OK, so we’re not actually on Madeira to dance the lambada. We are actually here with Explore! to walk, amongst other things, some of the famous levadas. Levadas are irrigation channels but more of these later. Madeira is essentially a large, formerly volcanic mountain and the main “other thing” that we are targeting is the high ground (~1800m/5500ft) in the centre. Explore! runs small group holidays, some cultural, some more active, and this is our sixth with them.
Our group on this trip is 14 strong, plus the leader, Donal, who unsurprisingly hails from the Emerald Isle. As well as trying to get our ears tuned in to Portuguese for our first time – it sounded to us a bit like Spanish with a Russian accent – we had to tune our ears in to Donal’s lilting brogue. Yesterday, we became convinced he was telling us that, at some time in its early history, Madeira had been invaded by parrots until we finally realized he was saying pirates. Duh! 😀
Today we were heading out to the eastern point of the island for what seemed like a modest limb loosening walk of 4½mls/7kms. Actually, I suspect that relatively gentle start is designed mostly for the tour leader, giving them a chance to assess the abilities of their new set of charges. To get to our start point at São Laurenço, we drove past Madeira’s other engineering highlight (other than its levadas): the airport runway extension which is a large flyover (no pun intended) supported on huge concrete pillars. They are clearly very proud of their runway, on Madeira.
This walk was a there-and-back affair, winding its way in an undulating fashion through an almost desert-type landscape with the Atlantic Ocean on both sides – more dramatic than picturesque. I personally find rocks a little on the dull side, preferring animate objects, but for those with the correct interest I’m sure the geology would prove fascinating. Courtesy of Donal’s instruction, I now know that things called intrusions exist in formerly volcanic regions. An example is shown in the picture on the right; just to the left of centre (Natalie Imbruglia?) are a couple of lighter strata stretching vertically from the shore to the top of the cliff.
We didn’t give Donal any concerns, everyone making it to the easternmost tip of Madeira without mishap where most of us chose to scale the 200m highpoint for the view (or just because it was there) before settling down to a packed lunch. There was also a wildlife highlight for those of us who prefer nature with a pulse. At our lunch spot a few LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) were hopping and flittering about. They looked a bit like Spotted Flycatchers but were more strongly flecked and behaving very differently. The birds turned out to be Berthelot’s Pipits (Anthus berthelotii), according to an information board (and Donal). They are resident to the Canary Islands and Madeira. Well done Carol for snagging a recognisable shot.
Chalk up a new one for our bird page – eventually. 🙂
We returned to our transport and noticed we had happily missed a rain shower as we were driven to Santana on the north side of the island for our second night followed by our first encounter with a levada the next day.
[Here’s a link to a Google Earth plot of this walk. You’ll need to save it to your computer before opening it up in Google Earth.]