Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Ponta Do Pargo

Leaving Ponta Do Pargo
 For my 250th post I shall tell you about another of our Madeiran adventures.  Many thanks to all of you who follow this blog and provide feedback - it is very much appreciated!

Following our taster walk along the levada a few days earlier we were all eager for another go and this time picked out a walk that was a loop incorporating a levada near to the town of Ponta Do Pargo.  After a cloudy start to the day the weather was absolutely glorious by the time we reached the far south-western end of the island of Madeira.  Although still mid-February the weather was more akin to that expected in mid April back in the UK and it made for glorious walking conditions.

We parked by the church in Ponta Do Pargo and decided to fore-go the section of walk down to the lighthouse until the end.  Our route took us through the lower end of the town and along some very quiet roads.  Most of the housing appeared to be empty; perhaps they are only occupied during the summer months?  On the whole this did not seem to be the most prosperous part of the island and this may be because of its relative isolation.  The road over from Funchal was initially very good and passed through a lot of tunnels bypassing the windy old roads that would once have ensured this was a tortuous trip.  About 25 minutes from the end though the tunnels ran out and we had to follow the windy old road for the rest of the way.  Tunnel portals had been provided suggesting that eventually the area would be linked up but as with Spain last year I think the money had run out.  Thus this part of the island still felt quite wild and a bit isolated feeling.

Ornate Tap
At the far end of the town we headed down what seemed to be the original road.  It was narrow and really only suitable for local traffic but made for a good footpath.  The view though was what really caught the eye.  We were pretty close to the coast and the countryside here is punctuated by a series of steep valleys taking small streams down from the large plateau to the east.  The streams have down their best to carve away the landscape but the volcanic rock of the island is mostly resistant and it will be a good long time before erosion has any serious effect on the landscape.

Holiday House
The road wound down to a small bridge over the stream at the bottom and then back up the other side to a hamlet.  The main road now seems to run parallel to our path a bit further up the hill and the engineering to keep it there is quite astonishing.  The road sits on a retaining wall that looked rather vulnerable.  The wall also formed part of an adjacent property begging the question of who paid for it?  As we walked around underneath the wall surrounding the property we caught the attention of a couple of rather fierce sounding dogs who barked at us for a long time, even as we receded into the distance.

Lunch Stop
The hamlet of Riberia de Vaca that we passed through was equally deserted; making me wonder what community spirit is like in these parts?  With so many of the houses seemingly deserted for lengthy periods of time it must be difficult for those who are here all the year around.  With the weather so good even at this time of year I am not sure why so few people were around?  We continued on our way down another valley through the hamlet and headed on to another further on.  The houses were built on the ridges between the valleys; I am guessing for protective reasons.  Although the streams seemed quite benign on this most beautiful of days there was plenty of evidence that it isn’t always this way and I suspect that some of the flash floods during winter storms are quite fearsome.  If that is the case I don’t think I would want to be building my house in the way either!

Heading to the Church
As we negotiated another valley we entered the village of Lombarda Velha.  Again we saw very few people about and we were pleased that we didn’t have to watch for too many cars along the way.  Despite the lack of people the gardens of many of the houses looked very well cared for suggesting that perhaps they are at least weekend homes for wealthy people from Funchal?

Nossa Senhora Da Boa Morte
Eventually the route took us away from the road, which climbed up the hill.  Our path instead followed the contours of the hill and along a dirt track fringed by wild flowers frequented by the first butterflies and bees that we had seen in 2015.  These warm spring-like days are what I treasure most about the winter holidays that we take – it would be several weeks before we would see such sights in the UK.  By now our tummies were rumbling and so we took the opportunity to wander down to a nearby day marker and make that our picnic spot.

The marker was on the edge of the sea cliffs and a quick look down was rather vertigo-inducing!  I made sure the gang were kept safely away from the edge while we ate our lunch.  It was rather humbling to think of us sat on this small island surrounded by sea and looking out across a vast ocean with no land between our position and the Americas.

Crossing the Road
After lounging around enjoying the sun for a little while we got ourselves going again, conscious that although we had a reasonable amount of daylight left we certainly did not have the luxury of wasting too much time.  We retraced our steps back to the main path and headed around another of the steep valleys that characterise this stretch of coast.  Soon enough we came upon a small plain white chapel (Nossa Senhora do Boa Morte).  Sadly it was locked so we could not explore inside and the architecture outside was not particularly noteworthy.  What could not be disputed though was the magnificent location for the chapel – certainly a place to heighten the spirits even for non-believers.  We all made use of the rudimentary toilet facilities here and were amused by the antics of the lizards hiding in the crevices of the adjacent walls as we waited for everyone to finish.

Sun Trying Its Best
What followed was a bit of a nasty shock as the route now took us uphill for the best part of a mile.  It was very steep at first and we were puffed out when we got to what we thought was the top.  The road did level out for a bit but then started climbing again just as steeply once we were through the main part of the village.  Cajoling the children up the hill wasn’t terribly easy but luckily we had some sweets that enticed them to the top.  By now the sunny weather we had enjoyed up to now was also being replaced rather rapidly by clouds, which was disappointing.

On The Ledge
Eventually we reached the levada that we had walked to meet.  This was rather a different levada from the one we had walked a few days previously.  For one thing it was largely dry and secondly it was a lot smaller.  The vegetation was reminiscent of the New Forest, with scattered pine trees interspersed with heathland.  The terrain though could not have been more different as the hill fell away steeply to the sea on our right and rose to ever higher ground to our left.  Fortunately for us all the climbing was now over and the route took us around the contours following the levada.

The water, which was intermittent in the levada dried up entirely not long after we started.  We soon crossed the main road, while the levada passed underneath through a culvert.  Initially the main road passed alongside us while our path stuck to what I can only describe as a shelf that progressively got higher as the road fell away down the hill as it headed towards Ponta Do Pargo.  The cloudy skies that had changed our beautiful sunny day to an overcast one then made the progression to drizzly rain and this did impair our views out across the countryside.  What could not be denied though was the beauty of the place and the couple of miles that we walked around the hills and alongside the levada were a joy indeed and well worth the climb to get up here!

Welcome Dinner
Eventually we reached the end of the levada section of our walk which came disappointingly early.  We dropped down onto a forest path, which eventually gave way to a rather rough track that I am guessing is used by timber lorries for all around us were signs of logging.  It wasn’t particularly easy walking not least because of the steepness of the path.  Fortunately there were few cars to bother us and we soon came down into the village that we had passed through earlier.  Now back in the village and it was time to retrace our steps back along the old road to Ponta Do Pargo.  Our return journey could not have been more different from earlier though – it was as though we had regressed back into winter.

Weather Clearing
The drizzle took a turn for the worse and by the time we reached the car we were pretty wet.  On this exposed part of the coast the wind was also fairly fearsome and suddenly our appetite for walking down to the restaurant (Orca) and lighthouse at the end of the walk had diminished greatly.  We cheated and drove the last part and were thankful that we had for the road was narrow and I would not have liked to have walked it at all.  We were pleased to see that the restaurant was open and that the owners had not decided the weather was too awful to continue (apparently they sometimes go early on bad weather days).  The food was fantastic and the welcome was marvellous – definitely a great end to our day’s walking!