More postcards from Madeira.

On our final day in Madeira, V’s meetings ended early and we were able to explore together. I saved most of the island’s highlights for us to see together. We had a fantastic day discovering the western half of the island.

Our first stop was the little port of Camara de Lobos, a tiny fishing village with colorful boats and bacalhau hung out to dry. The hills above the port are ringed with farming terraces upon which grow the ubiquitous banana.

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Colorful boats, drying fish that look like flying rodents
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Last time I saw this many terraces was in Nepal. Very cool how the islanders have adapted to their challenging environment.

Next stop, reached by countless hairpin turns on the steep roads, was the observation deck of Cabo Girão. The lookout has a glass floor and is suspended 2000 feet above the sea. Those who are susceptible to vertigo should probably steer clear.

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View down to the sea, 2000 feet below
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The view straight down
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View to the east, toward Funchal

We made our way further west and stopped at Casa das Mudas, a really incredible modern art museum perched high on the cliffs. The focus is on Portuguese contemporary art and the museum is curated really well. The space itself is also quite memorable. And I discovered this really cool artist, Michael Biberstein, whose otherworldly work I saw again when I was in Lisbon a few weeks later.

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The volcanic rock walls of the museum, looking east
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Window within the museum, looking east. The camera does not do it justice.
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Large scale artwork of Michael Biberstein

We then followed the directions from Google Maps to get to our next stop, the town of Porto Moniz on the northwest coast. It was perhaps ill advised to take Google’s advice, as the road turned out to be a narrow, winding, steep, poorly paved logging road, with the old cobblestones showing through some gaps in the pavement and roadside cattle that I had to take care to avoid. It was a side of the island I hadn’t seen, though, so there’s that! Porto Moniz is home to these incredible lava pools – seawater pools that were formed by lava rocks. In the waning temperatures of October it was a little chillier than I would have liked, but overall I would say that it was the best €1.50 I’ve spent in a long time.

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Sort of like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, with colder water and a better view

Driving along the north coast, we came across this pretty waterfall…

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…which made me also notice an example of the exceptional Madeiran engineering I mentioned in the last blog post. On the left you can see a tunnel carved into a mountain – this one wasn’t too long compared to some I saw, only 600 meters. On the right you can see a narrow, one lane road that hugs the side of the cliff. This used to be the only way to get around and I understand that an encounter with a truck or a tour bus was harrowing to say the least!

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While we were at Cabo Girão we happened to chat with some British tourists who recommended our next stop, the lava caves of São Vicente. After a childhood of tiresome cave experiences during family road trips (Luray Caverns, Howe Caverns… you know what I’m talking about, Mom!) I was hesitant to make the trip, but turns out the Brits were right. The caves were formed almost a million years ago, when a volcanic explosion pushed a torrent of lava down the mountain. The outer layer hardened quickly from exposure to the air, while the inner layer continued to flow, and eventually created hollow “tubes”. We toured the caves and also had an interesting lesson on geology and the history of Madeira.

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Our extensive touring led us to miss the best part of the sunset over the Atlantic, but we got to see the last of the colors as the sun went to bed.

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Overall a great trip, filled with natural beauty, history, and delicious food.

 

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