Sunday, March 13, 2011

Madeira -- Evergreen and Glossy

Since I returned from Madeira on Tuesday night, my mother has asked me where Madeira is several times. “Where were you again?”


“I’ve never heard of that. How do you spell that?”

“I’ve told you five times, so I know you’ve heard of the island at least five times. M A D E I R A.”

“What is it again?”

And so it went. And why should she know where or what Madeira is? On my map—the one that hangs over my desk to remind me of my obsession with seeing the entire world—Madeira is a teensie-weensie speck 323 miles off the coast of Morocco. A shield volcano began spitting the archipelago out of the Atlantic Ocean about 70 million years ago. Madeira itself is, however, a spring chicken at a mere 4.6 to 0.7 million years. If it wears sunglasses, you can hardly see its wrinkles.

A popular tourist destination for Europeans, the archipelago of Madeira—the group of islands including Porto Santo, the Desartes Islands, the Savage Islands and of course Madeira itself—is evergreen and glossy year-round.

The island is glossy because it rains a lot. In 2010, Madeira suffered its worst flooding in 100 years. We stayed in the little seaside town of Sao Vicente, just a few meters away from the path of the flooding. The scars are still visible. It rained while we were there, but I guess we can count ourselves lucky that it didn’t rain like it did in 2010 (as you can see in this video with freaky music).

Madeira is stunning. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the island—which is sad, because I love ranting.

The food was exceptional. We had grilled fish and more grilled fish at very reasonable prices. On Saturday evening, we drove into Funchal, the capital of Madeira, to see the Carnival parade. We left the car in a parking garage near the harbor and enjoyed the parade for a couple of hours. When we returned to the parking garage, we discovered that the building was completely blocked by the parade. To kill time, we popped into a restaurant called Beerhouse on the harbor. I ordered a mixed salad. We weren’t really hungry; we just didn’t know what else to do with the time.

The salad was the craziest mix of fruit and vegetables, beans, ham and cheese that I’ve ever had. And it was great. I wish I’d taken a picture. If you’re in Funchal one day, stop by Beerhouse.

Madeira is known for hiking and wine, two of my favorite things. Unfortunately, on this trip it was too wet to hike (although we saw lots of people doing it, probably the British who don’t know that most people hike in the sun). With all the time we saved by not hiking, we sampled Madeira wine, from dry to medium dry to sweet. I love wine.

I also love hiking, so I’ll be back, Madeira . . . when you’re drier.

I must be off,

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