The lizards take over the island of the levadas!

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August 18th 2017
Published: December 30th 2017
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The island of the levadas - that pretty much sums up a big part of the hiking trail network on Madeira. These water carrying, tunnel passing, the fields irrigating, hiker pleasing channels, formerly built by slaves, are a sight itself and should be at least one part of any Madeira itinerary. We saw several of them - Levada dos Balcoes, from Ribeiro Frio to Portela, the Levada do Norte to Cabo Girao, the Levada Nova and the Levada do Moinho, and the Levada da Serra. Each of them, all accessible by public transport, was special in its own way:

- Ribeiro Frio to Portela: starts easy through a forrest in Ribeiro Frio, passes walls of green with a bit of running water, has several smaller tunnels with steep descents right next to the path, ends up in a forrest of e.g. eucalyptus (which, by the way, is a very effective mosquito repellent - that's why the lower areas of Madeira do not have any mosqito problems). Ribeiro Frio with its trout farm itself is a very common visitor attraction, we saw a lot of cars, mini busses and even big tour busses there! The following thing can happen when hiking
Approaching the airport of MadeiraApproaching the airport of MadeiraApproaching the airport of Madeira

Wind shears, the mountains and the cliff coast complicate the landing. Once captains were only allowed to land here if the have a "Madeira licence". Moreover, the runway was extended from ca. 1800 m to 2777m. On the picture, we were in the phase of flying a very tight right turn to align the airplane to the runway.
there: we started with sunshine and blue skys in Ribeiro Frio and ended up in the thickest, spookiest fog close to Portela. The taxi drivers there, in Portela, also seem to be a very special species. The levada tour was done and we wanted to go home (by bus!). Looking at the timetable, a taxi driver approached and offered a ride. We knew, the bus is going to leave soon, so we refused his offer. He was talking some stuff (whatever), left, and told us, the bus leaves at the street down below (in a weird way, I guess the word "rude" would nail it). I had another look at the timetable, and he, again talked to me in a weird way, seems he was mad at me (for no reason). As I was replying, he talked to his trunk like Rumpelstilskin and entered his car! That was the weirdest experience in Madeira for me! I mean, to be friendly is important for their business, and if he was friendly we might have taken the taxi, but not in the situation we experienced! But we stuck to the advice of the penguins of Madagaskar: "Just smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave." Down at the street at the right bus stop, there were other people already waiting. This very taxi driver drove his taxi right in front of the bus stop and tried to motivate people to take a ride, everybody refused his offer (and we, too). And two minutes later the bus arrived (luckily). Weirdly, we saw the taxi driver again on a street close to our hotel, I guess you always meet twice.

- Levado do Norte: starts in the vineyards in Estreito de Camara de Lobos and is very manageable, even for me (I am afraid of heights). This Levada offers nice view into the valley around Estreito de Camara de Lobos and to the south and the east. We passed a nice farmer who sold physalis to people passing by. He was so polite and friendly, not pushy at all. We bought a bag of these delicious fruits, and since we thought, the fruits were worth it, we paid more than he wanted to get. On our way we passed steep roads and goats right next to the Levada, until we ended up at Cabo Girao, a sea cliff with heights up to 589 m. Overall, it is the second highest sea cliff in the world! On the cliff, a glass floor plattform was installed, from which one has a great view southwards and eastwards. We had several busses at choice departing around every half an hour, any of them brought us back to Funchal, the capital of Madeira. Again, we faced annoying taxi drivers (I know, they have to make a living, but come on, be at least polite and friendly to potential passengers!). And a lot of crazy little lizards, very small and shy lizards, in every possible crack in the walls, paths and streets!

- Levada Nova and Levada do Moinho: starts in Lombado da Ponta do Sol (Levada Nova) and offers not only nice views onto the valley of Ponta do Sol and the Atlantic ocean, but also comes up with several waterfalls and a longer tunnel. Escpecially the waterfall behind the tunnel, which cuts deep channels into the stone, sitting enthroned in a arena made of stones, is impressive! It is possible to pass right behind the waterfall. Afterwards, going downwards, one follows the Levada do Moinho. It ends up at the Capelo do Espirito Santo in Ponta do Sol. We were dependent on the bus, and had about one hour until it arrived (after we were finished with the levada walk). Finding the bus stop was a hard task, since there were no signs whatsoever. So we ask a house owner who sent us down the street. There we asked a shop owner that said the bus stop is just around the corner. As we saw no bus stop sign anywhere, we walked down the street even more and asked an old lady - we spoke only very little Portuguese and she no English, but as always, without understanding each other's language we understood what the other person meant. So finally, we found the spot where the bus stop was supposed to be and waited in the shade of one of the "casas". We finally knew we were at the right place when the old lady went to the opposite side of the road and catched another bus there. Our bus to Funchal arrived just some minutes later 🍀 It would have been a pity to miss it: the next bus was about to arrive 2 hours later... But sometimes going by public transport is a bit like a lottery (no matter how good your plans are): sometimes you win, sometimes you loose...

- Levada da Serra: an easy walk through eucalyptus and oak forests. The smell was just overwhelming, so fresh. The levada ends up in Portela, just as the Ribeiro Frio tour. But, this time, we experienced a great sight distance and also spotted the Eagle's Rock (Penha de Aguia). The only drawback: as it was raining the day before we went there, thus the path was quite muddy. My friend's shoes, which were already damaged when we went to Madeira, walked their last way on this levada before being buried in the trashcan.

Not only here were lizards all over. Rustling noise all around you, whereever you go. In cracks in the walls, on the streets, even on our balcony were those little "monsters". Maybe they should be the regional national animal of Madeira?!

