Less than 300 miles off the coast of Morocco, lies a small Portuguese island, ironically almost identical in size to the city of Austin. Within the borders of this ocean-locked landmass reside some of the most stunning landscapes in all of Europe, if not the world. Seaside cliffs that fall a record 1,800 feet into the ocean below. Inland mountains whose tree-covered peaks pierce the clouds above. An endless network of 500-year-old manmade water channels, populated throughout the rugged interior terrain, providing miles upon miles of hiking paths, in addition to functioning as the source of irrigation for all who call Madeira home.
If the breathtaking landscapes have not won you over, then the unwavering climate of 78 degree days will. Or possibly the gastronomical wonders which present themselves in every hidden café or back-alley restaurant. Based on description alone, one would assume such a paradise would be visited thousands upon thousands each year. Rivaling comparable ocean-locked paradises such as Bali, Fiji, or even Bora Bora. However, few guide books list its name. No search in pursuit of “Portuguese highlights” reveals its presence. The only detail one could possibly find on this remote utopia is found within the official government-sponsored website, or a smattering of Trip Advisor forum posts.
Why, one must ask? Why has Madeira not found itself upon the greater travel map of the world. Why is a place seemingly destined for the uninterrupted flow of foreigners, essentially not. Well, the answer is simple -- Death. Madeira, to word as callously as possible, is where Europeans go to die. Not in the unpleasant sense brought about by notions of leper colonies or other asylums of “unfortuitous” causes. Instead, Madeira is a land were “the mix of weather and leisure activities” encourages those of “advanced age” to seek a final resting place before their maker is met. And the only way to bide one’s time prior to that point? Quite obviously with a sweater tied around your neck, hands clasped behind your back, walking aimlessly around at a pace no greater than ½ MPH for days on end. Well, in actuality, until days come to an end.
For Julie and myself, our 5 days upon the island in Madeira were represented by a combination of both awe and astonishment. Awe at the mountainous landscapes and oceanside beauty to which we awoke each and every day. Astonishment from our inability to travel any length of distance without having to maneuver around a statue-esque elder, seemingly always staring off into the distance at relatively nothing. On the road, speed limits were not a constraint, but instead an unreachable goal. In restaurants, desolation was all but unavoidable after the sun had fallen beneath the horizon. And on the mountains, the distant winds passing through valleys below were only interrupted by the sounds of hacking, coughing, wheezing & any other variances of proper lung function.
All in all, despite feeling as if we constantly were walking into a vast outdoor bingo hall, our time on the remote island of Madeira was still quite enjoyable. There may have been only a handful of bars, a sandless beach, and a general lacking of all other features required to meet the minimum thresholds of Lonely Planet inclusion, but we had eachother. And in 40-50 years from today, at least now we will be prepared for what our future lives will have in store.
Onto the pics: