Ponta Delgada and whales

Ponta Delgada is far and away the biggest place on the island – a city I suppose but a town anywhere else. It’s pavements are marked with designs picked out in white stones, mostly straight lines like tram tracks but sometimes a street name or a symbol of some sort. One of the squares has a swirling whale and it’s what I have always associated with the Azores. You can see all sorts here; sperm whales and humpbacks and even the blue whale which I have always wanted to find. We took a zodiac whale-watching tour lead by a Swedish marine biologist with a mane of curly hair bleached by the sun. She spoke softly about what we might or might not see; “we don’t know either”. And after changing into wetsuits (in case the dolphins proved friendly) we cruised out of the harbour in brilliant sunshine on a twelve seater boat. The sea was a ripple of melted blue-green glass, the swell lazy and unthreatening with no white-caps anywhere. It wasn’t long before we saw dolphins flipping and leaping almost all around us. Some were jumping high out of the water, flanks flashing in the sunshine and splashing back into the sea. There were turtles too, their shells breaking the water like little brown Islands, only swimming down once our boat was alongside them. The water was so clear we could watch them dive. Jasmine and her partner were in touch with their whale spotter on the shore and all of a sudden the boat turned around and we bounced back the way we came to see two whales spouting and diving ahead of us. A fluke flipped slowly out of the water, curled and sank back into the sea as the whales dived and we bobbed about trying to guess where they would surface in a few minutes time. They appeared a few more times, heading out to sea before we let them go and returned to the harbour. We didn’t swim with the dolphins; Jasmine was apologetic but they have a strict policy of only letting people into the water with them if the dolphins appear happy to remain around the boat. We didn’t mind a bit. It was a lovely morning.
Lunch was in what felt like an old stable of some kind. No horses but no windows either. The restaurant had a good reputation and was hidden in a backstreet. Tom had a rich dark octopus stew while P and I had fish we had never heard of because that was what was fresh that morning. We ordered two glasses of Azorean wine and the waiter poured them and then left the bottle with us… It was a thoroughly good lunch with thick pieces of pineapple cake for pudding and we staggered out blearily into the sunshine.
One of the nice things about Ponta Delgada is that it is full of small businesses with none of the ubiquitous conglomerates we have become so used too. In a tiny, musty, shoe shop with boxes stacked up around the walls, we bought €5 water shoes for walking around the jagged lava rock pools. It was like shopping used to be in my childhood; rows of small shops run by the owner with exactly what you needed.

Author: Richard Lister

Chasing horizons...

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