The Azores & Why It Must Be Protected

Pre-pandemic, climate change concerns filled the pages of newspapers, magazines, blogs, social media feeds and was even shoe-horned into TV shows ( Big Little Lies Season 2) — the topic was unavoidable. Before its spotlight last year, it didn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserved; governmental efforts proved ineffective and mediocre at best.

Last year a Swedish teenager was thrust into the media: This bold 16-year-old became the face of climate awareness. Her face, her message and her displeasures became synonymous with an eco-conscious world. During this time there were reports that if drastic measures are not implemented, limiting global warming right down to 1.5C, a climate breakdown would be imminent.

As a millennial living in London, the little that I do to help the environment does not go further than dividing my refuse into recyclables and non-recyclables; anything more than that is a luxury as striving in this city, a Sisyphean task of achieving personal goals remains the focus. So stopping to think about offsetting one’s carbon footprint becomes a little self-indulgent. Sadly.

I couldn’t comprehend the logic behind why people were now demonising the use of aeroplanes, a mode of transportation that is the gauge of how far humankind has come. Flying, almost overnight, became the devil. The face of climate change was imploring us to stop the human race’s advancement and settle for a slower way of travel, worse, turn to archaic alternatives. I rolled my eyes at the headlines; the messiah of climate change sails around the world. I would mentally rebut “ we can’t all afford to be escorted while sailing around the world. Most people I know work extremely hard throughout the year and the 14 days they have off, they board flights to destinations they’ve been waiting all year for. Additionally, these flights are commercial flights which usually have on average 100 people aboard. This, compared to cars, which usually have on average 1.4 persons occupying it — 1.4 persons in a vehicle occupying a space that would comfortably fit 10 bicycles. Why then are we focusing on the very impressive and sharing-economically friendly flying is as a form of transportation? The human races’ invention that has enabled us to fly across the sky at a speed that was unthinkable just a century ago. Maybe eco-activists’ grievances have been misplaced. Maybe the face of climate change was talking to the less than 1% of the population who own private jets. The business class lounge-frequenters who fly just for meetings that can be had over the phone, via skype or zoom; Maybe that’s who she was referring to. Not the majority who spend their hard-earned break, boarding a commercial flight to get somewhere at a speed that wouldn’t eat into the little time they have off, those flying to the only country that provides the medical help they so desperately need.”

These were my justifications. This is how I mentally expostulated every headline I read. I wouldn’t bother talking to others about it because these opinions I have aren’t popular. To veer off the heavily publicised climate change rhetoric is an abomination and may result in lengthy discussions that I do not have the time or energy for.

When lockdown eased, I was itching to get out of my 1 bedroom apartment situated just above one of London’s busiest roundabouts. I needed to get out, just for a couple of days.

I had a place in mind; I was supposed to go there last year but due to unavoidable circumstances, I was forced to cancel the vacation. So I thought it was the right time. If it isn’t now it’s going to have to be next year. And then next year it’s going to be because of another vague excuse. And it has to be during summer because I like active holidays, explorative ones, so it has to be during the warmer months — it can’t be later in the year.

So I booked a plane ticket. A return flight to a slice of heaven I’ve seen so many photographs of. I am going there with or without someone.

Ironically the flight that I found online happened to have the text ‘Greener-choice’ written beside it. “whatever that means.” I thought. I secretly felt less guilty about my choice of transportation because of the message that was emblazoned beside my flight details.

At the airport of my destination, I joined a queue that was over an hour-long to take a COVID-19 test. For those who have had the test where a swab stick is inserted into your urethra… yes, that test; that one is a breeze compared to the COVID-19 test where a never-ending swab stick is inserted into your nostrils! It felt as if the nurse were trying to massage my frontal lobe. Immediately, I regretted my decision to travel.

After a couple of days and a confirmation of a negative result, I turned to my itinerary to explore this island.

In the morning, I drove up the serpentine road; with every minute that passed, the pressure on my eardrums increased due to driving up this vertigo-inducing road.

