Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Encaminhamento (free flights to Flores!)

Between Germanwings in the French Alps and then Air Canada at Halifax NS, it's not been a good week for that ubiquitous workhorse of the skies, the humble Airbus A320.

But the one pictured below isn't being sprayed by fire trucks because it's on fire or anything but rather as a celebration of the first easyJet flight to the Azores which landed at Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel on Sunday, 29 March.

And the first Ryanair flight will arrive at PDL on Wednesday:-

That picture is clearly a photoshop because the mountain in the background is on the island of Pico which is nowhere near Ponta Delgada. You see Pico flying out of Horta on Faial and for anyone who gets queasy about airliners flying too close to mountains, here's a photo to give you the squitters:-

Oops, sorry! Wrong picture! This is the one I meant:-

That's one I took of Pico viewed from a passing TAP Airbus minutes out of Horta.

Anyway, easyJet will be flying LIS-PDL three times a week initially with the frequency increasing from June (see here) while Ryanair will be flying twice daily LIS-PDL six days a week and will also have less frequent flights from PDL to Porto and London-Stansted (see here).

But as well as the advent of easyJet and Ryanair, our own local airline, SATA (shortly to be rebranded as Azores Airlines, I gather), has introduced a new scheme called encaminhamento.

That's one of these words that I know what it means but there isn't an English word for. Caminho is the Portuguese for a path or a track: if it helps, re-encaminhar is the word for "forward" in the context of e-mail so encaminhamento would translate as "sending you on your way" or similar.

Anyway, what this means in the context of air travel is this. There are only three Azorean islands (Sao Miguel, Terceira and Faial) with direct flights to the continente. So, if, like us, you live on one of the other six Azores, you have to get a connecting SATA flight to your point of departure for the mainland. Encaminhamento is the concept that that connecting flight is now free.

Photo credit Paulo Santos

Another way of expressing encaminhamento is that SATA's fares to (and from) Lisbon are now the same from all islands in the Azores. And this applies whether you're a resident or a tourist: the only qualification for your free flight to, say, Flores, is that you spend less than 24 hours on the island where you initially landed from the continent.

And crucially, it's not just SATA's fares that have been equalised: you get your free onward ticket to Flores (or wherever) on SATA even if you arrived from the continent on easyJet or Ryanair!

Corvo Airport - photo credit Markus Mainka

Will we actually benefit from the advent of the low cost airlines and encaminhamento?

I'm awfae' cynical (can you believe that?) and find it hard to believe you ever get anything for nothing. Are Ryanair and easyJet actually any cheaper? In our experience of flying to the UK from Lisbon, TAP or British Airways can often be equally competitive with Easy/Ryan once frequency and timing of available flights are considered.

And within the Azores, unless the Azorean Government (which is devolved (autonomous) within Portugal like Scotland in the UK) has upped SATA's subsidy, presumably the prices of flights from PDL to LIS have had to increase to pay for the now free flights from FLW (et al) to PDL, to the detriment of those who already live in PDL. Bear in mind that the population of the six Azorean islands which don't have direct flights to Lisbon is only 15% of the total so perhaps the marginal increase to give that 15% a boon is hardly noticeable to the 85%.

SATA is wholly owned by the Azorean Government and only exists with public subsidy to maintain "lifeline" links to remote islands. In this, SATA is identical to Caledonian MacBrayne, the state owned shipping company which serves the islands off the west coast of Scotland.

Photo credit - Finlay Oman
The Scottish islands differ from the Azores in that, being closer to the mainland, a far greater percentage of passengers (and their cars) travel on the ro-ro ferries which also carry the cargo. And although everyone loves to hate Calmac, the very mention of privatisation or even allowing a private sector competitor on to the scene brings down a shit-storm of abuse.

But the Scottish Government recently introduced a new fare scheme called "Road Equivalent Tariff" (RET). This is that the fare to take a vehicle on a Calmac ship should be the same as the cost of driving it the same distance as the ferry crossing. And that passenger fares be the same as a bus or railway ticket of equal length.

RET has indeed resulted in an across the board reduction of shipping costs in Scotland. So perhaps I need to park my cynicism and view encaminhamento as another example of an imaginative approach to rationalising fares on lifeline services and reducing them at the same time.

Vamos ver. It's an interesting question whether that translates as "Let's see" - which implies an open mind - or "We'll see" which implies a closed mind. Or as we Scots say "Aye, right."


Friday, 27 March 2015


Continuing with the theme (sort of) of the exigencies of island life and having to get stuff delivered, we have:-

(a) a mirror which has got a sort of a blotch on it (see above) so we need a replacement piece of mirror glass; and

(b) a sofa bed one of the foam cushions of which has gone saggy (see below) so we need a piece of foam

This presented sourcing challenges - do they sell cut to measure pieces of mirror glass on this island? And I'd be almost certain they don't sell made to measure cushion foam on Flores, but can it be sent here at reasonable expense?

First the foam. A bit of internet research led us to TWFoam. An e-mail correspondence with Tracy French at this company patiently answered numerous queries about foam densities suitable for sofa beds, wisdom or otherwise of stockinette covers and the inevitable postage costs to the Azores. Having double checked they really did mean £50 including p+p, I asked how I could pay and they said I should phone. Which I did. A bloke with a deep scouse accent answered and the conversation went as follows:-

NK - Hello, my name's King, I've been in e-mail correspondence with Tracy ...
Scouse bloke - Yeah, that's me ...
NK - Oh, you don't sound like a Tracy ...

