Madeira and the countless tunnels that drilled through it and traverse a fascinating underground world parallel to the base of its lush mountains: there is no way to escape them.
Having overcome a new sequence of kilometers in this underworld, corresponding to the almost straight line between Jardim do Mar and Paul do Mar, the VE7 road leaves us just above the long row of houses that make up the last of the villages.
The ER223 route that continues the tunnel, is also proof of a feat of road engineering, embedded as it is at the foot of some of the highest and steepest cliffs in the south of the island, bearing in mind that, until the end of the 60s, Paul do Mar could only be reached by boat.
And that for the next thirty years it was a winding, steep and treacherous road that allowed you to reach it by land.
A few meters of bright light ahead, we cut to Rua da Igreja.
We come face to face with a veranda viewpoint, with the Atlantic bathing the coastline full of basaltic boulders with a tenderness that the northern coast cannot even dream of.
The Luminous Arrival in Paul do Mar
For some reason the street we stopped on was named for it. We turn our backs to the viewpoint and the sea. In the opposite view, a futuristic-looking church seemed to defy the ocher-green geological sumptuousness of the escarpment.
The church of Santo Amaro, patron saint of the parish, took the place of a modest chapel but which played the role of seat of the local parish, established in the last days of 1676, demolished in the year of the Carnation revolution.
The bold cross of the new temple stands out from the nave. In fact, from the sidewalk slab that we admire, it gives us the idea that it is about to take off into Space.
We take a look at the Travessa do Serradinho that extends from there, bounded by a house that looks like the oldest in the area. Soon, we return to the car and the ER223.
For a few dozen meters only.
The Social Marginal that Houses Families that Resisted Emigration
The modern and elongated extension of the Paul do Mar demands a new detour towards the ocean. We cross one of the longest banana groves we have seen in Madeira, ripening under the heat of that area, said to be the sunniest and hottest on the island.
We pass by the village cemetery. After which we enter its extensive coastal road, bordered to the south by a wall that protects it from storms.
And, to the north, by much more recent houses, with the profile of a social neighborhood, inhabited in large part by numerous descendants of fishermen who – during the 60s – resisted emigrating to the Americas, according to records, with great incidence in Panama and to reinforce the already impressive Madeiran diaspora around the world.
Even so, in that decade, the inhabitants of Paul do Mar decreased from more than 1800 to 900, a number close to the population of today.
Each house we pass houses a complex expression of life, with the blood of fishermen – if it weren't for Paul do Mar – one of the most important fishing centers in Madeira.
And Paul's Bottom, the Absolute Domain of Fun
With time and the benefit of the climate, more than a place for frequent religious and popular celebrations, Paul do Mar has become a kind of town that is always celebrating.
Surfers discovered the waves that, at the right time of year, form there. They arrived and looked for a place to stay.
The first accommodations, bars and other businesses were followed by several more, including small initiatives of hiking, water sports and dolphin and whale sightings.
The bars, in particular, have increased visibly. Today, especially during holidays and on weekends, the wall in front of these establishments remains full of young people, eager to share the sun, good mood and the meritorious adventures of the amazement of others.
A Gastronomic and Cultural Trip called “Maktub”
It is in this spirit that we enter one of Paul do Mar's unavoidable establishments, the pre-destined, relaxed and bright restaurant “Maktub”.
Fábio Afonso puts us at ease. It serves us one of the most succulent and flavorful snappers that we've tasted to date, served with olive oil and aromatic petals, accompanied by carrot and zucchini sticks, brown rice and small chips. We had dinner surrounded by messages left by guests from around the world on the makeshift mural on the walls.
By maps and other elements alluding to our favorite area, that of travel.
Fábio tells us that his own “Maktub” is a kind of life journey, influenced by different universes, the sea and surf, music, travel and so on. “You know, it runs in the family.
Right now, I have my father sailing around the world. He took on board some forty bottles of Madeira wine to offer wherever he could anchor.”
Fábio Afonso and the brothers run other businesses. They are, not long ago, the organizers of Maktub Soundsgood, a music festival focused on reggae and the sea.
With the sun almost setting on the ocean, we cut dinner short and apologized to Fabio for that.
Even from the wall just in front of the “Maktub”, backwards and forwards, it is towards the sea that we turn.
With the sunset kidnapped by a baseboard of cloudiness that came from the north of the island, we decided to anticipate the return to the road. To ER223, of course.
The Breathtaking Path to Ponta do Pargo
More fearless and picturesque than ever, the route made us zigzag up the cliff.
Even so, and without haste, he took us to the highest lands of Madeira: Fajã da Ovelha, Lombada dos Marinheiros and, half an hour later, to the destination of the end of the day, the Madeiran cape of Ponta do Pargo.
Along the way, we couldn't resist the successive views of Paul do Mar's houses and its prolific banana plantations filling the base of the slope.
