We are exploring the North, between Fortim do Faial and Miradouro do Guindaste when the appeal of the forested highlands takes us back.
We return to the Praia do Faial road.
We climb its countless meanders, here and there, through ridges that give us dramatic views of what we left behind. Previously highlighted above the ocean, against the sky, the Penha d'Águia hill flattens out and disappears into the intricate orography of the island.
Shortly after passing the Chão de Cedro Gordo, we get into a blanket of dense fog that hangs over the relief to the east and, sometimes it caresses it, sometimes it covers it completely and transforms it into ghostly vegetable shapes of pine trees that protrude from the hills.
Ribeiro Frio: in the Highlands of Madeira Island
As always in Madeira, the fog remains localized.
When we reach the height of more than 860 meters of the houses that announce Ribeiro Frio and the snack bar “Spark” that serves the village, we can only glimpse distant glimpses of the “lebrina”, as the Madeirans often call it.
A fulminant rain had once again drenched the village and irrigated the homonymous Forest Park that surrounds it.
We stop at the bar, determined to reheat from the successive photographic scales, hit by the damp wind, something frigid from the northeast.
We drink hot chocolates. Recovered, we walked the asphalt of the ER103 that was missing for the tourist and fish center of Ribeiro Frio.
The almost tropical forest closes in again.
We are surrounded by a carpet of lush ferns, most of them low-growing, and a few arboreal specimens that seem to rival the surrounding leaves and tis.
We hear the echoing flow of any watercourse. Further up, we come across an assortment of stone grating tanks of different shapes, thirteen of them, to be more precise.
When we see them full of dark and mottled fish, we confirm that we are at the Ribeiro Frio Aquaculture Post.
And in the right place.
The Rainbow Trout Nurseries of Ribeiro Frio
Over the centuries, the ingenious settlers of the island of Madeira provided it with a huge network of levadas that carry water from the streams where it is needed.
Rainbow trout have long roamed these streams and even the tightest channels of the levadas.
For natural reasons and others related to the complex division and manipulation of streams and water, the number of trout has always fluctuated.
Since 1960, Ribeiro Frio and its people have had the possible mission of generating new specimens, from eggs to fry and already resistant fish.
Once created, they release them into the waterways, in order to make fishing possible in the interior of the island and to encourage the healthy consumption of this river species.
Without even going into fishing and not surprisingly, the village's restaurants keep trout as one of the main dishes on their menus. Residents consume them frequently.
A nearby chapel, built in honor of Our Lady of Fátima, blesses them and visitors, in aged white and which has, at the door, tiles evocative of the Virgin Mary and Jesus as “Lamb of God”.
Ribeiro Frio: a Pejado de Laurissilva Forest Park
Trout, restaurants and temples aside, in terms of Breeding nature, God has done an immaculate work, also in these remote parts of Ilha Jardim.
Ribeiro Frio is at the heart of an immensity with all the natural attributes that give it the title of genuinely Madeiran.
There's a good reason the surrounding park has been named forestry. It is filled with a dense and generous patch of Madeira's original forest, the one that the settlers found and, little by little, had to clear.
The Ribeiro Frio, its tributary streams and the northern clouds, renew a flora with peculiar names that remains, in large part, endemic.
It is made up of the tis and pastries that we have already mentioned, countless laurels, vinháticos-islands, uveiras-da-serra, heathers-das-brooms and heathers-molars.
And yet, shrubs and other flowering plants, such as isoplexis, estreleiras, mountain orchids and massarocos, in our view, but subject to debate, the most eccentric plant species on the island.
This dazzling plant amalgam forms or integrates the ecosystem of laurisilva, exclusive to Madeira – of which it occupies about 20% of the territory – and other islands in Macaronesia, the Azores, Canary Islands and, of unexpected and tiny pockets of the African coast of Mauritania.
The stunning Levadas and Veredas that pass through Ribeiro Frio
Paths and levadas furrow this prodigious forest, for the convenience of the rural people of Madeira, often (if not almost always) one paired with the other.
With this and other profiles, some of the island's unmissable pedestrian itineraries depart from Ribeiro Frio, for example, the PR-10 of Levada do Furado that winds up to Portela and rewards those who complete it with glorious views of Penha d'Águia.
Satisfied with wandering around the nurseries and around the village, we turned to PR 11, much shorter and simpler than its predecessor.
To do this, we left the tar of the ER 103 for good. We went into the forest.
We follow the curves and counter-curves of Levada da Serra do Faial.
The leafy tops of oaks and plane trees serve as a roof. Despite the summer, they drop leaves that yellow in hues and adorn the fertile brown soil of the path.
From time to time, the dense cover of vegetation gives itself away. It gives us glimpses of scenarios that we would soon be able to appreciate with eyes to see.
After a XNUMX-minute walk, in the company of finches, blackbirds, little birds and even bisbis, we came across a yellow sign, in the shade, which reads “Balcons”.
The Unbelievable Panoramas at the End of Vereda dos Balcões
We go around the hyperbolic rock that the signal almost touches.
On the other side, we discover the mouth of the so-called Vereda dos Balcões and the panoramic structures that give rise to the name.
A huge grated observation platform extends beyond the slab.
He ventures towards the abyssal valley, as if to insinuate to those who arrive, the urgency of leaning over the fence and letting himself be amazed by the geological monument around.
That's what we do.
Below, extending to the north, until it merges with the Atlantic, the deep and zigzagging valley of Ribeira da Metade dissolves.
We see it covered in laurel forest.
From the line of white pebbles as it passes, to the pointed tops of the hills.
The mist that had shadowed us for a good part of the ascent is once again present, in the form of a compact mantle of humidity.
O ridge trio Arieiro-Torres-Ruivo bar it. It subjects the eastern valleys to a natural chlorophyll-laden greenhouse effect.
From that open balcony, contemplation generates more and more respect.
Remembering that we were at the dead end of Levada dos Balcões, we decided to activate the plural of the name and improve contemplation.
A few quirks of the rock that we had previously skirted served as steps to a second improvised balcony at the top.
Ribeira da Metade Below, to Penha d'Águia and the Atlantic
From this top, in balance, we once again follow the contours of Ribeira da Metade.
To the still lit houses of São Roque, to the leafy hill that almost hides it, and to the distant silhouette of Penha d'Águia, sandwiched between the sky gray and the blue of the sea.
As we study the vastness, Madeira's wild birds flutter hither and thither.
Wood pigeons, impressive speed. And more bisbis, all around, always attentive when visitors leave the Balcões and leave them with gifts of bread and other precious snacks. That's what we do in the meantime.
We reverse path. We interrupt the return to Ribeiro Frio at the snack bar and handicraft shop “Jungle Flower” that, we found lonely, on the edge of the path.
We chatted with the lady who served us a providential snack, pleased to be helping to alleviate the shortage of customers caused by the pandemic.
And the Late Return to Funchal
After which we returned to the car and to the road, this time, pointing towards the south coast and Funchal.
On this final route, we pass through Chão da Lagoa, through the door of the estate where PSD Madeira used to hold their parties.
The same caravan of clouds that we had admired from the Balcões flowed, just below, against the sun that was precipitating over the western horizon.
As well as the ascent from the north coast, the descent to Funchal proved to be a journey of stunning beauty, inside and outside the clouds, against mysterious silhouettes of vegetation, through a steep zigzag worthy of the Madeira Rally.
Restricted by so much curve and distraction, it is already with the city's luminous amphitheater showing itself at twilight that we take shelter in the Funchal.