Portela's mills are left behind, in their imaginary turning in the wind from the top of Portela.
Carolina Freitas points the jeep to the curves, ups and downs of Regional Road 111. We cross the Serra de Fora do Porto Santo, the closest to the south of Vila Baleira and the urbanized strip of the island. Curve after curve, we enter the other Serra, that of Dentro. In the past, the slopes and the valley of this interior mountain range sheltered abundant agricultural products.
The soil was fertile to the point of justifying the work of erecting sets of terraces. prepared to retain the rain and humidity that graced the island's western slopes, which are much more irrigated than those to the east, in such a way that two large reservoirs remain at its base, which the rare rainfall supplies. Accordingly, almost only these western slopes were planted with barley and other dryland cereals.
With time, the island of Porto Santo it became more arid. At the same time, the preponderance of tourism, reinforced above all by the large beach on the south coast, which we continued to distance ourselves from, made the island's laborious agriculture meaningless.
The ER 111 meanders a little further and bends west. Without expecting it, we stopped accompanying her. Carolina enters a dirt detour, we ascend a few tens of meters. The guide stops the jeep.
From the road to the Vereda to Pico Branco and Terra Chã
“Here we are. Let's go to this? challenges us, with his contagious energy as usual. It's mid-afternoon. The heat is smothered by light gray clouds that only occasionally give the sun a peek.
Above and ahead is a long, grooved slope, striped by countless columns of rock that erosion has eroded or, at intervals, made disappear.
Little by little, the path goes up the slope. In the past, it left hikers exposed to considerable precipices, which is why it was fitted with a wooden fence, the same shade as the surface of the slope, so camouflaged that the distance makes it disappear.
They confirm records and the memory of the islanders that, in another era, this same trail was dug into the rocky slope to allow the island's donkeys to carry the barley between the Terra Chã where it was cultivated and the north of the island. Today, at the bottom of the valley, the ER 111 road itself emulates the elevated meanders of the footpath.
The endless succession of the prismatic columns of Rocha Quebrada, even if intriguing and dazzling, ends up making the scenario repetitive.
The natural reaction is to turn your attention to the views from the back and to those beyond the valley.
Behind us, standing out above a glimpse of the northern sea, was the Pico Juliana (316m), pointed, furrowed by terraces that stretched to its rocky summit. And full of juvenile groves, we suppose that small Aleppo pines.
Carolina also tells us about the lowest Pico da Gandaia which – say the tongues of the island – received such baptism for being one of the chosen by couples in Porto Santo for flirtations and the like.
The Inevitable Rabbits of Porto Santo
Despite its inhospitable hardness of almost rock, whenever the slope of the slope softens a little, out of nowhere, the prolific Porto Santo rabbits appear, descendants of the couple who are said to be introduced by Bartolomeu Perestrelo, future captain captain of Porto Santo.
It is known that, despite having ensured an easy source of meat, as expected, rabbits reproduced exponentially.
If Porto Santo was not exactly luxuriant, less vegetation began to have when hundreds, thousands of specimens began to survive the little that existed, the native of the island and the crops that were introduced, such as vines, sugarcane. sugar and the most diverse horticultural experiences.
Since then, well fed, the rabbits gazed at us, for a few moments, with their ears high. Soon, they bolted down the slope to some den of their contentment.
We continue to ascend. We had started at around 200 m above sea level. We knew that the highest the route reached was the 450 m of Pico Branco, the second highest elevation on the island. In terms of physical effort, the conquest of this quasi-mount was far from intimidating.
The Panoramic Top of Cabeço do Caranguejo
We continued with walking and talking, whenever the lungs pumped enough oxygen for both activities. We interrupted the chatter in the final assault, much steeper than before, at Cabeço do Caranguejo, a rocky shore that gave us the first views to the northeast side of the cliff.
We get around it. We inaugurated the descent to that side. A fork in the trail established the paths to Pico Branco and to Terra Chã, this one, some 400 meters down and inland.
As planned, we take Pico Branco, which continues through an unexpected forest of huge and lush California cypresses, perched on the slope, making up an unexpected leafy and verdant Porto Santo.
Here and there, complemented by stairways, the zigzag rail fits to the top of the hill. It reveals dizzying perspectives of the cliffs and coves above Ponta do Miguel, hit by an Atlantic that some trick of the light displayed in a resplendent blue.
We saw it sprinkled with the white of the sea foam that surrounded the great cliffs and even islets that colonized the ocean, a desert domain flown by lucky marine species: shearwaters, terns, black souls, rocks-de-castro, turtledoves -from beach.
And others, in the group of prey, the blankets and kestrels, an entire birdlife in part endemic that contributed to Porto Santo's recent candidacy for UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, made in September 2019, and under consideration by the organization.
The Conquest of Pico Branco and the Pirata Threat to Porto Santo
Having conquered a last meander, we conquered Pico Branco.
At 450 meters from the summit, we confirm the whitish stone that forms it, in certain sections more exposed to humidity, covered with heather, the lichen that inspired its baptism, in both cases contrasting with the earth and abundant red and volcanic rock on the way. to the summit.
From the flat and walled top of Pico Branco, we are dazzled by the view over the south. Terra Chã and Ponta dos Ferreiros, the glimpse of Ilhéu de Cima, in the extension of Ponta do Passo.
And, further inland, Pico do Facho (516 m). This, which is the supreme summit of Porto Santo, has remained in history as it served to spot the approach of pirate ships from Porto Santo and to alert the inhabitants to their approach.
The warning was made using the fire of large beams, visible at any time of day, were it not for the Maghreb pirates to catch them off guard.
The matamorras, such as the one that survives at Casa da Serra, which we can see from the Terra Chã Viewpoint, allowed people from Porto to hide supplies and other essential items for subsistence on the island. They were no guarantee of safety, far from it.
It is known that one of the favorite places to shelter the barbarians who arrived from Africa was the Pico do Castelo (437m), where ruins of a fortress built during the XNUMXth century remain. of the settlers.
Even with Porto Santo already endowed with a small castle at the top of the hill, in a determined pirate raid and pillage in 1617, almost all Porto Santo were taken as slaves to infidel African lands which, from there, are still a little less than 500km away.
The Hide of the Homizied and the Shipwrecked Friars
Below Terra Chã, there is a cave that became popular as the Homiziados. It served as a hideout for pirates but also, as the name implies, a shelter for the island's outlaws. And, if the tragedies brought by the pirates were not enough, legend has it that, once upon a time, the roof of this cave fell on some unfortunate sheltered people.
In Porto Santo, place names given for nothing are rare. At each baptism, the island makes a point of perpetuating its past.
In the vicinity of Terra Chã, there is another such example, Porto de Frades. To those who find it today, it seems just and only a cove with a pebble seafront, crystal clear water and a yellowish ocher look with a touch of mysticism. And yet, the name it bears leaves a clue to another of the episodes still debated in the history of Porto Santo today.
According to records from that time, during their second visit to the island, Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira met two Portuguese friars in that same cave.
The monks had sailed from Portugal towards the Canary Islands, with the mission of contributing to the conversion of the Guanche Indians, natives of that archipelago and who then continued to resist the occupation of Spanish and French settlers.
Because, as they explained, the vessel in which they were following would have sunk. Still, they managed to reach Porto Santo. Aided by the men of Zarco and Tristan, the friars agreed to accompany the Portuguese expedition and settle on the island of Madeira instead of the Canaries.
your presence in Madeira it prompted other friars to move there from the mainland. Later, the congregation they joined founded the Convent of São Bernardino, in the Câmara de Lobos region.
In Porto Santo, a comparable religious legacy is that of the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça, whose foundations are estimated before 1533. It was, however, hidden to the west of the Serra de Fora, which we could not see from there.
We had left the jeep below Pico Juliana. We found ourselves, therefore, obliged to return 2km or so along the path that had taken us there.
We did it in the same way as the trip: dazzled by the impressive geological works of art in Porto Santo. Keeping an eye on the rabbits that kept us under surveillance.
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