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Notes From The Field | Off Grid In The Azores

Our girl Sophie's notes from the field in the Azores, looking from the inside out.

It's not often these days that we go completely off-grid. However, with no signal, internet or electricity on a secluded beach on one of the remotest islands in the mid-Atlantic, I couldn’t have been happier. 

It took a few days to reach our far-flung paradise on one of the nine islands of the Azores archipelago, 1,525 km West off the coast of Portugal. From the small window of the air-craft, I watched as these mystical islands rose out of the Atlantic, each one unique and with its own story to tell.  

As we got to the end of the winding, coastal road it led to a red dirt track. The path to the house was too narrow for anything bigger than a quad to pass and we were left with no choice but to hike the 5km in. We were weary from our travels yet finishing this long journey by foot felt like the most natural thing to do. All too often we travel too fast and arrive at the destination too quickly to really take in the journey as it passes us by.

We followed the trail leading under thick canopies and hovered above the steep drop into the ocean below, reminding us of the volcanic origins of these young islands. As we started to feel weary from the bags on our backs, we saw the village nestled under the mossy green cliffs next to a peeling right hander. 

Carlos's house is a true testament of a labour of love, carved into every driftwood door handle. You can see why he escaped the bustle of the mainland and set up home in the middle of the Atlantic. Tonight we have sardines for supper, done the Azorean way; plenty of salt and cooked on an open fire. 

Cradled in a wooden bunk for the night, I woke to the sound of the restless ocean just meters away from the house. I walked out to the pebble beach out front. The looming silhouettes of the other Azores lay on the horizon, a reminder that we are not completely alone in these vast, wild waters. 

After a good strong coffee and breakfast, we decided to go and explore our new surroundings. Ze Fru said he knew of a water fall about 40 minutes walk away, tracing the footsteps etched into his memory from the last time he was here. We heard the cascading water getting louder as we got closer. We climbed down the thick, intertwined tree roots and launched off into the plunge pool below. 

I woke up at first light today and went for a run to check the waves. The morning was damp and the clouds rolled off the cliffs and hung over the village, dampening the sunlight. Pacing along the track, I began to truly appreciate the beauty of this place in all its simplicity and understand what had drawn Carlos to move his life here.  

The wind has picked up since yesterday so the waves were a little messier but we jumped in anyway knowing this might be our last surf before we leave. Sitting in the middle of the Atlantic, I gazed up at the green cliffs and down at the ocean floor below, magnified by the transparent water.   

I came back to a warm fire just before night fall.  A few of the locals had joined us and we stood there for a good while exchanging stories. I’m humbled by their simple, devoted existence on these Atlantic frontiers. The relentless and unforgiving weather fronts are almost ingrained in their weathered hands and faces. 

The last evening is always a bittersweet one, knowing that we will have to leave these wild shores and go our separate ways tomorrow. 

Tonight is my last night off-grid. One last time to fall asleep to the sound of the wind and waves just outside my door. Indeed it is the simple pleasures in life that make us smile.

 

Words by Sophie Bradford | Photography by David Gray & James Bowden

 

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