Time goes by so fast when you’re happy! Since I came to Madeira, two weeks ago, I have not ceased to amaze me with all the nooks and details of this little gem lost in the ocean. So wild and so colorful, so lively and peaceful … that’s it. By observing the landscape, anyone can easily finds many similarities with our Canary Islands: the rugged terrain, the green mountain surrounded by clouds, the villages of white houses climbing up the slopes between terraces, the vast blue sky and Atlantic, which breaks hard against the shore …
In this short time, I have met so many things, places, people, and stories, that if the journey end today, it would have been worth it. There is so much to say about this wonderful corner of the world that I find it hard to choose, so, every week I’ll devote one of my stories to describe life in Madeira: its landscapes, its customs and people. To begin, and how couldn’t it be otherwise, I invite you to take a walk by maderense geography, so enjoy the ride!
Madeira (from portuguese voice madeira: wood) is the largest of five islands forming the Região Autónoma da Madeira, together with Porto Santo, Ilhas Desertas, and Selvagems, belonging to Portugal. Located about 660 km from Tenerife and 860 km from Lisbon, Madeira Island has an area of 741 km ², is 57 km long with a maximum width of 22 km. Of volcanic origin, emerged about 5 million years, and is formed by a mountain that descends steeply to the sea from the 1862 meters in altitude of Pico Ruivo, the highest point. In terms of climate, is very similar to the Canaries, conditioned by the geographical position and mountainous topography. It has mild and wet winters and dry and warm summers, with little diurnal amplitude characteristic of the subtropics, leading to the predominance of mild temperatures throughout the year (between 18 and 24 ° C) with an humidity of 70%, and 600 mm of annual rainfall, somewhat more concentrated in the months from December to January. Water in Madeira is also a key element of the landscape and culture, and is always present to view, running permanently by ribeiras (ravines or rivers) and levadas (old network of canals that run throughout the island), in any season.
Due to its geographical peculiarities (insularity, terrain, climate), the biological potential of Madeira is very high. In it we find traces of primitive and very dense humid forest of laurel, common to all the Macaronesia, almost completely covering the island before it catch fire to establish farms and crops. It also has many endemic species of fauna and flora, as “Sorveira” (Sorbus maderensis), exclusive bush enclave on the island, or “Pombo Trocaz” (Columba trocaz), a turquoise dove much like the “Turqué” dove from Canarian Laurisilva.
The population of Madeira, according to the INE census of 2011, was of 262,302 inhabitants, of whom 111 892 (42.6%) residing in the capital. This places Funchal as one of the most densely division of Portugal (1363 inhab / km ²), compared to the 295 inhabitants / km ² of the island as a whole.As for its history, the islands of the of Madeira region were already known before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1418, then beginning its colonization in 1425, given its strategic importance and economic potential. From the Portuguese colonization, the first major economic activity was the production of grain for export, being replaced later by sugar cane and later by the wine, which since the seventeenth century is the most important crop on the island. Today, the main economic activity is tourism –how not?-, which engages 75% of the workforce, compared with 24% employed in industry, and only 1% in the primary sector.
Madeira has an international airport that receives on average 10 daily flights (increased in summer) as well as a commercial and passenger port where ships dock about 4 or 5 cruises a week. The island of Porto Santo is also connected to the mainland Madeira and also by air and sea. As for the internal transport, the existing road network connects the island from north to south and from the center to the periphery through several tunnels recently built. Public transport is relatively efficient, with several bus companies that connect the island, although buses, schedules, pricing, and travel time could be improved. There are also several cable cars across the island, that allows access to hidden beaches or high viewpoints. There are also people who rent their car for days to tourists for a very reasonable price, between 15 and 30 euros, although gasoline is very expensive (€ 1.70 / L).
The regional cuisine is rich and varied, mix of products and traditions of the continent with tropical flavors and beyond the seas. Very traditional dishes are fish – tuna, sword, octopus-, together with espetada – stakes meat-grilled pork, or prego – a sandwich of grilled beef steak served in the traditional pão do caco or bolo do caco. In the supermarket, which is more expensive than in the Canaries, you can find, besides the usual things, tropical fruits, local cheeses, wine and meat in the country. A very typical drink, poncha, is prepared with orange and lemon juice, honey, and sugar cane rum, and is very popular among the people here, almost like the national drink.
Finally, some comments on Funchal, where I work and live. It is a beautiful city full of color and life. Splashing the slopes from the center of the southern slopes of the island, crossed by several rivers, is the nerve center par excellence, which concentrates most of the activity and the movement of the island. Its narrow streets and steep, irregular shape, are paved with colored cobblestones and lined with colonial houses, churches and buildings with traditional Portuguese architecture, where English tourists mingle with the inhabitants of the city that make it’s everyday life: working, going to the popular market, take a bica (cofee) in small bars, or just walk around and chat with neighbors on the street. The old city, sailors, alcohol and brothels area, was remodeled a few years ago, and now is a small and lovely place with old streets where you can sample the cuisine maderense in one of the many restaurants at the sound of a violin or a fado. However, the area still retains some vestiges of its past, which can be guessed in crumbling facades of many houses, and on the face of some characters that have survived the passage of time …
There are so many things to say, that I keep for the future publications. I would like to dedicate one of the next publications especially to Funchal, as has stolen my heart. Until then, I continue with my volunteering in Madeira, collaborating on the study and protection of birds, and trying to find from here some clues that serve to improve the employability of young Europeans.
Stay tuned with Island Shake!
Saudações, até ja!