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Photoalbum Madeira

Madeira: the Flower Island, levadas and wild nature

 

 

 

Monday April 16, 2012: Departure to Madeira and explore Garajau

A very restless night: Veerle has been awake; Timo woke up a couple of times. Is it the nerves to go on vacation? We donít think so, but you never know whatís going on. This means weíre awake on time, at four thirty in the morning. Itís still dark, cartouche is waking up the whole neighbourhood and quickly Patrik is there to pick us up and bring us to the airport. Than you Patrik! At twenty past five he is at our place and we can leave to Zaventem. With little traffic it only takes us half an hour to get there. The Easter holidays have ended, so chaos will be big today. Weíre not bothered about this, because we leave to Funchal, Madeira, Portugal for a two weeks vacation. Veerle started the countdown to the vacation at seven nights of sleep. We donít rest now, because weíre ready to leave. We thank Patrik for bringing us to the airport and after a cigarette we enter the airport. Everything goes fast: on check-in for all Thomas Cook flights. There is a short queue, so after thirty minutes weíre ready for a last cigarette and then go to the gate. Weíre at gate A59 and can avoid passport control by scanning our boarding pass and we can go through without a problem, nobody has seen the passport or boarding pass.

On our way to the gate we stop for a coffee and a croissant with cheese: itís good and this way weíve already eaten something. We continue to the gate and only need to wait fifteen minutes until boarding starts from row sixteen. We have seats ten A and B and wait until most people are on the aircraft and then we board too, put the hand luggage in the overhead lockers and take our seats. We get a briefing over safety (again) and then we can take off. Everything is according to plan and at seven forty we leave for Madeira. Weíre tired and fall asleep but wake up half an hour later when we see two plates with breakfast in front of us. We did not know that we ordered this during our booking. Itís not a lot, but better than nothing. After this break itís only two hours flying. We thought it was over four hours, but itís only three hours and five minutes, which is nice. And indeed after three hours we already see land, but itís not yet Madeira, this is an island in front of Madeira. We see clouds over the sea and many white waves, when we descend to Funchal. The pilot lands the aircraft after a turbulent landing, because there is much wind. Everything is OK, then we get on the bus, go to the airport building and then to the luggage belt. There is no more passport check before belt 4 where we wait for our luggage. After fifteen minutes we already have our luggage and then we look for the Ďsaidaí and go outside to find the bus to the hotel.

The airport already gives us a good impression of what we can expect. The walls are covered with tiles that express a cultural scenery, white tiles with blue paintings, very pretty. In the main hall we see many flowers, so we know we can expect this as well. Itís exactly the good season for it. We see two people from Neckermann who direct us to bus number seven and there we wait for the others. We donít need to wait long; after twenty minutes the driver already takes us to the hotel: Dom Pedro Garajau, in Garajau of course, a part of the commune CaniÁo. The driver rushes to the main road and takes us to the hotel in ten minutes. Together with us there is another Flemish couple and we can check in. We hand over our voucher and passport and then go to the room. The room is in block four up the street. The whole left side of the street is taken by the hotel and there are about five blocks: a large hotel this is. Our room had view on a nice part of the garden and is very quiet. We unpack, sit down on the terrace and decide to explore the neighbourhood. We can still rest later. We walk down the street, se below us a large statue of Christo Rei, but return to the roundabout and take a street along the coast. We see many flowers, very beautiful houses; Garajau looks like a nice town. We check out this part, but there is no restaurant or tavern here, so back to the hotel and see a small pizzeria there. We donít have pizza, but a steak sandwich and cola and ice tea. When we receive our sandwich we see itís actually a piece of steak with cheese, bacon and an egg and with loads of garlic, very very nice. There is quite a heavy wind, but in the sun itís nice and warm. We havenít slept so we want to do a siesta. We rest until three and then can continue our walk. Sleep tight for about an hour and a half.

We slept very well. Doors that were slammed did not wake us up, nor did the cleaning personnel, so we were feeling good. We wake up on our terrace and then prepare to explore the area. We plan to walk to the Christ statue and then return. The way down goes fast; itís not too steep and the weather is nice. There is much wind, but we donít care when the sun shines. We walk down and see that the roads are good, well kept and no potholes or dirt along the roads. Madeira rules! We walk until the statue and enjoy the peace there, the not-blowing of the wind and the shining of the sun. We walk down again on a sandy path and see the road towards the beach and the diving centre on the mountain side. That looks like a great descent. In the distance past the cliffs we see the city of Funchal, just in front of us the statue of Christ and below us the Atlantic Ocean. We can enjoy it and check the vegetation out; especially the mini-cactus fruits are lovely. Different plants cover the mountain, a lonely falcon hangs against the wind to find a prey. Below us on the water a couple of small fishing boats need to conquer the high waves. We walk back up with some stops, sit down on a wooden bench and are welcomed by a bunch of lizards. They are very active now and run up and down the rocks and plants. We then return the way up and look for a bar close to the hotel. We find it across the road.

On the terrace we drink a Coral (local beer) and enjoy the sun. We are seated out of the wind, in the sun and need to switch place to avoid sunburn. The first day in the sun can be dangerous, so we need to be careful. After the second beer we go back to our room to write the report, then go to the reception for the free Wi-Fi and write a bit more and then go out to have a snack. We take a shower and at about eight weíre ready to go back to the same bar. We choose a place outside, have a beer and look whatís on the menu. We order food that is not too heavy because we already had lunch. Veerle has chicken roulade and Timo brochette of fish. It is very nice, but a bit more than expected, especially the chicken, because there is cheese and bacon I the wrapping. The brochette is a mixture of different white fish, swordfish, shrimps and calamari with a salad, so a bit lighter. We drink wine and Coral, hmmmmm. We start getting tired, so we donít stay long, receive a Madeira-wine when we ask the bill and then return to room 4110. Four is the number of the block, one is the floor and eleven is the room number: nice and easy. We watch a bit TV and then go to bed.

 

Tuesday April 17, 2012: Bus ride and levada one: Levada dos Piornais

Bus ride: why in the name of god is that in the title. Well that will become clear later in the report. We wake up at about eight and immediately go for breakfast, we donít get on the street, but use the way through the different blocks to the reception and the breakfast restaurant. We exit block four, pass block here, enter block three, go back out and then walk through a long corridor and arrive at the correct location. The breakfast is pretty basic: coffee, bread, cheese, ham and two different marmalades. We fear that this will be it the next two weeks. Down the road there are a couple of nice businesses where we could have an egg in the morning: weíll see what we do. After breakfast we return to the room and check what we can do today. We did not make any plans yesterday, but weíll try to take it easy today. First we take the bus to Funchal. According to the timetable it leaves in ten minutes: fifteen minutes later we get on it, as always a bit late. And then a crazy ride to Funchal starts. A normal person in a normal car would drive five minutes longer than this bus driver. Nice if you need to be somewhere fast, but this is really amazing. He rushes up towards the via rapida: the only thing he does it use the horn to warn people in curves and then races on. This continues to the centre of Funchal. We pass a couple of high cliffs with a great view over the bay. We pass a church that is typically visible on postal cards from Funchal. Itís a great view but we donít see enough with this crazy driver. Itís not a sightseeing auto car. We get off the bus and start planning what we can do.

We look at some tourist guides and decide to do our first levada of this vacation. For the people who donít know a levada: A levada (Portuguese for "led") is an irrigation channel or aqueduct specific to the island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean (about 500 miles (800 km) southwest of Portugal). The levadas originated out of the necessity of bringing large amounts of water from the west and northwest of the island to the drier southeast, which is more conducive to habitation and agriculture (such as sugar cane production). In the sixteenth century the Portuguese started building levadas to carry water to the agricultural regions. The most recent were made in the 1940s. Madeira is very mountainous, and building the levadas was often difficult. Many are cut into the sides of mountains, and it was also necessary to dig 25 miles (40 km) of tunnels. Today the levadas not only supply water to the southern parts of the island but provide hydro-electric power. There are over 1,350 miles (2,170 km) of levadas and they provide a remarkable network of walking paths. Some provide easy and relaxing walks through beautiful countryside, but others are narrow, crumbling ledges where a slip could result in serious injury or death. A popular levada to hike is the Levada do Caldeir„o Verde which continues as the Levada Caldeir„o do Inferno. Together it is about 23 miles (37 km) long. Along both parts there are long sections which should not be attempted by hikers prone to vertigo; and several tunnels for which flashlights and helmets are essential. The Levada do CaniÁal is a much easier walk. This levada runs 7.1 miles (11.4 km) from MaroÁos to the CaniÁal Tunnel. It is known as the mimosa levada because acacias (commonly misnamed mimosas) are found all along the route.

We will follow the closest levada and that has number one in the book, of course our first one and at the same time the oldest one in Madeira. The walk starts at a stadion just outside Funchal. We walk that direction, but canít find the right spot. The maps we have give not enough detail in this section so we donít have details on street names. We start in the direction we think is the correct one. We follow the sea road and arrive at the zone hotelleria. This is not so nice, because itís ridiculously busy. Before we start the actual levada, we first want to have a stop and a drink.

We find a bar on our way: Bar El Silencio. We think that means silence, although our Portuguese is not so good (yet). Weíre surprised, because itís not silent at all. One bus after the other, trucks, cars and a bunch of noisy Germans too. Itís hard to find silence here. Whatever: we start looking for our levada. We need to start somewhere in the middle, because we passed the actual starting place. We start climbing to find water. Twice we meet helpful Portuguese who point us in the right direction and then we find the canal that weíll follow the rest of the day. Weíre at a high altitude by now and have a great view on the water and a lesser view on the hotel. We walk alongside the canal that is completely in concrete. Itís an easy way of hiking, because itís never steep uphill; you would even not think itís uphill, but the water tells us which way s down. At the start we pass a hill at the right side and private fences at the left with a great view, when the fences donít block it. Then we see banana plantations, vegetables and grapes. Itís a nice walk, not too hot, not too cold, and not too steep. We see someone checking the levada Ė it wonít run, but you never know how water behaves Ė and sometimes opens parts of the levada. Every couple of meters there is an iron plate and if itís open water comes on the fields. Itís a very good system. When this guy allows the water into a banana garden, we see the owner ensuring the water is flowing into the right spots. The plants grow on small hills/dams that direct the water correctly. Theyíve thought this through and even in 2012 this is working properly.

Regularly we also see paths that go up between the gardens and we try to follow one, but then we arrive at house number thirteen and there the path stops. We turn back and continue the walk along the canal. Then there is a part where the levada flows rapidly, but we donít see it, we only hear it, because the water is covered by concrete blocks. Itís not so nice as before, but nice as a walk on itself. When we approach the village of Santa Ria there is a small levada-desvio (detour). Over the levada theyíre building a house and we need to walk up the stairs, cross the street, go through the village and then at the other end of the village find the levada again. The signs are bad, but thanks to the locals we find our way. Here we also see a map of the levada and notice it has a length of 7.3 kilometres. Weíre still fit and continue. Along the mountainside we follow a circle and arrive between the banana trees, really hundreds, better thousands of them. The path is well kept and we walk on. At this point weíve done the biggest part already, but still need to continue a quarter. Behind us we see the sea and also the bridge that connects Funchal with the western part of the island. A couple of kilometres the levada runs inland to the valley of the Ribeiro dos Soccoridos. We walk next to a steep wall and this part is not good for people with fear of heights. There are some points where we donít feel comfortable, but it does not last long and we can easily continue. We take breaks regularly and are having a rest between nice-scented trees. According to our guide these are eucalyptus trees. We did not even know these trees grew here. We notice it when we walk through and at the same time watch our steps. At one point Veerle can take a leaf, break it and then we smell the refreshing odour. Now we know why koalaís like this. At the other side of the valley we see that farmers have divided their land into terraces and they look very beautiful against the mountain side. We then see a sign of a detour for people with fear of heights, but we donít care and continue because this is the best part. At our right side we see the wall straight up for hundred metres and at the left side as evenly steep, but now downhill. The first bit is less frightening, because there is still a fence. We almost need to walk on our knees, because the water flows inside the rocks, a kind of caves. Itís the most difficult part, but the most beautiful. Then we meet the dangerous section: the heights are still the same, but they forgot to build the fences here. If you make a misstep here you fall down and that wonít be funny. For us itís fine and we walk through another eucalyptus forest: well forest: itís more a row of trees and thatís it. And then the levada is closed with a high fence. This is not funny at all, because that means we need to return the whole part.

