Island Life – part 5

Before my memories of being in Madeira fade completely in the light of being back to a more regular routine (more on that in another post), I’ll write my last set of recollections of my brief slice of island life.

Hiking – 25 Fontes: We realised that we couldn’t get to this walk by public transport, which meant either hiring a taxi driver or signing up to a tour that covered this walk. We went with the tour option (nature meetings, who took us on the Pico do Arieiro walk). One of the interesting parts of the tours is doing the pick ups in the morning. We got picked up quite early in the route before the mini van heads out to the tourist hotel district to do the pick ups from there, so we get to see where everyone is staying. On this tour there were two British women staying at the Savoy Palace, which I hope was as nice as the prices would indicate (because yes, I did make note of the hotels and yes, I did look up prices, and yes, as you would expect, Savoy Palace was the most expensive hotel of anyone on this particular tour.)

The walk started at Rabacal, a misty hilltop car park. We were encased in cloud so we couldn’t see where we were exactly. The first part of the walk was downhill on a tarmac road, not very exciting and we were not super excited about the thought having to do this in reverse at the end of the day. Once down in the valley, (sun starting to break through the clouds) we took the levada path along to the Risco waterfall. A pleasant enough walk, a bit of up and down, a bit wet, but not challenging. (It made us wonder if we’d over-kitted ourselves in proper hiking boots and hiking poles when most people were just walking in everyday trainers.) From here we walked back again to a crossing point and changed path to the 25 Fontes levada. This levada walk was probably not for those with a fear of heights or fear of skinny paths and steep downfalls. It was a busy path and this made it difficult when you had people coming by the other way, with some people having to climb up onto the levada wall as there wasn’t much in the way of passing places.

Coming back from 25 Fontes (and let’s face it, the waterfall itself was not super entertaining, the entertainment was the walk, although it was a nice enough place to stop for lunch amongst a whole busload of Russian tourists) we found out we didn’t have to go back up the road to Rabacal. (Hurrah for no uphill!). Instead we were taking a different path to Calheta (our mini van had apparently “flown” to a new location). We had to walk through an 800m tunnel and emerged into bright sunshine on a hillside overlooking the sea, where we got into the waiting van which took us down to a little cafe and then back to Funchal.

Hike Curral das Freiras Here we realised our hiking guidebook was not terribly useful, as it said to get off the bus at Eira do Serrado. We had no idea what this place would be. We thought it might be a picnic place at the side of the road, or just a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Our guidebook didn’t mention that Eira do Serrado is a hotel/spa/restaurant/tourist shop/lookout. So before starting our hike, we went up to the lookout to enjoy the view, trying to figure if some of the mountains we were looking at were ones we had hiked up last week. And then, just because the hotel had a cafe with a balcony overlooking the valley, we sat and had a coffee and enjoyed the view down to Curral das Freiras. Our hike down from Eira to Curral das Freiras (Nuns’ Valley) was a downhill walk of 650m via a a switchback path with 52 turns. The downhill path was quite gentle in its slope, the 52 turns did not feel like 52 turns (and we did not get dizzy).

One of our guidebooks told us there were establishments offering the local cherry liqueur in chocolate cups in Curral. But we didn’t see anywhere offering us anything involving chocolate cups, so no cherry liqueurs for us. Instead we had lunch at one of the restaurants where we sat on the terrace looking up at Eira. We wanted to try the local chestnuts (a speciality of Curral) but as the chestnut bread had run out we ordered a plate of roasted chestnuts instead (despite it not being Christmas).

Beach day -Barreirinha After two days of hiking, it was time for a day off, so we went to “the beach”. Except we weren’t going to the beach as such, we were going to a swimming complex. Barreninha doesn’t have swimming pools though, it has diving boards and ladders to provide access to the sea, and a platform for sun bathing.

The complex building has a 1920s look to it, especially as it was painted in white and turquoise. We arrived early in the morning with the sky overcast and cloudy, and I doubted it was a good day for “the beach” but typically Madeira weather changed within an hour and the sun came out.

The sea was cold, but the day got hot, so it was a pleasant change in temperature to jump in and cool off, even if I had to push my way past the clusters of thin tanned teenagers who hung out by the sea platform ladders. I finally got to wear my bikini and I still consider it a major achievement of the day that I did not burn my stomach.

Best of the West – tour We wanted to go see the top of the island, the far west of the island, and the only buses going there took 3.5hours and then they pretty much turned around and come straight back to Funchal. So we signed up for a tour, which incorporated a range of stops. We stopped in Camara dos Lobos, a fishing village which was heavily decorated for a saint’s festival with recycled materials perhaps rescued from the sea; the Cabo Girao viewing point, “(one of) the highest cliffs in the world” as the sign said, and with one of those sick-making glass-floored viewing points; Ribeira Brava, a bit of a sleepy seaside town, with lots of old cars lined up getting ready for a rally (Madeira must make a good place for car and bike rallies, those crazy roads with the sharp bends); the van took a long winding road up the hill to the Encumeada pass at 1500m, and then on to Paul do Serra, a kind of tableland on the top of the island. Flat spaces are at a premium on Madeira so originally they were thinking it was a good place to put the airport (until they noticed the wind speed up there can get to 160kmph). From here we wound down the other side of the mountains and down to Porto Moniz which was fabulous and the place we really wanted to see. We were enchanted by this place, with its wild swimming sea pools (free! and also some not free) and it’s high on our list to stop for a few days when we come back. Even Husband (who despises the sea) said he might consider going swimming there.

Of course the tour didn’t tell us that we were stopping in Porto Moniz for two hours (!) and that there was opportunity to swim in the famous rock pools, so I did not bring my swimming gear. All I could do was look at other people enjoying the swimming instead.

After Porto Moniz we stopped briefly at the Bride’s Veil waterfall and in the village of Sao Vicente (which was mostly closed on a hot Saturday afternoon).

Final levada walk – Sunday we had our last walk of the trip – another levada walk close by to Funchal, from Camacha to Monte. Here we met a German man called Stefan, and we walked with him for four hours along the path, changing from Levada do Serra do Faial to Levada do Bom Successo and then to a path to Monte. We started in sun, but then the cloud came in, and then the rain started, and then the rain stopped and it sort of started to fine up, but then it rained again. We were quite cold when we got to Monte and I was happy to take the bus down to the city, where we found out it had rained in Funchal as well. It was funny, because we hadn’t seen any rain for nearly two weeks in Funchal, so we had left some final emergency laundry out on the line because “it never rains in Funchal.”

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