Madeira part 4: Why, why, why, Ventura?

The title isn’t very pertinent to anything except the fact that the cabaret on the P&O cruise ship across the harbour was very loud indeed when I was writing some of this. I’m sure you can guess the tune.

I had finally run out of nearly all my fruit and vegetable stocks from Las Palmas after being in Funchal for a couple of weeks, except for potatos, onions and lemons. So though I’d managed to eat very well over 3 weeks it was definitely time to investigate the market.

It’s a big tourist attraction, and it’s certainly photogenic..

..but I was a bit disappointed by the actual shopping experience. There are three issues really – price, quality, and attitude.

The prices are noticeably more than at the Mercado Central in Las Palmas, but having seen the terracing here I could well believe that food costs might be a bit more. And for most fruit and vegetables it’s still fairly reasonable if you shop around.

That also helps for quality, but it generally didn’t seem great. Probably inevitable to some extent with small-scale producers who can’t afford to just dump the imperfect produce, but it’s tricky when you’re trying to find vegetables that will last for one or two weeks – otherwise I’d be a lot less fussy.

But some of the soft fruits are extremely expensive indeed, and the vendors in some areas really go for a hard sell on those without marking the price. It would probably be quite easy to find yourself spending an awful lot more than you expected to. I escaped that, but definitely at a cost of some patience. I can see why they do it though – probably a large proportion of the people passing through are from catered cruise ships or hotels without any intention of buying much, who one might imagine could afford to try some expensive local fruits.

The following day brought yet another occasion or two – firstly a traditional bread fair, with lots of stalls selling different types, with plenty of crusty loaves and sweet varieties as well as the ubiquitous bolo do caco.

I bought this pao de rolao for lunch, though my portuguese didn’t meet the challenge of finding out how it’s made.

I decided to go up again for dinner to try some of the traditional dishes on offer.

The plate on the left is a sande de figado – a liver sandwich, garnished with onions and surprisingly good. The bowl is caldo verde – literally green soup, it’s a broth made using onions, potatoes, kale or cabbage, and usually a lot of garlic. This version had some chorizo in it as well, which made a lovely contrast to the more delicate flavour of the soup.

After that there was a fine display of traditional dancing by several groups in a procession around the square. Somewhat chaotic, but they were clearly having a good time, and made it even more fun to watch.

After that it was time for another set of fireworks..

..spectacular once again.

And after that I wandered back up to the square with the bread festival to hear the end of a performance by a fado group from Coimbra. I’d heard the Madeirense aren’t actually that keen on fado, finding it a bit melancholy, but that didn’t seem in evidence this evening, especially not when they were all singing along at the end.

I’d found out very much by chance – glancing in the events section of a free magazine – that there was also a cherry festival in the village of Jardim da Serra that weekend, so that’s where I went on Sunday. It didn’t actually mention when anything was happening, but my doubts on that score were firmly dismissed by the huge crowd of locals who piled onto the bus in Estreito de Camara de Lobos, the next village down.

Jardim da Serra translates roughly as ‘Garden in the mountains’, and it’s a beautiful area. Lower down there are scores of banana plantations, but from Estreito uphill the dark green of banana plants is replaced by the vivid bright green of vineyards.

It wasn’t obvious from the bus where the cherry trees fit in, but they certainly must be around somewhere.

Not that that was the only food on offer, though I’d have hated to be manning a barbecue on a day as hot as this.

For a small village it was really buzzing, with a main stage, a long street with stalls either side and occasional impromptu outbursts of folk music (usually accordion, drum and singing).

Later in the afternoon there was a big parade, with a marked theme

for nearly every float

though I did like the constantly pouring bottle of poncha (we’ll get to that in another entry) in the background of this one

and this mobile vineyard

The last bus back to Funchal was fairly early (though it was relatively late by the time it had escaped through the parked cars on the road out), so it was thankfully a much shorter day than the previous one.

I may have asked this question before, but does this place ever stop? In the centre of Funchal people were starting to gear up for the classic car rally starting in a few days time..

I was keeping an eye on weather forecasts regularly at this point, but it looked like the next day definitely wouldn’t make sense to go, so I headed out for another walk instead, to a part of the island I hadn’t been to before.

The bus drove through the huge Ribeira Brava valley and dropped me off at the Boca da Encumeada. The north coast was enveloped in a sea of cloud..

but the high peaks to the east were very clear.