We stopped to admire the wild course of the road itself, made of sloping meanders, some of them opened by small tunnels carved into the rock, where the Dantesque dimension of the cliffs reduced the cars to almost nothing.
The Inspiring Shelter of Casa das Levadas
Having reached Ponta do Pargo, we settled in Casas da Levada, an inspiring rural tourism that resulted from a harmonious and sustained recovery of several traditional haystacks, rustic stone buildings where rural families kept their wickers.
Today, renovated with a charming simplicity, the houses remain in their positions, overlooking the cultivated fields, the village and the sea that bathes the western tip of the island, close to the levadas that furrow the endemic laurel forest of Madeira.
No matter how much talented modernity it has welcomed – as is the case with the buildings of the town’s Civic Center and the checkered pavement on which they are based – Ponta do Pargo, like the Ponta de Sao Lourenco opposite – it will always have the secular historical origin that the pioneers of these western ends of Madeira won.
The Superlative Pargo at the Origin of the Ponta do Pargo Baptism
The historian Gaspar Frutuoso narrated that the baptism of Ponta do Pargo came from the navigation of Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Álvaro Afonso who, despite the danger of the sea, managed to catch a large snapper there, the biggest they had seen, that is, for a few years before the foundation of the village, which is estimated to date from the second half of the XNUMXth century.
The next morning, we debut on another old and winding road in western Madeira, the ER-101, which climbs the map towards Porto Moniz and the north coast of the island.
Along the way, signs indicating a viewpoint and a cable car enticed us to the stunning threshold of Achadas da Cruz, almost 500 meters above the Quebrada Nova fajã, both above the coordinates where the south and north of Madeira meet, dizzying and windy to match.
The Vertiginous Descent from Achadas da Cruz to Quebrada Nova
We lean over the viewpoint fence. We take a look at the shoreline that, down there, faces the great Atlantic, the walls, walls and buildings erected by settlers who, on a mountainous island like Madeira, saw fit to take advantage of that land, as fertile as it was extreme.
We photograph the stunning descent of one cable car and the complementary ascent of the other. We wondered if the gusts we felt intensifying would not shake the cabins too much.
Apprehensive, we explained to the ticket clerk. “Oh friends, yes it is increasing a little but look, this has been here for many years and we have never had accidents. See those lights? They are the ones who react to the wind, so to speak. With green, everything is OK. With red, the system makes the cabs stop. Right now, it's yellow. Come down without fear.”
Even a little afraid of getting stuck in the middle of the descent, with the cabin rocking us, as happened, in 2018, to the President of the Board, his family and six other foreigners, that's what we do.
Gradually, approaching the cabin makes the lines and shapes of Quebrada Nova disappear. A mere dozen meters above the ground, the wind rages. The cabin oscillates but completes the journey without red light blocking it.
Quebrada Nova: an Unlikely Agricultural Stronghold
We disembarked. We were dazzled by the rocky inlet on the right, hit by the furious gale from the North which, there, almost made us take off. We follow the path that runs along the fringe of the fajã, in the opposite direction, between the wine corrals, other crops and the rocky seaside.
As we advance, we witness the unusual day-to-day life of the place. A newly arrived family was transporting purchases from the base of the cable car to their haystack-house.
A resident, a foreigner by the way, came out of his haystack with a bucket in his hand, took to the surf with extra care, filled it up and returned home.
Unsurprisingly, Quebrada Nova never had a fixed population. It was always a kind of agricultural annex that the inhabitants of the surroundings visited when necessary to maintain their crops.
With the advent of tourism, however, it became common for some outsiders to feel attracted by the geographical and geological eccentricity of the place, trapped there between the vastness of the North Atlantic and the majesty of the Madeiran cliffs.
Several bought or rented haystacks and started to frequent them when their souls dictated such a retreat.
We continue to explore Quebrada Nova along the whimsical path that furrows it, in an almost closed circuit, back to the base of the cable car.
We press the button that, like an elevator, calls him. We boarded and, once again without incident, returned to the heights of Achadas da Cruz.
The Return in Time for Sunset at Ponta do Pargo
Back at Ponta do Pargo, we descend from the town center towards the lighthouse that equipped the promontory. We glimpsed the abrupt panoramas to the north and to the south, both yellowed by the imminence of the sunset.
A mother and a daughter produce instagrams without end, with the scenery and props around the lighthouse. We, walked behind your tower.
We photographed the silhouette of the translucent bell among what look like araucarias or defoliated Norfolk pine trees.
Finally, twilight sets in. Anticipated again and even more capricious than Paul do Mar's, exuberant only in the brief moments when the great star passed between two dense blankets of mist.
We celebrate his unexpected eccentricity and photogenics.
With the night enveloping Madeira, we gave in to the cozy shelter of Casas da Levada.
The Authors are grateful for the support of CASAS DA LEVADA in the creation of this article: