Thursday 30th September 1954
Yesterday evening a party of us joined up to hire a car and go for a day’s
outing over the mountains. The hotel arranged the car and provided a picnic
lunch. The party consisted of Diana, Mr Deeks, a married couple (George and
Doris – can’t remember their surname) and myself. We set off at 10:00 in blazing
heat. Having been warned, and also having experience of the Andes, I provided
myself with a coat. I wasn’t feeling too good, and was a bit hesitant about
going, but decided it would probably pass off.
We started climbing at once through the outskirts of Funchal up to a village
called Monte. At first the vegetation was purely subtropical, vines, melons,
bananas, palms etc. but by the time we got to Monte it had already began to
change. Monte is only 3.75 miles from Funchal but the altitude is 1804 feet and
the gradients were terrific. My ears were cracking as they had never done in
going over the Andes. There we got up to an altitude of 17000 feet but the
distances were far greater and none of the gradients anything like as fierce.
At Monte we stopped for about half an hour and the others went for a walk to the
church along a path from which I believe was a magnificent view. I was feeling
too ill to attempt it, the altitude was getting me down and I felt I couldn’t
get enough oxygen. I just walked about the plaza and took a couple of
photographs. There were men about with the hammocks in which one can be carried
up the mountains and it is from here that the running carros slide down the
cobbled road into Funchal.
Children run behind the car throwing in bunches of
the lovely pink and blue lilies that grow everywhere, and always with the cry,
“Escudo, Escudo monnai, monnai for bread.” It is fatal to give them anything,
poor little things, as one is immediately overwhelmed with a screaming fighting
mob. We threw coins over that back of the car while we were moving, or they
would have been in the car and fighting all over us; and on looking back there
was always a welter of grubby struggling urchins in a heap in the middle of the
An Escudo is about 1/- to them, though only 3d in our currency.
Leaving Monte we seemed to climb almost vertically, and I felt sicker and
sicker. I had experienced a certain amount of mountain sickness in the Andes,
but that was at a far greater altitude. I never want to experience mountain
sickness again; it made me feel absolutely like death.
The vegetation, and temperature, was changing rapidly. At our next stop,
Terreiro da Luta, there were cacti, sugar cane, pines, eucalyptus, bananas,
vines, oaks, palms and giant ferns, all within quite a short distance, and from
there on we were almost entirely among pines, oaks, and eucalyptus. Terreiro da
Luta is 5.5 miles from Funchal, at an altitude of 2876 feet so those few miles
feel as if they are vertical. At Terreiro da Luta is a huge statue of the Virgin
and Child, erected as a monument to Peace. This statue is floodlit at night, and
can be seen clearly from Funchal, where it appears to be only about half way up
the vast basin of mountains, whose topmost edges tower far above. The statue
stands on a small eminence on the mountainside, approached by a flight of steps.
I did not attempt to go up there, but sat on a low wall and wished that I might
die, while the others went up.
After leaving Terreiro da Luta we went on, up and up, the road being cut out of
the mountain side, with great wooden ravines below, and breath taking slopes
above. We were far above the cloud line, and everything below seemed shrouded in
mist. After a time we got above even the pines and eucalyptus line, and came out
on a bare, bleak area, reminiscent of the west coast of Scotland, or the
Falkland Islands, or Dartmoor, or anywhere utterly bare and treeless. It was
very much cooler by now, despite blazing brilliant sun. The highest point of the
road, the actual watershed, beyond which the descent to the north side of the
island began was at Poiso, 8.5 miles from Funchal and 4593 feet altitude. Here
we stopped for a few minutes and took photographs. I just managed to get out of
the car and walk across the road to get them.
Leaving Poiso we dropped down steadily till we entered the tree line again. This
north side of the island seemed much cooler than the south face of the
mountains. The great central ridge runs like a backbone east and west along the
length of the island, sending out vast spurs like ribs on either side. The roads
wind along the sides of these great spurs, with huge ravines between.
Our next stop was at Ribeiro Frio 2624 feet and 12.5 miles from Funchal. We
stopped for a long time here, while the rest of the party went for a walk round
the Balcões, (the Balconies) which I gather is a footpath round the side of a
ravine, with a wonderful view. I had to sit with my head more or less on my
knees, and have seldom felt so ill in my life. I thought the others were
never coming back and began to think that I should die before they did. They
must have been gone quite an hour and all seemed very tired when they got back
to the car. I felt better directly we began to move and I could get some air and
wind in my face, but the mere name Ribeiro Frio will give me qualms to the end
of my days.
The vegetation repeated itself in reverse as we dropped to sea level on the
north coast. We stopped at a charming roadside estaminet at Saõ Roque do Faial
at about 14:30. It is only 20.25 miles from Funchal and almost at sea level.
Here everyone got out the vast packets of sandwiches etc. provided by the hotel
before we left in the morning, and proceeded to consume them with much gusto. I
cautiously peeled a morsel of bread of one sandwich and nibbled about one
mouthful and then packed up.
We then went on to Porto da Cruz, a lovely fishing village under the shadow of a
colossal block of mountain standing out in the sea, “Penha d'Águia” (The rock of
the eagle). I believe I did actually see an eagle sailing about in the dizzy
abyss under the rock.
We then struck inland, climbing again, to Portela 2034 feet, the road clinging
in and out round the great sprawling mountain spurs.
It was about here we stopped again and the party got out and walked around a
cliff path for the view. The usual mob of clamouring children materialised and I
was told that some of those from the other cars thought it a great joke to throw
coins among the bushes which grew down the cliff face, in order to see the
children plunge down after them. Our own party was disgusted about it, as the
cliff was over 1000 feet high and the children were utterly reckless in their
eagerness for the coins. They had probably plunged down the cliff scores of
times before, but it struck us a very poor joke. I did not actually see it, as I
stayed in the car, but if I had, I am afraid I should have had some remarks to
make to those jokers.
Our next stop was at Machico,
17.25 miles along the coast east of Funchal, a perfectly lovely little village in a bay on the
south coast. We had crossed the island again at the narrow eastern end since
leaving Porto da Cruz. At Machico we had tea in a charming open air café, quite
the English style. It is a far more sophisticated place than any of the other
villages we had passed through, and is a popular residential area for the
I was beginning to feel better by this time and was able to swallow
a spot of tea.
We returned to Funchal along the coast road, with the sea on our left, and
everything looked perfectly exquisite. Via Santa Cruz, Gaula, Canico and S.
Goncalo, all of these being charming villages, with a great number of large and
wealthy houses and quintas everywhere.
We arrived back at the hotel at about 17:00. I fell into bed immediately, and
remained there, much to the consternation and sympathy of the nice little
photograph is not on the run I describe above, but it gives a very good
idea of how the mountain spurs run down from the central backbone, and of the
Scenery on the mountain roads.