Monday, November 8, 2010

A week in Madeira, so far

Dinner on Avocette was great. What a beautiful boat! And excellent hosts. We were sorry to see them leave Tuesday morning, but we understand. They had already been here more than a week, and it was time for them to move on.

Following Chris’s advice, we rented a car for three days of touring the island. It is spectacularly beautiful even in November, past the peak time for flowers. The first day we made a quick stop at the chandlery in Funchal where we found one item on our list of four. They had harnesses, which we didn’t want, but not tethers, which we did want. They had fuel line, but not the clamps to hold it in place. Altogether an odd shop. We really wanted serious biocide to treat our tanks, but they didn’t have that either. We hope we’ll have better luck with that in the Canary Islands.

Past peak but still pretty

Don't know what this is, but it's nice

From Funchal we drove west along the south side of the island as far as Calheta. I wanted to see the marina there to compare it with where we are. Although the marina at Calheta has a town with it, it also has surge, and we’re happy where we are at Marina Quinta do Lorde, especially now that the marina manager is going to be a cruising station host and extend a discount to members of our cruising association, Seven Seas Cruising Association.

Quinta do Lorde is way out here on a peninsula

On the way to Calheta we went to the top of Cabo Girão, the highest “sea cliff” in Europe at 580 meters and second highest in the world, or so the tourist brochure says. We aren’t sure what qualifies as a sea cliff, but it’s certainly very high and the views are awesome. (I’m having difficulty finding words to alternate with awesome and spectacular. I’ve been saying “wow” a lot here.)

Cabo Girão as we approach it

Looking down from the top

After Calheta we headed up to the central plateau, Paul da Serra. There are lots of places here where you can see across the island from north to south simply because there are so many tall peaks. The sides of the plateau also drop off steeply so you see the ocean surrounding you and feel like you’re on top of the world.

John jumping off the top of the world

You can't see these rugged mountains from sea level

The Madeirense, as the people here call themselves, are quite the road builders. There are so few flat areas, and roads must go up or under the mountains. The result is highways through tunnels with steep grades and bridges across valleys. These are the fast highways. Lots of two-lane roads simply use switchbacks to climb the nearly vertical slopes. Even the runway for the airport is suspended over the ocean and straddling a valley.

The vineyards are something to see too. Like everything else here, they’re vertical. (We haven’t done a serious tasting of the Madeira here yet; maybe tomorrow.) We knew about the grapes, of course, but we were surprised to see fields of banana trees on the lower slopes on the south side of the island. They also grow sugar cane and avocados.

Madeira vertical (that's a vineyard next to the house)


The second day we went to the north side of the island. The destination was a theme park that the tourist info lady said was like an outdoor cultural museum. We were expecting something like the Zuider Zee Museum in Enkhuizen, Netherlands. Instead it was a mostly cheesy theme park without rollercoasters. One of the exhibits, though, did have a lot of history of the island, and we enjoyed that. The scenery along the way there and back was, of course, spectacular too, so the day wasn’t wasted.

Stunning view on the north side

The last day with the car we did a levada walk. The levadas are a system of concrete ditches that bring water from the mountains of Madeira to the fields. Footpaths run along side them, and levada walks are one of the must-do things on this island. We picked an 11 km walk of moderate difficulty and drove to the bottom of it to see what facilities were available. Fortunately for us, there was a taxi stand, and a taxi appeared as we were getting out of the car. For 30€ the driver took us to the top, where he pointed out that we should do the short walk (3 km round trip) to an overlook first and then head downhill. The view from the overlook was breathtaking and definitely worth the extra steps. In fact, vertigo is one of the hazards of the levada walks. The easy and moderate walks have cables to hold on to where the path is especially narrow and the cliff steep. The difficult ones don’t.

Overlooking everything

This is how steep it is

Something to hang on to in case of vertigo

Catching the water from a waterfall

Even the levada has tunnels

Yet another awesome view

Now we’re back to doing boat chores and errands until Wednesday. Then we plan to take the bus into Funchal and ride the cable car up the mountain in order to ride the wicker sleds down. We should also have time to do some serious Madeira tasting. It looks like Thursday will be a good day to leave. (Big swell from storms up north is expected between now and then.)


peregrins2 said...

John and Shirley, lovely photos!!

How was the climate?

BTW, in Lanzarote, one of the harbors we stayed at had a street of both marine and auto parts and we did pretty well finding "stuff" we needed. If you want me to look up the port name, I will.


Crew of the Solstice said...

Thanks, Diane. The climate here has been just right: not too hot and not too cold. We're having a bit of rain today, but it's our first in over a week.

We aren't planning to go as far east as Lanzarote. La Palma will be our first stop, and then we'll go east an island at a time until we get everything.