I arrived at the Island’s number 1 tourist destination. I had seen pictures of this place, it is synonymous with the destination but nothing prepared me for how incredibly stunning it is to the naked eye, and my goodness, it is vast! This is what I’ve been looking for in a destination: Somewhere to make me feel small, not just to mitigate my jitters but to crush them.

Slowly, like dust, my worries, cares, concerns were blown away by the Azores air.

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After taking in the birdseye view of the Sete Cidades lakes and feeling a ton lighter, I not so much as walked but glided in my descension to get a closer look.

The close-up was even more breathtaking. The lakes set to the soundtrack of the birds chirping, the occasional dragonfly piercing through the crisp air above the lake leaving behind a trail of ripples on the water. “This,” I said to myself, “is heaven”.

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I walked around the green and blue lake and found canoes stacked atop each other. I made to the lady standing beside it. I greeted her in my rudimentary Portugues and she was kind enough to humour me. She didn’t have a card machine so she allowed me to hire a canoe and then I was to drive to where I will be making payment, which, was around the corner. I thanked her. Strapped in my life vest, I approached the shore of the lake where my canoe awaited.

My yellow canoe sat beautifully on top of the green water. Surrounded by verdant valleys, I saw a bridge in the distance and so decided to row my way under it. In between the arches, the concrete cast a shadow over my canoe, a once luminous coat of yellow now looked dull. it was as though the bridge were covering my eyes, preparing a surprise for me on the other side. As my canoe gracefully floated its way out of the arch, tip first, I saw the sun illuminating the yellow coat, and gradually, every inch of the canoe came alive again. As the light touched my skin, I was exposed to the great beauty, I was within it. Before me, was more water, peace, tranquillity; More dragonflies darting back and forth in elation. I easily passed an hour rowing around and still left some areas unexplored.

I returned the canoe and paid. Now hungry, I looked for a place to eat. Going by a recommendation from the merchant, I arrived at a local restaurant. Upon my arrival, I found that the cost of food there was a fraction of the price in London.

After lunch, the glaring sun awaited. As I walked out I saw an ice cream parlour nearby. I hopped to it and left with a chocolate ice cream in hand and curiously looking out onto the quiet street and at the locals lolling about. It occurred to me: this town was reminiscent of where ‘Call Me By Your Name’ was shot; the sleepiness, the quietness, the nonchalance-yet-friendly locals, the easy way of life. Something I thought wasn’t realistic; I’d seen scenes of Rome in movies and visited Rome and found it busier than Oxford street. So seeing those locations in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ I immediately thought they must’ve warded off people to make way for filming. Until now.

Being in Sete Cidades, It was everything I loved about the setting of ‘Call me by your name’, ‘The Big Splash’ and Eat, Pray, Love (The Ubud part); sun-soaked scenes in far away aspirational lands. Sete Cidades was real, an oasis.

Mother nature treasures its secrets in The Azores and shows it off to visitors who seek to be seduced, in search of something to marvel at, to be enchanted and inspired by.

The following day, my car, bookended between real-life scenes from Evian commercials, I drove up the race track-like road up to Riberia Grande. After parking, I trekked to the beaches of Ribeira grande-Conceicao using a path that snaked between a forest of shrubs down the hill. As I made my way down, a fellow trekker told me that the lake isn’t for swimming as these crystal clear waters are portable and used by the island. So I sat down on the sand and breathed in as much of the air as possible, closed my eyes and meditated. After some time, I threaded my way through the hill of shrubs back to my car.

Next, the waterfall.

Getting to this waterfall is made tricky due to the large rocks that encase the beauty. Within its curves and crevices are sheets of greenery: Ferns, Giestas, Ginger Lily and more.

As I walked closer, I heard the soothing sound of rushing water, a clue as to what awaited me. Around the corner, I saw a tall, flowing sheet of water ardently joining the pool below, gliding off of the cliff above me. This was the waterfall. I began to search for a place to put my things and change into my trunks.

I found somewhere and quickly undressed. “The water is freezing.” I thought as I submerged my feet. I pressed on as seeing a couple swimming nearby was encouraging. The stupendous rocks around me, the unceasing rush of water from above reminding me that the earth was created in abundance, not scarcity.

