About 600 miles off the coast of Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean, sits the Portuguese island of Madeira. Known mostly for its wine, unique culture, beautiful landscapes, and a notorious surfing history, the island is a truly interesting place to visit. I spent most of my time in the southern port city of Funchal, full of rising hills and red tiled roofs.
One of the best parts of my visit was simply walking up and down the city streets, exploring and getting lost. Any time I’m in a city I love to do this and because of how different Funchal was to most European cities, it was even more exciting than usual. While Funchal did feel like a European city, you could always tell that you were on a small island. In some ways, it reminded me of a city in Central America, with the warm climate and slightly dilapidated buildings. At one point, we stumbled upon a parade. From what I could deduct, it was a celebration of the different seasons and months.
We stayed at Hostel Santa Maria which was in a great location on the main little pedestrian-only tourist road. It was really clean and breakfast was so delicious. Plus the common spaces, like the living room and the attic hangout space were so cool.
We strolled the streets in the morning, the afternoon, and at night. Sometimes we shopped, sometimes we went out, and sometimes we just walked.
Mercado des Lavadores was crowded and had fruit I had never seen before. It made for a fun place to shop around for fruit for a snack and to admire the tropical flowers that we don’t have back in the United States. I even got to try passion fruit for the first time — it was very sweet and delicious.
One thing that stuck with me was the beauty of the rooftops of the buildings. I have a thing for red tiled roofs, so this view was incredible to me. The Monte Cable Car/Teleférico offers amazing views of the entire city. It’s one of the main tourist attractions of the city. I thought it was a ton of fun on the way up and once we got to the top we had the option of going to the Botanical Gardens, as most people do, which are known to be beautiful. But we weren’t feeling it and instead chose to go on a hike.
It was quite the adventure! We spent at least 30 minutes, although time was irrelevant at that point, walking through this pitch black tunnel. The only light coming in was from the entrance behind you and the tiny little light at the end of the tunnel. We were so terrified of bats and monsters but had so much fun. Then, when the tunnel opened up into the light, we were in this beautiful gorge, where on the right side of the path a mossy, grassy, wet wall steeped up the side and on our left side was a hundred foot drop off. We walked under a waterfall and continued on with the hike.
To get there, once you get off the cable car, walk to the right down a little cobblestoned road (the opposite direction of the gardens) and you’ll get to an area with benches. There will be a little cafe stand. Walk towards it with it on your right and you’ll start walking down a steep paved path. Just keep going until you get to the dirt path and continue on it, until you get to the tunnel. Go through the tunnel and continue on the paved walkway. Eventually you have to take a left and go down a hill, where you just continue along until the end of the hike.
At the end of the hike, we came out on the edge of a town up high in the hills. It was a residential area and totally random and unexpected. We had absolutely no idea where we were and not a clue of which way we should go to get back to the cable cars. So we just started walking towards what we were pretty sure was east and wandered up and down hills, searching for some kind of sign to direct us .
We ended up stopping at this tiny little restaurant and store combination that definitely was not frequented by tourists. It was full of local old men, drinking, talking, and laughing. The lady running the place brought us out a plate of meat and potatoes and cold, refreshing drinks. I still am unsure of exactly what it was, but we deducted that the meat was intestines and liver and tongue. Or something like that. Some of it was actually alright and the potatoes were delicious. I bought a bag of cherries that we all shared — they were sooo good!
We eventually found our way to where the cable car was, but it was closed, as we already knew it would be. So we ended up waiting about 30 minutes for a taxi to come pick us up high in the hills of Madeira. We were all exhausted at that point and had a delicious dinner of sushi at our hostel — some of the best I’ve ever had.
I’m really glad I got to visit Madeira, because the chances of me ever going back are really slim. It was such a unique place to visit and I’m so happy that I made a ton of memories with really great friends.
Update: I Just found out that as of 9 Aug 2016 there’s been a wildfire spreading around the city of Funchal and I’m hoping for the safety of the victims. There have been 3 deaths. Here’s a link to more information.