My main reason for coming to Madeira was to photograph ancient trees in fog. I accomplished my mission, but let’s back up a bit first.
When the Portuguese arrived at this island, they named it Madeira, the Portuguese word for wood. The island was filled with trees ideal for ship building. Madeira is located approx. 500 miles due west of Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean. Geologically speaking, Madeira is the top of a giant shield volcano that rises six kilometers from the ocean floor. The island is known for its lush green hills, deep ravines and gorges, inaccessible high cliffs, and abundant caves. Add to this its year-round moderate temperatures and you have the “Hawaii of Europe”.
The center of all activities on the island is its capital, Funchal, and this is where about half of Madeira's 254,000 inhabitants live. In addition, Madeira receives approx. 1.5 million tourists each year, mainly to the cruise ship port Funchal and the southern part of the island where it is warmer and less windy than on the north and west side.
Funchal has a few charming public gardens, various small museums (one of them dedicated to their most famous native son, football (soccer) deity Cristiano Ronaldo), and, of course, lots of hotels and restaurants.
The main attraction of Madeira is the year around spring-like climate and the abundance of flowers everywhere. The mild climate also makes for great hiking weather. Madeira’s network of trails and “levada” walks – footpaths along irrigation canals – offers something for everyone, from a family walk to multi-day through-hikes. In addition, there is rock climbing, surfing, whale watching, etc.
After two days in the Funchal area, I headed out for the opposite side of the island, the remote and wild northwest. En-route was the tallest peak of the island, Pico Ruivo. It was there and I had to hike it. At 1,862m (6,100 feet), it is not considered a difficult hike, but it was a challenge for a flatlander like me. Naturally, I really enjoyed the way down much more than the uphill.
To get around efficiently on Madeira, you need a car. And here come the challenges - stick shift, mountain roads, no parking spaces. I had to gear-shift my way up extremely steep hills, the narrowest of roads possible, drive through dense fog, rain, and herds of cows. Every day I was thankful when my little car and I came home without dents. I even learned how to park my car in places you wouldn’t fit a baby carriage in the US.
All I had hoped for materialized - the old trees and the foggy conditions. And, thanks to Covid and foul weather, I was the only person there.