We have a break, a drink Ė donít forget drinks when youíre doing levada-walks Ė and enjoy the views. The views on the mountains and the valley, cut from the rocks is amazing. We have no other choice than turning back and look for the easiest way. We walk down on small stairs, consider walking to the other side of the hill and follow the levada there, but we donít know where it leads, so we follow our own levada back. The stairs go down all the way between gardens and a lonely dog or cat looks at us: what are they doing here? We see banana trees and then look for the way up to the levada again. We canít continue down, because there is a mining business and only accessible by authorised personnel. During the way back we suffer from the heat, but we easily find the water in the canals. By going down and up we have missed the most dangerous part and weíre glad for that. It is beautiful, but we already saw this. We do see the caves and walk very fast until we see the sign of the levada-description again. At the bottom of the sign it states that the levada is closed, so if we would have read this carefully, we would have known about the closure at the end. We take the same way back and stop a moment in Santa Rita to buy drinks and then continue all the way to Funchal. When we see the village of Amparo just before Funchal, we take a road down. Maybe we can take the bus to the centre there. We need to wait for thirty minutes, so we walk on and after forty minutes we arrive at the place where we saw the levada for the first time this morning and started the track.

Itís not far anymore to our next stop: Bar el Silencio: the same bar from this morning. We have a drink, rest a while and then take the same way back along the boulevard to the bus stop. We only have little trouble finding back the bus stop, because that is not the same place where we got off.  No problem: in fluent ďPortuglishĒ we ask directions and find it after five minutes. The bus has just left ten minutes ago, so we wait. We kill time and enjoy the sea view and before we realise it, the bus is there. Itís a strange bus, because it has three seats at one side and two on the other. The driver takes us to Garajau in race-mode and weíre happy we reach the hotel. We have a swim in the indoor pool, take a shower and prepare for supper. Weíre eating at the same restaurant as yesterday and have a light snack. We only took breakfast and an apple and banana on the road, so we start to get hungry now. We have a shrimp salad and espada (local fish and very nice). The shrimp salad is not so good and then fish could have been a bit better cooked, but all in all itís nice. We check out the semi-final of the Champions League here and the second half in our room. A bit of relaxing on our terrace and hopefully weíre not stiff tomorrow. In the end we did about twenty kilometres today.

 

Wednesday April 18, 2012: East-Madeira with highlight Ponta de S„o LourenÁo

We wake up at seven thirty today. We have not made any plans for today, but that wonít take much longer, first wake up, have breakfast and start planning. Breakfast is about the same as yesterday, but we expected that. No problem: we take an apple and a banana with us for lunch and go back to our room and pass by a car rental: Insular, in the hotel. We check the prices and availability. We notice that some Madeiran people are not really friendly. We enter the offices and it looks like itís too much to ask to stop chatting and give some information. Others are friendly; I donít want to use generalisations. We know a Nissan Micra 1.3 costs thirty four Euro per day, everything included, insurance and all. We go back to our room to take our bags and everything else. We quickly check Avis across the street, but that looks a bit dodgy, so we donít enter; we donít even know whether itís open, because there is no sign on the door and we canít see any movement. The guy of Insular is not very friendly, but itís not expensive. We sign all documents; check the car, no damage, not much gasoline, so weíre good to go. We receive the keys and can immediately drive east on the via rapida. Itís a fast road and we quickly arrive at Santa Cruz. The airport is located here and we arrived here two days ago, but now we rive under the airport. Itís amazing, hundreds of concrete pillars to stop the landing strip from falling. You actually drive under the airport, itís a strange feeling and the first time we do this. We donít know any other places where you drive under the landing strip. Then we continue to Machico and have our first stop there. We enter the centre and look a parking spot, drive through the village, but canít find any. We return to the via rapida and park the Micra on a small parking place outside the centre.

We walk down to the boulevard along the sea. Here we see the other Dom Pedro Hotel. We knew there were two on Madeira and here is the second one. We go to the rocky beach and see the magnificent rock formations and that will be typical for the trip today. We look around here and walk along the river that stops in the sea a bit farther. Timo has a lot of attention for birds and flowers. He sees a type of ibis that is looking for food in the river. Between the reeds we hear many birds. We also see some of them, there is a small brown bird with red eyes and a red marking around the eyes, really cute. The frogs make a lot of noise and itís almost deafening. We walk to the left back into the centre and arrive at a large square with an old church. The square is surrounded with old plane trees and old guys are seated in the sun. This is life on Madeira! The village life continues as normal and we stop here to enjoy the life here with them. A long avenue with more plane trees leads us back to the place where the car is parked. A bit over half an hour was enough here and we donít stay here longer. From here we take the car to the most eastern point of the island and there we do a walk: Ponta de S„o LourenÁo. We first take a short stop to a viewing point on the magnificent cliffs that drop into the sea for hundred metres. They call it Miradouro (point of view). We take a couple of great pictures of this stunning view and then return to the roundabout and drive to the start of the walk.

There are many cars parked at the side of the road; this means there will be a lot of people, I guess. Weíre lucky and wait five minutes when we see someone leaving close to the start of the walk. We park and change shoes. Veerle is going to do the walk with her sandals, but Timo is wearing his hiking boots. We start the walk with enough water and fruits. The first part is brown on a path of wood. Easy, but not really natural. It quickly changes to a rocky path and then it goes up and down until we reach a high point with a view on the rocks we saw from the other side: really magnificent, the blue colour of the water with the brown, purple and black rocks. The waves break and that adds to the already stunning view: really something you must see. It is part of a natural reserve. The first half hour is a great hike, but it continues and we love the view. We follow the path and arrive at a very narrow cliff. This piece of rock is only a couple of metres wide and left and right is a ridge of hundreds metres. But the view is amazingly great! Luckily there is not a lot of wind here, otherwise it would be dangerous. On other places the wind blows, but here itís nice and calm. We enjoy the breathtaking views and also the flowers that are growing between the boulders. We see yellow, blue, white and other colours.

Then we reach the second part of the hike: the path makes a circle around the peninsula, but weíre not going to continue here. Weíve done already one hour and fifteen minutes, so we turn back. We think: we have a car now, so we need to use it as much as we can and we want to it calmer than the ďcalmĒ day yesterday. We look at the highest peak a last time and then return. It looks like the lizards have found food, because there are dozens of them. On the picture we immediately count twenty, but thatís only a piece of it. So we get back and look at the rocks from the other side. The sun is still present and when the wind falls itís even hot. Weíve finished a big portion after thirty minutes, because we walk fast. From time to time we have a short break and have a drink and there again are many lizards. They are so curious they climb on your arms and even to your shoulders. Thatís not funny anymore, so we move on and after fifteen minutes already see the stairs to the parking spots. We take the car and drive now to Porto da Cruz. A quick stop here and itís almost time for lunch, so we need to find something. In less than twenty minutes we reach the village, order two sandwiches and can explore the village. There is not much to see, but the sugar cane factory is working today and we quickly have a look. We canít enter, because they have guided and payable tours, but we can see a bit of what theyíre doing. They also offer a rum-tasting for one Euro, but we donít stop here. During lunch we also saw two guys working with the blue and white tiles in a modern shape, but also nice. There is nothing else to see in the village apart from a black rock ruling over the beach and n the sea surfers are practising, but nothing for us to see. To the next stop: Santana.

Looking for the way to Santana is a challenge on itself, because road works are in progress, but there are no signs. We pass the works, turn back, because we think we took the wrong turn, but it isnít. We quickly fill up the Micra and then drive to Santana. Timo is driving and takes a spot from a local without being rude and then we can check out the typical triangular houses of Santana. The ones here are fake, but theyíre still nice to look at. A reed roof, nicely painted walls in white, blue and red and each house serves a different purpose: a tourist office, a flower shop and then weíve seen it all. From Santana we take the road to Faial and stop there. Itís only worth a stop for the church and the mountains. And of course the flowers in all colours and shapes. And then comes the difficult thing of the day: get out of here. We look our way and take a small mountain road of which we think it goes to the correct direction. Thatís not the case, because after twenty minutes we arrive back to Santana. Now we take the exit to Machico and Funchal and this is the fastest way home. First Machico, then Santa Cruz and under the landing strip of the airport and then to Garajau. We did not have troubles finding it now and then rest in bed. Nice! We take the time for a bath and then go to the reception and the bar of the hotel. We surf the internet, drink port and wine and then already reserve food at the reception. Note to the owner of the hotel: itís certainly not done to serve wine and port in plastic cups. We drink it without any trouble, because the quality is good, but weíve never seen this before.

After this aperitif we walk to the restaurant across the street. They offer a concept Ďdine aroundí: You can reserve a three course meal at the hotel in three different restaurants for only fifteen Euro. We want to check out Tourigalo today. We find a good place and first have minestrone, which actually is a heavy soup with potatoes, beans, very good, but we would not define it as minestrone. The main course is tuna filet and espada with tropical fruit. We like it and can enjoy a good end of the day. As dessert Veerle takes a chocolate mousse, but Timo skips it, because he prefers a glass of red wine and then an espresso. Good idea, isnít it? After our meal we return to the room and itís already ten when we arrive there. We watch some TV and fall asleep an hour later.

 

Thursday April 19, 2012: The western part of Madeira

Nothing special to mention about breakfast, immediately to the action of the day. Veerle buys bread and food at the supermarket, or better she wants to do that, but it only opens at nine. Fifteen minutes earlier we left to Funchal over the via rapida and it goes pretty fast. We head on the via rapida until Ribeira Brava and then drive north. This road is fast, because itís a wide one with heavy vehicles from time to time, but we move fast. Before we reach a long tunnel we need to find a road to the left, to S„o Vicente, but through the mountains. We look for sign to Serra de Agua, but donít find any. About hundred meters in front of the tunnel we turn back to have a second attempt. Weíve noticed that some signs are only placed in one direction. It can be that you come from the valley and there is not sign, but coming from the mountains you clearly see the exit signs. This is not the case here, because there is no sign to Serra de Agua whatsoever, but we see one to Encumeada and thatís the direction we need to take, so we take this mountain road. Weíll see later this is the correct one. Itís steep uphill and we move slower than a moment ago. There are fewer locals on this road, mainly tourists. We stop at a viewing point just outside Serra de Agua. The mountains here are really marvellous. In the valley down below we see the road we just left and between the clouds we see the sun shining on the mountain slopes. Houses have been built on the slopes with the gardens in terraces. Really nice. We also notice the beautiful blue lilies of the Nile that grow here at the side of the road. Sometimes they form hedges, really magnificent and they look great at every stage. Through the leaves of the buds you can already see the blue, then it starts to open and you see parts of the blue flowers. When they are blooming it is a magnificent blue flower. The same goes for the white variety, but you donít see these very often.

We stay here a few moments to enjoy the great view and then take the steep road into the mountains. We follow the description of Frans De Leeuw (FDL) for the biggest part and stop at the Poussada dos Vinhaticos (a hotel formerly run by the state). We can watch the mountains and the playful clouds. It is great to see the peaks and the clouds in the hotel windows. We walk in the garden, look at the beautiful flowers and the green trees in the surrounding area. We then move on to Encumeada, but donít stop here, because there are three busses that block the view. So we drive on until we see a sign with the inscription: Parque Florestal do Ch„o dos Louros. Especially the word louros attracted our attention. We already read there was a laurel forest on Madeira, so we park the car and go and check this out. There are hundreds of laurel trees here, not just bushes as we are familiar to. You only notice itís laurel when you closely check out the leaves and the branches. When you smell the young leaves especially you can say this is laurel by the smell of it. We donít stay here along time, because itís chilly and moist: there are many lichens on the branches. So we continue our trip to S„o Vicente. We were advised to stop here because there are famous caves that you certainly need to visit. We park the car next to the river and walk to the centre to check what it is about and what the cost is. The volcanic centre is located in a beautiful garden, itís only eight Euro per person and it keeps you busy for over an hour. We now need to wait twenty minutes for the next tour.

