Santa Maria, Azores

As I probably reported during my previous visit, the Azores were “officially” discovered in the mid-15th century by Portuguese explorers, although Portuguese fishermen most likely were visiting as early as the 1200s. “Discovered” is a correct word in this context since the islands were uninhabited when any wanders ventured ashore. No local population existed for rampaging explorers to kill or enslave. The islands were pristine, ripe for the taking.

Santa Maria is the easternmost/southernmost of the nine-inland archipelago and was the first island settled, around 1450, at the Baia dos Anjos (Bay of Angels).

In 1493, on returning to Spain from his first voyage, Columbus ran into a storm and lost one of his ships. In a fervid moment, he prayed for the return of that ship and promised to have a mass said at the first opportunity to land. Santa Maria (which was not named after one of Columbus’s ships) provided that chance to redeem his promise. Spanish sailors, landing to say mass, were not, however, well received by the local Portuguese. Already subject to raids by pirates and Spaniards, they were not ready to welcome Columbus with his astounding news. One legend suggests that the Spanish ships in the harbor were stoned to encourage them to leave. After some negotiating, the mass got said, the ship got found, and Columbus continued his homeward journey.

Anjos today remembers that visit more fondly and the Azorean government erected a memorial to Columbus in 1993 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the landing.

Santa Maria is the 3rd smallest of the islands, about 6 miles wide by 11 miles long. In such a confined space, the geography changes constantly. All the islands formed from volcanic eruptions, so the beaches at Anjos are littered with basalt rock formations, as lava cooled on flowing into the ocean. What remain are rocks are much too sharp for sea-side lounging.

The volcanic upthrust of land also created a chain of mountainous hills sweeping down the eastern third of the island. The route from north to south crosses over steep hills into narrow valleys.

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The road terminates at Praia Formosa, where, at low tide, a more loungeable sandy beach faces the mid-Atlantic.

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