Sunday, April 15, 2018

Azores 2018 : Day 15 - A final walk, a mango tree

On this, our last day in Madeira, I had only one request - to go on a levada walk. The levadas are stone and concrete irrigation channels that began being built in the 1400’s, but the most recent of which were constructed in the 1950’s. They were built for transporting the ample quantities of rain water that fell in the mountains in the north and west of the island to the more populated south and east where most of the productive farmland was located. In yet another miracle of engineering on this fascinating island, these 2000 kilometres of levadas were built mainly by hand and run through mountains, valleys and forests, all built with sufficient slope to get the water to where it is needed. To maintain these levadas, small trails were built beside them and then “levada-keepers” are assigned to particular stretches to ensure they are kept free of debris and do not develop leaks. Although not originally intended for this purpose, the levada trails are a hiker’s dream.

I did a bit of basic research and found one that was very close to Funchal, so we drove to Jasmin’s Tea House, one of the access points on this 10-kilometer-long trail. This quaint tea house is run by an English couple and sits on a hillside, overlooking the ocean, with its outdoor patio completely enveloped by jasmine bushes and many other flowers, giving off an intensely intoxicating aroma. We enjoyed a most lovely cup of tea, and in such situation our young Stella always develops a right proper English accent, that drives her brother mad. Before long Ana started joining in with the accent and Magnus nearly threw himself over the jasmine bushes. Fortunately, they stopped just seconds before he was ready to jump.

We met a lovely lady who I think was the mother of the owner. She had been living in Madeira for 20 years and told us all about life here, and how it’s changed so much over the years. She also told us a love story about how her and her Portuguese husband met each other, after each losing their spouses, and have lived their happily ever after in Madeira ever since.

The levada walk was serene, and quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Although it was located just on the outskirts of Funchal, most of the trail ran through forest, and there was little sign of civilization. The levada channel itself seemed to be about three feet wide with perhaps 18 inches of water, but the capacity to hold twice that. As I looked at it, I could imagine trying a couple of pool noodles around my waist, jumping in, and enjoying the longest Lazy River in the world!

During the walk we passed a few houses, one which had a barn full of chickens we could smell far before we reached it, one other tea house, and about six other hikers in the span of a 90-minute hike. The family was initially not too keen on doing the hike with me, as we seem to have gotten more than we bargained for on the previous hikes this trip, but this one was flat and easy. I admit, this was just a very small taste of the levada walks that are available on the island, so the next time we visit (on our own boat…if all goes well!) I would love to do more of these. Actually, I would like to hike all of them.

This was our last day and therefore our final chance to absorb some sunshine before returning to the miserable weather they are currently experiencing in Ontario. After the levada walk we drove to the Lido swimming complex in the west end of Funchal, where most of the large hotels are located. It was only about 18 or 19 degrees, but it was quite sunny, so that was just warm enough to be able to lie in beach chairs for two hours and slowly roast. It felt great and I think both Ana and I fell asleep for a while. The water in the pool was quite cold, but both of the kids went in for a short swim, but I was just too lazy and comfortable to take the plunge.

We left at 3:30 to ensure we could get a parking spot back at the apartment, which we did, and then Ana and I enjoyed a drink on our balcony while the kids did some homework. We talked about the Azores, we talked about Madeira, and of course we talked about future vacation ideas, which is what we nearly always do at the end of a vacation. Gotta have two trips in the hopper!

Our final dinner was at a restaurant called Jardin de Carrera. The grubby front of the restaurant opened into a huge, beautiful courtyard that had a nice garden, a patch of banana trees and, incredibly, a giant mango tree, with ripe green mangos hanging off its branches. I finally got a chance to eat lapas, which are these small, local clams in star shaped shells that are cooked in garlic and butter and are predictably delicious. As we ate, Ana watched as a ripe mango fell from the tree and hit the ground. I went over, picked it up, and put it on our table with the thought of slicing it up later for dessert, but the waiter came by and grabbed it, plus another he had found, and returned at the end of the meal with our mangoes carefully sliced up and arranged on a plate, ready to eat. He received a handsome tip.

With that, we wrapped up our final day in Madeira.

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