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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hiking Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto (Sao Vicente) on Madeira

According to this list, Madeira is the third most dangerous airport in the world.  Many times, the pilot just gives up and flies back into the sky. This video conveys a little of the excitement.  It seems some people on Madeira watch planes attempting to land for entertainment.  So, it was a relief to land in not-so-high winds this time.  

Previous post - our time at the Palace of Queluz in Lisbon.

Once we settled in, we chose Ponta de Rosto as our first hike.  To get there,  I had to drive up an incredibly steep road from our sea-level hotel to the highway.  It was a tiny, narrow road that just kept going and going straight up.  Jennifer said it felt to her like the car was going to flip over backwards.

The Sao Vicente hike is at one end of the island. (Sao means "saint" in Portuguese).  It's a wind-blasted, treeless, serpentine strip of land, with cliffs a few hundred feet high alternating on one side or the other.


The hike is doable by almost anyone who can walk for three hours.  There's a bit of steep uphill at the end, and some brief ups and downs along the way, but it's not a long climb like hiking up the side of a mountain.  If you go, be prepared for gusts of wind trying knock you off balance every once in a while, and for spots where there's nothing between you and a cliff but a broken handrail, rusted away by all the salty air.

This view is looking back toward the main part of the island.  I'm standing on the edge of a tall cliff here, but it drops off out of sight, so you can't really tell.  That's the problem with photographing cliffs from the top; they just look like the ground. :)


The rocks have so much iron ore in them that they look red rust, which is sort of what they are.  Madeira was formed by undersea volcanoes pushing up lava over millions of years, the same way that the Caribbean and Hawaiian islands were formed. 


Madeira is hundreds of miles from Europe and Africa, just a dot of land in the vast Atlantic ocean.  Madeira is a part of the country of Portugal.  I read it was one of Portugal's first naval discoveries, in 1419.   


Nearly to the far point of the hike, we can see the tip of Madeira.  It was a cloudy, windy day.  


This is the view from the "official" end of the trail.  It's hard to see through the haze, but there's a lighthouse there.  The tip of the island in this photo is another one or two miles from us.


On the way back, the sun finally broke through the clouds every once in a while.  Again, I'm standing at the top of a very tall cliff.  This one was off-trail, so no handrail.


In the photo below, I believe the horizontal orange lines in the rock are layers of rock with iron ore.  But what I really find fascinating are the vertical lines of stone, which I interpret as pathways made by magma as it pushed to the surface millions of years ago.  I would estimate this cliff to be about two hundred feet high.


It was really lovely to see this type of plant blossoming everywhere on the hike.  It's known as "The Pride of Madeira", and though these ones are very pale pink, they also have pastel blue and violet ones.  They were thriving all up and down the trail.    


I couldn't help thinking of the new King Kong movie, Skull Island, everywhere we hiked on Madeira.  Fortunately, we never encountered the giant gorilla or the hungry dinosaurs on any of our hikes.


One last photo, with actual people in it, for scale, and for the fear factor.  When you hike this part of the trail, you see hundreds of feet straight down on both sides.  They had a single-strand handrail of think metal cable on both sides, but the cable had rusted and snapped in many places along the way, leaving nothing between you and the void.  A little thrilling, but really not too bad.


It was a really nice hike, we only wish we'd had more sun.  Though there was a good flow of people on the trail, you could be alone with nature if you just stepped off the trail a hundred feet.  When we left the trail to go look over some cliffs, all we heard was the surf washing back and forth against the rocks and the wind and an occasional seagull's cry.  It was so peaceful, after all the stress of getting there.  A beautiful place to decompress.


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