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Exploring Madeira

Rotterdam, april 25, 2013

Early departure means leave home early. Went to our office in Central Station at midnight and spent some hours dozing on the staff couch. 3 o'clock night express to the airport. Fast check in and drop off, take off on time. Spent the flight fighting sleep..

Touchdown on Funchal airport at 9am local. Spectacular landing on short runway, partly extending in the ocean. Long wait for the luggage. Speedy transfer to a seedy rental agency (Bravacar) where I received the most run-down Renault Modus of all Madeira. But I do not care as long as the thing runs. New policy: empty tank on pickup, empty tank on drop off. And empty it was! Warning light already flashed so a speedy fill up is required.

Made it to Royal Orchid hotel/apartments in no time. Piece of cake. Long check in since only one desk clerk and a dozen of flight mates who made it quicker than me on their shuttle bus.

Landing in Funchal My rent-a-wreck Room 302 ...all for me alone!!

Ocean view Lunch..

Room 302 is an apartment in the hotel, kitchenette included. This unit is so bloody spacious I could even park the car in here.

Made quarter and went to the hypermercado in Caniço. Today is a bank holiday so everything closed. Made it back to the room and dozed off for a short moment (which turned out to be more than two hours..)

beach Beachclub annex local pool from nowhere to nowhere..

After my short sleep a walkabout in the neighborhood. The hotel is situated on a cliff. Village is called Caniço de baixo (baixo means "lower") and indeed: the road to Caniço is very steep up.

Bought myself a Super Bock on MY terrace and cooked myself a delicious meal. Spent time on the sundeck and made a rough plan for the next 6 days. So many things to see and do, it is going to be choices...

Crisis hits Madeira too..

Caniço, friday, 26 april 2013

note to myself:

  • Nail the shoemaker (who fixed my mountainboots) with his thumbs to his bench
  • Never rent a car from Bravacar again
  • Bring a flashlight next time
  • Go back to Madeira again!

Deep sleep till 7.30. Deep and peaceful, the ocean murmuring in the background. Made myself breakfast and decided for the day to do:

Drive to the easternmost village of Caniçal, and walk to the peninsula circling the Abra bay;
Depending on time, direction north coast / Faial area and cut through to Ribeiro Frio for the recommended hike to the "Balçoes".

My god, steering this piece of junk is heavy and cumbersome. Something is wrong here. Shield is dirty but wipers do not do the job.
Found the parking and left the car. Checked the tires and guess what? All like foam rubber. Have to take care of that next.

Baia de Abra

8:30: good time to get started, no tourists yet. The hike is spectacular, glad I wore my Lowa mountain shoes. Steep climbs, rocks, spectacular views. I observe that my condition is not as good as it was in my younger years. Am out of breath earlier and need more time to restore...

Caniço in the distance Estreito (narrow pass)

No more text, the pics will tell the story. Lizards, wild flowers, vulcanic rock, cliffs, reefs, emptyness. I LIKE IT!! Fine weather: 20 C, sunny, bit of a breeze.

Made it back to the car at 12:45. Ice cream. Lot of cars now which explains the vast number of tourists I crossed on the path. Even fools wearing flipflops and nailpolish. Silly. They will regret...
..and so will I. Just noticed that both left and right rubber profiles of my boots are letting go due to faulty glueing.

end of the path,
not of the peninsula

Drove direction Faial and made a pitstop at the first Repsol service stationto check my tires and guess what: left front less than 1 bar. Pumped all four to a generous 2.2 bar and washed the windshield. Much better but this engine is badly tuned: no power to negotiate serious gradients. Uphill a 7% incline in second gear, doing 60... my!

Scenic route to Ribeiro Frio. Hairpins. Totally different landscape. Bit like Switzerland alps. Found the Balçoes. Short hike to the miradouro. Nice but not spectacular. Fed crumbs to the birds.

Ribeiro Frio

Back at the car, next to a restaurant. Had a green tea and a slice of "tarte de nata". Yummie! Back on the road direction Funchal without any outlined plan. At a junction I had a flash of a sign stating "pico de Arieiro" and I followed on impulse. It might be close to Pico Ruivo which I had on my mind so might as well find out.

Wow! 1818 m altitude and breathtaking views.

