Hello.For those of you in the know (my friends and people who’ve called me because my work email is bouncing), you’ll know that I’m taking a last minute vacation on the crazy party island of Madeira.The average age of visitor is over 70.Now you might wonder what on earth a hip-swinging young gun like me is doing here.Well it’s definitely not because I had no idea when I booked it.Absolutely not.Never.
Okay, I didn’t know exactly, but what I did know was that I didn’t want to go to a party place and be tempted by all that booze, drugs and girl nonsense.I wanted relaxation, a chill-out, a bit of ‘me’ time, for there is no me in Tillerpop.There is an I though.And a pop.It’s I-Popping.That sounds a bit too Apple to me.I bought an Ipod recently and immediately turned into a massive c**k.
I’ve come to this warmish little island to relax, do a bit of walking and eat a lot of fish (islands tend to be good at this sort of thing).But guess what?A walk on Madeira isn’t always what it seems… read on…
This morning I set out on a route from the hillside town of Monte (like, it’s on the side of a mountain, get with it) along the Levada Dos Tornos.It’s crucial that you understand what a levada is – it’s a water channel that runs along the side of a hill or mountain with a path alongside. They follow the contours, so it’s an easy walk, except for the fact that often, actually most of the bleeding time, the path is very narrow and then plunges to a horrifying ravine below.The kind of abyss that James Bond, Indiana Jones or Homer Simpson would fall down and survive.The kind of gaping chasm that you or I would fall down and would not.We’d plunge to our deaths and in our final seconds we wouldn’t have images of our loved ones flashing before our eyes, we’d have images of action movies and cartoons wondering how anyone could catch hold of a branch on a mountain side amid full plummet and we’d see that last branch disappear out of sight before our bodies were mercilessly broken on the rocks below.
So that’s a levada.They’re great, a perfect walking route for the retired couple.Especially one where a gentle push would get that insurance money rolling in.Happy retirement?Yes siree.Come to Madeira.
And thus I began my trek along the Levada Dos Tornos.And all seemed to pass without incident until I reached the first precipitous section which went over a waterfall.It was all fairly safe with some rickety metal poles and fencing, but this ended once the absolute sheer drop was replaced by a muddy slope leading swiftly to a sheer drop.Being a tourist I was admiring the view and taking piccies like this…
That’s what the edge of a levada is like by the way.
But lo, approaching were two middle-aged local men and their dog.I thought it best to let them pass, so found a spot where I could jump across to the slope-hugging side of the levada.They passed, though one muttered some words to me.I had no idea, but his gesticulations combined with my dawning realisation lead me to believe they meant something like this ‘don’t leap over there lad, you’ll have to jump back and the momentum could well send you stumbling to your death.’Yes I was about to die in the most English of ways.Through over-politeness.‘Do pass my good man; I’ll just throw myself off the mountainside.Very good.Aaagh!Do you know howJamesBondcaughtthatbranch….?>>>>>>>>>
I did leap across back to the path and although I nearly fell into the levada – which would have made me quite wet – I didn’t die.Phew.That was near death experience Number 1.
That would have been quite excitement enough (and I promise you that leap did shit me right up) but this rollercoaster journey continues. One of the locals started talking to me.On this scary pathway he began making strange signs and talking in Portuguese – which makes sense, I would have been surprised had he suddenly broken into RP – but it’s is impossible to understand even if you speak it.I stood there saying ‘no comprendez’ for ages.I was trying to comprehend him, I promise.I’m usually quite good in these situations.
Anyhow this continued for some time.And then we started walking again.I feared that he was telling me that I shouldn’t walk any further.This wasn’t going to end well.Finally it dawned on me, when he picked some plants from the verges that he was giving me a free botanical walk.A botanical walk I could barely understand, and a botanical walk that I still was convinced would end in my own death – cheerily pushed over the precipice by two Madeirans shouting down the mountainside ‘We wouldn’t have killed you had you learnt a few phrases of Portuguese.’I promise I would have done, but I was a bit rushed and it’s really difficult.Normally I’m very culturally sensitive.But that would have held no sway.This was it.The end.
