The Madeira Islands
Thank god we left the Porto hotel before it got light and the roads got crowded! The airport was not well marked. We missed a turn and couldn’t find a place to turn back for a while. And then, there was no one at the car rental place–just a locked drop box for keys. Ugh.
At the airport, I watched a woman pray–with a gold book held up to her nose with both hands and an orange scarf over her head. When she finished, she wrapped the book in the scarf and tucked it into the small suitcase with her.
We arrived in Funchal, capital city of The Madeira Islands, landing on the stilted runway just after 9 a.m. We rented a car and headed out to the verdant terraces of Madeira.
Stunning scenery and twisting roads up to Pico do Arieiro. At 6,000+ feet this is the place to see ALL of the island from the highest vantage point. We checked in to our great room with a balcony, had some of the fresh fruit they welcomed us with and went for a walk on the mountain-top miradouro.
I planted myself at the look-out point above the cloudline. I sat there alone for about 30 minutes–listening to the wind, to the misty clouds, and to the birds’ aerodynamic swoosh as they passed close by. It was incredibly peaceful up there…the rocks warm on my butt, the air cooling me, and the sun toasting me. I looked for an answer on that mountain. An answer to my life’s questions. Nothing came but peace.
We had a nice dinner there and were up and out for sunrise over the island at 5:20 a.m. Sounds of wind, full sky with all the stars. The sun finally greeted us at 6:15 a.m.
We spent the next few days driving around Madeira…the roads were frightening. Cliffsides, narrow, rocky, speedy drivers, huge buses, and tunnels.
Santana had the parrot saying “Hola!”, laughing like a crazy person, and crying like a baby.
Seixal was a lot of vibrant green terraces carved into a hill above the Atlantic and we caught some rain there. It smelled of dampness on that Saturday night. Families gathered in the tiny little streets to drink, eat and talk. We heard footsteps and kids behind the shutters way into the night. Bryan saw a line for bread the next morning–a long, patient line of people waiting in the rain for loaves of bread.
We drove out and into the middle of the island for walk in their rain forest of Rabacal. We hiked for a bit in the mist. Later we stopped at an unexpected, out of the mist, Jungle Rain Cafe (think Portuguese Rain Forest Cafe, with Italian food). I picked out a Sao Roque patron saint medal (patron saint of dogs) and one clerk asked another how to say “thank you” in English. I used my very best “Obrigada!”
Our best days and nights in Madeira were the last few. We got to Riberia Brava and checked into a great little hotel with a balcony over a parking lot and the ocean. There was a nice bottle of wine from the shop and a take out pizza and we hung out on the balcony for a while. We spent a lot of time at the rocky beach too. The sea glass and sea pottery opportunity was lovely–and I collected and walked and photographed for hours.
In Funchal, we enjoyed the old mansion B&B with it’s port selection. A proper Madeiran lady with far-away eyes and a neat grey dress ran that big old mansion with the resident tea-cup chihuahua. The first time I saw that little dog, he was sitting in his owner’s lap picking meat off a chicken bone that she held for him. The terrace was nice overlooking Funchal–we spent time out there for meals, dainty servings of stiff port in tiny, delicate stemmed glasses, and games of cribbage
We walked up the steep hill to the top (Monte) for the basket toboggan ride down. Near the beginning of the walk up, we passed an elderly lady walking very, very slowly up the hill. We respectfully nodded as we hurried past. About 10 minutes later, we were huffing and puffing and could barely walk, when we noticed the lady passing us–still at her slow steady pace. She smiled and nodded as she passed. Hmmm. There’s a life lesson in that.
The toboggan ride was fun. It’s a flexible basket resembling a sled, but on greased metal bars. Two men dressed immaculately in white pants and shirts with little boy hats pull it along with ropes, then jump on and ride while they guide the buggy down into town–over the streets and down the winding hill. Such a strange experience on a little island out at sea…600 miles from Lisbon, and 544 miles from Casablanca.
We spent a long time on the beach–listening to the waves roll in and scramble the rocks back down for another go, sipping sangria and hunting sea glass.
Here’s a 2:26 video of Madeira: Madeira Islands
And the last night, we watched the lights come on down in Funchal from the balcony. And like that, the trip was over. We flew home through Lisbon to Heathrow and on to Chicago on Wednesday 6/13/01.