Pico de Arieiro ..take a close look..

No text, the pics will tell. Found a somewhat hidden plateau behind a tall military antenna tower which offered the most spectacular view of Madeira. I fell silent and could only sit and look in awe. Lizards on my shoes. Total silence. Birds whistle. 360 degrees panorama. Ocean all around. Colors.

No building for my collection,
yet 1810 m. meets the criterium
In the distance: Baia de Abra

Back on the road. Another impulse: what is that low straight stone wall doing there in the middle of the plain? It was a small levada! Still alive and streaming water. Levada's are unique feature of Madeira. Manmade canals for irrigation. Over 2000 kilometer of 'em all over Madeira. I filled my bottles. This is pure and natural.

Baia de Abra
(in the distance)
levada.. ..delicious water.. enjoy..!

Sat in perfect harmony for over one hour. Sip of levada water, an apple, all a man needs.

Five pm. Time to leave. Local shopping, did some laundry. Beer on my terrace and some writing. The local restaurant had "lulas grelhadas" on the menu. I like that and that is going to be my dinner.

Have to plot out the next days. The weather is going to change next days for the worse..

Saturday 27 april

Another blissful night. It stormed last night. Woke me up at 6 am because of some rattling metal. Turned out to be the ceiling of the bathroom.

More clouds and light is different. Breakfast, pack up and leave for daytrip #15: a 8 km hike along the levada do Norte, terminating on the cliff of Cabo Girão. Unfortunately on my ligther hiking shoes since the soles of my Lowa's start to let go.
Since this hike is not circular I decided to park the junker close to the Cabo Girão and look for a bus or taxi to the start. No problem at all. At random at the busstop. In ten minutes bus 139 passed and took me to Estreito de Camara Lobos for one Euro twenty-five.

Origin of hike:
Cruz da Caldeira,
bus 139 to Estreito
da Cãmara de Lobos,
start of Levada do Norte

Levada do Norte is one of the most prominent of Madeira. No more than a stone channel about 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep with a small walkway along. Built against the slopes of the hills. Spectacular passages. If you suffer of vertigo or high anxiety, do not walk this levada.

vineyards river Caixa valley

Clouds are descending.
The pics will tell the story yet again.

like a spirit level.. Funchal in the distance Clouds descending

Cabo Girão is the highest cliff of Europe, rising 600 meter straight up from the ocean. The platform with glass floor extends over the abyss and below you see some pastures on the beach. Spectacular! Though no tower or building, this one goes on my collection of "Been on high objects of the world".

Nogueira Funchal Miradouro de Cabo Girão
the abyss.. glass floor.. ..and he saw it was good.. Were those islands there yesterday?

Back to the car. Short stop along the way in Cãmara de Lobos in order to do some shopping. No flashlight for sale. Need one for the levada tunnels. First raindrops!

Home. Put my shoes on the terrace. What is that? Three islands in the ocean? Did not see them there before..

Enjoyed the daily treats at 5 pm. Concluded that Madeira is especial. A piece of Europe in Africa (technically Madeira is part of the African continent). Sun yesterday and blue skies, in the clouds now and wearing a fleece. Bustle in Funchal, total silence 10 km out. I could live here...

Every woman's dream: he knows how to cook.. ..and cleans up afterward Disappeared again,
the Ilhas Desertas

Looked it up: the islands are the Ilhas Desertas, about 20 miles out.

Sunday 28 april - Funchal

Today no long hikes. Long sleep, slow breakfast. Opening the curtains and seeing this ominous sky made me decide to dress up warm and take a raincoat just in case. Decided to do a walkabout in Funchal. If the weather goes worse it is always better to be in a place where you can hide indoors than being on a plane without any building around for miles...

Driving and navigating in Funchal is a piece of cake. Without GPS, maps or anything I managed to find a parking space close to the starting point I had in mind: the funicular to Monte. When I got out of the car and looked up a funicular cab swooshed overhead, telling me I really was in the best spot!

The ride up presents a showcase of Funchal below you. The line ends on "Monte", a hill uptown where igreja Nossa Senhora do Monte is located. Touristy stuff like a toboggan ride in authentic wicker sleds downhill is for the myriads of cruise passengers that were hoarding the town today. As you can see in the pics TWO huge cruisers were docked for the day.

