The second Monday in April, we dragged ourselves out of our budget hotel, grabbed a cab and headed to the airport. The Lisbon airport is thankfully small, so finding our gate and getting set up was relatively simple, despite the fact that functioning early in the morning is a serious challenge for me.
The Madeira Archipelago is a small series of islands in the Atlantic ocean 1000 km to the southwest of Portugal and 500 km west of Africa. Although geographically part of the African continental plate, as is still an autonomous Portuguese region and has never been populated by anyone but Europeans (there were no native occupants when the Portuguese happened upon the islands in the 1400s), it is considered to officially be part of Europe. Madeira, the largest island, makes up something like 90% of the landmass.
|A terraced valley|
We found our hotel without much difficulty and spent our first day wandering the capital city of Funchal in search of a Vodafone (to add money to our data card) and sunscreen (which I left in my day pack like a genius and which was consequently chucked at the airport.) Needless to say, before we found the sunscreen, we were both nicely burned up by the ultra strong sun.
We managed to find a guidebook that both gave us play-by-plays of the trails that follow the levadas, which are long, narrow aqueducts that thread around the mountains all over the island. On the following day, we set off on our first choice.
|Focused. So, so focused.|
The view over the gorge was, obviously, phenomenal, once I had the nerve to look. The walk wasn't difficult and varied between those vertiginous drops, as our trusty guidebook called them, and shorter drops cushioned by shrubbery. So that you get horribly scratched up when you fall to your death.
The path eventually parted from the levada and descended down the mountain by way of dirt and rock steps, reinforced by disintegrating logs, through a gorgeous forest. As we clumped down the steps, the little tiny lizards that are all over Portugal and Madeira darted from under our feet - these lizards seem to be so terrified of getting stepped on or eaten that although they might be several feet from you, they will scramble for cover, even if it involves chucking themselves three feet down into the levada. Lizards are hilarious.
Wednesday, we took the bus a little farther from Funchal and hiked most of the rest of the length of the Levada Tornes that we had been using as our guide the day before. It was a gentle hike - no major climbs, no scrambles down, but this time we got to stoop through some of the small, damp tunnels cut into the mountain to accommodate the levada. Well. Dan stooped. I inclined my head slightly. I am much closer than he is to average Portuguese height.
|Just to his left is a heck of a drop.|
This little place feels like the absolute end of the world, as the Atlantic slams uninhibited against its rocky cliffs. It was a cloudy day when we went, and the wind whipped the sea into a turmoil. Needless to say there was no swimming in the tidal pools on the seaside.
|On the mountain behind Porto do Moniz|
|Espada with bananas|
Our Madeira adventured ended the next day, far too early. I wish we`d had at least two or three more days to really explore the place - but our budget flight was set and so we will continue our wanderings elsewhere.