Leap Day

After spending a pleasant evening in Porto Moniz on the north-western tip of Madeira, our Feb 29th was to be spent going up into the mountains, crossing the central high ground’s so-called “Desert Plain” to wander along few more levadas and down towards the south coast again. Happily, the up component was courtesy of Messrs Ford, Mercedes and Benz in the forms of our two minibuses, leaving us with the 9mls/14.5kms of down on the other side.

Madeira_day3_viewMadeira_day3_levada2We were tipped out right beside our first levada and began with the remnants of last night’s frost clinging on in the shady hollows. We were out in the open with views across swathes of gorse bushes to the distant and much lower south coast of the island. Other than the facts that we were still some way away from the coast and considerably higher, it felt reminiscent of the Cornish coastal path. This was much more my style than yesterday’s excursion into the cloud forest. Of course, the blue sky helped tremendously. Come to think of it, that bit may not resemble Cornwall much, either. 😯

As with yesterday, the levada fell very gradually such that the water ran gently and silently. I was back marker armed with a whistle so I had time to play around a little. Out of curiosity, I decided to use my Garmin GPS to try and estimate the gradient of the levada. I plotted a waypoint at the beginning of the walk (altitude: 4310 ft/1314 mtrs) and another when we hit the two mile mark (altitude: 4262 ft/1299 mtrs). In two miles the levada had dropped a mere 48 feet. Rounding to make life easy, that’s ~50 ft in ~10000 ft, a gradient of roughly 0.5%. Well, it keeps me amused.

Lunch was my highlight of the day, not because of the food which was a basic supermarket picnic of bread, chorizo and Babybell cheese-alike (light – I didn’t do the purchasing!), but because we were in the company of a small flock of chaffinches. The chaffinches, it transpired, were quite partial to small pieces of bread and were particularly keen on torn off pieces of Babybell light. I was over the moon when I held scraps out on my upturned palm and the chaffinches fluttered in to feed from my hand. A female settled for a couple of seconds before flying off with her prize. Great stuff! (I know, I can’t help it, I just love being in touch with wildlife.)

Chaffinch_comparisonA theme developed concerning wildlife on Madeira. Many of its species exhibit minor differences compared to their mainland counterparts and are Madeiran subspecies. This is true of the Chaffinch. Our Chaffinch is Fringilla coelebs whereas the Madeiran Chaffinch is Fringilla coelebs maderensis. I think describing the differences would be a bit challenging but it certainly looked noticeably different. Just for fun, here’s a composite picture of both, including one from our lunch party, in similar poses to compare – the Madeiran Chaffinch is above.

We needed our pathetic torches again on this walk to get through the longest tunnel of ~1km. Our leader, Donal, noted that the weather at the opposite end of the tunnel (the south side of the mountain) could often be quite different. We plunged in to darkness dimly illuminated by our CSI-style Maglites. About 12 minutes later we emerged into blazing cloudlight. Shortly after wards it began spitting with rain. A little later we were walking through steady and persistent rain. Donal had been quite right. 🙁 Eventually, however, the rain subsided to reveal Messrs Ford, Mercedes and Benz waiting to complete our journey to the south coast and ferry us to our hotel at Ponta do Sol, where our 15 pairs of soiled walking boots managed to make short work of the hotel reception’s unserviceably white doormat. [Ed: Bloody tourists!]

Madeira_hotel_1Two things really impressed us about the Enotel at Ponta do Sol. Firstly, the architecture was noteworthy in that a relatively large hotel was designed outwardly to look like several smaller buildings. The multiple colours reminded me of Villajoyosa in Spain where they are similarly bold with colour, in a pleasing way. Check out the picture; that’s all one hotel – clever! Secondly, when we returned downstairs having showered and changed, the doormat had already been returned to its original virginal white state. Bravo Enotel!

The rooms were very spacious and comfortable, too. When we eventually retired, we propped open our Juliette balcony door and fell asleep to the sound of the Atlantic surf breaking on the stony shore literally just across the road. Very restful! 😉

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