Half an hour later there are enough visitors and we can follow Fatimah, our guide to the entrance of the caves. She starts to explain that many people think the caves are created by water, but these corridors were flooded with lava and then the lava disappeared leaving only tubes behind. The caves donít have stalagmites or stalactites, but itís beautiful anyway and it gives a special feeling these tubes were created by lava. Some walkways were cut out manually to connect the tubes. Theyíve also installed lamps and they improve the growth of algae and plants. The air is very humid: at the beginning of the cave there is an entrance of crystal-clear water through a small waterfall. On our way we receive information in English and she even takes the effort to speak a couple of words in French, German, Danish and then even a few words Dutch. At one moment she mentions we need to watch the Ďtrapjesí (stairs). Nice! Inside the cave is a little levada, but later we see itís only a canal of water that ends in a pond that everybody knows as the wish-well: Veerle joins everyone in taking a wish. It canít do any harm. We continue the guided tour and see something hanging from the ceiling that looks like a stalactite, but these are lava-drops or in other cases the chemical reaction of the light and the substance in the rock. After half an hour weíre done, but it was nice and peculiar to be in lava tubes like this. Then we see a small exhibit about the evolution of the earth and then a short movie about the formation of Madeira and the archipelago in the Atlantic. Itís quite interesting. And then we head to the centre of the earth. We get into an elevator and descend to the centre of the earth in fifteen seconds: we did not know this was possible from Madeira. We arrive at the earth core that is flashing in different colours: red, yellow, green, blue, purple and the core changes colour regularly as a flaming circle (nice projection by the way). Right next to the core of the earth we enter a small theatre, especially created for this event and we receive a pair of 3D-glasses. A voice in English and Portuguese guides us to the earth surface and then minutes later we back on earth. Thatís nice, otherwise we would never have found the car back. We go back to the parking lot and stop at the photographer who took a picture of everyone at the start of the visit. Itís only five Euro, so we take it.

Then we take the car and drive to Porto Moniz on a mountain road. We pass steep slopes and regularly see waterfalls crushing down next to the road. The sea at this side of the island is a lot fiercer than what we say earlier. Close to a Miradouro we see another waterfall and have a great view on the village of Porto Moniz in the distance. Itís beautifully located in the depth with the small peer and the rocks and then houses against the mountain slope. The road with the best quality go straight through the tunnels, but the ďAntigua ER 101Ē does take another route sometimes, right from the tunnel and on the high cliffs. This ER 101 is a road that leads around Madeira: the ring road of Madeira you could say, LOL. This part offers great views on the cliffs and the coast. We choose this scenic route twice, but in some cases these exits are closed. One time we even see large rocks blocking the way at the start. And then we arrive at Porto Moniz. We can see two special things here: lava pools and lava rocks. We look for a non paying car park (all spots indicated in blue are payable and there are a lot of policemen checking this) and we walk into the village. The sea is very rough, but that provides us with a magnificent spectacle of white waves and a blue sea that crush onto the black lava rocks and then they cause a high-wave-explosion. The lava pools are close to these rocks, so we will not be able to swim today: the red flag is out there. We rather enjoy the moment and the play of the waves exploding on the rocks and then we have a drink on a terrace. When we sit we notice weíre hungry, so we eat a small snack: a sandwich with ham and cheese (with some fries) and also a portion of lapas. Lapas are the pyramid-like molluscs that live on the rocks, limpets. You have a hard time removing these things from the rocks, even with a knife. The taste is good Šnd we have a great view. After lunch we pay and walk to another part where we see the rocks breaching on the lava rocks. There are also a couple of natural pools and we see some fish swimming here; most probably weíll see these when we dive.

It is almost time Ė almost three oíclock Ė to return to Funchal. We take the mountain road to Santa Madalena and then to Achadas da Cruz. It really is a mountain road, very steep uphill and sometimes downhill also, so we donít progress fast. Again we notice the beautiful blue flowers with the green long leaves along the road that almost are hedges. We stop to allow lumberjacks to cut down a tree that falls into the valley. Hopefully there are no hikers down below. This area really has many paths and levadas running through it. We see on our way to Ponta do Pargo three levadas and regularly see sign that indicate hikes. Then we continue to Calheta a lot faster, because the roads are wider and we even have an average of fifty kilometres per hour: that was not possible earlier. After and hour we arrive in Calheta. We had to have a break here according to Frans and thatís what we do. We have a drink at the only hotel at the harbour and apparently there should be a good restaurant (dixit FDL). We just had lunch in Porto Moniz, so we only have a drink here. We donít forget the parking machine and can stay here for half an hour. The new harbour is beautiful, a sandy beach, but not a lot to see apart from that. After this break we take the via rapida to Ribeira Brava and Funchal. We need to leave the main road because a tunnel is closed and follow the coast. We need to turn left, but because we missed the road signs, we continue a small road along the sea. We now drive through older tunnels and they are nice. The new ones are concrete one with smooth round edges, but in these older ones you can still see the bricks: we think itís nice we took the wrong road. And the suddenly we need to stop for a waterfall. In the middle of the road the water crushes down. We stop for a picture, because nobody takes this road and then we close the windows and drive through the waterfall. For about two metres you canít see a thing, wipers full blast and we hope we get through and yes, we make it. The dust is washed from the car and then we continue to Madalena do Mar. This seems to be a village where many hikes start, because everyone is dressed as if theyíve just started or finished a walk. There we also connect to the via rapida again and drive to Funchal in half an hour. We continue towards Machico and take the exit to Garajau and find a place to park the car.

We rest on our terrace, have a swim in the indoor pool and use the internet: free Wi-Fi, but itís not very fast today. Then we watch some TV and prepare for supper. Weíre going to try out a new restaurant today, just in front of block six of the hotel. Did I already mention the whole left part of the street is taken by the hotel: really crazy. The restaurant is called Frango da Guiia and we order a glass of white and red wine and as a starter we have a salad maison to share. Veerle ordres a sol ŗ la meuniŤre and I prefer zarzuela. The salad is really fresh and light and the main course is just marvellous, really marvellous. The sole is a large animal and very well prepared and the zarzuela is the best. A pan with tomato-sauce and different kind of seafood: many small mussels, two giant mussels, about ten small scampiís, two large ones and some other types of seafood. It is just very good, but the portion is so big, that we canít eat all. We also got collie flower, carrots, broccoli, rice and potatoes. Very good, but way too much. Weíre not having dessert, but take coffee and another glass of red wine. For all of this we only pay fifty Euro. In Belgium we would already pay this for the sole only, so itís not expensive at all. Full of food and joy we return to our room, watch some more TV and go to bed. We have not made any walks today, but weíre pretty tired, so we sleep well. Tomorrow will be our last day y car and then the weekend weíll be in Funchal, because it the flower-weekend then. Sleep tight!

 

Friday April 20, 2012: Theme of the day: levada

Our last day with a rental car, or we could decide to rent one more day next week, weíll see. So whatís the deal today? Weíre going to make it another beautiful day and ant to walk two levadas. The first one is Levada del Norte and then in the centre of the island a second one. After breakfast we plan our route and at about nine weíre on our way to the western part of the island. First past Funchal; you almost need to pass Funchal every time and then to C‚mara de Lobos. We take the exit to the centre, but donít stop there; rather we look the way to Cabo Gir„o. We follow a detour, take the wrong route, but find the correct one soon: itís only ten kilometres, but it takes a long time. We should have taken the next exit on the via rapida. Itís nice to see parts of the levada we did on the first day. Is it already that any days ago? So we drive to Cabo Gir„o, park the car and enjoy the view. We can see far in the distance and itís great to see what views you have. Itís another cloudy day, so it would have been better with sunny weather. We especially look at the small green island on the shore that consists of small green squares of gardens. And then we want to walk a levada. Thanks to the book of FDL we know that the Levada del Norte is close and this one is the longest of Madeira with its sixty two kilometres. Weíre not really sure where we need to start, but then decide to take the car to Quinte Grande and start there. Veerle asks some information to two nice police officers, but they have difficulty to explain, so they say we can follow them and theyíll drop us of at the levada in Quinte Grande. Just outside the centre the police car stops and they say: you can park here and if you walk up these stairs across the street youíll find the levada. Thanks guys; the police is your friend has a different meaning than in Belgium.

We take our hiking boots, leave the car here and then go up on the small stairs and there we find the levada immediately. We will be walking left for about an hour and then return to the car. There we go on the road. This levada is wider than the first one and next to it there is a wide path, which is easy when people come from the other side. And that happens about eight times during this walk, because this walk is a popular one. We start with a nice view on the village of Quinte Grande and follow the levada upstream. Itís an easy walk and it seems to us that the water is not running fast. I do the test and put a branch in the water and feel that there is quite some current. This levada is deeper with a depth of about half a metre. Only about ten minutes after our start we see a whole bunch of wild asters (we at least think they are) and along the side of the path we see bushes of bramble and on these bushes we see black and white spiders. They will find enough food on these bushes. We quickly move on and need to give way to a couple of guided groups with Germans. Especially in the beginning of the levada we see many green algae in the water. We cross two streets and arrive in a wood of trees (of course, otherwise it would not be a wood) with small yellow flowers. We think this is mimosa. The trees grow with such abundance that you can say itís a forest, even a bigger forest than the eucalyptus and the laurel forests. The smell here is also very nice and we like this walk. On different locations water comes from the hills and forms waterfalls and even a small cave lake, really beautiful. An hour passes quickly and we take a short break before we return to the car. We now stop less often, because we take fewer pictures and we already know the way, as if thatís difficult. The small bridges over the levada with small stairs at both ends are rather cute. After twenty minutes we choose such a location for another break. Along the levada people have created their gardens and they all look neat and they are on great locations with great views. On other parts a giant reed is cultivated and almost all the time we see the asters and the large mimosa trees. Itís a very nice walk.

When we arrive back at the car we leave for another part of the island. The idea is to go towards the centre, to Camacha and Ribeiro Frio and there we walk another levada after a stop in Camacha. We quickly find the via rapida to Funchal and just past the city we take the road to Camacha. We stop for road works in a tunnel and then go into the mountains. We look for a parking spot and then check out the village. This village is world renowned (at least on Madeira) for the cultivation of willow trees and also for the woven stuff they make with it and sell it here. On the town square they played football for the first time ever in Portugal and here we have lunch: bread with cheese and a banana; we visit the basket weavers and see that they are real artists: they can make everything out of the willows. On the basement floor five of them are actually weaving, but apart from this there is not a lot to see in Camacha. The view on the Atlantic is great, but the clouds spoil the view a little bit. We look for the way to Ribeiro Frio. Via a small mountain road we arrive in Poiso and from there we continue to Ribeiro Frio for about fifteen minutes. We like the nice route through the mountains and see the clouds passing by on the highest points of the road. Itís a special view, but we need to make sure we act cautiously. When we arrive in Ribeiro Frio itís very calm and we can immediately start the walk to Vereda dos Balcűes. This levada is part of a much longer one: the levada do Furado: this one is not suitable for beginners, but the part weíre doing now is ideal to get to know levadas. For us itís the third one, so we expect no problems.

The walk starts next to the road and takes us straight to the levada that follows the road for a couple of metres and then flows under the pavement. We only check out the part to the viewing point for one and a half kilometre. It can be the most beautiful point on Madeira on the highest peaks. With these clouds it wonít be that good, but weíre going to check it out. Next to the moss-covered levada a wide path takes us slowly uphill. Before we started we read the sign Ė unlike the first walk Ė and it says we need to be careful when itís wet. And thatís the case right now: at some places itís really slippery and you donít want to fall or slip. This levada is different than the other two, because it is in a forestall area. We walk through the wood and have steep rocks at our left side. These rocks are covered with moss and then trees have long ribbons of moss hanging down. Twice we need to pass through a narrow path between the rocks and after about fifteen minutes we arrive at the viewing platform that provides a great sight on the valley and the mountains. Itís great and located high on a mountain. We sit down and enjoy the view. When we arrive another couple starts laughing when Veerle cries out: Oh, shit. Yes, that summarises it very well. We try to take pictures of the finches here and then Veerle remembers we still have bread with us. She throws some crumbs on the ground and quickly ten finches come flying to us. Theyíre really beautiful, these small Madeira-finches and now is ideal to take nice pictures. Then we return on the same path and suddenly we face a small bar. This is a very good location because many tourists do this walk. We saw it on our way up, but now we could not miss it. The last part of this levada only takes five more minutes and weíre happy we saw this short trail.

When weíre back on the street, we stop at a bar for a beer and then check out the trout farm. Apart from the levada Ribeiro Frio is famous for the trout. They take water from the small river into different basins and there the trout live. From very small fish to the giant ones at the pool of the forest house of the village. Weíve seen everything here, so we return to the hotel. We take direction Faial and Porto da Cruz and there we follow the via rapida to Funchal. We move on quickly and half an hour later weíre at the hotel. We do the road down to the diving centre, but nobody is there at the moment. The descent is beautiful and the last part only one car can pass. Weíre a bit nervous driving down, but all goes well and we then go back up to our hotel. The only reason we wanted to go there was to arrange diving, but itís closed for the day, so we go back up. Up the small road again and we park the car in a small street and have a rest in our room. We make the report, have a shower and use the internet at the reception and then look for a good restaurant. We go to the first restaurant up the street and have a glass of wine. Veerle orders an espetada meat (large brochette) and Timo has a mixed grill. First we have tomato-soup. Itís a thick soup with a surprising ingredient: a poached egg. It looks special, but it goes well with it. We need to remember it when weíre back home, just like the garlic bread, also delicious. Not only the garlic butter is good, but also the bread. As you can imagine thatís enough for us and we donít need dessert. After a coffee we walk back to our room and have a drink on our terrace. We donít stay up late, because tomorrow weíll explore Funchal: the capital of Madeira;

 

Saturday April 21, 2012: Exploration of Funchal: Festa da Flor

Breakfast this morning is busier than normal; the restaurant is full, because yesterday a couple of busses stopped and all people are here now in the restaurant, even the small part is totally filled. We look for a free table in the corner at the window where itís calmer. There is a struggle going on at the coffee machine and we need to take our bread quickly, because the waiters canít keep up. Veerle walks between the crowd, but Iím fighting with a Portuguese woman and hit her back: everyone needs to take care of himself. We notice that there are a lot of unfriendly people; it almost seems like theyíre only friendly at shops or in the restaurants and you would not expect this from southern types of people. Next to our table theyíre fighting for a free spot, because a sweater was on the chair, but an older couple thought it was necessary to take all places. This will be a warning for the rest of the day: busy like hell. After breakfast we pack everything and go to the reception to check for the next bus and at the same time we return the car. Everything OK, but we just missed the bus by ten minutes and the next one is almost an hour away. We ask how expensive taxis are to Funchal and itís not even so bad: between ten and fifteen Euro to the centre. Thatís about ten euro more expensive, but then we donít need to wait for about an hour. We ask the reception to call a taxi and at that moment one arrives. The lady at the reception knows the driver and calls him. So we go to Funchal. When we get in we agree that itís ten Euro and the driver takes us fast to Funchal, close to the market. He does not take the normal way, because itís too busy and after fifteen minutes weíre there. He even explains where we need to be for the market and we can start our day already at nine oíclock, which is nice. In the end the ride costs us twelve Euro: not what we agreed, but weíre not giving him a hard time.

Our first stop is the market place and we enter the covered market at the lower end where the fish market is. We see the espada, long, black fish with large eyes and many sharp teeth. Espada and tuna fish are sold the most here. The tuna looks good, beautifully red and apparently there is still some tuna here. They sell some other species of fish, but they are the minority. We see the merchants skin the fish and cut the tuna into pieces. We also look at the fish market from the stairs and then also notice dried and salted fish: bacalhau. We think we would not like this, but we havenít tried it yet. Via the stairs we reach the other part with vegetables and fruit. We see many exotic types of fruit and they also offer Madeiran passion fruits, but weíre not here for tasting, but more for the colours and the scents. We see plenty of colours, because apart from vegetables and fruit they also sell flowers here. It even is possible to buy seeds or bulbs of the most beautiful flowers of the island. We donít do that, but move on to explore the city. Outside the Mercado dos Lavradores women in traditional clothing sell more flowers. Thatís nice. We start our exploration. We received a text message from FDL that we had to be at the church of the university to watch the flower parade of the children. We have no clue where it is, so we follow the instructions that FDL mailed us. We pass the cathedral and quickly check the inside. Itís a dark cathedral with lots of gold and many flowers. Everything here is covered in gold leaf and we look at all this glamour. This cathedral is devoted to John Paul II and he even has a statue outside the building. He was Polish, not Portuguese, right? Whatever. We mainly came here today for the flower festival: we really had luck to choose this time.

We look for a good spot to watch the children parade, but canít find any. We walk on the main boulevard under the blue-purple blossom; this is great and typical for Madeira and Funchal more specifically. We walk past a flower carpet on the boulevard and we see different shapes: a staff with notes, the island of Madeira, even a butterfly: well done. At the same time we look for a good spot, because we havenít found the university yet. We stand here then until we see the parade come by. Escorted by the police the first small children walk by with flowers in their hand. They are beautifully dressed: white and red shirts and long skirts in many colours: itís magnificent to see them pass like this. After these first young children the older ones walk past us. The girls are dressed in almost the same way and boys have all white clothes. The oldest ones carry large baskets of flowers and this way the parade continues. Itís a large group, but we donít wait until theyíve all passed and follow the route of the parade until, Ö yes the church at the university of the message. And there even are more people here: weíre lucky, because at first there are only two rows of people in front of us and later just one. The advice to come early was really necessary and we think itís a pity we only found the university just now, but we can still see enough. The parade passes here and weíre waiting for half an hour until something happens. The children need to put the flowers theyíre carrying, into a wall of hedges and then gather on the square. We think we count about thirty different groups of children, all in different outfits. Some only wear yellow shirts, others red and white stripes and the last group are the boy and girl scouts of Funchal. Some of the smaller children wear reed hats with a black ribbon, Madeira written on it. We try to keep our places and that works out fine. We have a good view on the parade, the square; although we sometimes need to look between the shoulders of other people. At about eleven itís the highlight of the parade and they will release hundreds of pigeons. They announce it in Portuguese and in English and then they start. On the sound of Ode an die Freude they release the pigeon to support world peace. A large flock of grey and white pigeons fly over the square, make a tour over it and then disappear. After that the children can look at a show especially for them. Nice! Theyíll love it.

After this event we walk towards the harbour and check things out there. We follow the promenade and see many restaurants here: also one from The Beatles, a real tourist trap. We follow the directions from FDL to the park where weíre checking on the best places for the parade tomorrow. We find a good place, but weíll need to come earlier than today. We have lunch in the park, walk around the park and then continue with instructions. Back on the boulevard we see three more flower carpets with beautiful drawings. We stop at the exhibit of flowers a bit farther. The exposition mainly contains floral art and mainly orchids. Theyíre all magnificent, but we think itís a bit too busy here and check what we can do next. We just walked by the theatre cafť and itís packed there, just like the rest of the centre, so we check with Blandyís (famous for Madeira wine) whether we can have a tour there. They only do guided tours until one oíclock and itís almost that time, so weíll check again tomorrow or another day. We follow the guide of FDL and pass by the fortress, but we canít visit it today. What a shame, but some other time. We walk to the square where the children arrived earlier to check on the wall of flowers. From there we go to the restaurant we certainly had to stop, but today we donít eat, maybe tomorrow or later today. We return to the market and choose the streets of the art-doors. Every door had a painting or design, so it becomes art. One door is a good hit, the other one is not so arty.

We walk to the end of the street and there we take the sea promenade and follow it to another fortress. We think itís special that itís in yellow brocks, but there is not so much to see, because you canít enter today and the two museums here are closed today. So we decide to leave Funchal for today. We enjoy the view on the sea and watch a couple of fishermen who are lucky from time to time in catching small fish. At three thirty we take the bus and itís not easy to get on it, because there are many people waiting. When the bus arrives people are fighting to get on it, but we manage without any problem. A German lady wants to give priority to people in het group, but a Madeiran guy ends this violently and with a lot of screaming. After ten minutes the bus is full and we leave. At the next stop the driver needs to refuse people, but weíre lucky and still could get on in time. On some streets the bus has trouble driving uphill, but thatís part of the fun. We each Garajau perfectly and sit on our terrace and rest a bit. Weíre a bit tired of strolling through the city. A bit later we go to the restaurant and donít go to bed late. We eat at Tourigalo and we order scampiís and mixed grill. It looks good and it actually is. We enjoy the food with some wine. In Madeira they always ask if we need dessert or coffee and today Veerle canít resist the temptation. She chooses a banana split and her face tells me sheís loving it. A bit later we return to the room and go to sleep.

 

Sunday April 22, 20012: Festa da Flor: Parade

In the morning the restaurant is again a mess, but we just do our thing and are not bothered by the disgusting people here. Itís unbelievable how annoying people can get when they have seen food or drinks. We have plans today and want to do more pleasant things. Weíre going to the flower parade in Funchal today. We make sure we have enough water and a bit of food. We take the bus to Funchal right across the street and there are not so many people on there. We thought it would be full because itís the festa da Flor, but itís still OK. We get off at Anadia Shopping, close to the market, but weíre not going there today: we visited the market yesterday. We walk to the cathedral and there we go down the same road as yesterday to reach the municipal square. But today we first visit a museum: the museum of sacral art. We were told that there were painting from Flemish masters and we need to see that. We enter the museum that has just opened the doors at ten. Entrance is not expensive, only a couple of Euro. We arrive via a stairway on the first floor. We look at all the silver, but weíre not reading all of the signs to the detail. Silver chandeliers, silver mitres, all very well decorated and beautiful to see. On the first floor there are about six halls and we walk through every hall so we get to see all the artwork. They exhibit here also chasubles and other religious objects. We then move to floor two. Here theyíve got a number of paintings of Flemish masters: really amazing how they got here. The beautiful paintings are by the hands of Jan Provoost and Rogier Vandeweyden. Also wooden pieces are on exhibition and in some cases they refer to Agnus Dei. The lost panel of the The Just Judges would also be here. Maybe, who knows? Magnificent silver plates have been inscribed in Latin and all in all the museum is worth a visit.

We stay at the museum for about an hour and then walk to Blandyís to have a tour. When we arrive there itís closed. Always on Sunday and legal holidays, so weíll need to come back again for this. We went to Blandyís via the wall of flowers to take a picture without all the people yesterday. And then we walk on the large avenida to the flower market: little booths where they sell flowers, seeds and plants. We walk around the city and then return to restaurant Apollo for a beer, but the terrace is full, so we look for a free table somewhere else. We check the guides what we can do and then we go to the sea promenade and then back to the avenida where all the fun is. A group of dancers perform a folklore dance. They start with flute and guitar in a row and then bow towards each other and dance. This is all thanks to the Festa da Flor that we can see this. Itís already after lunch time, so we go to Mes„o for a drink and some food. We order espada ŗ la Madeira and espada ŗ la something else with mushrooms, peppers, onion and carrots. They serve it very basically with one potato and vegetables. Basic, but very good. The espada Madeira is served with banana and normally Timo is not a fan of warm banana, but the combination with espada rules, really. A cold Coral and everybodyís happy. And then itís already time to find a place for the parade this afternoon. Thanks to FDL we know we nee to be at the roundabout Rotunda dr Francisco Sa Carneiro. So there weíre heading for.

We first sit down on the stairs close to the roundabout and think our view will be OK here. A bit higher than the rest and a perfect view over the roundabout. Weíre here already two and a half hours before the parade, so really on time, but the best spots have already been taken. We sit here and sit here and wait and wait. At one time we decide to look at the situation again when they are closing down the street at the other end. We think that it might not be a good idea to stay here. Veerle asks the policemen if we can sit on the roundabout and we move there when they confirm itís OK. We take four places with our towels and sit down with our back against the fences. People will not like this, but theyíve should have arrived earlier than. The first one commenting on how we sit there comes to us already after five minutes. A Swedish couple who stood next to us on the stairs followed our lead and decided to come here. We say we will make place later on for both of them and then theyíre OK. She sits down next to Timo and her husband goes for a walk, maybe looking for an even better place. And then we start the countdown to the start of the parade. Two more hours and then theyíll start, or maybe not. We talk to the Swedish wife, but itís nothing more than where youíre from, do you like it here and stuff. So we wait and wait and wait. Luckily the sun is shining, at certain moments itís even hot and we need to cover our arms with the towel to avoid sunburns. We did bring tan oil, so nothing serious can harm us Ė thanks for the advice, Frans. At a few minutes after four we stand straight and then we need to fight to keep our places. Next to us someone was already fighting with another man, but weíre doing fine. We look back and see the roundabout is flooded with people. Weíre happy we came early. Thanks again, Frans.

At four oíclock it does not start and fifteen minutes later thereís nothing to see either, but at four thirty we see the first police officers and then the actual parade comes. First in the row is the flower girl in a trailer pulled by a horse. She waves to all the people and has a Jack Russell Terrier on her lap. At a moment like this we think of Cartouche at home of course, but weíre here for the flowers. The first one has passed. The floats are actually pickup trucks with flowers everywhere. There are that many flowers the drivers need to check on the guys walking next to the trucks to see where they need to steer. The flowers; thatís what it is all about and then first one are decorated magnificently. They all have a theme, sometimes itís red and then itís yellow. Behind the floats we see girls dancing. The setup is great, they all do the same dances and we think the choreographers must have had a lot of work with it. But it is great! At the beginning there are not so many dancers, more the wagons. And one attracts the attention, because the little children through candy to the public, this is more like carnival. After every truck we see groups of dancing children, sometimes also adults and they move on the music coming from the giant speakers at the back of the trucks. It is a wall of speakers and of noise, sometimes so loud we ask ourselves whether itís still healthy for the kids. Every truck has a specific theme, some are decorated with simple flowers, but others are real pieces of art. Behind every truck there are dancers in a matching costume. Some have daisy-hats and other wear different-flower-hats. The lilies are magnificent and the dancers have dresses in lily-shapes. This is definitely the lily-truck. They dance all the time and do this during the whole parade. The sun is burning and for some of them itís too much, because they canít smile anymore. To have a good idea of how it looks like you certainly need to watch the pictures, or even better come here to see it in person. Beautiful creations on their heads, great dresses, and beautiful ladies: our day (especially Timoís) is made. At the last truck we even see one with those typical triangular houses of Santana and a little windmill and here again decorated with flowers.

This way our day ends, at least the part of the flower parade in Funchal. We decide to go and check when and how weíll return to Garajau back to the hotel. At the bus stop we donít see any busses: not even one. Timo can decipher from the Portuguese note that until eight there will be no busses, so it has no sense to wait here any longer. Itís already seven oĎclock, so weíve been here for five hours and watched, but it has been worth it to come early and look for the right spot. After we found that we were just watching the show and enjoying it. Because there are no busses we take a taxi. Heís driving black, because he does not start the meter. It costs us sixteen Euro to Garajau with a crazy driver, but he is fast. He drives like a madman, but we arrive safely at the hotel. We take a shower and go into town for a snack. We go back to Cafť Garajau and have a chicken salad and a hamburger special. This is good food. Especially the hamburger with some fries and garlic bread. Itís a winner. We enjoy the meal with Coral and cola and then return to the room. This restaurant has a perfect location, because afterwards itís downhill to the room. At about ten weíre back, talk about the things we saw today, watch some TV and then go to sleep.

 

Monday April 23, 2012: Garajau Diving Centre: Day one of scuba diving on the house reef of Garajau

Itís diving day, always nice during a vacation. You can see everything above water and thanks to the diving permit also under water. Itís great. This morning a large bus of tourists left the hotel, but the restaurant is still very busy. We need to crawl around, under and over people to get our coffee and bread and cheese. We take everything with us to a quiet table in a corner. We like the fact that everyone wants to be seated centrally at the restaurant. After breakfast we return to the room to take our diving gear for our dives today. We did not bring all our gear, because thatís not needed just for a couple of days. We take our masks and snorkels and also the camera for the first dives in Madeira: the first dives in the Atlantic. We look forward to that. We walk to the diving centre following the road at the roundabout at the end of the Dom-Pedro-Street and then it descends steep. We had already done the first bit on foot and all the way down on our last rent-a-car-day. The distance is about two kilometres. Walking downhill is OK, but if we need to do it the other way around, that will be a different story. Half way down the road is very narrow and there we see the gate is still closed. We wait fifteen minutes. It took us fifteen minutes to walk this part down, so the rest will be another fifteen, we think.

Weíre only waiting here for about ten minutes when the first car comes down to open the gate. Surprisingly (or maybe not) this is Felix, the instructor who is going to guide us today. We get a lift and a couple of minutes later weíre there. Nice! We show our PADI-licenses and logbooks. Felix gives us the suits, BCDís, fins, boots, regulators and we can start to make us ready. This is going fast. We thought this would at least take an hour, but thatís not the case. Weíre ready at ten to do our first dive here, but first a short briefing. We need to pay attention when we enter the water, because the waves are high and heavy. We will then swim on the surface towards a yellow buoy in the middle of the bay and then dive left and later on back this way. We put the tanks on our back and walk to the beach, as always this is a rocky beach. Nowhere on Madeira there is a natural sandy beach, so the same here. Weíre careful when we enter the water and we need to be. Just before we hit the water we put the hood on and then carefully walk into the sea. We walk on until weíre out of the highest waves and then as last thing we put the fins on. We swim on the surface as briefed and then we start the dive.

Twenty meters out from shore itís five meters deep and there we descend. We have enough weights for these five millimetre-suits and twelve litre tanks, because we go down easily. The first things we notice are the massive amount of sea urchins and fire worms. Two animals we better donít touch. Even better: donít touch anything, thatís the best. Weíre only five minutes in the dive and from the left is a giant barracuda passing by. This is a very good start. We swim over and between rocks. Some of them are only a meter high, but others have the size of a house. Itís really magnificent. The damselfish swim next to the blocks and we spot dozens of scorpion fish on the rocks. If I say we saw then each dive, Iím not even exaggerating. The small black and blue damselfish (canary damselfish) are also very cute. The adults apparently have had nests, because the rocks hold many small fish. Nice. The Turkish wrasses are present in the dozens. We see so many, that we almost even miss the large grouper that Felix sees. Itís not the house reef grouper, but another animal. We see these dusky groupers three times this dive. They are very friendly towards divers and they even like to be petted. They even seek divers-company.

After half an hour we reach the deepest part of the dive, about twenty meter and go left here to follow the rock at our left side. At the right side itís becoming deeper and we only see sand. As an elegant bird a small stingray flies off. Itís a small one for the size here, because it still is about thirty centimetres. We see a couple of crab-like things: a triangular body with very long claws, neither of us has seen this, but theyíre nice to take pictures of this arrow crab. Many breams swim with us and when Felix hits a rock with his knife they all come to that place. A type of anemone has found itís place between the rocks as well and is very pretty. Lizard fish lie motionless on the sand and other sand creatures look in the sand for food, for example the mullets. We see another large grouper and a big school of bream. We like this dive. When Veerle reaches eighty bar we return towards the shore and little before forty minutes we start our safety stop. Very good diving, V! We have our safety stop between small rocks and then go back on land. A quick shower and dry the gear and then rest for a couple of hours. We already fill out the logbook on the terrace of the restaurant here, have a drink and chill out. Veerle lies in a comfi sun bed and Timo finds a place on the beach. If the sun comes through the clouds, not so often, itís quite hot. We stay here for about two hours and then walk to the diving centre in the cave and prepare for our second dive. A bit more on the cave part: the centre is located in a cave that was created by whale hunters. They used the cave for shelter and stocking the whale oil. Now the diving centre is here and itís just a great location, in a cave, completely decorated and painted blue. Very nice.

Back into the wet wetsuit and itís a good experience again to dive in a wetsuit after the last drysuit dives in Belgium. We start the same direction as the first dive, but a bit more to the right and descend with the three of us. Veerle brought one kilo less than the first time, but this way she can equalize easier. Well done! We just reached the sand and another grouper comes our direction. The animals are really great. Felix caresses and scratches the head and you can almost see the fish enjoying the attention. We see the same stuff as the first dive, now two large schools of fish: we see bream in a small cave and a large school at the deepest point of the dive. We think these are snappers and itís a pretty huge school moving as just one single object. This is a beautiful sight. We then go diving shallower, because we came from twenty eight meters. And then Felix sees something special: a flatworm. This is very nice for Timo, he can take a couple of nice pictures of this purple-blue flatworm with white stripes on the body. Thanks for spotting the candy striped flatworm, Felix! And then we see the house grouper, Elvis. A very old grouper, about fifty years old. We can recognize itís him by the back fins. The first four fins are still there, but the fifth is gone, very easy to see if he sets the fins straight. Itís a very large animal of about hundred and fifty centimetres. He does not come as close as the others, but itís a pretty sight, especially if you see him next to us in the blue waters. If you compare the size to the damselfish, you really see itís a huge beast. We then go less deep, because weíre on our way already some time. We see the same crabs, a couple of scorpion fish, but that was it for this dive. After our safety stop we clean the gear and let it dry and then Felix gives us a lift to the hotel. Heís very friendly and gives us a very nice day of diving here in Garajau.

On our terrace we immediately check the pictures and we see there are a couple of good ones. Tomorrow the next ones. Weíre not really hungry, although we only had fruit for lunch. At about seven we go to a restaurant. When we see the food we get hungry anyway and order: tuna steak and fish casserole. Theyíre both very good, especially the fish soup: this is a winner after zarzuela. Veerle has a dessert ice flambť and then we return to our room. Weíre pretty tired and go immediately to bed, watch TV and then sleep early. Tomorrow Felix will pick us up at about ten at the hotel for the next two dives. Weíre looking forward to that already.

 

Tuesday April 24, 2012: Garajau Diving: House reef

Because we went to bed early yesterday, we wake up a bit earlier this morning: at seven weíre up, not yet alive and kicking, but enough to get out of bed and go for breakfast. Today the breakfast table is less busy, still more than the first days, but less than the last three days. We have bought salami and cheese spread to have something different today. We love it and have a new flavour than in the previous days. FDL already had warned us that breakfast was basic, but this way we solve it. When we booked the trip we had sent a mail to Frans to get some background on Madeira and he read the message here at the hotel a couple of months ago. He was at that moment in the same hotel that we just booked. We were surprised about that. After breakfast we take our stuff and Timo prepares the camera and the under water housing. A few minutes before ten weíre ready and Felix picks us up from the hotel. He takes us down and then tells us we will be diving with another guide this morning in a different location. He had checked Reis Magos as site and it was OK to dive. We put everything in the boxes and Douard (hopefully Iíve spelt this correctly) is our guide today and we leave to the dive site. We go with Rainer, the owner of the diving centre and the father of Felix. Itís only ten minutes away. When we arrive we see high waves and see itís not OK to dive here today. We check a bit closer, but it wonít work today. So we go back and will dive on the house reef with the same guide. When we arrive there, Felix just enters the water with someone else.