As usual the pics will tell most of the story.

Sunrise today Funicular to Monte Toboggan ride
and a nice oldtimer VW
..just follow the lines..

Igreja do Monte Declaration of "independence" what goes down, must come up again Jesus on olive mountain

Typical Portuguese are the azulejos: square tiles of mostly white and blue, which are framed together to empict a tableau of any kind. Whole facades might be covered with those.

Car is still there.. Streets in old city close to São Tago fortress

Condemned? What a waste
on this wonderful location!
Very small residential house Sé cathedral

Another oldtimer,
is this coincidence?
Ah, the mysterious Islas
are present today..
Santa Catarina chapel,
the oldest of Madeira

Avenida do Mar so that explains the oldtimers.. Memories from my youth:
a Peugeot 403

All in all: a splendid day. Not a single drop of rain, bit windy but otherwise more than perfect. One of the extras of the day was a coincidental meeting with one of my Rotterdam-based collegues who was on holidays here with her husband. We had dinner together and while walking to their favorite restaurant we could not believe our eyes...
A défilé of at least 20 vintage cars parked along the curb, ready for a little parade. Borgward, Austin, VW Beetle in all varieties, Opel Rekord, several Fiats. An amazing collection which brought back memories of exactly the same cars my dad used to have back in the sixties: he too had a black VW Beetle with the small rear window, with the turning indicator arms on the sides of the car.

For dinner we tried the "espada", a typical Madeiran fish, caught in the deep seas around the island. Approved!

Another fine day on this marvellous island. Let's try and see if I can navigate back to my hotel in Canico in the dark...

Monday, april 29

Today is going to be a day of rest for several reasons:
-it is raining and windy;
-got a painful blister on my left main toe;
-spent three very intense and long days.

Weather forecast for the upcoming days is more optimistic. Two more days ahead...

Tuesday ,april 30

While back in Holland everyone is witnessing the abdication of our queen Beatrix and the installation of king William, I will head to the northernmost part of Madeira: the São Jorge area. Instead of using all the tunnels on the main road (it still baffles me how extensive and well-maintained the road structure is, not to mention the vast number of tunnels) I opted for the scenic route in order to visit Santana.

Santana area is known for the characteristic dwellings (casas de colmo) with their prism-shaped form and the straw roofs. This way of constructing could withstand the severe weather conditions on the north coast of Madeira. Nowadays more and more the roofs are corrugated iron, but some are still authentic.

Santana Casa de colmo Achada do Gramacho
(starting point of hike)

My hike today runs from Ponta da Santana via the old, steep trading route via the valley to São Jorge. The best option is to put the car at the end of the walk and double back on a local bus to the starting point.
Again, the issue of intuition. Left home without any outlined plan. Parked the "car" at 10:23 next to the church, close to the local bus stop and was virtually run over by number 138 bus, scheduled at 10:25 for Santana. One minute later and 1.25 euro less in my wallet put me next to the driver for a scenic drive. Hairpins and all. Shot some video, which will be uploaded later. My luck; the driver informed me there are only five buses a day covering this part. Sheer luck? Will of God? Who knows...

rain..? on the other side: São Jorge
and the lighthouse
across the valley is where the
trail goes up: Calhau below

Scenic but heavy descent as well as climb: 300 alt.meter down zigzag, then 300 alt.meter up again. In the old days the locals used to do this every day...
In the valley it is possible to branch off to Ponta de São Jorge, but after a landslide the road is close to impossible. Partly thanks to my blister and without my solid mountain boots I decided to cut short and skip.

no flowers yet.. Calhau

Took in the parochial church of São Jorge and the lighthouse (farol) on the northernmost overlook of Madeira. Yet another milestone: done the easternmost (Baia de Abra) and southernmost (Cabo Girão) as well as the highest point. Remains the westernmost point at Ponta do Pargo. Maybe tomorrow, weather permitting.

São Jorge parochial church Madeira north coastline Farol

More and more rain, and the clouds keep descending. It was forecasted. My initial hunch was to head back via the plains and pass Santo da Serra, but that area will be in the clouds and probably terribly grey. Could be a waste. Prefer to save my feet and take care of the huge blister in order to complete tomorrow, being my last day on Madeira.

