Island life – part 1

One week into our Madeirense holiday and some observations:

  • The Madeiran geography is part cake, part Swiss cheese. Let me explain further. If you imagine a cake where someone has cut random slices around it, that is what the coastline of Madeira is like. Only instead of someone, it’s nature in the form of rain, eroding steep gullies that are breached with road bridges, sometimes several layers of bridge going up the gorge. And how to do deal with those piece of the cake in between the gorges? Of course you can go over the top, but in many places in Madeira, there are tunnels that take you through the mountains.
  • Madeira is not a place for anyone who suffers from motion sickness. If you want to leave the coast, you will have to take a winding road at some point up into the mountains, because although there are lots of tunnels, they are not everywhere, and sometimes where you want to go involves a long and winding road.
  • Madeirans are not bad drivers, they just drive with the casual familiarity of a lifetime spent driving on steep, narrow and winding roads (roads that are sometimes all of these things at once). Madeirans know how to reverse park uphill, how to reverse uphill around a corner to make space for a bus; they know which roads are one way up and one way down; they know the art of the passing place; they have been driving here all their lives, they know the rules; tourists don’t.
  • For a small island, Madeira has a diverse range of landscapes. We’ve been here a week and we’ve seen the desert-like dryness of the Sao Lourenco peninsula; the rainforesty damp of Ribeiro Frio; the rocky beaches at Ponta Gorda; and the alpine barrenness of Pico do Ariero and Pico Ruivo.
  • Tattoos are very popular here.
  • As the island is steeply sided and rises to 1800+m, you can experience very different climates as we found out today. Walking in the cloud and rain in Ribeiro Frio (860m), then we took the bus back to Funchal, coming out of the cloud at one point to see Funchal below us in brilliant sunshine. The jackets we’d needed to keep warm and dry were suddenly superfluous.
  • We’ve both tried the local speciality – espada fish with banana and passionfruit sauce. It’s actually nice although you wouldn’t necessarily think to put fish and banana together unless you come from a tropical place (ask me about banana and bacon – it’s a thing where I come from). We tried some sushi in a local place and found that was also Madeiranised – salmon with strawberry and mango? Yes!

We still have one more week here, time for more hiking, more sightseeing and more beach time (once my sunburn from the first beach visit has faded). Yes, I have been away from the sun so long I’ve forgotten how to adequately cover my exposed self in sunscreen when I’m at the beach. My arms have got a lovely finger-pattern pink-white line where I’ve made a half-hearted wipe of the sunscreen. And I’ve got sunburn on one thigh – just the one, of course – which hurts every time I bend down, when I don’t hurt from walking, of course.

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