We left early this morning with our guide, Esmeraldo Caldeira, heading west toward Câmara de Lobos, a small fishing port. Winston Churchill visited the port in the 1951, where he set up his easel overlooking the harbor. His visit is commemorated by a plaque, but unlike us, Churchill apparently disliked Madeira, and quickly headed back to London via seaplane.
Today we were in search of fishing boats, which we found, together with the strong and dizzying smell of glue that was being used to repair a boat. We also found raging teenage hormones, as a group of summer sailors were preparing for a day on the water. Moments before I snapped the cover photograph, these two were playful pushing and grabbing each other, but temperaments do change quickly. By tonight, I am willing to bet the stars will be aligned again, with the two walking hand in hand through the small town.
After the harbor, we continued further west to Cabo Girão, the site of the Europe's highest seaside cliff (580 meters). A first for me: I walked out on the glass platform despite my vertigo. Spectacular views, but too hazy for photographs. Maybe I'll take a similar walk at the top of the Willis Tower when we return to Chicago.
Next we headed north, toward the sea. Midway we stopped for a scenic walk along a levada. The water was flowing, a levada maintenance man was hard at work, and we had some spectacular views of the valley below. Madeira has some 2,100 kilometers of levadas, which are canals that channel the water as it flows from the mountains to the sea, providing drinking water, hydroelectric power (there are 7 generating stations), and irrigation for agriculture. A levada walk is simply a walk along the path used by those who maintain the levada. It can be very easy, or treacherous with steep drops on both sides of the levada.
We then headed to the Laurisilva of Madeira, the largest laurel tree forrest in the world, where we spent about an hour hiking. I felt like an onion stewing in a pot of vegetable soup given the smell of bay leafs. We were treated to views of the cloud shrowded coastline from the top of a hill. We then headed back down hill, where we confronted by a cow and calf on the path, plus a fresh cow pie, which I didn't see. A cow pie on a hill is a very dangerous thing, as I found out as I gracefully slipped down the hill, but there was no damage to the cameras as I used by shoulder to break my fall. Of course, Evelyn laughed her ass off. The last time I stepped into a steaming cow pie was in Varanasi, India in a back alley.
We then headed to Porto Moniz, which is located on the island's far northwest corner. We visited a salt-water swimming pool, watch the Atlantic waves hit the rocky wall the surrounded the man-made pool. We then headed back to Funchal after another excellent day of touring. The drive from Funchal to Porto Moniz used to be a 4.5 hour venture, according to Esmeraldo, but Madeira has developed am elaborate string of tunnels that cut the drive by at least three hours. It took us about an hour because traffic was light.
As Peter O' Toole told our Esmeraldo, Madeira has everything, a sentiment with which we whole heartily agree. We loved the aromas--the smell of the sea, as well as the smell of oregano, mint, bay leaves, and just about every other imaginable herb. We saw pineapples, kiwis, assorted berries, grapes, corn, bananas, and heather growing in the wild and on farmland. The island is very modern, with 40% of the energy generated with solar panel. We also saw a windmill farm. The housing stock housing is top notch. The island is extremely prosperous. You can't beat the weather. Temperate year round.
We relaxed for a bit when we returned to the hotel, and we then headed downhill to the Ritz. About two long blocks short of the Ritz, we encountered Tipografia in the Catanheiro Boutique Hotel. Every Wednesday, this Mediterranean restaurant offers a pre-fixe four-course meal for 30 Euro--red and white wine included. All recipes and food are local. We began with a pumpkin, cooked apple, and fried cottage cheese appetizer. Sounds a bit odd, but the flavors worked. We then had tuna, with roast potato and fresh oregano. The tuna was outstanding--piping hot and nicely seasoned. Next, it was beef tenderloin topped with garlic foam on laurel stick (espetada), served with fried corn cubes. For desert, we had an orange egg pudding, with a passion fruit topping. The warm garlic-infused bread accompanying the meal was excellent.
We were initially disappointed that the restaurant's outdoor terrace was booked solid, particularly because music is included with the Wednesday night prefix. If you like something equivalent to German oom pa pa music, then the outdoor terrace is the place to be. We were very content with our indoor location once the music started (20 minutes in length).
As for Esmeraldo: If you come to Funchal, do not hesitate to book him for a guided tour. He is extremely knowledgable about all aspects of the island, accommodating, and spirited. And his biggest endorsement comes from a dog that we encountered on the way to Porto Moniz. Esmeraldo stopped the car just before we started to head back down the hill. The dog behind the fence in the small yard began to spin in circles, as his tail waved excitedly. Esmeraldo, excused himself, got out of the car, opened the trunk of the car, and announced that he had two treats for his friend. The dog went berserk. Esmeraldo has his priorities right.
Copyright 2016, Jack B. Siegel. All Rights Reserved