12 Things No One Knows About Pico Island
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Local, insider info you'd probably only know if you lived here.
Okay. Now I know this title is a bit dramatic. Of course, some people know these things about Pico, but not too many. These things are insider local “dicas” as they say in Portuguese, or “info”.
It’s not your usual fact list, like how Pico is 2351m in height making it the highest point of Portugal, or how they’re known for their wine or even that the island’s popularity is increasing every year. Maybe you even know that Pico is the youngest island in the archipelago of Azores. However, the list below is filled with hard core blow-your-mind facts.
These are just a few things you probably didn’t know about Pico.
Hopefully the locals didn’t lie to me or I am simply spreading rumours :))
Okay but seriously, here we go.
1. There are no snakes/dangerous animals on the island.
There is probably no other place in the World that looks this tropical and doesn’t have snakes. You never have to worry when walking in the forest because their most dangerous animal is a rabbit. Sure they have animals like rats and cockroaches and alotttt of lizards (they’re harmless) but you don’t have to worry about some venomous snake or venomous spider. Pretty cool eh?
2. There aren’t any beaches
I know, for an island you’d think there’s plenty of beaches along the coast. However, Pico is mostly known for its “piscinas naturais” or natural swimming pools. These are little pockets of ocean water surrounded by natural or man made rock structures in order to make a calm swimming place in the ocean. There is actually one tiny beach on the island called "prainha" (meaning small beach) but still.
My biggest advice? Bring water shoes to Pico!
3. It’s the second biggest island but one of the least populous.
At 445km2, Pico is 300km2 less than the largest island São Miguel, you’d think that it would also be the second most populous - but nope! That title goes to Terceira at 56,000 habitants! Pico has a population of only just shy of 14,000 people based on a 2019 study. Just think about how much space of the island is left untouched!
A lot of this is due to much of the island being “untouchable” and unbuildable due to its natural reserve status. Adding to that, the giant mountain in the middle of the island takes up a lot of space!
4. There’s a fish-cream truck
If you stay in Pico long enough you might hear the famous fish-cream truck. Okay they don’t sell cream but they do have a loud speakerphone and a siren sound with a man saying “fresh lapas” (seafood), fresh fish, today at only €__.__!” They go around the streets like an ice cream truck selling fresh fish that they just caught to locals and restaurants.
5. Almost every fruit and vegetable grows here.
Now this is pure self observation, but here is a list of fruits and vegetables that can grow in Azores with almost no to little work. When I mean no to little work I mean that most of these fruits growing in the wild .. without human help!
This includes: oranges, apples, kiwis, grapes, passionfruit, banana, avocado, bay leaf, tomatoes, guava, mint, aloe vera, figs, cabbage, fennel, currants, pineapples, fruits like “nesperas” and “arasais”(super common here) and the list goes on and on! You can also plant almost any vegetable and it will grow.
The climate is never too hot and never too cold but somehow the fruits and veggies thrive here!!
6. It erupted not too long ago
The last eruption was only 300 years ago in 1720, which geologically speaking was yesterday. Crazy eh?
7. No one wants to work.
It’s quite interesting to see almost every restaurant, hotel and any business with an overload of customers and not enough employees to provide a comfortable, fluid experience.
Why is this? Thanks to a new political party who recently increased their “welfare” wage, people can now make €400-500 euros a month doing nothing at home. Since the minimum wage is about €650-€720 many people find that the welfare money and 1-2 cash jobs a month is enough to make the same as a traditional all day long job.
Many of these people have houses passed down, food growing in the back and to be honest you can survive just fine with their system. The problem with this system is that businesses are being hit hard because they cannot keep up with demand and therefore the clients aren’t properly taken care of. They are literally pushing clients away, sending them off because they cannot serve them.
The past two years, businesses were able to import people who wanted to work from other parts of the world like Cape Verde or Thailand, but thanks to Covid that has stopped. Combine that with an increase in tourism to the Azores, and you’ve got yourself really frustrated businesses.
I mean, can you really blame them though? Their wages in Portugal are very low, and this includes really laborious jobs like being out in the sun all day lifting heavy rocks. Perhaps if the government didn't charge 48% tax rates to business owners, they could actually afford to provide good wages to employees which in turn would promote people to look forward to going to work instead of having to rely on government aid.
The system is broken.
8. Pico wines are done by hand
Thanks to its rocky, volcanic terrain, it’s quite impossible to get machines through the “vinhas” - the structures of rock wall that contain the grapevines.
So unlike traditional wineries, wine from Pico is collected with no machines, brought down to their distillery basically truck by truck.
That’s why when you’re shopping for alcohol in Pico, the wines from Pico are more expensive than wines from Portugal’s mainland let’s say. There’s no mass production, and that’s why they have to sell it at boutique style prices.
9. They don’t have a conventional sewer system
If you’re from North America or other countries, it’s almost second nature to us that what we flush goes into the sewer system - right? Well not in Pico.
When I first learned this I was so astonished and confused. So take this, each house has its own septic tank. All the poops & pees are sent to the home’s underground giant tank. As the #1's and #2’s pile up, the liquid and feces on the most bottom layer starts to decompose, like compost, into the land below it.
10. Miracles happen: salt water to fresh
Pico is miraculous. Locals used to get their cooking water, bathing water, and even drinking water from fresh water wells that are just by the ocean. Our friend Senhor Mario, used to walk kilometres with his mom to the well to collect the freshwater.
But what’s even crazier is that the fresh water they collected was once salt water from the ocean. Pico sucks in the ocean water and when it releases it back into the ocean, the water is filtered by the minerals in the rock, removing most of its salinity and becoming pretty much fresh drinkable water.
11. Pico rocks could go around the world twice.
Apparently if you were to gather all the rocks on Pico island and put them in a row, they could go around the world - twice!! That’s a lot of rocks people.
12. Pico was abandoned.
Pico at one point was abandoned. Not totally, but by the people of Faial.
Back in the time, Faial was the island of the wealthy and powerful. They would send people to Pico to cultivate wine which they would then bring back to Faial to sell it and to export it to Lisbon or other European countries.
However, one day an infestation of pests and disease came about Pico, leaving the soil damaged and with little food growing, the people would be left to starve. Owners of land in Pico from Faial, left the island and considered it unusable.
They left people on Pico with the land for free, and expected to come back years later to a deserted island where everyone probably died of hunger. Instead, they came back to a thriving Pico.
The people on Pico had found a way to create rock formations, like a maze of rock walls that allowed the heat to grow grape vines in the rocky soil instead. They had created a whole new way to grow grapes (and other veggies) and cultivate wine. Talk about survivors! This is also why a lot of land doesn’t exist in forma records on Pico, leaving a huge mess in the real estate world.
I learned a lot of this information from our friends at Pico Me Up (@picomeup) and our friend Senhor Mário, along with other “picarotos” (what they people from Pico call themselves). We are super thankful to have learned these cool things along our journey and can’t wait to continue learning more about the island.
Thanks and stay tuned on my upcoming blogs and follow me on Instagram for all the updates @im_vacationista. :)