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The islands of the Azores were formed by nature's fury

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Since it is one of the few land masses in the wide Atlantic between North America and Europe south of the polar world, it has been of strategic importance to travelers since it was discovered by Portuguese mariners in 1432. Explorers, whalers, fisherman and privateers used the islands as a necessary port-o-call, then in the modern era with the advent of air travel, early crossings over the Atlantic would invariably include refueling stops at islands like Iceland and, further south, the Azores.

A young Azorean named Nuno, while driving me across the main island of Sao Miguel, told me this anecdote: Almost all of the inhabitants of the small island of Santa Maria, home to a jet runway, have in their houses pictures of themselves with presidents or prime ministers, because when government planes land for refueling, these world leaders stroll about the island's quaint villages, which apparently is a call to come out and get a picture taken.

But all that was so last century. Big jets, of course, fly direct from North America to Europe. As a result, for North Americans, the Azores has fallen off the tourist map. When I told friends I was headed to the Azores, the response was head-scratching ignorance. Is that in the South Pacific? Sorry, wrong ocean.

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