The walk went alongside another section of the Levada do Norte, which is huge at this point, easily the biggest I’ve walked alongside. It takes water from both the northern and southern sides of the high plain Paul da Serra to a hydroelectric plant, and then on to the south coast where I’d been the day before to irrigate the vineyards, banana plantations and cherry trees – at over 50km excluding tributaries it’s the longest levada on Madeira.

One route I’d hoped might be open (online research was inconclusive) was closed off, but luckily the one that was definitely meant to be open was.

Though standing at the start of a long tunnel, I suddenly remembered that my torch batteries had seemed very weak the last time I was using it while getting thrown around in the dark just south of Madeira..

Still, I figured the backlight on my phone or camera would probably do at a push, and there was always crawling or wading in the levada as last-resort options. Not that there wasn’t quite a bit of trepidation on entering. I’d wondered if the feeling would get worse half way, but it didn’t seem to. Luckily, the battery just about lasted, on the way there at least, and 10 minutes or so later I came back out into the light again.

The path carried on through a very lush area, full of trees,

flowers

and ferns

Big as the levada is, it’s clearly designed to be able to cope with an excess of water in periods of heavy rain (the north coast gets over 2m annually, compared to about 0.8m in southern England), with overflows where water cascades down the cliff

and in several other places along the channel

I stopped at the start of the next tunnel, as continuing would have meant being underground as much as in the open for the hour or so further along possible, which I don’t think would have appealed even with a very bright torch!

And it was next to an impressive waterfall

The area below it was a beautiful place to eat lunch and relax for a few hours – shade, sun, and the rush of cold air from the tunnel all available in turn, and the roar and spectacle of the falling water constant.

Back at the Boca da Encumeada I spent a while talking with a Swedish couple also on an exciting-sounding expedition – they were nearing the end of walking from one end of Madeira to the other in a week’s holiday, camping each night. Very cool, though I still liked the idea of going back to my bunk.

Which I was lucky to be able to do, as I nearly missed my bus – I’d set an alarm for 5 minutes before I expected it but unknowingly the following day, and I was just realising this a couple of minutes after it should have gone off when the bus appeared. Luckily the driver stopped a little way downhill and let me catch up.

Any delay this caused was soon put into insignificance by an orange contraption half across the road and a man waving his arms around excitedly and speaking rather loudly.

The machine was broken, and the bus driver didn’t think the bus would get through the remaining gap without damage (I’m wondering if he wasn’t Madeirense, as this seems a highly unusual attitude for native bus drivers), which led to an apparent impasse. There was at least good entertainment from a Madeiran lady on the bus who sounded as though she was denouncing the workmen at some length, although none of them were around to hear.

After a while of stalemate and a coach behind us reversing back up the hill another coach appeared, triggering another conference between the two drivers and the foreman with a lot more arm-waving. The end result seemed to be that we would risk it. There definitely wasn’t much room to spare, but we made it…

After that excitement we had to change to a different bus in Ribeira Brava, which merely sounded like it was either about to explode or try and take off – not good for continuing the conversations we’d started while stopped!

4 Responses to “Madeira part 4: Why, why, why, Ventura?”

  1. Uncle John Says:

    Happy birthday, Peter! I’ll be interested to hear how your plans develop for the next stage of your trip.

    There was a cherry festival in Bear River, Nova Scotia, when I was there, but they hadn’t grown any cherries there for half a century – they had to import them all from California for the occasion!

  2. maidofmettle Says:

    Thank you!

    I’ll get to it.. when I’ve caught up to where I am now!

    I’m guessing the Gulf Stream must have been flowing a bit differently for them to grow any! Definitely not a problem on Madeira though, they were handing them out all over the place. The cherry liqueur was a bit too sweet though.

    • Uncle John Says:

      Actually Nova Scotia is about the same latitude as Northern Spain, so plenty hot enough in summer for cherries. Winters are cold though, because of lack of aforesaid Gulf Stream.

  3. maidofmettle Says:

    Good point, easy to forget what lines up with what across the Atlantic, even when I’m looking at charts fairly often! It seems I’m around the same latitude as Lisbon and Washington D.C. here.

    And come to that, I just learnt that cherries do grow fairly happily in southern England, though they’re not cultivated as widely as they once were. Presumably competition from cheaper imports is the reason both in ENgland and Nova Scotia.

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