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Travelogue from a holiday in Madeira. Thursday 20. February 2003.
Today we're going on a roundtrip. The bus picks us up by the hotel at 8.35, and first stop is Pico Do Areeiro, 1818 m, close to the Island's highest peak (Pico Do Ruivo 1861 m).
With height the vegetation changes, and near the top there are no trees. On the top there's fog (clouds). There's a strong wind and it is bitterly cold - not pleasant for the optimists wearing shorts.
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As you cannot see a thing through the fog there's nothing better to do than visit the restaurant and taste a "poncha", a sugarcane brandy with honey and lemon. It is a fair sized drink, potent and good. I believe that after 5 or 6 you'll be fluent in Portuguese!
After 15 minutes the fog suddenly clears and everybody rushes out to admire the view over the rugged and wild mountains.
Santana and Porto Moniz
The trip continues to the North coast and West towards Porto Moniz, a town on the north-western tip. The coastline is wild, and after an Atlantic journey of many hundred kilometres huge waves hammer themselves to foam against the steep cliffs.
The weather is brilliant, the hairpin bends countless. From time to time we stop to admire a view, and lunch is at a vineyard near Santana. Everything is green and lush, and flowers are in abundance. Up and down we wind from valley to mountaintop.
The last part of the road before Porto Moniz is the "donkey-path", a narrow road with a vertical fall to the sea on one side and a high vertical cliff on the other. Two cars cannot pass each other except at certain points, and if you want a carwash just stop below one of the waterfalls that hit the road from far above.
The road was made by lowering men from the cliff top. Hanging from a rope they hacked and blasted this shelf. Fortunately the road is now one-way, because the EU has funded a new and better road, and I suspect the donkey-path was chosen for show. Show or not, it works. Especially the passengers in the right side get value for money with a free view to the ferocious sea deep down, and one must admire the chauffeur who holds all our lives in his skilful hands - and feet.
That reminds me of a joke the guide told. A priest and a bus-driver from Madeira die, and when they knock on the pearly gates Saint Peter tells them there's only room for one in Paradise, and the bus-driver is the lucky guy.
Of course the priest complains. Isn't he a holy man? Has he ever broken his wow of celibacy? Wasn't his church full every Sunday? How can a sinful bus-driver be better qualified? Administration must have messed things up - it must be a mistake!
Saint Peter answers:
"No, it is no mistake. While every Sunday your church was full of people sleeping, each and every day the bus-driver had loads of people praying to God with devotion!"
Porto Moniz used to be a whaler's station, but today they live from tourists and winemaking. There are some natural sea pools where you can bathe, but today the waves are much too big, and the water is beaten to foam. While we're in Porto Moniz it turns from brilliant sunshine to grey rain in 10 minutes. The weather here seems unpredictable.
Cāmara de Lobos
To get back to the South side we pass through a new 3 km tunnel (the EU again) thus avoiding the mountain pass. It is grey at the South side too, but it doesn't rain. Last stop is at a viewpoint west of Funchal close to Cāmara de Lobos, where Winston Churchill liked to spend time painting. We're dropped off at Carlton Park at 6 and go to our room to rest.
Supper in Funchal's Old Town
It was a fine trip, and the weather has been great most of the day. The lunch was hearty, but none the less we think we can handle a late supper. Helle would like spaghetti, she says. By half past seven we catch a bus. The chauffeur drives with much macho aggression, but fortunately the seats are not plastic, so it suffices with a firm one-hand grip.
We go to "Estrela Do Mar" again - we remember they had pasta on the menu. We skip first courses, Helle orders spaghetti and I pork in wine. The red "Monte Velho" is slightly sweet, powerful and good to the nose.
Helle tries cheese for dessert, but Madeira's dairy products aren't culinary jewels. No wonder: a cow on Madeira spends the life tied in a shed, for if let out it would promptly fall down some cliff. If the farmer is a nice fellow the cow will see sunlight once a year on its birthday. I suspect the cheese (as the beef) is imported from Portugal or the Azores. I get a fruit salad with semidry Madeira, which is almost sherry-like.
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