Dominik, Austrian who moved to Flores
Interview conducted in Praia Do Vitória
Only one week remains for my current stay in the Azores. I was thinking about how short of a time that it, but for most people caught up in the work to live lifestyle of North America an a week it is all the vacation they take annually. I thought I was happy building wealth, living the American “dream”, until I tried another approach where I actually lived. I have been dreaming the most vivid dreams every night, dreams I remember each morning. I thought for a while it was because mother ocean was rocking the boat and me in my sleep. However, I am beginning to think it is because by choosing to live life instead of living to work. My days have become much more dense with experiences and I feel my brain is still busy at night trying to process. There is much less certainty to this approach. I am uncertain about the finances in retirement but it does not matter as I am living my retirement now. I feel that watching ones I have loved pass away before they had a chance go really live contributed to this decision. I miss Colleen, Fred and Ron but their short lives inspired me and I am thankful for this inspiration.
Today was spent working on the R Heritage Too. I again climbed to mizzen and turned up the wind generator to optimize battery charging. I also immobilized it for the winter to prolong its useful life. During rains we have noticed a few drips leaking into our aging home and we did our best to stop those, caulking windows and replacing and sealing stainless steel screws. Boat are moving houses and require constant maintenance. Captain Bruce carried out his own set of chores, painting and repairing the binnacle on his beloved vessel. While taking a break from these chores I met Dominik. He was very curious about boats and wanted to know how I obtained this position. He was willing to talk about his impressive efforts to minimize his impact on the planet. He was happy to share his story and be one of the face of climate change. His words follow.
What is your favorite part of living in Flores?
I am from Austria but lived in the mainland of Portugal for many years. I moved to the island of Flores in the Azores because growing my own food is most important. I was looking for a place where I could do so year round and found it on Flores. Flores has a lot of water resources and fertile soil. There is also more fish than the mainland. I no longer have to worry about where I get my food.
What is your least favorite part of living in Flores?
I have too pick carefully the days I can be on the ocean. Some days the seas are quite rough. I also practice kung-fu and I can no longer advance since there is no teacher. I still practice by myself though.
Do you see the changes in the natural world where you live?
I feel that the earth is changing everywhere but I have only live in Flores for 3 years so do not have enough perspective. I also do not have internet so I am a bit disconnected. The locals on the island say that 30 years ago they used to get snow. I have only seem a small amount of freezing rain one night in the 3 years I have been there and it melted right away.
In Austria we have had much less snow over the last 10 years. The changes to the weather there are obvious.
Can you give me an example of something you are doing to reduce your impact on the planet?
I have always had a garden and this give me a connection to the earth. We live in a small valley that gets lots of sun and has a natural spring. We grow enough food year round for my girlfriend and I. We sometimes have excess that we share with my friends on the island. If I catch a big fish we share that too. Some fish are good for salting and we do our best to preserve them for when we do not have fish. I do not like going anywhere by plane or car, but sometime I must. From my house to the store is 3 km by road but I use a kayak when I can. It is fun and good exercise. Our house is off grid and does not have electricity. We do occasionally run a small generator for the workshop and hope to install solar someday.
Getting materials on a small island can be problematic. We are restoring an old stone house and built a green roof. We could not get the rubber required to make it waterproof until recently. We are going to take of the roof and rebuild it soon. We also bought a pickup to help us with our renovations but since the port was destroyed by hurricane Lorenzo we can not get it to the island. That is why I am here in Terceira. I must go to Lisbon to find a place to store it until the port is repaired.
Is there anything you would like to ask or tell me?
Flores still does not have a harbor. It was destroyed by hurricane Lorenzo. There used to be a big container ship that delivered 50 containers at a time to the island, now only a small one with 10 containers come. For a while after the hurricane there were rations of gas and other things on the island. It did not impact us much because my girlfriend and I are so self sufficient.
Flores is very rural and wild. Only 5% of the island is developed. There is much less pasture land than other islands in the Azores. Years ago there were 12,000 people but now there are only 3,800. Although it is small in size it is very mountainous with lots of valleys so we have a lot of space. It was a self sufficient island until very recently. For a long time the only imports were coffee, petrol for lamps and sugar.
It was not until 1989 that the first TV arrived on the island of Flores and that was in a cafe. You can still feel the culture of subsistence living on the island. I have heard this from the older generation that government subsidies have made the young lazy. They used to grow everything they needed in their gardens but now they seem to only grow cows and corn. When the ship doesn’t come in with food from a far the young people complain. The old people seem a bit bitter about these changes.
I find myself wondering if life is better or worse on Flores now that they have switched to a more modern lifestyle. Is working to be able to buy a pineapple from Bazil that much better than working your own land to produce food for yourself? The decrease in population on Flores suggest most people grew tired of the simple lifestyle and went elsewhere for a life they perceived as better. I see the amount of time people have to live and spend time with the family and friends in the Azores. Young people go to coffee shops here but it isn’t the run in and buy a latte and run out you see in North America. I can not recall seeing a “to go” order here. People come in, order there items and sit down for an hour an talk with each other. From a visitors perspective, it certainly seem like a better quality of life.