Islands set limits on movement; one can only go so far before turning back to the beginning—or one can circle endlessly. A small island emphasizes how little choice one has on where to go. In four days on Santa Maria, Nancy and I have driven along every major highway. The secondary roads are quite often daunting, barely wide enough for two cars to scrape by. And I do mean scrape since the roads, lined with stone walls, lack shoulders. Our rental car came with scratches on both right and left wing mirrors. From Vila do Porto on the southwest point, we would head out and invariably encounter a beach, a bay, a coastline. After a short drive, never longer that 10 miles, the ocean always presented itself.
The geological upheaval that thrust the Azores up in the middle of the Atlantic created many islands with hilly or mountainous landscapes. On Santa Maria, dominated by one central mountain we followed roads up and over ridges or along the coast until we reached baias (bays) or praias (beaches). The road to Sao Lourenço on the west coast crosses the shoulders of the central mountain—Pico Alto (about 1800 feet high)—and descends precipitously down a 10% grade into the village, a grade made barely manageable by the constant switch backs. The hillsides, sloping sharply to the edge of the water, leave just enough space for a community to wedge itself onto the shore.
The steep seaside hills require effective erosion control to keep houses from sliding into the bay and protect those along the beach. While this house must offer astounding ocean view, it also requires a taxing climb up the hillside when returning home with bags of groceries.
But at sea level, the prospect from on the rocky beaches made me ready to entertain the idea of settling in.
Perhaps even join the local swim club.