In these cold waters, I felt the earth’s cornucopia; I took a deep breath in, lowered my hips and allowed the water to flood over my head.

I walked out feeling rejuvenated. It was getting late but I wanted to check out Furnas, at least just a portion of the town and then I can form an idea of it and revisit the following day.

On my way there, I saw a road sign pointing to a ‘Lagoa’ that I hadn’t heard of. So I decided to follow it. I found parking and then made my way down a trail where the trees covered the sky leaving little light seeping through the space between the leaves.

I could hear the sound of people talking and laughing. As the sound grew louder, the path before me grew brighter, it widened into a circular abyss, within it was a green lake. A stunning lake in the center, the core of the forest, encircled by a large number of trees. This is ‘Logoa de Congro’. I understood why I could hear these people before I saw them. The perfectly round lake in the center of the forest allowed their voices to travel afar. Standing here, your instinct is to shout at the top of your lungs and wait for the trees to send your utterances back at you.

Fantasies about growing up on this island began to flood my head: how lucky one would be to grow up in a place where there’s so much to do, so much to explore, so much that implores you to stretch your mind and find the earth’s possibilities, places to play, jump, swim, sing in her safety. Immediately, illustrations of the Garden of Eden from Sunday School rushed at me. Heaven on earth. so I did what every tourist does when looking at something so beautiful that it leaves you insatiable. I took out my camera and recorded, taking a little piece of this paradise with me.

I sat in my car and continued my way to Furnas. I stopped at the Large Furnas lake which had mist dancing on top of it. In the distance, the far side of the lake, I spotted vapour coming out of the earth — then I remembered that that is where a restaurant cooks its clientele’s food using the heat from the active volcanic ground. I noted to explore the area the following day.

In the morning, looking over my itinerary I hurriedly finished my breakfast and jumped into my car. As the gates of my hotel opened, a sense of adventure filled me; Knowing that today was my last full day there I needed to take advantage of every minute.

As I drove past the Furnas Lake, thankful that I didn’t need to stop by as I explored it yesterday. I made my way to the Furnas cooking area. The parking warden informed me that due to Covid-19 restrictions, swimming in the hot springs is restricted. So I turned around and headed for the ‘Terra Nostra’.

Terra Nostra is one of the only 2 tourist attractions on my itinerary that required payment. After happily parting with a small entry fee, I entered the belly of The ultimate botanical garden.

Before me, was a large pool of brown hot volcanic water: a pool large enough to adhere to the social distancing rules. The colour of the pool, brown, this is because of the breakdown of iron in the volcanic water.

I walked around the park for over an hour. It began to rain. The precipitation mimicked The Amazon. Even though it was a park, the trees and flowers didn’t feel clinical or man-made. In some areas — it felt as though I were in an uncharted part of a forest as it got dark and the tall trees canopied above me. Perfect!

Around the park, there were ducks by the ponds; cohabiting, swimming with the plentifully salmon-coloured fish. I found myself back by the brown pool. I changed into my trunks and went in. Due to the nature of the water, it is a little too dense to swim- so I simply relaxed and made frequent trips to the fountain that rushed in fresh, hot volcanic water into the pool, massaging my shoulders and back.

As it was early in the afternoon there was still time to head to the shores. As I wove through the downward, sharp-turn drive, it occurred to me that it had been sunny, drier, and blazingly hot down the mountain, opposite to the climate up in the hills. This was the perfect weather to island-hop. ‘Ilheu de Vila Franca do campo’, the ring shape islet just a 5-minute boat ride from Sao Miguel.

The boat roared closer to our destination and I turned to look at where we came from — the white houses cascading into the hills, Just the perfect amount of houses — white walls with brown roofs.

Our boat came to a halt. I looked into the clear blue ocean and to my delight, below me were colourful fishes swimming back and forth in perfect disorganisation. I couldn’t help but let out “This is heaven!”.

I stepped off the boat onto the hard brown rocks leading to a thin path that forced its users into a neat single file. I arrived at what looked like the lounging area. I saw an available spot, a rock, flat enough to settle on; somewhere I will come to lie between swimming in the ocean; did I mention, the Atlantic ocean?.

