North Island Tour

Trip Start Dec 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 23, 2012

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Encosta Cabo Girao

Flag of Portugal  , Madeira,
Thursday, January 5, 2012

North Island Tour

An excellent knowlegable guide; a blue eyed Madeiran called Lawrence; gave us a well informed history of the island.
The feudal system existed upto 1978, surprizingly, until the Portuguese government stepped in and took over control of the island giving its farmers a better deal. Before that Landowners known as Lords owned vast estates that they contracted out to tenants in return for crops and taxes it is hard to believe that system still existed so late into the the 20th century.
The island entered the EU in 1986 when roads were improved with 70% funding from the EU and also for improving schools, hospitals and sports facilities. Farmers were given a good deal to make good their roads and buildings to improve their agricultural output.

Sunshine all the way on this trip only entering a foggy patch high up on the plateau on the return journey. We started with a short stop at Ribera Brava then on to Encumeada through the Serra du Agua and stunning scenery. There is still evidence of re-building here following the extensive erosion in parts of the valley after the severe storms in 2010. At one view point we could see the the North coast one way and the South coast the other being only 14 miles as the crow flies across. We were 1007' high there with the highest point being 1862' at Pico Ruivo but a tough walk to reach it.
The tourism industry counts for a good 70% of the industry here now that the roads have been improved and made transport easier and bringing tourism to the more remote parts of the island. Construction also is an important industry with the road building and repairs and the new housing that has taken place with the influx of immigrants and increase of tourism. Agriculture is still important and seems set to continue to allow Madeirans to be mostly self sufficient. Their main crop is bananas but fruit is abundant with avocados, passion fruit and guavas trees everywhere..
Madeira wine is also a big export as it is known as one of the finest fortified wines in the world still winning accolades after many years of production against the increasing number of new wines. Table wine is not greatly produced here as Portuguese wines dominate wine lists but many people make their own wine for their own consumption and the small vineyards are evident everywhere in everyones garden.
Their biggest enemy is water and yet it is their lifeblood as well. Too much water causes erosion as in the 2010 floods and storms that caused roads to break up and new housing to be swept away. No loss of life but severe construction problems needed to be resolved. In evidence are constant landslides with too much rain as the earth is already saturated with water from condensation. Their temperature is fairly constant between 16 degrees and 27 degrees so there is little natural risk of fire.
The North coast is much rougher and rockier than the south and there are many more natural roads and bridges with the old paths beside Levadas still winding their way up the hillsides.
Progress has seen a trend to turn what used to be shepherd huts and cowsheds into holiday homes and small pairs of cosy little buildings high up on the hillsides are being modernised and rented out as romantic weekend get aways.
Port Moniz once a tiny fishing port has become popular through easier access and has some unique natural bathing pools which we were tempted to try but had not brought our swimsuits. Only one person had braved the water which was actually quite warm around 20 degrees but the wind was quite biting out of the water and with no changing facility could be a bit uncomfortable. It is the only place on the island with a campsite and apparently ferries from the Canary islands and Portomao bring holiday campers here. We have seen two campervans only both with French plates.
There is very few lifestock, the odd solitary cow may be seen because ther terrain is so hilly and rocky. Once there were sheep which grazed like ferral animals on the top plateau but they have now been culled because they were destroying the essential undergrowth that provided essential foliage to retain water and hold the earth together. We thought the stone walls and terraces were amazing constructions and many of the farmers are restoring them now they are getting assistance from the government.
We stopped at our last stop to have a glass of freshly made 'poncho' a delicious home made cocktail made with lemons, honey and and cane rum. A superb day out and highly recommended to all who may visit here. Ask for Lawrence he was great. Of course in bad weather this trip could be extremely hazardous especially the mountainside winding roads by the cliffs.
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