Azores, windmill


Azores, lake
Azores, christianing bath
Azores, lake rim
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Azores, hill view
Amok in the Azores

If you can’t spot the weirdo in a group, it’s probably you…

Text Robyn Hodson
Photography Robyn Hodson & Courtesy of
I have the extremely fortunate job of leading adventure tours in remote countries around the globe. In this case I was sent to the Azores, nine tiny little islands belonging to Portugal, somewhere in the middle of the great Atlantic Ocean… easy to find in your atlas if you were to draw a straight line from Lisbon to New York. The archipelago sits about a third of the way across.

I lived in the Azores for six months, taking two-weekly tours around the islands. The tourists were mostly from Europe, Canada and the USA and my job was to walk them up the many beautiful volcanoes. I would also take huge pleasure in introducing them to many of my local friends, feeding them the local culinary delights and generally opening their eyes to the gentle wonders of island living.

In any group, there will be one or two who stand apart from the rest. On this particular trip we had one such couple. Right off, the group nicknamed them ‘The Wurzles’ (a band who made I've got a Brand New Combine Harvester a number one hit in the UK). They were from a tiny hamlet so deep in Dorset that no-one else on the tour had ever heard of it. They were born to find one-another in this strange and serious world and looked suspiciously similar too.

With at least half the world covered by copious tours through countless tour companies, it was hardly surprising that they happened upon my small trekking tour in the Azores – remoteness personified.

They came equipped with his-and-hers titanium walking sticks, matching Merrell hiking boots, a book on ‘Birds of the Atlantic’ so big it needed its own seat on the bus and a complicated GPS tracking device, which probably had them hot-linked to the Pentagon. They would set off on one-hour walks to the lighthouse and back.

They never got lost.

The tour also included whale and dolphin watching, the Azores being the perfect place to see these magnificent creatures on their migrations south throughout the year. Keen as mustard couldn’t begin to describe the two. Through Nikon’s most powerful long-range military binoculars, they would strain over the side of the Zodiac.

'Jill… JILL… it’s a Risso’s dolphin'

'Bob, you’re mistaken – it’s an Atlantic Spotted.'

'But Jill, see how the flukes curl up at a perpendicular angle to its dorsal fin on breach re-entry…'

'Yes, I see that Bob. But what does that say about wave-crest to tail-length ratio?'

And so it went on…

They were first in line for a visit to the Festo de Espirito Santos (Festival of the Holy Spirit) on São Jorge island. These colourful festivals happen almost every weekend on at least one of the islands, May through to September.

Azores, Portugal - mountain lake
Azores, Portugal - Bullrun Azores, Portugal - Festival
Being mostly religious festivals, clergy, sporting relics and statues parade through the streets on wide carpets of flowers, culminating in an energetic knees-up, attended by all the townsfolk.

Upon arrival, the rest of my group wandered off to photograph the festivities, while ‘The Wurzles’ waded straight into the thick of things, setting their euro-crammed wallets at winning on the tombola stall.

Glancing over the rim of my coffee cup at a street café, I espied dejected children coming away empty-handed. Not so for ‘The Wurzles’, who had hit the jackpot and were staggering toward the bus with a life-sized, porcelain statue of the Virgin Mary ‘n Child between them. I left them to it, silently thanking the Lord above that they hadn’t won the fatted calf who was moo-ing morosely to itself under a purple robe in the corner.

The statue I could just about explain to the airlines.

I wondered if it was a good idea to tell the group that a bull run was due to take place as part of the festival or whether I should lead them to the immediate safety of a sea-side restaurant. Bob and Jill, resplendent in eye-catching red parkers, had already read the guidebook and were hot-footing to the bullpens, digital cameras in hand. Bob assured me that bulls were the same the world over and that his Dorset bovine, Norman, was an absolute peach after a little sweet-talking.

The rest of the group and I placed ourselves on a 12-foot high, stone wall.

The start gun fired and the locals scattered. With a thunderous roar, the bull erupted from its enclosure and like a torpedo, shot down the road after Bob and Jill, who were in Spielberg-like proximity to the action. Wielding a tartan umbrella, Bob faced down the earth-pounding fury. The locals looked on in awe. Little did Bob realize that a ton of beast, cloven-hoofed on cobble-stones, was not slowing down any time soon. Momentarily distracted by the colourful umbrella, it skidded sharply to the right and straight into the beer tent.

What happened henceforth gave new meaning to ‘a bull in a china shop’.

‘The Wurzles’ appeared shaken, yet unstirred and I steered the group off to pastures greener.

And so ended another day in the life of a tour group on the Western-most point of Europe.

Azores, stone house Azores, window on view
Robyn Hodson has been a tour leader for Explore Worldwide for over three years. She has lead adventure tours (a good deal of them hair-raising) all over the world, including Europe, South East Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Explore also specializes in trekking, short breaks, cycling tours, family adventures and beyond. For more information about Explore and this particular tour, check out their website at

The ‘Azores Island hopping’ tour is a two-week walking tour, taking in five of the nine islands of the archipelago. Never far from the sea, days are spent hiking in the volcanoes, sightseeing in the villages combined with some off-beat exploration and chances to whale-watch.