water supplies on his voyages to Pizarro and Hernan Cortes. British, French, Dutch, and Swedish explorers also joined the visiting fleets at Azorean ports in the 16th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the whaling industry based much of its operations at Azorean ports and the first American sailors joined the fishing fleets of Europe in searching out the whale. During this period, many Azoreans joined the crews of American ships and later emigrated to the coastal ports of New England to establish Azorean communities. many Azoreans traveled to the Pacific on whalers and established large communities in Hawaii and California. During World War I, the Azores served the British as a base of operations in the undersea war against the German U-boat threat. The Azores again grew in strategic value to Britain in world War II, when Germany attempted to dominate North Atlantic shipping routes with its submarine fleet. The United States established its bases in the Azores in 1943, when the Azores served both cargo and combat aircraft being ferried to North Africa and Europe. By 1945, major airfields were established at Santa Maria and Terceira Islands. After the war, the Azores served the new trans-Atlantic commercial airlines of America, Portugal, Britain, and France as an essential stopover. Lajes Field is now the center of military aviation in the Azores and commercial traffic.


Wherever you may go on the islands of the Azorean archipelago, you see the small farm communities and villages upon which the Azorean economy is based. Agriculture is not only a significant portion of the occupations of most Azoreans--it is a total way of life. Almost all population centers are really nothing more than expanded public agriculture markets. Until very recently, the only occupation of the son of a farmer was farming. In the Azores, if you were not a farmer you would probably be a fisherman. Large fleets were located at Sao Miguel and Terceira. These fleets, largely un-mechanized, fished the major North Atlantic fishing grounds in competition with the more advanced fishing fleets of America, Japan, Canada, Norway, Russia, Germany, France, and England. The Azoreans are still facing increasingly difficult times as major North Atlantic fishing grounds are slowly being exhausted by these much larger, mechanized fleets. The primary food staple of most Azoreans and Portuguese is the codfish, which is rapidly disappearing. Agricultural productions also limited. Farms tend to be very small. When a father dies, he passes his farm on to his sons, who then divide the land and, in turn, will pass the remaining land on to their sons. After centuries, most plots of land cannot be efficiently farmed: because they are very small, large machinery cannot be used even if available. Stone walls surround each plot of land and serve as dividers. Since the land is of volcanic origin, much of the soil is extremely rocky and unsuitable for effective agricultural production. Corn is a basic staple, along with some wheat, rye, oats, beans, potatoes, and tea. Almost every house has a nearby vegetable garden. The military base at Lajes employs about 1000 Azorean workers and contributes significantly to the economy of Terceira Island. Basic wage limits are set by agreements between the base commander and the Portuguese government. Outside the base, the effect of Americans is easily noted. Since many Americans rent their housing in the local towns and hire maids and gardeners, their infusion of money into the local economy has become significant. Tourism is now beginning to significantly contribute to the economy. Substantial funds come from Americans of Azorean ancestry who visit the Azores, especially in the spring and early summer, contributing thousands of dollars to the local economy. Many Azoreans living overseas remit funds to family members remaining on the islands. Slowly, international tourism is finding the Azores a pleasant place to stop on the way between Europe and America. However, because most airlines no longer have to stop on the trans-Atlantic route, there has been a decline in the number of tourists visiting the islands. Additional efforts to spread the word about the beauty and charm of the Azores still need to be made before larger numbers of tourists will be attracted to the islands. More tourist facilities, hotels, restaurants, and roads must be built before tourism has a significant impact on the Azorean economy.


The Azoreans are probably some of the most pure-blooded Portuguese there are, for the original Azoreans were rural Portuguese who arrived and inhabited unoccupied islands in the mid-1400s. By 1500, the culture, language, and traditions of Portugal's agricultural communities were firmly established in the Azores. Most of the small agricultural communities on the islands were affected by the foreign visitors from trans- Atlantic crossings. There were some Flemish settlers who arrived in the 1500s; they were the only significant group not of Portuguese descent. Thus, the Azores developed one of the most ethnically and culturally homogeneous societies in the western world. This grouping of Portuguese from Minho and the Alentejo created an extremely conservative, religious, hard-working, tough people accustomed to long hours of toil in the fields, with little in the way of luxury. The only educational system was directed by the church, and the village leadership tends to devolve upon the local priest. No public institutions of higher learning were available, and until recently, through radio and television, few modern ideas penetrated the censorship imposed by the Portuguese government. Portugal maintained a tight control over all aspects of life in the islands. Foreign trade and currency were required to pass through Lisbon. Foreign residents were required to have visas issued in Lisbon. A Portuguese governor general was the source of all legal political power and was directly appointed by the central government. If an Azorean wished to obtain higher education, he was required to obtain it in Portugal--for the islands had no institutions of higher learning. Export of all food production was tightly controlled; imported industrial goods had to pass through the Lisbon docks. The Portuguese language that was spoken in rural communities in Portugal in the 1400s became the language of the islands. As each island developed its own communities, unique speech patterns evolved which were different from those of the other islands to the extent that today, an Azorean can easily tell which island another Azorean comes from. Yet, even on large islands of Sao Miguel and Terceira there are language differences between, for example, the farming and the fishing communities. The standard language comes from Lisbon itself. The Azores are rich in local tradition and many expressions and idioms have become unique in the Portuguese- speaking world. Because of the conservative infrastructures development that has taken place over the centuries, the class structure is based upon one's birth, education, and wealth. The different classes mingle freely with one another, frequently living side by side in the same neighbor- hoods. The Azorean has developed great respect for the dignity of the individual regardless of social standing. However, more important than any other factor today, the possibility of acquiring a higher education or technical skill has become the primary means by which an individual can increase his social and economic position. With increased education or technical skills, the Azorean can leave the islands and find new opportunities in Portugal, Canada, the United States, or Brazil. It is this factor that has helped the individual Azorean and hurt the Azores, for its most educated and talented people have tended to leave the islands to find their futures elsewhere. The Azorean tends to be a very friendly and polite individual. Most Azoreans genuinely like Americans and will treat them with warmth and kindness. An invitation to an Azorean home is an honor and special privilege. Azoreans tend to dislike loud, boisterous, undignified behavior and strongly dislike behavior brought on by alcoholic excess. More than 90% of Azoreans are Roman Catholic. Religious festivities are a major source of entertainment, with the church having a dominant place in all social and cultural life of the islanders. Most major religious holidays are observed with village festivals and colorful processions along the roads that link the major towns and villages. The most colorful festivals occur in spring, with the highlight festivals in May and June. Crime, violence, and serious social misconduct are practically unknown in the islands. Since most of the people are employed in either agriculture, fishing or in commercial industries, few have the time, or energy to venture forth in the evenings to enjoy nightlife. The local pub, restaurant or nightclubs and discos are the source of entertainment in the evening hours.


