By: Eduardo Dias, 57, PhD in Ecology
Lost in the middle of the endless blue, the island of Terceira emerges in the fascination of a mythical attraction. Time stands still here; universes unite, and the world is recreated in exotic and unique models where small things become essential.
The sea provides the island with a humid, hazy environment and a blue atmosphere. The air, therefore, becomes warm softening the effects of hot summers and cold winters in a constantly filtered light and mild climate, where time is of little importance and the landscape is permanently coated by a dark green mantle.
Many of the plants found in the island’s woods are from other ages, so old that they have already disappeared in continental forests. They are living fossils. Some show how old they are in their shapes and make us remember ancient recreations of the Earth. Some of them include tall, finger-shaped bushes that point to the sky and can be found while walking by the hill Pico Gaspar, while others feature an immense size and are a primitive gigantism, such as the Azores blueberry, which we can find in Terra Brava – Agualva, as well as some laurel trees that can reach over 10 meters in height and can be found in Matela and Monte Brasil.
The endemic woods and the humid meadows on the banks of streams are filled with these species in a Noah’s Ark of sorts, in which each plant tells a story from the distant past.
With its unique environment, the island set the conditions, shaping some plants, causing the extinction of others and recreating life. Because of its hazy light, plants are of a darker green, so they can better harness solar energy. Moreover, the wind is always present and strong, limiting the number of large, lush flowers. For this reason, the island’s natural landscape showcases a vibrant green color all year round, and the timid flowers are seldom noticeable. But those who pay close attention can enjoy them almost all year round while walking in the island’s Natural Park, which features some of the most important and well-preserved biological hotspots not only of the Azores but also of Europe.
The humid climate has forced species to adapt so they can live here. This is the case of the “wood of clouds” on the hill Pico Alto, which draws its sustenance from gray skies and is dominated by cedars with hanging branches and by centuries-old holly trees.
A committed settler of new places, the European men of the 15th century brought to the island all the culture and technology of the time. They learned how to shape the lava, collect water and control the wind. But they also tried to recreate their space and to harvest their crops, replacing the natural flora by the one they had introduced in the fields, vineyards and woods. This process changed the color of the landscape to light green with some white dots from the houses that we can see from the island’s viewpoints.
But it is this idyllic vision that Azoreans still hold, as they try to recreate a dream Eden on the islands with majestic gardens. When you visit gardens like the one at the Palácio dos Capitães Generais [General-Captains Palace], you can see plants from all over the world, from America to China, which have been gathered by the human hand.
Five centuries have left their mark on islanders and their culture. Without excluding the past, the way we understand the value of our endemic nature is starting to take over exotic visions. Nature reserves are a sign of our understanding of the nature of the island.
Terceira is an island where the whole world meets and is recreated. The identity is now made up of hydrangeas and Japanese cedar trees in a grid of pastures. But the new generations look further ahead when it comes to the creation of new landscapes that feature woods of endemic species and timid flowers, such as those found at the Fontinhas Forest Center, where the dark green color extends to the land of mankind and where we can enjoy nature in its fullness.
Recommended time: 3 or more days
Level of difficulty: variable
Clothing: It is advisable to wear comfortable shoes and a windbreaker.
Season: Nature has the beauty of being available at any time of the year. However, you should get information about the marked trails ahead of time, because access is sometimes limited.
Booking: If you plan ahead of time by using the services of a travel agency or by booking directly with a guide, it is possible to created tailored routes and provide some additional activities, such as bike rides or even picnics in the woods or picnic grounds.
– Terceira Natural Park