During the last several weeks before I left Texas, Sandy and I had a sort of running joke going that the real purpose for this trip was to scout out a new home country for us to move to once we decide to get the hell out of the States. Well if I were to be making a list, the Azores is presently in 1st place.
Bermuda was a beautiful place to visit, to be sure, but bring your 401K, because it was probably the most expensive place I’ve ever visited. Hamburger w/ fries: $17 (including tip), avocado: $8.50, loaf of bread: $5. A cheap Airbnb rental is around $100.
But it’s just the opposite here in the Azores, where life is inexpensive compared to just about everywhere. A hamburger w/ fries (my economic benchmark) is under $5, and my Airbnb rental was $30/night. You can have dinner w/ drinks here for under $10. Double whiskey on the rocks- $4. *Update from Ponta Delgada- 6/4/17: Cheeseburger/fries/whiskey/Snickers bar: $6.35.
The Azores are a group of 10 or 7 or 9 volcanic islands (somebody fact-check me on this) that are a province of Portugal, from whence they lie about 800 miles due west. As part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, that mostly underwater mountain range running north-south from Iceland to Antarctica, these islands are still being formed by volcanic activity. The Capelinhos Volcano erupted and rose up out of the ocean as recently as 1957, creating new land to Faial’s western edge. Whaling has historically been the primary industry of the Azores. Thankfully, nowadays the only whaling boats working these waters are taking visitors on whale-watching day cruises. On Isbjorn’s approach to the Azores we saw humpback whales several times.
As an island, Faial is probably only about 20 miles from end to end, and has a very traditional European look and feel. Horta is the main town on the island, and is home to the very nice harbor where we made landfall last Monday evening. Horta is home to around 15,000 locals, with the rest of the island being mostly rural farm land with cows and sheep and horses, and a handful of scattered villages
There is a tradition that upon arrival sailors will paint a sign on the stone/concrete walls of the harbor announcing your boat’s visit.
Like most European towns, Horta has an old section, with cobblestone streets and red-tile roofs covering brightly painted block & plaster houses, and a newer section with asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks, and nice middle-class neighborhoods. Once you get past the streets near the marina, the town doesn’t have a touristy feel to it at all. The locals are friendly, but they like to drive really fast around their winding roads. Faial & Horta appear to have a very middle-class populace; if there are pockets of poverty, I didn’t stumble on them. Wi-fi is free throughout the Azores, so you have ready access to the internet wherever you are.
All-in-all, this place is very laid-back, friendly, traditional yet high-tech friendly, and fairly prosperous. It’s a cheap place to visit & would be a really nice place for a couple of retired ex-pats to live.
Update on the poverty: I was approached by 3 beggars in my 11 days here, 2 in Horta, and 1 in Ponta delgada. Each of them very old folks. Each one gets a Euro (personal policy).