Porto Moniz, Madeira, December 17-31, 2007

The rain is pouring down in Porto Moniz when we arrive at the hotel Moniz Sol around 2a.m. I feel very sick on our speedy taxi drive from Funchal airport to Porto Moniz. However, Porto Moniz harbor greats us with lights "Boas festas". We immediately dive into the king-size beds, with thin pillows as advertized on the hotel webpage.
Porto Moniz is a funny little town in the north-west tip of Madeira. It is relatively hard to reach since it is surrounded by the ocean and the mountains. This makes us wonder who on earth wanted to found a town in such a place. Actually, the whole island of Madeira makes us ask, why it was populated in the first place. Despite Paul da Serra, a marsh on top of the island, there are no plateaus.

Tuesday, December 18

We spend the first day to acquaint with the town, which does not take long. It is such a small town with the population just shy of 3000. There are several restaurants, although not all of them open, and a couple of (hotel) bars, and no night clubs we know of. The other points of interest are a number of souvenir shops, a supermercado (which we will visit regularly for snacks and drinks), the Aquarium, and the Center of Life Sciences.
Our first day exploration is intercepted several times by heavy rain showers. "Shower" is quite an understatement: they are more like storms. We do not have our umbrellas with us, so we purchase rain ponchos at the life sciences center. They turn out to be very handy in some of our later adventures.
As much we enjoy the quiet town during the daytime --- no other tourists in town --- we suffer from it later in the evening. There are practically no places open late for dinner. We return to the hotel after a lengthy expedition (which again gets interrupted by rain showers). Luckily our four star hotel restaurant promises us some food even after the closing hours, and indeed, very delicious herbed vegetarian pastas they serve us two. The only reason to wish more visitors around is to have more dinner options.

Wednesday, December 19

Let our adventures begin! Our first resort is Levada da Central da Ribeira da Janela, route number 50 in Rother Walking Guide to Madeira. The starting point is about five kilometers from Porto Moniz, so we decide to walk there.
We get on a rocky and steep walking path at the church, and pass a number of front steps and backyards of local people on our way up the mountainside. Only after getting high enough we realize that we took a wrong direction in the first place. So, down we go.
And then we go up again. The grade of the road up to Lamaceiros is 20-30% and it slippery from yesterday's rain. Fortunately, the traffic is light and the sunshine abundant. It takes us an hour and a half to cover just few kilometers. When reaching the starting point of the levada we hear from returning hikers that the levada is closed about 20 minutes from there because of maintenance work (there was a landslide that took the levada out we find out later). However, we enjoy the 20 minute hike forth and back, and return to the town. We have light lunch at the neighboring snack bar; analogous to a diner in the States, and the most common item they serve, besides coffee and local beer Coral, is breaded stake with fries and a coke. At least that's what people eat.

Thursday, December 20

Thursday starts gray, and we spend most of the morning waiting for our rental car and its documents to arrive from Ribeira Brava. Finally, the paperwork is done and we get on our vehicle, which we immediately name "a flea." During our ten-day relationship it gets several other nicknames, too. Today's adventures takes us to Paul Da Serra, a plateau, mainly marsh, covering the central part of the island at the altitude of 1500 meters. The goal is to hike two routes 43 and 44, but we realize very soon that we are not well equipped for the circumstances. It is really windy and cold up there.
Instead of even thinking about hiking in the chilly air, we opt for a road trip and take our red devil down to the other side of the island, to Canhas and Calheta. The advantages of such a small car become obvious on the narrow and winding roads, not forgetting the driving habits of the natives.
Road numbers and signs are totally missing by the Madeira highways and roads, which makes way finding problematic. Madeira natives also have a funny way of parking just before or around turns, pedestrian crossings or front of road signs.