We have the same ritual as yesterday, short briefing and weíll have a nice dive with the guidance of Douard, also an under water photographer. Weíre calm and relaxed and get into the water easier than yesterday, since weíre already used to the waves. There are only two obstacles here: rocks on the beach and high waves. Itís going nice and the visibility looks great. Itís not thirty meters like they have here in summer, but we like it. All three of us are ready to start and we descend about thirty meters from the shore. When we come closer to the sand we see a strange form: this is a common stingray. Heís beautiful and stays motionless so we can get closer and take some great pictures. We did not see the stingray yesterday a long time, but this one stays here until we leave. We again see the small scorpion fish and the school of bream and of course the beautifully coloured Turkish wrasses: yellow, blue, orange and they have nice stripes on their heads. The guide also shows us many anemones and we see them now in different colours: yellow, orange, almost red and white. We even see two close to each other: a large animal and a smaller one. He spots them well, although he knows where they live. With one of these anemones there is an arrow crab and also these are beautiful. And then we spot two cornet fish. We had not seen them yesterday and we fear we wonít see them long. Just like the stingray this couple swims right in front of us and stays with us and we love the view: itís just great! A bit further we see a moray between the rocks, only the head comes out. The sharp teeth make us scared (yeah, right), but we have nothing to fear if we donít come too close. The dice is great and he dives slower than Felix yesterday and weíre very calm both of us. Veerle loves the feeling to float in the water between the bream and the damselfish.

At a certain moment Veerle needs to turn around and dive higher, because she almost hit one of the large groupers with her fin. Luckily he was fast enough to swim away. We both signal her, she turns around and then she looks surprised, because the giant grouper swims right in front of her. A magnificent moment that sheíll never forget. We swim through a small cave and here are some more anemones and a ďat a starfish staringí fish. Right outside the cave there is another moray and then we start our return towards the beach. We see some more scorpion fish, a large orange starfish and a small hermit crab. We continue the dive and eventually reach the place for our safety stop. No problems with buoyancy here, weíre all right. Between the rocks there are two more scorpion fish and a couple of wrasses. The small canary damsel found cover between the boulders. Itís nice to end the dive like this. After the safety stop we look up and see a very large jellyfish. Itís about twenty centimetres, but the large tentacles is what we notice the best. If now the sun would be shining, this would be a great picture, but this is not the case. A couple of meter from the jellyfish we go to the surface after fifty one minutes. We were very relaxed and very happy we get to shore. We did not see any sun; it even was raining when we got out. Not really the weather weíd prefer, but we had a great dive.

We get ready and arrange that we can still do a night dive tonight, Timo that is and then after a quick bite and some water we start our way back, because we only do one dive today. Timo is doing maybe a second one, but weíll see about that later. We return to the hotel on foot and Felix says weíre crazy, but this should be manageable within half an hour. And indeed, with a couple of stops weíre getting there well. Before we leave here we check out the small path along the rocks, spotted a falconí nest and are really impressed with the high rocks. We donít go too far, because itís very slippery and as always we put safety first. So we head up to the hotel. From halfway down the winding road we see Felix and the other diver as two small dots entering the water. It is a great dive spot here; after only half an hour weíre at the end of our street, withdraw quickly some money and then rest on our terrace in the sun. It can be every type of weather this month, from cloudy to rainy to a very bright sun. Rainer told us this morning: April, April macht was er will. And this is also true in Madeira. We had two nice dives yesterday and also today a very nice one, maybe another one tonight. A late siesta and write some of the report and then have a small snack. And thatís how we do it: Veerle has a siesta, Timo tries to rest, but canít. At about six we start to move again and have our snack. We have spaghetti and macaroni. If we dive tonight the food will already be digested and Timo needs to take that into account. Weíre not having a long dinner, just a snack and a cola and then off to the reception.

Duarte (I found the correct spelling on Facebook) had told us he would pass by the reception to let us know whether a night dive is OK today or not. In order to pass the time at the reception we surf the internet and check what options we have the next days. We arrange our plans on high level and surf the internet and wait until Duarte comes by. At a bit before eight heís there and says the sea is even rougher than this morning, so no night dive, maybe one of the next days. Maybe weíre lucky the rest of the week, we have four more nights, so never fear. We donít want to do anything else today, so we sit down on our terrace and have a drink, chat about the dives and the days we already had and discuss some more the plans we made for the next days. Itís already Tuesday and we think time was flying, because weíre already half way the vacation. We must not despair because we have some great days ahead of us. We watch some TV and at about ten thirty we go to sleep. It has not been a busy day, but we can use the sleep until tomorrow morning.

 

Wednesday April 25, 2012: Levada do CaniÁo and back to Garajau

We have only two plans today: pay the dives at Garajau Diving Centre and walk a levada. Timo checked a couple of days ago all levadas we could still do. For some you need a torch and we did not bring one although FDL advised us to do so and for other you canít have a fear of heights. We donít suffer from it, but the first levada of this vacation was on the edge: both literally and figuratively speaking. After breakfast we start by walking to Christo Rei and take the cable car. It is two Euro each both ways, so we take the teleferico, because weíre too lazy to walk this stretch again. Nice! It just opens when we arrive at about ten. They first do a test and then we can go down. Weíre the first people at the beach: the gate is still closed, so nobody can pass and the restaurant or diving centre owners are not yet there. We walk on the beach and check the falcon and his nest again, then we take a look along the rocks, but we were there already yesterday, so we just wait for Felix. After fifteen minutes we see cars coming down, but Felix is not one of them, he only arrives at ten thirty. We agree that heís going to call us when there will be a night dive this week, we pay and then head back up. Itís thirty five Euro per person per dive, plus two Euro tax for the national park. This part of the underwater park goes from here to Funchal and all dive centres come here. Itís a great spot, but we still think itís not so cheap here in Garajau. Two hundred and twenty two Euro for three dives each, not inexpensive. We did get to see a lot and the service and equipment was very good. All arrangements were OK, so we have no problem paying this.

Then we take the cable car back up, walk the last part and quickly stop by our room to pick up all things for the levada walk. Weíre at the room a few minutes before eleven en need to take the bus in ten. We hurry up, but thatís not necessary; the bus only arrives at eleven thirty and a crazy driver takes us to Funchal. We get off at the main stop and walk to the stops for the long distance busses. We need to wait for over forty minutes on a bus to Camacha, because there the levada starts and takes us downstream. We have a drink on a terrace. Today is a holiday and the bus schedule is the same as Sunday, so there are not so many busses. Drinking and talking a while makes time go faster and we can get on the bus. In Camacha we look for the levada do CaniÁo and thatís a bit more difficult than we thought. We cross the square, take a small road on the left corner coming from the bus stop. This part is concrete and goes down, not very steep, but when we reach a bar the road seems to fall. We walk straight, but a friendly local says we need to turn left to find the levada. We do that, first on a paved road and then a path with cobblestones goes down. The first part is easy, but then it gets steeper and narrower. Itís very beautiful to walk down, but from time to time we need to stop, because our knees are shaking from the pressure. It is beautiful. We walk through terraces of the farmers and some are actually working on their land. Itís their turn to receive water from the levada and they make sure it reaches the right places.

And then the path disappears between the high grasses and we need to watch where we step, but as I said itís a beautiful path. Weíre happy weíre going downhill and not uphill like some other hikers. On this path between the grasses, the reed and the gardens we walk half an hour in total to Levada do CaniÁo. When we find it we rest and have a drink and then continue the walk. Itís already one thirty and we need about two more hours for this levada. Weíll look for a nice pick nick spot and then move on. This levada is completely different from the others, much wilder and less well maintained, but thatís nice. We also had been wondering earlier whether there was any life in the water and here we see the frogs jumping on and in and around the levada. We call it the frog-levada. Weíre hiking in the valley of the Porto Novo and this river has done a great job cutting out the valley. Also here we see side-streams to provide water to the farmers and also the beautiful terraces where the harvest their crops. Some farmers have even installed a cable car, otherwise they would not be able to cover the height difference of fifty metres. One point we find a nice place for a pick nick in a wide curve of the levada. On the left we see the terraces, right are the rough rocks that serve as great nesting places for falcons and other birds of prey and right in front of us we see the valley ending in the sea and in the distance even the Islas Desertas. Thatís a short description to indicate this is a great location. We eat bread, salami, cheese and sausages. We like it, because we were already hungry. Right down below us we see a green oasis where a farmer has his garden. We enjoy the view, look around, have pick nick and think: this is vacation!

After this short twenty minute break we continue our hike. We cross a bridge and pass a couple of waterfalls and also two places where levadas connect. From this point there is more water and more current, but itís a great levada. We also need to take a tunnel, but not a long one, so we donít need a lamp. Here the water flows even faster, but then it slows down. Weíre really enjoying the peace and walk on. In total the levada takes less than two hours, but the way there took half an hour and then thereís the way back home. Thatís a different story. When the levada ends, we walk towards Assumada and check our books where we need to go. According to the description we need to go to Zimbreiros, but we find no indication what direction this is. We decide to walk downhill, because we need to go towards the coast. We get lost in the small streets; we try this street, then the other, but itís either a dead end or does not take us to the right direction. We get a bit frustrated and nobodyís helping out. After fifteen minutes we find a road that could lead us in the correct way and that is indeed the correct one. We were looking for the right one for a long time and just by taking a wild guess we end up at the chapel of M„e de Deus. There we stop for a drink and ask the way. Close to the bar a street goes to Zimbreiros. There we should be able to take bus 155 to Garajau. The road again is very steep, unbelievable. We think itís a descent of thirty percent, but of course we know nothing about it. We cross a bridge over the via rapida and reach Ponta dos Reis Magos. We were here yesterday to check out the dive spot. We look for a bus stop and indeed the 155 passes here, Ö in thirty minutes. Weíre not going to wait and walk on. We go up and down again, what a punishment after this long walk.

We easily find our way here, but weíre already pretty tired. Then we have the choice between normal flat road to the left or very steep to the right. We take uphill the steepest way and arrive at the boulevard to Christo Rei. Now we know weíre on the right track, but also that we have a climb ahead of us from the crucifix. We quickly move one and need to rest a couple of times. And then Veerle has enough: we just went uphill for a couple of hundred metres and now we need to go down again to Christo Rei and she does not fancy that. She wants to take the stairs and make a shortcut. Sheís not willing to go down and then back up again. So we follow her instincts and that appears to be a good idea. We arrive at ten metres in front of the roundabout at the hotel. Very nice. We go to the room, rest and stay at the pool. Even though the water is icy, Timo swims and dries up in the sun. After half an hour weíve had enough of this too and we prepare for supper.

Today weíre having supper at Tourigalo. First we order a tropical salad: tropical fruit with salad, carrots and tomato. The main dish is tropical scabbard fish and grilled sea bream. We love it again with a bottle of wine. This only costs us thirty Euro, so itís not even expensive. They have two huge TV screens at the restaurant and they show semi final Champions League (Bayern Ė Real Madrid). We watch the second half at the hotel and see that Bayern wins with penalties. Yes! We watch some more TV and then go to bed. Weíre tired after the long walk of today.

 

Thursday April 26, 2012: Funchal, Monte, Teleferico

We had not yet made any plans for today and that has happened more often this vacation. The weather is not so good; it has rained last night and itís still drizzling when we get up. Thereís not a lot we can do. We start with the beginning and that is to wake up at the breakfast table with some coffee and bread. We discuss what weíre going to do, but thereís no rush, so first we go surf the internet at the reception and by ten oíclock weíve decided weíre going to Funchal. We just missed the bus, so we take it easy, rest a bit on the bed and then walk to the bus stop. At ten past eleven the bus arrives and we have no problem getting on. The bus is not crowded, so we have place enough to Funchal. When we arrive there we walk to the market; itís still open and itís always nice to go there. Because all booths on the central part have gone, itís not as good as our first visit. Only along the side people are selling stuff and the fish market is open, but thatís it. We leave fast, because someone has dropped two busses of tourists off and it gets too busy for us. We walk to the cathedral, stop at Anadia Shopping Centre, because Veerle is looking for a new bikini, but she did not find a good one. We donít search for a long time. Our first stop is the monastery, but there is not really much to see. On the courtyard is a fountain with a couple of turtles and some koi carps. The interior is nice, but we canít go further than the courtyard. We try the stairs, but this is not open to the public. We check the tiled walls and theyíre pretty, but thatís it. Hopefully weíre luckier when we visit Blandyís for the third time.

