It was first discovered by Portuguese navigators in 1419. It is said that they were frightened when they had their first glimpse of those green high mountains that rose sharply from the dark blue sea. And then, when the ships approached land, there was no place they could disembark on, because the whole land was covered with trees, an abundant thick forest that came all the way to the sea…and then, because the sailors wanted to settle there and there was no space, they set fire to the trees in order to create a clearing, and legend has it the fire burned for seven years…and because of this huge forest the sailors called this island Madeira, meaning wood in Portuguese.
Then they went on and found another bay they called “the Wolf Chamber” because there were many sea wolves ( seals) living there…
Many settlers came on the following ships and soon these indomitable characters were braving the wild country, going up the high mountains and down to the deep valleys. These would prove to be a safe haven when, much later, the Moorish pirates attacked the island’s shores and people would run to these almost inaccessible valleys in the interior of the island. Nuns would do that too, and to this day there is a hidden valley called “the Nun’s Corral”, as it is said they successfully hid there, thus escaping the unwanted attentions of the tough pirates and a life of enslavement.
There are so many legends in Madeira that one could not tell them all. I love the romantic story of Robert Machim and Anne d’Arfet, who were shipwrecked on the shores of Madeira after fleeing England so that Anne might escape an unwanted marriage and we can still find echoes of their ill fated love in the town of Machico, near the airport, named after him.
Madeira is all about the blue sky and the clouds that suddenly cover the mountains. It’s about the unique colour of the sea, dark blue because if the volcanic granite rocks in the bottom; it’s about the luxurious vegetation, the green of the trees, the yellow of the banana plants and the houses with green shutters, the dark brown of the rocks, and beautiful flowers of all colours of the rainbow.
Madeira is about great food and drink: the black sword fish, fried bananas, grilled limpets with lemon, honey cake…and the “poncha”, an alcoholic beverage that will warm your heart, made of cane liquor, cane sugar and lemon; the delicious meat brochettes that you must eat at Estreito, right above Câmara de Lobos where the first sailors saw the sea wolves…
Madeira is about swimming in the sea and feeling on top of of the world and then going up to Pico do Arieiro, the second highest mountain on the island and the one you can reach by car – as to Pico Ruivo, the highest, you have to walk – and venturing a bit further in the narrow mountain walks and there literally be on the top of the world and experience the unique feeling of being close to God.
Madeira is all about a million lights exploding on New Year’s Eve. And so much more. For me, Madeira Island means wonderful moments, a beautiful and unforgettable love story, a friendship of a lifetime, music – the delightful folklore – and always, time after time, marvelling at how God has made a place on Earth so beautiful and so magical.
Madeira is my very special place in the world, even if I was not born there. Every time I watch it from the plane as it approaches a huge emotion invades me and I feel exhilarated. My eyes fill with tears of joy and I feel like singing. I feel completely happy. And I never leave without tears in my eyes.
But for now I will not think of leaving, only of arriving. I will be going back soon. And I will feel happy, because it will feel like coming home. To this beautiful, wild, green, mountainous island that I love. That I keep deep inside my heart.