Friday, December 21

After sleeping late because of last night's wine tasting, we make another attempt to Paul da Serra: our plan is to hike routes 43 (Levada do Paul) and 44 from Rabacal to Ribeira Grande. I cannot help feeling sick on the very windy road up to Cristo Rei (a statue). It is also very foggy. And cows crowd the highway.
The wind is strong, but the sun comes out when we start following Levada do Paul downstream. This is one of the funny places in the world where water seemingly flows uphills (see the picture above). Route 44 is muddy but nicely covered in heather and blueberry bushes (tells the guide book).
In the evening we dine at Mar a Vista. We share a pot of Caldeira, Portuguese fish stew. There is quite enough food for a battalion, and we feel sorry for not finishing it: in Portugal it is discourteous to have food left (tells another of our guide books).

Saturday, December 22

This is an interesting day. The adventure (route 49) starts from the courtyard of Hotel Jardim Atlantico in Prazeres, South-western part of the island. After enjoying a cup of espresso and cappuccino at the hotel cafe, we ascend 480 meters on a very steep and rocky trail down to Paul do Mar, a small fishing village at the sea level. Then we descend 640 meters on a similar rocky trail up to the village of Faja de Ovelha and further to Levada Nova.
You probably see a faint zig zag figure climbing the slope in the picture on left: yes, that's the trail we take up.
We are quite happy about the strong wind: otherwise it would be extremely, not extremely but unbearably hot to climb the slope facing the sun.

In the picture below on left lies Paul do Mar seen at the height of one-third of our climb. In the far end of the picture you see the slopes we came down.

The first part of the climb up to the church of Faja da Ovelha is relatively effortless, despite the steep rocky trail. After entering the village things start getting rough. We continue on a very steep concrete street upward. Calves are burning already, and we make frequent stops. A short rain shower drives us to seek cover.

For some reason we miss Levada Nova and we end up on the highway ER-101. The curvy road with frantic drivers is not nice to hike. Eventually, we find the levada, but it is closed due to maintenance work. We are forced back to the highway for a couple kilometers.
And then the rain begins. We anticipate the levada to be very muddy, and that's what it is. We boldly go on, until we have to abandon the levada since it detours too much. So, back on the highway. The real rain starts when we find ourselves at the intersection to Hotel Jardim Atlantico. The water is just rushing knee-high down the street. In case you wonder, we do not feel like stopping and taking pictures in that downpour.

In spite of being totally wet, we opt for another cup of espresso and cappuccino before hitting the road back to Porto Moniz. Like Spain, Portugal seems to be real coffee culture; no such place exists that does not serve good coffee --- with the exceptions of Hotel Jardim Atlantico's cappuccino, which is watery, and last night's espresso in Mar a Vista, which tasted funny.

Sunday, December 23

Today's plan is to do route 47, Levada da Rocha Vermelha. Somehow we miss one turn, and find our selves on route 46 to 25 Fontes. The trip consists of some long and tedious ascends and descends. Upon the return from the fountains we check the waterfall that is the source for Levada do Risco.

It is still an early afternoon, so we continue to the route 41, a narrow levada that takes us to Pico Ruivo do Paul, a "peak" of 1640 meters in the middle of Paul da Serra. Since the top of the mountain baths in bright sunshine, we decide to take a hike. We first follow the tiny levada in between spruce trees, and then continue on a trail that goes straight up the slope --- no switchbacks here. By the time we are back by our car, the clouds cover the peak.

Monday, December 24

Today we explore the part of the island not seen before. We take the highway ER-101 east, via Ribeira de Janela, Ponta Delgada, and Sao Jorge to Santana. There we turn to highway ER-218 and continue for a few more kilometers to Pico das Pedras. Again we enjoy some warm cappuccino before hitting Levada do Caldeirao Verde to Caldeirao Verde, a green kettle (route 27). By the way, my apologies for omitting the accent marks in Portuguese names. I may add them some day ...
The levada trail starts wide and smooth, although very muddy at places. Fall colors surround us everywhere. After a few kilometers the trail suddenly narrows and then narrows again, until we are balancing on 30cm wide wall. On the other side we have a sudden drop of a hundred meters, covered by green vegetation. Fortunately, there is a light wire railing.
Before reaching Caldeirao Verde, we go through four tunnels, some of them easier to pass than others. All of them are wet and slippery. Some of them make a turn, so it is pitch black inside, since we cannot see the exit. Some of them are rugged and have a low-hanging ceiling: I guess both of us hit our heads a few times in the dark.
The green bowl, pictured above on left, is the most scenic restroom I have ever used (my apologies, the nature calls after a several hours' hike past streams and waterfalls.).

