Traveling with a Portuguese Entourage

This is a post by Jenny.

Our 9 day visit to the island of Sao Miguel, based in the village of Capelas, was a whirlwind tour of food, family, and sightseeing. We met over 40 new relatives and ate more delicious food than we could handle (my shorts I brought are feeling awfully tight…).

Everyone came for dinner!

I can’t convey what it was like to meet so many relatives, who were so kind and fun. The language barrier was no matter, as we all stumbled through communicating – mostly humorously, with charades, and “ta bom” (it’s good),  “muito lindo!” (very beautiful), and “nao mais” (no more – for the love of God, I can’t eat anymore!!). We literally never left the hotel without a group of at least 20 people. We always traveled in a caravan of at least 4 cars, and evening dinner parties would top out over 40 people. Europeans know how to party and how to host!

My mom’s “madrina” (godmother, my grandfather’s sister), Tia Virgainia is 93 years old and incredible. She’s about 4 feet tall and speaks and looks with an intensity that makes you sit up and listen (even if you have no idea what she’s saying). Through years of grandparents who didn’t speak English, my Dad, my sister Lisa, and I learned how to handle this – listen, nod, and smile and laugh when they do. Tia V. had a nice house, complete with retro pictures of my mom as a teen and pictures of my adult cousins when they were in elementary school. We saw her second kitchen (outside – most people seem to have at least 2 kitchens), outdoor bathroom, old pig pen and chicken coup, and wine making supplies. She had a huge garden, with a lot of peppers, tomatoes, beans, corn, and watermelon – not to mention a stunning view of the nearby hills.

Tia Virgainia and my mom

On our first day, we went up to the hillside, Maranhao,  where my mom grew up. The walk from her house to the village/school/church was downhill, so the walk to get up was up a steep, narrow, previously dirt road. It was interesting to see all of the places she had grown up, and what a different lifestyle it was compared to my own upbringing. As we looked around the gorgeous island, we continually said “you left here to go to scenic Attleboro?”. Our walk from her old house to the village involved stopping at seemingly every house on the way – someone inevitably knew someone and they talked. A lot. Fortunately, we also stopped at a market and picked up freshly delivered sweet bread.

Just like home, she knows and talks to everyone!
Outside her old house, Mom & Gracinha









All of our days involved being picked up or walking somewhere, getting into a car caravan, and driving around to see different places, stopping at every miraoudor (lookout) on the way. We’d have a picnic somewhere, drive some more, stop for drinks/coffee/snack then repeat all of the above.  Dinner would be at a different person’s house each night, and the guitar and singing always came out.

That’s the old family church and village in the background.

That’s an overview. Here are specific highlights:

Within our first hour of being with the family, my brother-in-law Jared was trying to speak Portguguese, and said  “natural?” in what he thought was a Portuguese accent. Our cousin Gracinha, who is my mom’s age, excitedly said “ah yes!” and slapped Jared’s bum. For the duration of the trip, and most likely our lifetimes, saying “natural” will be a rallying cry to get a bum slap (or to slap someone’s bum and say natural!). It was instant family bonding with strangers.

At cousin Saozinha’s house party, we did a traditional Azorean dance. Jared was my partner, Lisa was David’s. It involved a do-si-do type of step, as well as facing the people next to you and jumping/snapping/cheering. It was hilarious. And awesome.

Party with music!

My cousin Carlos is the head a famous traditional Azorean folk band, Belaroura. Most of the family is or was in the band at some point, which made for music and singing at every gathering David also played the guitar and sang – for a crowd of 30+ people! He was a bit nervous, but he did great! And had some backup from Jared and I on harmonica and vocals. Yay Johnny Cash!

We swam in an ocean swimming pool, which was really a man-made tidal pool carved into the cliffs. We were convinced that we saw an octopus hiding in the rocks, but it was most likely a sea cucumber. We also swam in the natural hot springs.

We went to Sete Cidades and saw two lakes side by side, one green and one blue. This is on nearly every post card of the Acores. One of my cousins told me, in Portgueuse (and I understood) that the reason that the lakes were two colors was that long ago a prince and princess wanted to marry, but her father said no. They both cried, one with green eyes and one with blue, and that is why there are two lakes of two colors.

There is an area on the island called Furnas, where there is ground and water heated by geothermal activity.  Our cousins prepared pots filled with chorizo, stew with beans, cabbage, potatoes, etc that were in burlap bags tied to rope. Those bags were lowered into a steaming hot hole in the ground, and left to cook for 6 hours.We arrived to a delicious giant Portuguese picnic by the lake. The food was incredibly delicious , the area beautiful, and cousin Beatriz taught me how to play dominos!

Pulling lunch out of the ground!

In one area there are several different natural springs that all taste different.  We walked around and tried a bunch – David and Jared tried all of them, I just had a select few. It was crazy – some of them were like seltzer water! It was also weird to stop at pipes on the side of the street and drink out of them!

Drinking water on the side of the road…they said it was safe..

A few days into our trip, on the long car ride to Nordeste, I decided wasn’t going to speak anymore English and would only speak Portgueuse (or Spanish, or a combo of all 3). My dear new cousin Margarida patiently translated and taught me a lot.  I apologized, in Portuguese, to all of my cousins in the car for murdering their language with my pronoucniation. But I did learn a lot, which helped prepare us for our next 3 weeks in Portugal. My favorite: “fixe” (pronounce: feesh), which means “cool”.

The adult men who are my cousins but seem more like uncles, were all friendly and very fun. Leandro, who I took to calling Porko Loco (crazy pig), would sneak up on you and make a sudden, very loud pig sound. Tomas sang fado for us in his kitchen, as well as did a hillarious singing skit acting as a Portuguese grandmother sewing. He also sang an Italian opera, which he proposed we should do upon arrival at the airport in Italy. We couldn’t get passed just how fun, friendly, and kind everyone was.

We were at a house dinner party and were all sitting around when we heard a sound coming from the front yard. We started to stir to see what was going on.  Then, around the corner came walking in an old man with an accordion, a large young man with a triangle, and several singers. It was so random and hilarious. Why doesn’t that ever happen in the states?

To all our family there, (who I wish I could name out one by one), muito obrigada for a great, memorable trip! We will be back!

Here is just a smattering of more pictures for you:

David eating something we can’t remember

Wine barrels!
Where are we?
Where are the whales? We don’t know either.
Picnic at the Furnas!
Maracouja (passion fruit)
View from Tia Virgainia’s back yard
The Americans
Sardinias grehlados



4 thoughts on “Traveling with a Portuguese Entourage

  1. Keep the stories coming, I am loving it! How come when I go to Europe it’s not like that? Tia V’s view is amazing!!!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. Brings back memories when I had traveled there. The view from your Tia’s place is amazing! Such lush green. Not sure what David might have been eating but if it was a single shell like a mussel it might have been lapa’s? The Maracouja (passion fruit) – love the liquor as an after dinner drink. Yes when family get together it’s always big and we never worry about space we always make room..the dances, Fado’s (old folk lore music), and the abundance of food and wine….

    1. Hi Melissa- yes, I think you are right – it was lapas! I enjoyed the maracouja soda/juice too. The food here in mainland Portugal is good , but not as god as Sao Miguel! I’m sad I haven’t been able to find any bolo levado!

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