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My Trip To Madeira Island (1979)

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In March 1979, I had the pleasure to go to Madeira Island. This was my first trip and it gave me a lifetime taste for traveling, I was only 19 years old. Our plane first stopped in Lisbon and we transferred into another jet to the island. I cannot remember but the trip to Madeira, known as the pearl of the Atlantic, did not cost almost anything extra. I landed on the airport that was set on the edge of a cliff. As you get ready to land you only see the wall of stone coming rapidly towards you and no track. Scary. A few months previous to my trip a plane had crashed in the mountains near where I was landing.

My three star hotel was in downtown Funchal. It is named today the Carmo Hotel, it may have been called the same thing back then. It cost me 1500 escudos back then something around $15.00 cdn. I even had a swimming pool with a bar on the roof and breakfast was brought to me every morning. Everything was super clean. It was nothing compared to the five star casino hotels downtown surrounded by an oasis of tropical palm trees. I felt rich at my hotel but beside those palaces, I felt somewhat poor. For my first deluxe hotel this was still a gem.

Not far away you have the town of Monte, 6km from Funchal. This is the place where people use sleds something that looks like toboggans (carros de cestos, in Portuguese). While the sled, that sits 2, slides down the road it's held by ropes and has two guides who steer it.

I liked visiting the fish market in the capital Funchal and admire all the flowers including the birds of paradise; Madeira is famous for its flowers. Everyday I bought some fruit called nespras in Portuguese.I never got tired of that sweetest yellow fruit. I brought back a full bag back to my hotel everyday . I was expecting to meet a lot of young people but the customers of the hotel were much older. I remember eating at the restaurant of the hotel and the young waiter seemed to think that it was odd that I was staying there. He probably thought that I did not belong.

This was a kind of treat to eat in this fancy restaurant most of the time I ate a “Prego” a pork sandwich in some small cafe. In fact it was the first time I had tried that sandwich which was quite good .

Flowers are everywhere in MadeiraFew funny and unusual things happened while I was in Madeira. One night naively, I accepted a ride downtown. The guy was in a black mini-coupe. A car that was very common in the island back then. He started grabbing my leg, I decided very quickly that I wanted to get out of that little box. Later on I saw the guy hiding in the dark between two buildings. It gave me the creeps. I did not wanted him to know where I was staying. I had to do some zigzagging to lose him.

I climbed up really high one day in Funchal near where those guys slide a sled downhill. I found myself in a poor neighborhood with a great view of the ocean. Kids were playing and one little girl walked on her hands. Her feet were all twisted like pretzels. It was weird but she seemed happy to play among her friends.

Few days later, I decided to get out of Funchal and go up to Machico. I took a bus in some of the most dangerous and twisted roads I had ever seen. The roads where steep and always turned sharply. In some places the bus could barely move more than 10 km per hour.

I also went to see the triangular Houses of Santana in the north coast of the island. Blue and red houses are constructed from two A-shaped timber frames. Further south, all around you could see the terraces that are so common to the island and the famous irrigation systems called levadas. I could not believe that people will go to such length to cultivate this harsh land. It was almost suicidal to try to use every patch of land so close to the edge of some cliffs.

beach near FaialI decided to walk down to the water edge. I had to walk quite a bit. In the distance I saw the the Penha de Aguia (the Eagle’s Rock) a spectacular mountain which rises 590 meters from the sea.I passed the town of Faial and a bridge. At the bottom there was a river and I suntanned. There were spectacular cliffs.

From Machico, I walked down to the bottom of the valley. On my way down I also saw for the first time what a banana tree looked like. There was a river there and I laid down on the rocks. I took my shirt and suntanned while I marveled at the waves washing on the rocky shore… and I got a soak. I couldn’t believe how warm it was compared to the damp and cold Montreal weather that I had left few days before. Everything around me reminded me that I was in a truly beautiful world-class place.

Not long after, with some regrets, I left this gem of an island wondering when I will be back.

In about one hour my holidays on Madeira would come to an end. They were great holidays without any main problems. There is nothing worth to talk about. Oh if you can see all the plants that this island possesses you would be nuts. They do not have grassthere but plants. Contrarily to the mainland Portugal everything is really clean. The scenery is marvelous. I finally took the plane and left for Portugal.

See my pictures of Northern Madeira (Faial and Santana area)
See my pictures of Funchal

Read about my other trips

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Madeira Island - a guide to Madeira

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