On our way back, we still meet some people heading to the bowl, even if it is going to be too late to return in daylight. Try to find camouflaged Tomi in the pictures above and on left.

Tuesday, December 25

We start our morning watching CNN and a cast about Christmas holidays in Santa Park, Lapland, Finland. They interview some workers opening and replying to kids letters to Santa Claus. And of course, snowmobile safaris are featured as well.

Today we spend much less time driving, and more climbing. The total ascend and descend are both more than 700 meters.

We take the route 38 from Boca da Encumeada to Boca das Torrinhas. Actually, the route goes much further --- all the way down to Valley of Nuns, and Faja Escura, but we plan to make a half of it. The view on the left is to north over the town of Sao Vicente, and on the right to gorge of Encumeada.
We start on a "skillfully constructed road" up to Pico de Jorge. I do not know what kind of skills are in question, but the road is not easy and not too safe. The gorgeous scenery saves the day. We also get abundant sunshine, since we mostly stay on the Southern slopes of the mountains.
There are not too many hikers on that trail either, which is nice. We meet some German couples at our turning point: they have come all the way from Curral das Freiras, I assume. Some of them even have backpacks.

Wednesday, December 26

Next, the flee takes us to Funchal, the biggest town and the capital of Madeira. It is also the home of Empresa de Cervejas da Madeira, the brewery that makes Coral, and other beverages. We find their restaurant Beerhouse at the Funchal harbor, and have the most expensive beers of our whole trip, 2.90 euros per pint.
Thanks to a number of roundabouts, Funchal is an easy city to drive, and we find our hotel Recidencia Zarcos (45 euros/night) easily.

We do not do much during our day in Funchal, just hang around in the Christmas aftermath with other tourists. Most of the shops are closed, only the most touristy boutiques and souvenir shops are open, and the wine shop! The day is sunny and warm, even if the forecast promised significant cloudiness, and we do a fair share of walking in the old town and the marina.

We find an interesting restaurant for dinner: Riso, a place specializing in rice dishes --- anything made of or containing rice from appetizers to dessert. The place is newly opened and still suffers from some newborn symptoms with service.
We are seated on the patio, and it takes them forever to get the gas burners working. Probably some coordination problems: this seems a place in which everyone does everything in turn. The food is delicious though. Our menu:
  • Roasted Aubergine Timbale with mozzarella and crispy salad to start with (we share this)
  • Green asparagus risotto with grilled scallops and hazelnut pesto (Thai red rice) for Tei.
  • Leek and olive oil poached half salt cured codfish risotto (Walone Nano Rice?) for Tomi.
  • Riso polenta and rice apple crumble with vanilla ice cream (crispy puffed rice) for dessert.
  • Rocha Branca, Arnsburger, 2005 from Madeira for wine.
The picture on right is from our hotel window at night. We are located in very heart of the city, not in so called hotel area, which is about 2 kilometers from downtown.

Thursday, December 27

We sleep well in a super narrow and short bed, and have a simple breakfast before the morning run. There face a trade-off: whether to run with an empty stomach and miss the hotel breakfast altogether, or to postpone the run after the breakfast and run on the crowded streets. We choose the latter option. We run to the end of the break-water --- this is a popular spot among runners, it seems --- and to the other end of the boulevard.

We leave Funchal on small roads to Ribeira Brava (picture on left), another small and touristy town on the Southern coast of Madeira island. We renew the flee rental for another five days, and have lunch.

