Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Tue 4 Nov 2014 21:53
Madeira is an amazing island, a whole tourist guide of superlatives would not quite capture the dramatic scenery, the rich tropical vegetation, the feats of civil engineering to live in such a steep landscape. Arriving from Porto Santo, where much of the rugged sandstone and volcanic landscape is scrub grass, Madeira could not be more different. It is lush and green, the mountains rise steeply from the valley bottom, the upper reaches craggy and near vertical. Everywhere it is possible, land has been terraced to enable cultivation. This is extreme agriculture and horticulture, dizzying slopes and fantastic views. Here sugar cane, banana palms and vines predominate. Local fruits and vegetables fill the markets, all manner of things we have no idea what to do with, now sit on our boat awaiting their moment. Many plants recognisable from Uk garden centres are growing naturally here. Hydragenas fill the cooler wooded slopes and Agapanthus colonise the roadside.
There is very little flat land, most buildings are low rise with many individual houses rising one above the other ascending the lower slopes. With plenty of greenery around them, terracotta roof tiles pepper the view, it is only in the small towns that housing is more tightly packed. Modern roads that now connect the island are all bridges, viaducts and tunnels, local roads are steep, winding, not very wide and with stunning views all around. Sub-tropical flowers colour the gardens even at this time of year, while the temperatures are often like those of a warm English summers day.
Initial impressions suggest that Madeira appears more prosperous than mainland Portugal, with tourism especially from visiting cruise ships, golf tourism and to a lesser extent yachtsman. Walking hoildays through the Levada pathways are a great way to see the island.
Arriving just before the rally start, hot foot and breathless we joined the other rally participants at the marina bar, (where else!) with Catia our port officer and marina manager presenting several options which inevitably took a while to decide and then confusingly got changed, we muddled through though! We had a strenuous walk through the nature reserve on the eastern most tip of the island with stunning cliff scenery, and protected plants and wild life, including a colony of monk seals who concealed themselves completely from our view. The next day it was on to Santo de Serra local market with fruit, vegetables, crafts, the local brew of Ponsha, (decidedly wicked, a mix of local aguadente, clear spirit from cane sugar and fruit syrups,) this is a seriously strong from the first mouthful. There was a tourist section to the market but all in all it had a really local character to it, look out for the local snacks pictures in the blog. Followed closely by a trip to the whaling museum, (the whales have my vote,) and a vineyard tour.
Next stop was a trip to the North side of the island via some wonderful viewpoints, to a rum factory, still operating some steam driven machinery for threshing the sugar cane, (made in Birmingham, a throw back to an industrial past). The factory operates for just about a month in March April time when the cane arrives from the fields, is pulped and the pulp fermented and distilled into Rum. A delicious lunch of kid followed in a mountain village.The driving is ‘eyes on the road 100% stuff” Not for the faint hearted! Somehow we fitted in a tour of a boatyard under the airport runway which is built out over the seashore, a great cathedral of columns with enough height to fit boat masts in for winter storage
Taking a local bus trip into the capital Funchal, we had a list of boat parts to get, mostly we failed but had a lovely lunch at the ‘Ritz’ with a ‘Blues Brother’s’ jazz band followed by a tour of Blandy’s Madeira wine cellar with a tasting. We particularly liked the medium dry and sweet styles, but all were worthy of their historical place in our gastronomy The drier sercial is an appertif while the sweeter Malmsey a digestive and the verdelho and bual could be served with the meal and with the cheese and fruit courses, so next time you are pulling the stops out for a dinner party dont forget Madeira wines! Other delights of the capital will have to wait for a return visit.
Not pausing for breath, we opted for the 13km levada walk to a volcanic calderia and waterfall. Starting someway up a mountain, the levadas are water channels built around 150 years ago, that carry the mountain water to the terraces below. Their gradient is gentle, the feat of engineering impressive on such steep slopes where the channels have been hewn from the rock and run through tunnels where no outside path was possible. A thin metal fence is all that separates walkers from steep drops with the path no wider than 30cm in many places. The calderia and waterfall where very impressive, several hundred feet of vertical rock face crammed with natures amazing capacity to colonise crevices. Ignoring the blisters I opted for the next levada and coastal walk not realising it was also about 13km and along a coastal path that was half way up a steep cliff and disappeared at times leaving us finding toeholds on the rockface and a deadline of a bus back to catch by 2pm. I was wornout and footsore but wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Alan very sensibly had a boat day followed by some dive practise.
Madeira is the home port for two of our rally members, Harald and Beate, who have been so brilliant for the whole rally, in fixing sails, radios and not least several pieces of our electronics. We have all been impressed with Harald’s expertise and wished to say a big thank you to them both for their help and for helping to organise much of the programme for Madeira. So our last night was party night with the gifts I had spent a good part of the day organising in Funchal, being presented to our port officer Catia and to Harald and Beate. There were also competition prizes, group photos and local press coverage, this was one seriously full on week, no wonder we are tired!
We are currently on passage, as usual I am writing this in the only only free moment for ages, to the island of Graciosa just north of Lanzarote. It’s been a rough and fast passage, spells of 25-29knots of wind left me reaching for the seasick pills. Its now 10-13knots and a bit less lumpy, we are hoping to anchor off the Southern end of the island at first light tomorrow. We are still getting used to the fact that the sun goes down quickly at this latitude, around 6pm with darkness following rapidly and is not light again until around 8am. The nights are mostly cool but not cold, the days warm in the sun, We are trying to keep in touch with fellow ralliers via an SSB radio net but the reception has been poor today, just snatches of conversation, but we think we will have 4 boats at anchor in Graciosa by tomorrow.
Better sign off for now, all our best wishes to you, Photos to follow when we reach Lanzarotte.
Lynne and Alan