Before we go there we first visit the fortress S„o LourenÁo: well preserved and certainly worth a quick visit; no need to stay there for hours. We walk on the court, check the view and watch the exhibit on the first floor, but itís only pictures that theyíre showing, so we donít stay. We had hoped with these two visits that weíve spent a bit longer, but that did not work out as planned. Hopefully more luck at Blandyís. Weíre too late to start the previous guided tour, so we need to wait until two thirty for the next one. We quickly speak what weíre going to do, but weíll leave this then. Weíve been here three times and even the third time we could not visit, so weíll leave it at that. We walk around the parts that are open and look at the bottles of Madeira wine they have here. There are bottles that are very old, even over hundred years. Question is whether they are still drinkable. We search and find bottles of 1980 and 1975 (our years of birth). The presses and different tools are on the open areas, but without a good explanation, you canít make a lot out of it, except for the presses. We walk to the city park and then look for a bus to Monte, because we want to see this as well. Bus 20 leaves to Monte in twenty minutes, so we wait and then get on it.

Because there were so many people waiting we could not sit down, but we stand up: no problem. We need to hold tight in the curves and each time the bus starts, because they all drive like crazy here. It takes over half an hour to get to Monte, because the driver needs to stop at almost each bus stop to let someone in or out. Sometimes the next stop is only twenty metres farther, but when you get older itís not easy to walk on the steep roads. We arrive in Monte at a square and want to have a snack and a drink. We share a pizza. Itís nice and quiet in the shadow: the sun is present, but the wind makes it chilly. We see a couple of guys in white costumes and brown reed Madeira hats and those are the guys who glide down with the sledges. They endanger their own lives and the lives of tourists. In the brochures of Madeira and Funchal it is never mentioned that these guys cause severe accidents regularly. We donít take part in that. After our light lunch we walk on the stairs to the church and enter the building. This church is devoted to Emperor Charles I of Austria. Itís only a small church and there is not a lot to mention about it. Itís not ugly or something, but we had expected a bit more. The garden around the church is really nice and the view from here on Funchal is great. You can see the whole city and the large cruise ships.

We want to visit the botanical garden and need to walk there of take the teleferico. We prefer the latter. In combination with the garden this costs eleven Euro, otherwise it would have been fifteen without combi ticket. We go to the teleferico, not the one to Funchal, but the one for the botanical garden, because in Monte these two come together. We see the Toboggan drivers on our way from the church. We donít know how the Portuguese call them, but when we see them leave with the sledges we think theyíre called crazy. We just pass by them, not only to be safe, but also from the price. For two people they charge thirty Euro and then youíre not even all the way to Funchal. Total rip-off. We walk to the teleferico of the botanical garden, buy a ticket and enter the cabin. Itís special with the hard wind. The gondola wobbles from left to right. There are indications that youíre not supposed to move inside the gondola, but what do you need to do when the wind is against you: shut your eyes! In less than ten minutes we arrive and had a great view on the nature around Funchal, as if we had not seen that during the levada walks. From this stop of the teleferico we walk to the botanical garden.

We hand over the tickets and enter. We can enjoy beautiful flowers and magnificent trees here. The most appealing things are the agricultural crops: potatoes, onions and fennel; apart from that there is nothing to see. Or maybe there is: LOL. Beautiful plants of different kinds, trees and specifically plants of Madeira and even an area with cactuses. We soon realise that weíre here already for an hour. The most plants weíve already seen in the wild, but here theyíre all together. Nice garden. Timo has seen a sign and wants to follow it all the time and eventually we arrive at the exotic bird park. There are many exotic birds, of course and Jose, the turtle on a stick is here too: a large tortoise that lost the way between all the birds and is part of the surroundings. We look at all the birds and we can say there are some magnificent exotic ones here. As top of the bill there is a huge cage with blue-and-yellow macaws, really magnificent animals. Eventually we stay here two hours and thatís the sign to go down to Funchal.

We take the exit and check on the map where we need to go. We think about stopping to check out some orchids, but weíre not doing this today. Firstly the entrance fee is five Euro and secondly weíve already seen many orchids during the exhibition of Festa do Flor in the centre of Funchal. So we start our descent to Funchal, arrive on the main road without pedestrian walkway, so itís really dangerous. Weíre happy we can take the stairs down. Itís faster and less dangerous and shorter too. In less than half an hour stopping at great views we arrive at the bus stop. We sit down there, have a drink and an ice cream and take the bus back to Garajau at six. Right on time we arrive at the bus stop itself and the bus leaves on time. When weíre at the hotel we rest and take a bath. At about eight oíclock we get hungry and look for something to eat. Today Timo has the choice where we go and Veerle has nothing to say, as if that was the case at other times. So we walk to the restaurant at the top of the street: actually itís one building with two restaurants, one better than the other with mainly specialties of fish and the second has grill specialties. We first have a glass of Madeira wine and then we order rice with seafood. This can only be ordered for two people, so we try this today. Madeira wine and garlic bread are a great combination and we wait for half an hour on the main course. We had expected something like paella, but itís close, but not the same. The seafood is the same, but the rice has plenty of sauce with it: tomato sauce with onion and paprika. There are a couple of large mussels and many small ones. Also some pink shrimps and large scampiís and we love it. The sauce is good and the wine we ordered too: this is life! The bill is not so good, but it was worth it. We have enjoyed the meal. At about ten we return to the room and go to bed.

 

Friday April 27, 2012: Two levadas: Levada da Serra da Faial and Levada dos Tornos

To wake up is getting more difficult every day, I mean getting out of bed and getting up. We make long walks every day and the slopes do not make it easy. Yesterday we did a lot of kilometres in the end. Today will be the same, because we go for another levada today. We first head to the restaurant for breakfast, then back to our room to prepare everything and then take a taxi to Camacha. Manuel, the driver is always parked close to the hotel and itís not even expensive. We address him, get a price of ten Euro to Camacha and thatís about the same as the bus to Funchal and then to Camacha. Itís two Euro more expensive, but now we donít need to wait for the bus and for a connection in Funchal. Fifteen minutes later weíre in Camacha in the centre at the square. Manuel takes the time to make publicity for his taxi if we want to do another levada later or want to go somewhere. He can make himself available tomorrow. Weíll see about that. Manuel leaves and so do we. We follow the instructions on the levada-walk-book and need to ascend to Santo Antonio da Serra. We find indications to Santo in the opposite corner of the square, so we know where to go. Passed the postal office and the church and then there is a sign to the levada to the left. At the same moment an old Madeiran, grey hair, long grey beard signals us that this is correct and about a kilometre down the road. Thank you old man with the grey beard. This is not the first time they help us to find the start of a levada and also proves that Madeirans are also friendly people. We see a few houses with a great view on the Atlantic and on the balcony of one of them an old man is eating his sandwich and drinking his coffee, while the rest of the world has stopped. With this view, in the sun we canít think of anything better. A bit further, up and down we find a sign to the levada. We located it.

The guide also references that itís one of the most popular levadas, because itís an easy one and very accessible being so close to Funchal. At first we donít notice a lot about it, but then we encounter large groups of tourists, luckily they are heading the other direction. They walk slower and they stop when we try to cross them. The levada is narrow at the beginning and has less concrete than the other ones, which gives it a more natural character. At the start we see some houses, but then weíre totally surrounded by nature. This is it! We left early, because the drive in the taxi did not take long and we quickly found the start. We pass the houses in a beautiful valley with large trees and lush vegetation. The morning dew is still on the leaves of the flowers and then smells of the forest are still in the air after a wet night. The smells are very good and everything looks great and fresh. In the village of Achadinha we need to leave the levada, but fifty metres farther we connect again. In this place there are about ten busses and many people are here too. We see next to the levada the magnificent flowers: mainly agapanthus that forms almost a hedge along the road, magnificent plants with beautiful blue flowers. We arrive in the Vale Pariso and this is indeed paradise, a great place to walk the levada. It would have been better when weather was better too. We see the sun only periodically and we see a lonely raindrop falling down. This is the weather the whole time. A bit farther the levada runs dry, but we continue. Itís nicer when water is running through, but the walk is still good. We go up and down because the levada enters a tunnel and we canít pass. At the right side we see a waterfall coming down, but it does not fill up the levada, it remains dry.

After half an hour walk more and more dirt is lying in the levada (natural debris from trees for example) until the moment itís just a part of the path. On both sides we have the leaves of the agapanthus and a distance from the path there are long narrow trees, dense forest and also laurel trees. They are present, especially when you use your nose. The last part of the levada is not even worth calling a levada: filled with leaves and branches and you forget there is a levada next to the path. And then suddenly even the path stops and we only see a road going down. We need to follow the road and on a tree there is an unclear sign that says Ďbusí. Luckily we have clearer instruction in the Rother Walking Guide. We walk down, see the football field and stop here for a drink. After this short break we descend even more and see the first houses of Choupana. A bit farther we should see the other levada that takes us to Monte. Just after the church of Quinta do Pomar we indeed see the levada that we follow upstream. The previous one was downstream with a difference of about two hundred fifty metres in height; this one is not as long and almost no difference from here to Monte. The levada dos Tornos is deep and wide. We stick a branch in the water and see itís about eighty centimetres. Also this levada is busy, because we meet people every five to ten minutes. We walk this in the opposite direction than most people.

Suddenly we see a fence over the levada, no not again, but here you can pass if you donít leave the paths. This is private property of a resort and they donít want anybody looking around. We walk on and at the other side there is again a fence. We think itís nice they have not closed the levada completely. We follow the levada and walk through forest and regularly have a beautiful view on Funchal. From this angle we see on the other side of the valley the cable car to the botanical garden. We think itís still some time before we reach it and we still have a pick nick. We donít find a similar place as before, but we eat on a bridge over the levada. We are close to a waterfall and have sandwiches with cheddar. We drink cola and water, smoke a cigarette and then continue our trip. This part of the levada was very quiet and about fifteen minutes later we see why. We first pass Curral dos Romeiros and then the left side of the levada has steep cliffs. This is a part where fear of heights is not pleasant: there are many parts that offer a view into the abyss and are not protected, so you better watch out if you want to walk here. At one point in a large curve we arrive at a small electricity farm. We clearly hear the turning of the turbines. Levadas transport water from one place to the other, but also generate electricity. We continue next to the levada and the steep abyss and then the levada stops. We need to take a tunnel and arrive at the other side of the mountain. The road is blocked with a heavy tree branch, so we prefer the path down and donít take the tunnel: it must be blocked for a reason.

We rest and then start on the path down. Many trunks block the path, so you need to crawl over or under them. Itís not easy and we donít know where this will lead to (again). We descend and descend and we had asked ourselves the question why on this part of the valley we did not see a levada. Mystery solved, because it flows through a tunnel and we need to follow another path. We havenít met any people for a long time, but then two people climb the path from the other direction, so we check where this leads. Weíre OK, because the path ends at the teleferico of the botanical garden. We feel better and continue the descent. After about ten minutes we already see the gondolas of the cable car. Not long after that we see the stairs to the cable car and we go up until we reach the station and a bus stop. There is a bus here at the stop Barbasos and the driver tells us heís leaving to Funchal in three minutes. Very nice, because we take the bus and are on our way to Funchal. If youíve already read that the bus drivers are crazy here, you havenít seen this one. He drives down like a madman, sometimes inches from parked cars and then a small van comes from the other side, but he needs to turn back. He continues like crazy and then stops. The brakes almost seem to be dying. From the right we see the other crazy guys with their sledges coming down. Weíre surprised that we get to Funchal safely, but it was fast and need to wait for half an hour on the bus to Garajau. We talk to an elderly lady and have fun. After twenty minutes we almost know all her scars and her life; itís a nice lady. Then the driver opens the doors and we can go back to the hotel. Fifteen minutes later weíre there and rest and have a half-siesta. We rest on the bed and watch TV.

We only have three nights left, so weíre going to do all the three restaurants we have visited earlier. Today we choose restaurant-bar Garajau. A quick snack for Timo: special hamburger, very nice as the first time. Veerle has a mini-brochette on a stick of laurel. Thatís also good, only the meat was not baked as she wanted. She prefers well done and this is very red. On the terrace it gets a bit colder, so she ends up with a blue froid. The quality of the meat is very good, so she likes. We have Coral and white wine and at about ten we return to our room. We watch a movie and go to sleep at midnight. Two more days and we fly back.