We got to a village called Curral dos Romeiros where they said their farewells and pointed me in the right direction.Relief spread through my weary body.They’d weighed it up and decided to let me live.We’ll never know how close to death I was, but I suspected it was pretty close.I wouldn’t have blamed the fella who wasn’t chatting to me.He must have been getting pretty irritated cos his mate was taking ages talking to me.I think that I did learn that one leaf was good to make a tea and another was good when cooked, probably with human flesh.Near death experience Number 2.
I left my guides behind and carried on along the levada.You may be asking why they needed to point me in the right direction, but the levada is covered in the village and in spite of their guidance I wondered around the place for far too long looking for the exit point.At said exit point there was a ramshackle stall with an honesty saucer to leave cash in exchange for a beer, water or a banana.I took the last beer and a banana, but felt so stressed about someone seeing me and thinking I was ripping off the honesty saucer that I left a big tip.So that’s our way out of the economic crisis.Honesty saucers at the roadside will get the nation spending big time.
Next up on the levada to hell I came upon a group of English walkers – two couples.Clutching my bottle of beer, I hilariously said ‘I feel like a levada lager lout.’And they laughed massively and said ‘you should do this professionally.’
They didn’t say that, but I imagine that’s what they were thinking, because they didn’t engage me in further conversation.That’s a good thing, though.They would have inevitably asked why I was on holiday on my own and I’d have broken down and told them I’ve been having a terribly emotionally traumatic time.The women would have been great – just the thing they’ve wanted to deal with, but haven’t had the chance since their kids left home.Meanwhile, the men would have shuffled about talking about the Man Utd – Blackburn game last night.Thankfully this didn’t happen.The levada called.And I followed.Very carefully.
Not a near death experience.
As I neared the Hortensia Gardens Tea House I really needed a wee, but I had already resolved to wait until the Jasmine Teahouse further ahead, my guide book mentions their vegetable soup – it didn’t say how good it was, but it was worthy of a mention and there’s limited space in these things, so I had it in my head that it was worth waiting for.At the same time I was having an internal debate about whether one should wee near a levada or not and also whether or not it would be funny to wee through this tree into the valley…
What do you think?Quite funny?
I didn’t because I feared being caught – there are a lot of bends and although it’s quiet, people can emerge at any moment.And thus it was confirmed by an old man ahead.I tried to pass by him carefully saying ‘Ola’ and as I did he said some stuff and gesticulated as if he’d nearly fallen to his death and it was all down to my ignorance of levada etiquette.Near homicide experience.
He didn’t die though and I made it to the Jasmine Tea House whereupon I ordered their now ‘famous in my head’ vegetable soup, which was hearty, but nothing more than okay.Not a patch on the fish soup I had at the Gaviao restaurant the other night, which was amazing and cheaper than Jasmine’s leguminous offering.I did use their facilities though, which were also okay.They did the job, but nothing to write home about.The automatic light kept going off and on far too rapidly, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the facility massively.
On reflection I did wish I’d stopped at the Hortensia, though.I don’t know what their soup was like, but I do know that they had a nice garden and I would have found relief from my bodily needs some twenty minutes sooner.The Jasmine has seen better days, I fear.
It is on the market, so let’s hope they find a buyer willing to give it some TLC.And improve on a very average veggie broth.
At least they have a sense of humour.
You’ve gotta love people who put signs like that up in their teahouse.
My friend John, who designed this lovely site and has done a lot of other good work, suggests that while I’m here I should video myself singing a song with a ukulele while careering down the hillside in one of the traditional toboggans of Madeira.I’m afraid that this is unlikely to happen, but at least this blog gives you some insight into the joys of a Tillerpop holiday.
Incidentally, I am having a nice relaxing time in spite of the elderly and the near death fears. That combination is, in fact, incredibly life-affirming.