(Please note: this post contains a part of my post of 6th June 2014 on my own blog, see URL below. Internet connections are iffy and to do 2 different ones was maybe impossible, so I apologise for some repetition)
My information in this post comes from Funchal on the island of Madeira, part of the archipelago of Madeira, which is situated in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. The islands lie about 1000 kilometres (621miles) to the south-west of Portugal and are about 600 km (372 miles) off the coast of Morocco, on the African continent. All of these quite far from my home in Scotland!
The islands – two of them inhabited named Madeira and Porto Santo, and two uninhabited ‘The Desertas’– were discovered in 1418 by Portuguese navigators Joao Goncalves Zarco and Tristao Vaz Teixeira (apologies for the lack of the proper Portuguese accents on the letters since I’ve no clue how to make them) when they were blown off course by a fierce Atlantic storm.
Landing on the island they named Porto Santo (holy harbour), they realised the nearby large shadow was not another ferocious storm cloud, but was a large island (later named Madeira). The following year, 1419, they returned with the backing of Infante Dom Henrique de Avis, Duke of Viseu, better known as Prince Henry the Navigator. That doesn’t mean that they were the first to chart the islands, since the islands are mentioned elsewhere before 1419, ( see my own blog for Roman details) but is merely that they were first to claim them for a European crown. In those days claiming usually meant also inhabiting them and putting their own ‘stamp’ on them.
None of the Madeiran islands had native inhabitants (nice and clean since no native blood was shed) and first colonisation was by the above sailors, their families, some aristocrats, some people of ‘modest condition’ ( I think this is a euphemism for the fact that they were poor but hardworking) and some prisoners (who had no choice) who were used to work the lands. Since Funchal is virtually carved out of a very steep mountainside rock face, that was not an easy task as they created houses, cultivation fields and irrigation channels. Not a task for the fainthearted in 1419. Not an esy task now either.
The views I had from the cable car were quite fantastic, the houses and hotels all so very different. It’s true that the houses tend to have light terracotta roofs but the shapes of the buildings are very interesting and lend themselves very much to wherever they are situated on the cliff faces, there being more than one cliff in the area!
Plain white cuboidal hotels are not common – the specialised geometric shapes I saw seemed to be in high competition with each other, a huge attempt to be different from their neighbours – though all very attractive.
Taking a tour up to the Nuns’ Valley, right at the top of the the next valley over from this photo on the left, was very SCARY. Driving down Lombard Street in San Franscisco hasn’t a patch on the narrow twisty bendy roads of Madeira. The ‘pit stop’ at the viewing platform fairly near the top really was needed to calm the nerves!
The farmers who work the terraced plots on the really steep hillsides, with no road access to their lower plots, must be a very hardy bunch. Bananas are a prime crop in Madeira, but the upper valley terraced plots (irrigated by a very complex water conduit system fuelled from rainfall) also produce potato crops on 3 occasions every year, and other vegetables crops which are harvested 2 o r 3 times as well.
Though these fields in the photo are at lower levels, the same system of terracing is found almost at the top as well. The steep slope to negotiate is incredible. The produce is harvested and put into baskets which are then shouldered by the farm workers and physically taken to the nearest roads, involving huge amounts of energy and steep climbs. It’s no surprise to learn that co-operative farming techniques are popular in Madeira to ensure those hardworking farmers earn even a basic living. The food I have eaten has been so varied, tasty, and accompanied by the freshest of vegetables and salad veggies so I know the farming system works!
Doing more touristy stuff, I took a sail around the Bay of Funchal in the replica ship Santa Maria de Colombo, a reconstruction said to be typical of the ships used by the earliest Portuguese navigators. My pirate navigators were all far too handsome to be nasties, and I met Vasco Da Gama, resident parrot!
The sail was an all round experience of seeing the island from the coast, hearing the sea shanties of the fellow French tourists ( a couple of which I sang along with in English) and bottlenose dolphin watching.
The Santa Maria de Colombo was built locally on Madeira in 1998, designed to give tourists like myself a taste of sailing 1419 style. It was a lovely experience: the Madeiran grog and cake? was very tasty, and under sail power it was a gentle amble along the waters off the fabulous geological strata.
For more of my Maderian experience, which I’ll be updating when I can, pop over to my BLOG
Arr….me hearties. Till next time…Don’t drink too much of that Maderia, it’s downright potent!
If you’ve ever had the chance to visit Madeira, then please add your thoughts.
Nancy’s writing is available from: AMAZON also from Smashwords, B & N and other places.
ps Thank you for all your support during my foray with The People’s Book Prize. I wasn’t a winner, but you got me to the fantastic finals.
Checking before posting has been difficult, so apologies if it comes out a bit oddly.