Of course, Madeira is not only a synonym for "Levadas". Several other hiking tours made touring the island very diverse. For example, we went to the Nun's Valley (Curral das Freiras). Which implied to go uphill by bus, firstly. And this guarenteed a rollercoaster ride up the narrow street to Eira do Serrado where "two cars passing each other" was only possible at chosen spots. And this led a) to a very swift driving style of the bus driver and b) to situations of sudden braking and slowly driving backwards (downhill). You just have to trust them X)! On top of this, once up in Eira do Serrado it might happen that you have the greatest view ever onto the ocean, and just one short toilet stop later, everything is clouded. But to watch the clouds climb along the mountain and afterwards spread down into Nun's Valley is very spectacular, I have to admit. From Eira do Serrado we went down to Curral das Freiras in the heart of Nun's Valley. The whole town was celebrating a festival and all streets were nicely decorated. Of course we did not miss the famous chestnut cake, a Nun's Valley original, yummy.

Other appealing landmarks were the Pico do Arieiro, one of the most famous peaks in Madeira, and the Pico Ruivo, Madeira's highest peak (1861 m). The moonlike and rugged landscape contrasted nicely the green and vegetated levadas we have hiked before. Remains of volcanic activity could be found all over the steep rock faces. Many steps to go and many meters of altitude down and then up again (ca. 500 m altitude difference down and up again). Our guide, Oskar, answered all of our questions. He also warned people which were too careless when touching the path barriers (some of them were already quite loose). One teenager of our group walked around with his hands in his trousers pocket (maybe not the best idea when there is a steep abyss right next to you). The guide told him he is on a mountain not at the beach promenade. Just some seconds later, the boy stumbled and nearly fell down, but he used his hands as "shock absorbers". Bad luck or good luck, that depends on the perspective.

On other days we were exploring the area around Canico (where our hotel was located), like the Ponta da Atalaia, Reis Magos, Forte do Portinho, and the statue of Cristo Rei. These very days were combined with going snorkeling and swimming. Funchal, as the capital of Madeira and just a 1/2 hour bus ride away from Canico, has also a lot to see - the market "Mercardo dos Lavradores" (spices, fruits, vegetables, plants, and, of course fish!), the Christiano Ronaldo statue (I am not a fan at all, but I wanted to see the masterpiece which does look like everything - but not like Mr. Ronaldo), Santa Catarina Park, the waterfront, and many more. Others, like the Principality of Potinha, are not very obvious on the first sight, if you are not already aware of it. We just found it by accident as we strolled along the quay wall of the harbour. The harbour of Funchal was also the starting point for a RIB boat whale and dolphin watching trip. We saw schools of rough-toothed and bottlenose dolphins as well as Bryde's whales. As in Ireland, I totally recommend this kind of boat trips. Especially, if the well-being of the animals outranks the curiosity of the visitors.

But not only hiking and sightseeing were on our itinerary, we were also "adventurous": we tried canyoning (in the Ribeira das Cales). So we squashed ourselves into the tight wetsuits and here we go! With some waterfalls, the highest of 15 m, some jumps into natural water basins, and some abseiling, it was a blast! The first time we were a bit hesitant. But after one dive in the water any part which was formerly dry was then flooded, anyway, especially the shoes. During the waiting times, there was one big problem: a full bladder. A bad combination with wet and cold feet. So, surrounded by nature, one first has to peel oneself out of the wetsuit. A task, which was not easily accomplished! And the second challenge was to put on the wetsuit again. The procedure took quite some time. Ladies' problems, I guess 😉

Our holiday was framed by two bus and jeep tours to the East and the West, which are best described by pictures. The landmarks and sights included:

- in the West: Cabo Girao, Ribeira Brava, Canhas, Paul da Serra, Porto Moniz, Seixal, Sao Vincente

- in the East: Camacha, Pico do Arieiro, Ribeiro Frio, Santana, Faial, Penha de Aguia, Porto da Cruz, Santo de Serra, Ponta de Sao Lourenco, Machico, Santa Cruz

All in all, Madeira is worth a visit because it has a very diverse landscape (desert like, jungle like, mountain peaks, cliffs, rocky and black sandy beach). The island combines a lot of activities - sporty (canyoning, mountainbiking), relaxing (hiking along the levadas, snorkeling, swimming), educational (sightseeing, whale/ dolphin watching), geological (hiking in the mountains), culinary (black scabbardfish with banana on top, tuna filet, chestnut cake) and frightening (cars/busses on the mountain streets). Moreover, during our vacation the weather was very pleasant: around 25 °C and sunny or a bit cloudy. Not to forget: the uniqueness of the airport and the thrilling landing phase of the airplane. If the plane approaches Madeira from the east, the captain has to go a steep right turn above the Atlantic to adjust the position of the airplane to the runway. We had the feeling the wing is about to touch the water surface. Have fun! 😊

PS: sorry for not using special characters, but it makes it easier to display it 😊

Additional photos below
Photos: 115, Displayed: 30


Ronaldo meets Ronaldo in FunchalRonaldo meets Ronaldo in Funchal
Ronaldo meets Ronaldo in Funchal

Look at the proportions of the statue. These hands. The head. Is is only me, or are they a bit weird?
Fortaleza de Sao TiagoFortaleza de Sao Tiago
Fortaleza de Sao Tiago

Focus on the classic car.

30th December 2017

Aaah - one of my favourite islands in the world.
I'm pleased to hear that the lizards are still around. They're just one little feature that makes this such a unique place. I've been many times (most recently with my wife on an anniversary trip - and your blog makes me want to return. Maybe one day...
27th January 2018

Thanks, Mike, for your comment! Madeira is a lovely island and, even though it was a spontaneous decision for us to go there, I would definitely come back ☺ I also had a look at your blog entry and enjoyed the pictures 🤗

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