 

Saturday April 28, 2012: South and West-Madeira

Actually weíve almost seen everything on Madeira, but the weather is not OK to sunbathe, so weíll do some things today. First we decide how weíll do it: with a taxi or rent a car. After breakfast weíve decided to rent a car today, then weíre free to do what we want, where and when. There are only a few things on the agenda anymore: check out the pools at Porto Moniz, Paul da Serra and Punta do Sol. If the latter village would honour its name, we could end up staying there longer, because then there would be sunshine. The weather in Garajau is not bad, but not good either. On our way back from breakfast we see a few drops of rain, but then there is a mix of sun and clouds. Thatís the same as the last two weeks. We seek comfort in the fact that in Belgium itís raining all the time, so weíre better of here. Weíre still on vacation, so thatís nice too. We rent a car at Insular, because Avis looks closed again. We get the same price as before and can leave immediately, because we already have our bags with us.

We need to fill up the tank first, because the light flashes immediately when we turn at the roundabout. We know there is a gas station on our way, so we head there first and take petrol for twenty Euro. We think itíll be enough for the day. And thatís about the same we would pay if weíre taking a taxi with Manuel, so we pay the same, but weíre able to do everything we want. We take the via rapida to Funchal. Weíre already used to driving here, so it goes fast and after half an hour we reach Ribeira Brava and there we need to take the exit to Ponta do Sol. We arrive in a small village with nothing to see. Everything is close, the wind blows and the sun is not shining as we hoped for. Itís windy and cold. We think that we will have a great view on the bay from higher up, but we canít climb any higher. The road is closed, even for pedestrians, because rocks can fall down. The village is located between two high cliffs and thatís pretty, a church, but thatís it and weíre cold, so we leave and drive to our next stop. After we saw this we fear that the pools at Porto Moniz will be open and there will also be no night dive today. We try to drive a bit higher by car, but also that is not possible, because that road is for the hotel only. We turn back and drive to Jardim and Paul do Mar. These two villages have it in the name, because theyíre at the sea. We pass Jardim do Mar and go to Paul do mar, because there is a beautiful square. We canít find it. Weíre not very lucky today.

We drive into the mountains to Faj„ de Ovelha en there we have a great view on both of the villages. Right in front of us is Paul do Mar with a large tree in the middle of the village and the high waves of the Atlantic bursting onto the beach. In a distance behind a rock we see the small houses of Jardim do Mar and behind us a waterfall comes crashing down. The waterfall is not large in width and discharge, but because of the length. It starts all the way on the top and falls down to the spot where we are now. Fifteen minutes later we turn right to a Miradouro and a firehouse. We also stop there to check out the view. Left we see the high cliffs that come straight into the ocean and right we see the firehouse. There is a lot of wind, so we donít stay here for a long time. We approach Porto Moniz through the pass of Achadas da Cruz and Santa Madalena. Here is a large parking where all the busses stop and we can see Porto Moniz. We check it out and see the waves washing into the pools. The village looks peaceful, but the waves are high and we can already see that from a couple of hundred metres altitude. Itís a nice place to stop and weíre happy we halted here this time.

Upon our arrival at Porto Moniz we look for a place to park and find that on the same spot as the first time. From here we walk to see the waves and that the red flag is out. Thatís not nice, because Veerle wanted to swim in these pools. Maybe weíll return here one day, who knows. We eat and drink here, but the wind makes it unpleasant. If the wind falls and the sun comes trough the clouds itís much better, but these moments are rare. After lunch we take the car and drive towards Ribeira de Janela. There we look at a rock that has a special shape of a finger. Left and right the slopes of the mountains almost join in. they have been eroded by the river and it has created an impressive mountain view. We drive up and up, starting steep and getting steeper all the time. The Renault Clio has less power that the Nissan, but itís still manageable. When we reach the top we see we used a lot of petrol, because after this short trip the petrol is almost into the red area, so we look out for a gas station. Of course we donít find it, but we think weíll be all right. Weíre on a high plateau where cows graze. We see that there are a lot of walks here, but we donít do any today. The vegetation is completely different here from the rest of Madeira: grasses, ferns and heath; everything looks brown. Itís desert-like here. They write in the guides that it should remind of the Scottish Highlands, but weíve never been there, so we canít confirm that.

On the highest peak of the Paul da Serra we see wind turbines and weíre not surprised, because we can tell by looking at the grasses that there is a lot of wind. We only stop here to look at the landscape and to take a couple pictures. We have not planned any walks today. The road was uphill all the time, then itís up and down and later we drive down to Encumeada. The road is very steep in the mountains to the valley of the Ribeira Brava. We already saw these mountains before and it was as impressive as it is now. On the top we had a bit of fog, but at a lower altitude itís gone. Itís quite dark, because there is little sun, so the view on the mountains is not as good as can be. After about ten kilometres we reach Encumeada and there we take the road to Ribeira Brava. We pass some places we stopped last week, the posada and reach Ribeira Brava without problems. We think about what will be next and decide to drive back to the hotel, because we already did enough kilometres today. We donít stop at any gas stations, because we think that weíll make it for the remaining thirty kilometres. And we do. On our terrace the sun shines, so we sit down there and have a siesta and weíll see what weíll do the rest of the day. Maybe weíll drive to Funchal, but weíre not sure.

At about six we take the car, stop at the gas station and buy petrol for ten Euro. Weíre sure now that weíll make it to Funchal and back. We decided to have supper in Funchal tonight. We also wanted to see what Funchal is like in the evening. We easily find our way using the same route as the bus. Thatís normal, because after doing it ten times we know our way. We drive to the end of the boulevard, the Avenida do Mar e das Comunidades Madeirenses. We thought that a bit farther than the roundabout where we were during the parade we could park the car, but there only is a parking underground. We turn back and drive towards the bus stop. There we take a couple of small streets and arrive at the main police station. And just when we pass there, someone leaves. After two in the afternoon you donít need to pay anymore Ė confirms a smoking police officer Ė and we can leave the car here. We walk to the cathedral and stop for a drink at the Cafť do Teatro. We already wanted to stop here, but it was always too busy. At this moment there are not so many people and itís nice to be in the cafť. The decorations are very beautiful and we have a coffee and a Coral. The walls look like a huge bookcase. We see people passing by on the Avenida M Arriaga, but not as many as during the day. This avenida is the one with the big jacarandas Ė the trees with the beautiful purple flowers. We stay here for half an hour and then walk to the park: Parque de Santa Catarina. Veerle wanted to see the casino and that is right behind the park. We cross the park and see the flowers closing their leaves for the night. Just behind the park is the casino, but we donít enter and return to the Avenida do Mar.

We have a couple of insider tips in the guide of Marco Polo, but after we asked a bus driver he says most of these restaurants are in the zona hotelleria. That is totally the other side of town, where we started our first levada. So we donít go there. We continue on the boulevard to the bus stop and the teleferico and there are also restaurants. We need to be careful for the guys trying to lure people inside, because they fight for each customer here. We walk on the other side of the road and even here they address us. We donít like it, so donít stop here. We walk on and a friendly waiter of restaurant S„o Josť addresses us. He is OK and just shows the menu and does not try to take us by the arm and pull us inside. Weíll eat here. We order win, red and white and espetada chicken and traditional espetada, two brochettes. We like it and Veerle is too tempted to resist a dessert. A chocolate cake with coffee, she likes that. In total we pay thirty four Euro, so still OK. As an extra service the waiter fetches cigarettes for us, so they have earned their tip. We walk to the sea and look at Funchal by night and then we take the car back via the same way. We stop at the church of S„o GonÁalo. That is again the church you typically would see on postal cards of Funchal, but we take the picture by night, much better. After twenty minutes weíre back at the hotel, take pictures from the car as proof that we delivered it back OK and drop the keys in the box at the car rental. On our terrace we enjoy some last moments and then we go to bed. At least we try, because there is a lot of noise today. Veerle falls asleep fast, but Timo remains awake until about two, but then eventually also falls asleep. Today we did not have a lot of exercise, so that might be the cause. Then still a late goodnight.

 

Sunday April 29, 2012: Lazy Sunday

Our last full day has started. We donít do a lot today; just enjoy the environment and the good weather: the day starts good, because there is not a cloud in the sky. Itís always nice to get up like this. Weíre early because we want to visit the market in Funchal, we wanted to enjoy the atmosphere and do some shopping. We take the bus at 07:55 and we go to Funchal. The line 155 is the only one that passes regularly in Garajau between Ponta da Oliveira and Funchal. It will be the last time during the vacation. After ten minutes we get off at Anadia Shopping and see that the market is closed, always on Sundays and public holidays. Damn, we burry our plans to do some shopping. We continue as planned and have breakfast at Apolloís close to the cathedral. Already the first time in Funchal we wanted to stop here, but it was way too busy. Now there are only few Madeirans drinking coffee and reading the Sunday edition of the paper. A mass is going on inside the cathedral and we see that some people are outside following the ceremony. No idea why theyíre doing this. We drink a large coffee, eat an omelette with cheese and ham and then have a second coffee and enjoy the atmosphere. Sunday morning itís not busy in Funchal. When the mass is finished it get busier, but never too much. The flower festival is finished, so everybody is resting from the past weekend. We look for things we can take home with us.

We walk to the end of the avenue where the most expensive shop of Funchal is located, but only a bakery and a small supermarket are open. We turn back to the Anadia Shopping Centre and see people with plastic bags with groceries, so somewhere weíll be able to shop. And indeed, on the ground floor of Anadia there is a large supermarket. We enter and look for some small stuff we can take with us: peppers, garlic paste, Madeira wine, port, sandwiches (for lunch), oil and vinegar. We quickly find everything and pay. Then we walk through the city some more. Actually weíve seen everything already, so it does not take a long time. We look for an open bookstore, but not on Sundays. So we decide to take the bus back to Garajau and only need to wait for ten minutes. In the end weíre faster back at the hotel, but weíre not getting bored and rest by the pool. We stay here a couple of hours until one in the afternoon and then we had enough. The sun shines and we take some sun, because in Belgium itís been bad weather the whole time. Itís a pity for the people there, but we love the sun here. We donít stay there too long however and we donít swim, because the water is still too cold.

In our room we have the sandwiches with the rest of the cheese and rest half an hour. Weíre tired from all the efforts of the day. Or maybe we have some action: we go to the reception to use the internet and swim in the inside pool. After about an hour we stop swimming and return to the room. Itís almost five, so we have passed the day quite well. We take a bath, watch some TV and then start to pack. That still needs to happen. After an hour everything is OK. We have not packed everything yet, but almost. Tomorrow morning we need to use some things still, so we leave that in the bathroom. We had a large breakfast, but lunch was small, so we go for supper at about seven for the last time in Garajau. We go to the restaurant at the end of the street where the zarzuela was great. We return especially for that. Veerle has again the sol meuniŤre and we enjoy it tonight. We first have a salad and some bread. Veerle also wanted to try the special kind of bread instead of the normal garlic bread. It was grilled with paprika, tomato and mozzarella and that all in the oven, very nice. We even take dessert and coffee: flambť ice and chocolate cake. It was very very nice. The bill is also nice, higher than usual, but still not too bad. We pay seventy Euro in total and you must not forget we had a bottle of wine too. At about ten we return to our hotel and sit down on our terrace. We have a drink, although we canít add a lot anymore. We watch TV and go to bed around midnight.

 

Monday April 30, 2012: Going back home

Alles hat ein Ende, the Germans say, nur ein Wurst hat zwei. Today itís really the end, we get up early, have breakfast, go to the airport with the bus, check in, which all is pretty fast and the flight can even leave ten minutes early. There is not a lot to mention about today. We travel the whole day to come home to see Cartouche back. Everyone is happy and we can look back at two nice weeks of vacation. Mama Linda has food for us. Patrik and Linda picked us up from the airport and we have supper at home: asparagus the Flemish way. Then we have a Duvel and talk about the vacation with our friends and make it a pleasant evening. Nice to be back.