In the background, Carol was listening to this and was doubled up with mirth.

But had we been guilty of some grotesquely egregious transgender prejudice? I was momentarily gripped with an image of:-

Let's not dwell. The fact remains the foam arrived last week - no welching over the postage costs this time - and we are well happy with it. With hindsight, we now particularly value the tip on TWFoam's website to add an extra centimetre for a snugger fit and how the stockinette cover helps you slip it in more easily. As Tracy said to the bishop ...

Now for the mirror glass. I had my doubts they would sell it here. But Carol had more faith and suggested we go to Joao Lourenco, the biggest builders' merchants on Flores. The staff at JL are very good, particularly "User Friendly" Vera at the Sta Cruz branch and "Can Do" Carlos at Lajes.

Given my doubts, I'd been practising a long spiel in Portuguese along the lines of "I don't suppose by any remote chance ..." and also a lot of stuff about might it be possible to order from the continent with mental pictures in my mind about how expensive it would be to pack a piece of made to measure mirror glass in a bespoke wooden packing frame ...

In the end, I went in to JL's in Lajes, plonked the existing mirror on the desk and said to Can Do Carlos:-

Pode ser? [Any chance?]

To which CDC replied:-

Sim [yes]

... got out his tape measure, went through to the armazem (store) to cut it, came back and told me it was only 7,50€

Bob's your uncle [Roberto e o teu tio].

It reminded me of a scene in a Woody Allen film where he goes up to a jeweller's window and cuts a hole in the glass and it's not the jewellery he wants but the piece of glass. Ring a bell?

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Dia do balde amarelho

It means "Day of the Yellow Bucket" but if you're imaging it's the Portuguese translation of a Cold War spy novel in the genre of Hill of the Red Fox or Day of the Jackal, you'd be wrong. It is in fact ... well, let me explain.

Yesterday, I was asking Fernando when a certain event had taken place and he told me it was on "dia do balde amarelho". I understood what he meant immediately: Wednesday, the day when the yellow recycling buckets are collected.

Naming days of the week after the colour of the bucket collected is far easier for us English speakers, with our penchant for Roman and Anglo-Saxon deities, to understand than the Portuguese convention which is:-

Monday - segunda feira
Tuesday - terca feira
Wednesday - quarta feira
Thursday - quinta feira
Friday - sexta feira

Saturday and Sunday are easy enough (sabado and domingo) but which idiot decided that Monday was the second day of the week? (Answer own question - a Seventh Day Adventist, obviously). After nine years of living here (yes!), I have just got my head round the fact that Monday is segunda and that Friday is sexta. I'm half way to accepting that terca is Tuesday (which is also helpfully dia do balde verde (bottles)) but I still have to count my fingers to remind myself what Wednesday and Thursday are - and remember not to count the first finger. This is not recommended when driving.

Hence, Wednesday being yellow bucket day instead of fourth (yes?) is immensely helpful although this alternative recycling nomenclature does have its limitations in that the fifth bucket (paper) is only emptied every second blue. I don't have enough fingers for that.

In a future post, I'm going to explain how, not content with naming days of the week in a thoroughly illogical manner, in Portuguese, I can't come to you or bring anything with me. I have to go to you and take it: the Portuguese for "just coming" is ja vou which is "just going".

Getting your head round that is in a different league from possessive adjectives (his/her) being gendered according to the object rather than the subject. And this apparent lack of spatial dynamic is odd coming from the people who (a) discovered Brazil; and (b) perhaps because of (a) not only have two parallel versions of here and there (aqui/ali and ca/la) but also a third dimension in which ai is "there" but in the sense of "where you are" whether that be in the same room as me or in a different continent.

But I still think all of this pales into insignificance next to the mental gymnastics involved in saying "See you on Wednesday". Until I discovered you can say Ate amarelho!


Sunday, 1 March 2015

The welchers' guide to contract law with Buyforlessonline.co.uk

They do a good job the shops on Flores: their offering has expanded in the nine years we've been here but remains of necessity limited so thank goodness for being able to buy online through the likes of Amazon and eBay. Delivery charges are an issue, though - an inevitable part of island life and we regularly find ourselves choosing according to the delivery rather than the actual price of the item.

The other day, we ordered a garden bench off Amazon. It wasn't the cheapest but the delivery was a stonkingly competetive £5.00 (6,50€/$7.50) so we bought. 24 hours later came the "Your product has been dispatched" e-mail and then a few hours after that:-

"No! No-No! No-No-No!" I said in same tone of voice as Basil Fawlty when he discovered that a couple sharing a double room were not married.

For the remainder of this post, I'm just going to paste up the exchange of e-mails (click them to enlarge). Any first year law students looking in will find this informative.

Any idea I entertained about that causing Kate, Charlotte and Lesley to go scurrying for their (presumably pristine) copy of Gloag on Contract (13th ed.) was dashed. Guess what they replied:-

It would appear that, in this online age, the law of contract has moved on since I retired: the old certainties of White & Carter Councils have been overturned by the brocard paenitemus de incommodo causatur. At least I have the remedy of actio relinquat responsione negativa

 My review on Amazon didn't get published. They sent me an e-mail urging me to revise and resubmit it but keeping in mind their guidelines and in particular the need to refrain from obscene or profane language.