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Dispatches from Atlantis – Part 2

Dispatches from Atlantis Part 2: Exploring Madeira without the Car

There are enough destinations and attractions reachable by public transport to avoid hiring a car for your stay, unless you have a specific list of destinations that you need to visit. The bus transportation network in Madeira is adequate for getting around the island, although services to the north and west of the island are rather limited from Funchal. If you are flexible about where you go and what you see, which seems reasonable on an island with so much to offer, then buses should be more than adequate for your stay.

One slight issue with bus transport is the initial confusion caused by there being four separate bus companies, one servicing the west and north of the island, another two bus companies service the east of the island, while Horários do Funchal services the Funchal area … although with an added Madeiran twist of bus confusion this company operates two services, one in and around Funchal and another interurban service.

A tip to simplify this initial confusion is that all bus services have stops within Funchal within close proximity to each other on Avenida do Mar. The three main bus companies servicing Funchal also have ticket offices on Avenida do Mar to get tickets and information. However, the queues for the ticket offices are often long and ponderous, apart from when they are frequently closed. The best approach is to research your bus route online, arrive half an hour before, ask around for where that bus number and service leaves from, and then buy a ticket on the bus.

Dispatches from Atlantis: An Exploration of Madeira and Porto Santo Islands through Time and Space.

Dispatches from Atlantis Part 3: Escape to Porto Santo.

A good option for exploring the Laurisilva Forests for those visitors staying in Funchal, the capital of Madeira where most tourists stay, is to take the bus to the lookout at Portela. There is nothing much at Portela, apart from the view, and the start of two hiking trails through the forests and mountains of northeast Madeira, but this brings enough visitors to merit a public bus destination. Remember to research the last return bus to Funchal from your hiking destination which for a hike starting in Portela will likely be either Ribeiro Frio, or Maroços/Machico. To get to Portela you will need to take either the number 20 or 53 SAM service bus. This will take you along the southeast coast of Madeira, and then inland up the Machico Valley to the Portela Lookout or “Mirador”.

Once at Portela, if it’s a warm sunny day, you will probably want to spend half an hour looking at film location grade views to the north. Maybe you will want to grab a coffee from one of a few café’s and bars beside the road at the lookout. This is a good way to prepare yourself for a four hour hike with only what you bring with you for nourishment. The two main hiking options are the Levada do Furado to the west, taking you up to the settlement of Ribeiro Frio, and the Vereda das Funduras taking you east through the Laurisilva Forest and then down into the Machico Valley to the village of Maroços.

A Vereda is basically a Levada walk … but without the actual Levada.

This would suggest that the Levada walk to the west would be more easy going, following the gentle gradient of the Levada itself, while the Vereda to the east might be more likely to follow a rigorous route up, down, and all around the mountains. Counterintuitively, the opposite is the case in this circumstance. The Levada do Furado walk toward Ribeiro Frio is uphill, requiring a steep climb upward from the forest station at Lamaceiros to meet the Levada itself.

At this point the going gets easier while the views become more extreme. The trail often hugs sheer rock faces, briefly tunneling through obstinate rock outcrops, and frequently dipping up and down into side gullies and ravines that reach down into a lost World of distant Laurisilva Forest canopy undulating away to the north. At times the view seems so primordial that to witness some giant Brontosaur rear its neck from out of the forest canopy beneath you might not elicit the surprise and shock that it ought to.

Dispatches from Atlantis: An Exploration of Madeira and Porto Santo Islands through Time and Space.

Dispatches from Atlantis Part 3: Escape to Porto Santo.

Taking the other option of walking along the Vereda das Funduras to the east from Portela delivers a mostly level or downhill walk. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a walm sunny day then the numerous muddy pools of water upon the track should serve to remind you that rainforest requires rain, and this can arrive at any point so waterproof clothing should accompany you on such a hike. Other commonsense preparations should include a charged mobile telephone, adequate water and food for a walk of around 4 hours, and a map of the trail even if this is just a downloaded map or photograph of the trail map signage.  The Levada and Serada trails are well maintained and signposted, but there will be other trails and paths leading from them. Don’t be tempted to explore these unless you are prepared to retrace your journey and have time to do so.

Finding yourself near nightfall stranded from the trail, and then having to navigate down through the forest toward distant road or village street lights is not a pleasant experience and could easily end badly for you. The most noticeable thing about these hikes is the quietness. Madeira is an isolated oceanic island and therefore its native mammals are limited to bats, and birds are only a subset of those to be found in Continental Europe and North Africa. Despite this there are some endemic bird species found only in Madeira such as the Madeiran Laurel Pigeon. These are frequently encountered within the Laurisilva Forest. They often make their presence known by breaking the silence with a thunderclap of wing beats as they hysterically escape from your approach, as if a second coming of some long remembered asteroid impact was imminent.

Dispatches from Atlantis: An Exploration of Madeira and Porto Santo Islands through Time and Space.

Dispatches from Atlantis Part 3: Escape to Porto Santo.

Writing: Robert Moss, YouTube ChannelVimeo ChannelPhoto Blog

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