I quickly dropped my things, splayed-open my towel onto the rock, changed into my speedos and made to the edge of the rocks to the submerged platform where a handful of people sat, talking, resting from swimming in the center of the ring.

For someone who, more often than not finds swimming pools cold, I wasn’t surprised that I cringed as the cold sea covered my feet.

Upon a closer look into the water, I saw fishes swimming around my feet. My body was becoming used to the temperature; limb by limb, my waist, then my torso.

Eventually, I was ready for my Goggled-eyes to get a closer look at the beauty that awaits below. The frequent-divers beside me knew to bring treats for the fish so there were a congregated, hungry, keen fish by the platform edge — their bodies electrified by the possibility of being fed. Sighted by my goggles, I lowered my whole body. Immediately sea life created a vortex around me; in their habitat and I, as a guest, for a few hours.

With a smile spread across my face — I explored off just a few meters from the ledge as the thought of my feet not touching the ground hung over me. I respect the ocean and the power it wields — and, I know my strengths. To say you swim in the ocean is a misunderstanding; it’d be apt to say the ocean allows you to float in its grasp.

As I climbed out of the sea, at one with the earth, I returned to the spot I made earlier. I threw on the hooded robe I borrowed from my villa and decided to look around. I saw that there was an even surface rock right behind the rock I was sitting on. This part allowed me to stand on the outer edge of this island where the vastness of the ocean laid in its infinite glory, gracing the blue sky. Overcome with felicity, I looked out absorbing the sheer immensity, the incredible beauty of the earth.

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The time came for the boat to take us back to Sao Miguel. Feeling content I boarded the boat to the main island, thanked the helmsman and crew and drove home.

The next day, my last day on the Island. After breakfast, I had a few hours to spare before heading to the airport. So I thought it appropriate to lounge by the pool and breathe in The Azorean air before being subjected to a face mask for the entire duration of my flight to London.

As I sat by my infinity pool overlooking the ocean, I saw how precious our home, the earth is, how beautiful, how resilient and how copious it is in her offering. How we’ve taken and taken and even though she is exhausted, she, like all great mothers, finds a way to give, to enrich us — even if in doing so leads to her depletion.

I had to fly 1561 miles to appreciate our home. I couldn’t see it living in central London; The city isn’t built for one to stop and appreciate, for in doing so, you may drown in the sea of high achievers, blinded by eye-watering rents, gasping for air brought upon the toxicity in the air.

As culturally-rich London is, it’s certainly not built to allow one to relish in the wonderfulness of the earth. London, like all modern cities, has been built zapping the very fruits of mother earth — picking at it from a place of paucity.

It was becoming apparent to me that I was no longer indifferent to the efforts made by activists in an attempt to preserve the earth, to reverse the damage we’ve inflicted on it because of greed. My combativeness — my defences were dropping. Sadness, frustration started to creep in.

Are we too late? Why isn’t everybody doing the best they can? Why aren’t we knocking on friends and families’ doors, urging them, pleading them to do better for the only home we have?

The Swedish teenager saw something that I and a majority of people couldn’t see: the future of obliterated earth, drained of life, drained of music, drained of the dragonflies, the fishes, the 4 seasons — scorched into oblivion. The little fires we light as we board our private jets, single-occupant drives to the shop, gorging the sea with plastic.

Some believe that the world is cyclical, this may be true but every time she returns, she loses a life and every circuit comes to an end faster than the previous. — it may be time for the earth to self-preserve; instead of losing a life of her own upon a return, she takes humankind so as when she returns, she will be sure that she never has to suffer again. With that said, I believe that mother nature has faith in us and think it possible for all her occupants to cohabit peacefully.

My alarm goes off, reminding me to get ready for my flight. I retrieve the email with my flight details and upon closer inspection, it reads “This flight emits 5% less CO₂ than the average for your search”. I grab my luggage handle wondering, hoping that it is possible to further decrease the amount of CO₂ my flight emits.

Written by

British writer/director

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