The nine islands of the Azores archipelago are spread out in the Atlantic ocean about 1500 km southwest of mainland Portugal. The islands are knows for their biodiversity. Thanks to their mild climate and stunning landscapes they offer many possibilities to travellers who enjoy the outdoors.
The island of Sao Miguel is also a home to one pigeon club. Its president Dr. Luis Soares (an orthopedic surgeon) was the one who has invited us and was very hospitable. (picture 26). Under his leadership the club has been thriving a developing. Although the club is a member of the Portuguese federation due to the remote location of the islands this small group of fanciers has to organise their races themselves and find their own solutions to most of their problems related to racing.
The club has about 20 active members. The nearest island of Santa Maria is about 140 km away so they organise some flights from this island, to which the pigeons are brought by plane.
But longer races can only be organised from the open sea. We were present at a basketing for such a race.
The club has established good relationships with the captains and the crews of container ships sailing in the direction of Madeira who have agreed to take the pigeons on board and release them at an agreed hour around sunrise.
As the ship leaves the port as soon as it is fully loaded, the fanciers don’t know in advance which distance will the ship reach by sunrise and the exact coordinates of liberation are communicated to them only two days later.
Should the ship be ready to leave to early, the baskets with pigeons have to be offloaded, as the distance would most likely be too large for them to be able to return.
After liberation the empty baskets continue on the ship to Madeira, then to mainland Portugal and finally back to Sao Miguel. This journey usually takes 50 days.
We have also visited the lofts of Andre Barbosa, a young pigeon fancier who has involved his whole family in pigeon racing. Their hard work has paid off during one of the previous tought flights from the open sea when his hen was the only one to return out of 30 hunderd pigeons basketed on a distance of 304 km. Nikolaas has named her The Queen of the Azores.
Why visit the Azores:
- Many well marked hiking routes of various difficulty criss-cross each of the islands. On your walks you will come across vividly green pastures with grazing cows, omnipresent hedges of hydrangeas, waterfalls and striking mountain lakes
- The islands are of vulcanic origin and thanks to vulcanic activity still present you can enjoy a swim in various thermal springs with healing properties. At least as long as you don’t get put off by their unusual color or smell :-)
- In some places they use the vulcanic heat to cook traditional meals
- The only two tea factories and plantations in Europe are to be found on the Azores. A large part of the process is still done by hand and the quality of the tea is excellent
- It is also a great place to go sailing, whale and dolphin watching, surfing and scuba diving
- The abundance of vulcanic stones mixed with traditional portuguese tiles results in a very charming architecture (pictures 18 – 23)
While the natural conditions on the Azores make it a dream holiday destination, life has not been very easy for the Azoreans. The remote location from the mainland and also the distances between the islands of the archipelago as well as limited job opportunities in the past forced many people to move out in search of a better life elsewhere. Many have found new homes in North America and the locals claim that each family has at least one member overseas. Nowadays many visitors from these countries as well as from the rest of the world find their way to the islands :-).
Thank you for the hospitality Luis!