Wednesday, may 1st

Apparently Portugal has some socialist principles, since May 1st, being Labour Day, is celebrated here as well. Like a sunday. Families go out and have a party outside.

I will live up to the expectations of Labour Day and will undertake the heaviest and longest day of all during my stay. Had my eye on a long hike on the Paûl da Serra plain in the central west.

Paûl da Serra plus 2 C Rabaçal Rabaçal

Sky is a bit overcast but down here the sun peeks through. Well, that lasted until I reached the Ribeira Brava junction where I went up the mountains. Went into the fog, then the clouds, then I saw almost nothing any more. Temperature dropped to 2 deg Celsius and I had to switch on the heater. Not a good sign for the cascades at Rabaçal or the "25 Fontes".

Peeked down to the south coast and saw Calheta in bright sunshine. You know what? Forget about Paûl da Serra and go down direction Calheta and from there on to Ponta do Pargo, the westernmost point of Madeira and play it by ear.

Calheta in the sun.. Igreja da Calheta Engenhos da Calheta.. ..sugarcane processing

Calheta is known for its sugarcane industry. The local "Engenhos" just presses on on may 1st. Good people! Visitors are welcomed. Nice old equipment, lot of noise, shredding and pressing the cane. Stills. Anything on basis of sugar is manufactured: honey, liquors, cakes.

Ponta do Pargo Westcoast Madeira, northbound view No warnings, no barrier,
own common sense!
..mijn lunch date.. my chourizo

Leaving sunny Calheta and continue the coastal route northbound to Ponta do Pargo. On the westernmost point of Madeira is the highest positioned lighthouse of Portugal (315 meter up, beaming 28 nautical miles). Had to take a peek. You know, altitudes, my passion...
While savouring this majestic miradouro, I set myself to the lighthouse wall and savoured my lunch. Within seconds I got feminin feline company, who had an eye on my chourizo and my cheese. We shared and had a nice conversation.

Na. Sra. de Boa Morte Miradouro de Cabo

Moved on and parked the car in a village called Pedregal. Had half a mind to hike along Levada Nova and circle back to the car. Since a steady drizzle started I opted for a shortcut and follow the coastal line towards "Capela da Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte" (chapel of Our Dear Lady of the Beautiful Dead).
On a cliff dead in front of the chapel is a lookout, 370 meters straight above the waves. That is one for me. And when I looked down I think I figured out why the chapel has this name...

370 meter, about half Cabo Girão.. Ponto Vermeilho Moment of evaluation

Doubled back the same route and made a sidejump to Ponto Vermeilho. Vermeilho means "red" and that made sense, looking at the surrounding grounds. All kinds of red, as well as many colorful flowers.

Without noticing (I never wear a watch while on holiday) it already was well past 4 pm. Quite later than I anticipated it to be. A 60 kilometer winding drive back to the base, taking 75 minutes average on Madeira. But I am not in a hurry...

Beer, last of my chourizo and cheese, and enjoying the (my) last sunset on Madeira. For this time, that is. I am sure I am going to be back to this wonderful island. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to have diversity, a choice of activities both maritime and land, nature, good food, fresh air, nice people... And all for affordable prices.

One word of advice: be selective when it comes to car rental if you are not adventurous and/or mechanically skilled. Steer clear of the second rate rental companies and fork out a bit more for a decent car. I had to inflate my left front tire three times during the 7 day stay, burned over 35 liters of gas for just 240 kilometers (yes, worse than 1:8) and did not manage to go uphill >6% in third gear.
I am not too demanding when it comes to cars. Apperance is not important. As long as it has four wheels, an engine that fires on the first effort and takes me where I want to go, I am content. I did not quite expect a Bentley for € 100 / 7x24 hours all-in.

Last word of advice: the Royal Orchid is good value for money. Informal, very clean, friendly staff. Rooms to avoid are numbers 205-210 since they are more or less over the gym/pool and can be a bit noisy. The really large rooms (the apartments) are on the 3rd floor (rooms 301-308) and include a kitchenette. The higher the number, the closer to the pool and activity center.

Até proximo!


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