Another interesting observation is that Portuguese are experts in hiding restrooms, for instance in restaurants. On the other hand the hand washing and powdering area is often shared by ladies and gentlemen, and fully open to public, for instance to the dining hall.

Friday, December 28

Our vacation is getting close to the end, but there is still one place we definitely need to visit, Pico Ruivo, the highest mountain of the island at 1862 meters. We plan to hike there from the third highest mountain Pico do Arieiro (1818m). The hiking trail goes past the second highest peak Pico das Torres (1847m).

So, that is only a plan. Pico do Arieiro is heavily covered in clouds when we get there by 11am.; there is no point start hiking if we cannot see anything but a couple of meters ahead or even less. We monitor the conditions while sipping cappuccino. The skies suddenly clear, but still it is too chilly for hiking: obviously we failed again in preparations.

No problem, Madeira is full of interesting destinations for outdoor people, and one of them is not far away. We continue driving to and past Ribeiro Frio. We take a poor gravel road to Faja da Nogueira valley. Four kilometers on that hellish bumpy road takes us to the power station. We leave our car there, and start climbing to Levada do Pico Ruivo (route 21).
The levada is easy and level, but there are several tunnels to pass. One of them has railroad tracks going through. The tracks actually go over the water canal at one point. When following the rails in the dark I almost fall into the canal. Tomi rescues me in the last second. Another tunnel can be by-passed on a narrow trail winding in the steep hillside. We continue the levada up to the point where we face a 4-kilometer tunnel, and turn back.
We follow the levada to the other direction from the spot we entered it (this is now route 22). This is a hike of a quite different nature, breathtaking to say the least. There is no real trail by the water canal, but a narrow wall on which we balance. We do have some kind of a railing beside us in some portions of the levada, but mostly not.
When back by the car cleaning our hiking boots, we notice that the outer soles of Tei's boots are falling apart. Supermercado in Porto Moniz carries super glue, but without proper tools, it is impossible to do a decent prepare attempt. Luckily, we do have only two more days left to hike, and the latter one can be done in sandals.

Saturday, December 29

Another attempt to Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, but we face the same problem as yesterday, only that the skies do not clear up by noon. However, it is not as cold up there as yesterday. We know that there is another trail elsewhere going up to the highest mountain, although not offering such an exciting hike.

So, we continue driving to Achada do Teixeira, the starting point of this more modest, and also more crowded trail. Eastern coast baths in sunlight, as can be seen in the picture on left, but the clouds cover us again when we climb up to Achada do Teixeira. It takes us less than an hour to reach the peak of Pico Ruivo from there.

Just when we are about to head back down, the clouds evade the surrounding valleys and the sun comes out for a short while. This means immediate change in the plans. We decide to start walking towards Pico do Arieiro: first we go down for a long while, then follow some level trail, and eventually we start a steep climb again.
We are 45 minutes away from where we started. The mountains are covered in clouds again, and it is drizzling. A British couple comes up running, and into the fog they disappear as quickly as they emerge. What a speed! We turn back, and do not regret our decision. The rain grows denser, and it's getting chilly too, probably because we are wet.

Sunday, December 30

This is our last day in this lovely town. We have really enjoyed the local hospitality --- actually it has been quite interesting to be the only guests in town for so long. But now the place is crowded by tourists from Funchal from early morning to late afternoon, and we have seen most of the island.
We take our last chance to walk Levada da Central da Ribeira da Janela. It is Sunday, so the construction work is unlikely going on. The weather is as lovable as the first time we visit this gorgeous valley. We walk an hour on the levada, which is one of the best kept on this island --- there are even litter bins along the trail. We turn back without entering a very wet and muddy tunnel.
When returning to the town we spot a sign "Verada de Vigia" by a narrow stoned trail. Of course we must see where it leads. Upwards! We end up in a small concrete structure, some sort of a hut, with a great view over Porto Moniz and the Northwest coast of Madeira.

Monday, December 31

Taxi picks us up at 3:30am and takes us to the airport. We are homebound. Good bye Porto Moniz!