The Autonomous Region of Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, including the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, Ilhas Desertas (pt. desert islands – 3) and Ilhas Selvagens (pt. wild islands – 19). Most of them are uninhabited, and this, in my opinion, makes them even more evocative. I stayed on the Madeira between February and March. In 2014 it was the period of carnival. I was travelling with two friends and we have been very lucky. Alberto – the owner of our hostel (Residencial Funchal) has been organizing private guided tours around the island. Thanks to that we were able to see everything with the eyes of Madeiran.
At the end of the day, Alberto took us to Porta do Sol (pt. Gate of The Sun) to see the sunset above the ocean. We were watching it in silence.“We do not need money, the sun is our gold,” he said after a moment of reflection.
Indeed, not without a reason, Madeira is called the land of eternal spring. For a person who came here directly from the middle of the Polish winter, contrast was really huge. On the farmer’s market, it was hard to guess the names of some fruits and vegetables. On the plantation, I have seen banana flower for the first time. We jumped over the fence (despite the fear of dogs’ presence) just to see it closer. It looked like a big cone and had a red-violet colour. I also got to know how to eat fresh passion fruit – after cutting it in half, its pulp should be smashed and sugared, to get rid of the acid taste. Wine is not the only one drink Madeira is famous for. Fruity cocktails perfectly represent the flavours of the island. Sweet Poncha – aguardente mixed with lemon juice and honey (or sugar cane molasse) or Niquita – white wine, pineapple and vanilla ice cream.
We were walking along the harbour of Funchal. An elegant waiter with a silver platter stopped us to show the menu. I think he was a bit bored of waiting for customers, that is why he started a little chit-chat. He was curious about our trip and from where we came. Poland seemed to be a very faraway country.“We do not need to leave this island, we have paradise here,” the waiter said confidently.
Madeira in Portuguese means wood. The name was given by discoverers of archipelago João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira. The island appeared to them as a dark, black cloud suspended in the south-west. For me too, Madeira seems to be very ethereal. Temperature and humid air were hiding the land in the mist. After a moment everything was filled with sunlight and shining in all tones of green. Dynamics of these changes contrasted with static mountain tops and little villages, hidden in the valleys. Volcanic origins of the island were particularly visible at the seaside. Black rocks and sand created here natural marine swimming pools (like the one in Porto Moniz). Irrigation channels that are going through mysterious laurel forests are called levadas. Water transported from north of the island is watering its southern parts. Former service pathways along the channels are currently used as tourist trails. I felt like a discoverer of a new world when I was following one of them – Caldeirão Verde. In the end, a mystical waterfall (around 100m high) arose before our eyes.
One evening we were trying to find a fado4 concert in Funchal. Traditional Portuguese music is really melancholic and tells about ‘saudade’ – gratitude and longing for things that happened in the past. All places in the bar (pt. tasca) were already occupied. A lady, who appeared to be the owner of the venue, allowed us to listen to it from the porch. Guests were sitting between the musicians (Portuguese guitar and vocal) in the half-light.“This restaurant is our family business. Today one of our members died, but we had no choice, the show must go on”, the owner explained in a whisper.A girl singing in the middle of the room had tears in her eyes. Fado music has never been more meaningful than that day.
Madeira or Azores? If you would like to know more about the Portuguese islands – check out other gallery about Azores.
Check out our (funny) movie from the island in a rhythm of Happy by Pharrell Williams.
1An alcoholic beverage distilled from wine. The name means “burning water”.2 First pieces of information about the archipelago came from Phoenicians. Portuguese sailors João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira discovered island Porto Santo.3 Laurel forests are designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.4A genre of music called Portuguese Blues.