Bullfighting (touradas) is unique in the Portuguese world--for the bull is not killed. The bull is taunted, harassed, wrestled, and then freed. On the island of Terceira, the bullfight (touradas à corda) is even more unique. In the town festivals, the bull is let loose in the streets and chased through the center of town with only a rope on its neck. Youths attempt to taunt the bull by pulling on the rope. (Americans and Dependents are not allowed to participate in these events by order of the Base Commander). As in Portugal, soccer occupies the center of attention among all sports. Visiting teams from different islands compete for titles and the right to represent the Azores against the best Portuguese mainland teams. Village pride and inter-island rivalry reach their peak in the summer, when the best teams represent Portugal in competition against some of Europe's best players. Swimming is a sport that requires some caution, because the waters off the Azores are teaming with the sharks that inhabit the mid-Atlantic Gulf Stream waters. Many sharks will venture close to the beaches, presenting a serious hazard to swimming enthusiasts. Boating is a popular activity, and it is possible to rent a boat for an excursion or an inter-island trip. FOOD The local culinary specialties are directly related to island food production. Fresh vegetables are available in season with limited availability in wintertime. Fresh fish is available at local fish markets year-round. However, shellfish, and lobster in particular, tend to be expensive. Beef, pork, liver, and kidney are available. Portuguese hams are delicious but, like shellfish, tend be to very expensive. Turkey and chicken are readily available but also expensive. Rabbit, quail, and dove are hunted and are local favorites. A delicious sausage is linguiça. A mainstay in the Azorean diet, it is common and popular, as is carne of caçoila. Carne de caçoila (called "alcatra" on Terceira Island) is a special beef dish similar to a beef stew but made in a delicious wine sauce and best had either in an Azorean home or at restaurants specializing in it. Two primary sources of carbohydrates are massa sovada, a sweet bread, and the inhame, a yam that can be found in a few Azorean gardens. On the islands of Pico and Faial, a thick cornmeal pancake is commonly eaten instead of bread. On the other islands, wheat bread is eaten with soups and with the fish stews. Eating in the Azores can be an exciting and delicious experience.


The roads on the islands are generally narrow, hilly and winding. You will find many horse-and bull-drawn wagons mixing with small trucks and buses, competing for space. The narrowness and steepness of the roads tends to encourage the use of small cars, most of which are German, Japanese, and Italian imports. Large American cars have serious problems going through the streets in the island's villages and interior roads. There are only three international airports in the Azores: São Miguel, Terceira, and Santa Maria are serviced by Portuguese Airways (TAP) and Azorean Airways (SATA). Inter-island boats can be hired for travel between the islands, which can be an enjoyable experience.


There is little manufacturing in the islands. Most interesting purchasable products, like the home-woven shawls and other cloth products, are from cottage industries. Some leather goods are locally produced and worth buying. Local wines are of good quality and the local brandy, aguardente, is excellent. Locally produced teas are also of good quality. Also you could buy wicker furniture and taste delicious cheese.


Should you select to rent a house while in the Azores, be prepared for a challenge. Most houses you will find will not be furnished. They will be completely stripped--even of light fixtures. Curtains, heating system, wall-to-wall carpeting, and shower curtains are not included. In fact, just walls, floors, and ceilings constitute the rental. Remember, you are in the middle of the Atlantic and it is cold and damp most of the year. Living in a stone house may increase your discomfort; therefore space heaters and dehumidifiers are essential, particularly in the winter, for the prevention of mildew and rot due to dampness, as well as for your own comfort. Even with heaters you will need to dress warmly inside the house. Plumbing is adequate. Gas or electric water heaters normally do not come with the house. Electricity is subject to interruption and fluctuation. Bottled gas is less expensive and more dependable. Electric current is 220-volt, 50-cycle AC. Most of your American appliances will probably need converters. As local voltage varies considerably, a voltage regulator for the protection of sensitive appliances such as radios and television should be considered.


Temperature zone clothing is suitable most of the year. Lightweight garments can be worn only a short time in summer. Bring a trench coat or overcoat/raincoat for the rainy, cold winters. It is advisable to bring lots of sweaters, flannels, and wool's for the winter. Lightweight winter clothing, appropriate in centrally heated buildings in the U.S., is not sufficient inside an Azorean home. Dress among Azoreans is modern to conservative.


There are a few radio stations and one TV broadcasting station in the Azores, (not including AFRTS) which broadcast in Portuguese. About 50% of the programming on Portuguese TV is in Portuguese, the rest in English, German, or French with Portuguese subtitles. The American station (AFRTS) at Lajes Air Force Base delay-broadcasts, U.S. network shows as well as local productions.