|A string of Atlantic islands lies off the
coast of Europe and Africa, from north to south:
We knew Madeira would be considerably more mainstream than Cape Verde. Indeed, the capital city of Funchal is a true metropolis, which worked to our benefit for its popular and fun Christmas street party the night of December 23 (photo 3), and its excellent Apple repair shop when Emily's laptop refused to boot, with her un-backed-up senior thesis onboard. (Diagnosis: corrosion from a "liquid compromise" in the past as seen in photo 4, aggravated by the humidity of Madeira. The friendly repair guy stayed late on Christmas Eve and worked a miracle.) We opted to base ourselves in Ponta Delgada, on the much quieter northern side of the island, but excellent roads with an impressive network of tunnels meant we could get just about anywhere fairly quickly.
The weather was pleasantly mild with only occasional showers, so we went on significant hikes every day, ultimately covering a good portion of the island. Given the topography, one would imagine all of the hikes to be extremely steep -- and some were. But a unique and popular feature of Madeira is hiking along its levadas, almost 2000 miles of irrigation channels threaded throughout the island, with pathways alongside. We combined several levada hikes (photo 5) with other routes. The grand finale was a superb hike by any standard, along the highest ridge of the island on a trail that's a true marvel of engineering (photos 6-8). Steep drop-offs on the mountain hikes -- and many of the levadas as well -- could have been a serious challenge for moderately acrophobic Jennifer, were it not for the thoughtful wire guardrails (photos 6-9), even in remote locations.
Alex & Jennifer's 30th anniversary came around just before the trip. Some of you may recognize "Madeira" not as the island but for its namesake fortified wine. Grapes grow throughout the island, and wine-makers are everywhere. Tim & Clara arrived a few days before the rest of us and have a particular interest in wine. After extensive touring and sampling, they selected a bottle from the wedding year (photo 10), which we all enjoyed greatly. Incidentally, Alex & Jennifer's honeymoon in 1988, to Grand Turk island, began a tradition of spending Christmas abroad, with only two early exceptions since then (1989 and 1991).
Next: Tim and Clara fly from Madeira to Zurich (via Lisbon) where they'll begin a few months of software internships to top up their travel coffers. Alex, Jennifer, and Emily continue to the Canary Islands. The Canaries are even more popular than Madeira, but we're hoping to avoid crowds by heading to a pair of the lesser visited and more rugged islands of the chain: La Palma and La Gomera.