After two months of travel in the Canary Islands, we fly to the Portuguese Island of Madeira. We will end our three-months of international adventure here with another stay in a “Cliff Residence” that hangs over the ocean. Ships pass below while planes zoom above the balcony.
The rental car rep at the airport convinces us to upgrade to a car with more power and an automatic transmission. “All the roads are steep here,” he says. Little does he know that I have been driving these types of roads for the past two months in the Canary Islands, primarily with a manual transmission, but we upgrade anyway. Getting a little lazy, spoiled, albeit a bit travel weary.
Hungry from a day of travel, time to head to the only restaurant within walking distance of our Cliff Residence rental. After a large beer, we point to a photo of big, beefy skewered meat on the menu. We speak not a word of Portuguese, and our server not a word of English, but smiles, food and kindness constitute a universal language. Photos help too. The server nods and returns with a bottle of wine, and a huge metal apparatus that she places on our table before walking away. We think that she might attach an umbrella to it, but she comes back balancing two swords skewered through chunks of medium rare sizzling steak. Turns out that this dish, “Espetada” originated on the island. She places a cup under each giant skewer to collect the dripping juices. We all smile and enjoy before bringing home the leftovers. Delectable.
Lying in bed listening to the sound of the ocean with a cool wind blowing through the drapes puts us into a comatose slumber. Hard to pull ourselves away from this room with such a spectacular view the next morning, but we need to make beneficial use of our “upscale” car and go explore.
Madeira Island shoots straight up from the ocean. How straight up? So straight up that the roads around the shore resemble a long snake of connecting tunnels that bore through solid rock.
Not much to see from this angle. But once into the island’s interior, outside of the tunnels, the roads take you through dramatic mountain passes and ascends impossible angles.
Before we get too high, we must stock up on food supplies for our full kitchen back at the cliff residence. The “Mercado dos Lavradores” (Farmers’ Market) in downtown Funchal proves to be a bust for us, crowded with cruise ship travelers, aggressive salespeople (“Where you from?”) and overpriced items. Not a bad place, just not our style.
Marilynn catches a glimpse of another “must-try” local delight, the black scabbard fish. We spot these black, snake-like bottom feeders on a table next to a huge hunk of fresh tuna.
A common delicacy in the Madeira archipelago, fishmongers skin the scabbards on one side only. Despite their ugly appearance, we point to “Espada Preta” on the menu (black scabbard fish fried with bananas) over drinks during happy hour. The selection brings a smile to our waiter, but not to us. We have no need to try it again.
Marilynn roams around downtown Funchal doing one of her favorite things, taking photos. She even finds artful doors.
Meanwhile, I do one of my favorite things, stocking up at a supermarket. I learn loads about diverse cultures in the world from their food stores, as well as how the local folks interact with each other while in them. In truth, I like to know that there is food in the kitchen at home in case another “must-try” delight does not delight.
High above the tunnels we drive up the Ribeiro Frio for a modest hike along Levada dos Balcoes which offers panoramic views of mountains and valleys.
They also make Madeira de Poncha up here, the traditional drink of Madeira. It consists of rum made from sugarcane juice, honey, sugar, and citrus juices and packs a potent punch.
Which brings me to another revered Portuguese dish – the Prego sandwich, a true delight that also lays claim to cure hangovers. Cannot go wrong with steak, cheeses, ham, and egg sandwiched between “Bolo do Caco” a Portuguese flatbread made with flour, sweet potato, yeast, water, and salt. Looking forward to another one of those. The sandwich, not so much the super sweet rum.
Looming above Funchal, the major city on Madeira, we find Monte Palace, a tropical garden with soothing walks through an aristocrat’s splendid collection of Zimbabwe stone sculptures, Asian gardens, and mazes filled with a wide array of flora, fauna, and ponds.
Right outside of this garden, cruise ship tourists enjoy riding up the mountain in a cable car and then sliding back down the road on wooden sleighs, operated by two men who wear rubber shoes to use as brakes. Freddy Flintstone style. With three cruise ships docked in Funchal today, we decide it is time to get out town.
Driving with no set destination we enjoy our automatic transmission, which allows us to enjoy the views with less stress.
Eventually, we find ourselves sitting surfside in the mellow, round-rock beach town of Porto do Cruz, where we watch waves crash over the saltwater pool and mist our table.
After pointing to the photo of sardines on the menu, we soon dine on delicious, large, whole grilled sardines, while a cat below patiently waits for the bones. Then the tour buses arrive. Time to go.
We find it! Only a fifteen-minute drive from our cliff residence. A hike that becomes our “go to” for the rest of our stay. It leads to the most eastern point of the Island.
The “Ponta Sao Lourenco” trail gives us heart-pumping, often strenuous traversing, with rewards of unearthly views and the freshest of fresh air.
The round trip of about 4.6 miles (7.4 kilometers) provides a sweat cleansing workout in a fabulous setting.
We hit this trail at least three times weekly, early in the morning before the tour busses from the cruise ships descend.
After all, one needs to burn off some calories from those delightful local dishes. In this case, piglet and potato, which we take away to consume in our luxurious cliff residence where the view holds us captive.
Thank you, Abundant Universe!