Thursday 30th September 1954

OutingYesterday 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.
MonteWe 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.
Monte. Note the carrying hammock.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 road.

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.

Virgin and ChildThe 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.
Pico do Arieiro, taken from PoisoAfter 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.
Views from PoisoViews from PoisoLeaving 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.
BalcõesRibeiro FrioOur 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.

Machico, 17.25 miles along the coast east of Funchal.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 well-to-do.

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 Madeirian chambermaid.

mountain spursThis 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 intersecting ravines.
Scenery on the mountain roads Scenery on the mountain roads.

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