Thursday, 30 September 2010

Madeira weekend (cont.). Part 2

25th September
One of the disadvantages of having a tight schedule or being within a group is that you can't always stop where you would like to and if you do, it  may just be for a few seconds. I wish I had had more time to stroll along this coastline with its impressive modern statues. The temperature was ideal to do so, but the peak of Namorados was to  be the next stop and  having never been to that belvedere overlooking Curral das Freiras was something I was really looking forward to.  

São Lourenço fortified Palace  (Left) and statue in the centre of the city.

Two different perspectives of the same modern statue on the promenade of Funchal Bay.

The view over Curral das Freiras ("Nuns' Valley), as seen from Boca dos Namorados was in fact breathtaking ... (Its name derives from the fact that in 1566 Nuns from the Santa Clara Convent fled from the French pirates attack to Funchal and found seclusion here).

View over Curral das Freiras (Left). At Boca dos Namorados Belvedere (Right)

We then proceeded down the hill in a 4x4 "safari" like adventure, until we reached Câmara de Lobos to try a traditional drink called "Poncha" (which dates back to the ressurgence of the sugar cane in 1854 and is basically brandy diluted with water, lemon and sugar or honey).The picture on the right depicts the last part of the mixing process with a dented wooden stick called "Mexelote".

The next stop over was Cape Girão, the second highest cliff in the world.

I must confess I was speechless when facing such grandeur ... as I looked at the immense  blue sky, as if it were an extension of the wide open sea ... The beauty of the whole coastline expanding to the left side was inebriating ... and there seemed to be beauty everywhere ...

We returned to our hotel room by late afternoon, in order to get ready for a luxurious dinner which was going to be held at the São João do Pico fortress (completed during the reign of Duke of Bragança in 1540).

The dinner was preceeded by a cocktail within the fortress walls, from which you had an absolutely magnificent night view over Funchal, as magnificent as the dinner itself and the surrounding atmosphere ...

Night view of Funchal from the fortress (Left). During the cocktail (Right)

A day I will certainly remember for a long time ...

Note: Last photo (on the right) courtesy of Sofia Azevedo

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Madeira weekend , a short illustrated story ... (24th - 26th September 2010) - first part

24th of September 2010
The annual trip proposed by the organizing cabinet (Gabcim) of our enterprise was Madeira island and a two day circuit, which sounded "promising" and even challenging, taking into account the limited amount of time we had to see all that we were expected to.

Irrespective of having already been to this particular island several times before, (I must admit that) in no way did this negatively interfere on my decision to go, nor did it diminish the enthusiasm with which I headed to the airport on Friday afternoon.

What none of us had expected was a 2 hour delay  before having been allowed to board the plane (Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro). By the time we reached Madeira, the dinner we all had been longing for (Beef skewers accompanied by fried cubes of cold polenta), made us forget all the moments of boredom and  tiredness, we had had to endure at Lisbon Airport.

The aircraft soon after having landed at Funchal airport  (Left).
The agency bus waiting for us outside the terminal (Right)

25th of September 2010
The humidity, which is often felt around this area, affected me (and a few others), though the vibrant colours of the local market (Mercado dos Lavradores) soon made me forget I had a strong pain  on my back ... as I wandered around two of the three existing floors ... fascinated with the  wide variety of flowers, sold by women wearing  the adapted "traditional" dress (striped skirt made out of linen and  rough woolen fabric called "seriguilha", a blue or red cape, flat boots and  a cap with a pointed tip which looks like an upside funnel, which initially appeared in the XIX century and included a bodice of corduroy embroidered in white and a white shirt pleaded and  fastened around the neck).

Selling flowers outside (Left) and inside (Right) the market.

A market dweller wearing one of the few pieces  of typical Madeiran dress (cap with ear flats), which can still be seen today (Left). Dried fish for sale on the groundfloor of the market (Right). 

We then headed for  a very short visit to the  XVth century Sé Cathedral,  built on the orders of Dom Manuel I and located in the second oldest quarter of Funchal, where the sugar mercants are said to have settled in the same century.

Images of the Sé Cathedral's interior with  details of its painted roof (Left) and main Chapel (Right). 
The exciting trip along the coast on a catamaran was to follow. As we were walking on the harbour prior to sailing off,  I noticed a few paintings on its wall, that I just couldn't help photographing ...

The female figure seems to always have been on sailors' minds ... no matter where they come from ...  and these I found to be particularly interesting ... (the subtle provocative position of the arms of the one on the left and the  discreet intensity of the expression of the one on the right) ...

Paintings on the harbour wall

The amount of different vessels anchored on the harbour was sufficiently impressive ... but the catamaran we were to sail off on ...  soon  caught my attention ...
I would be lying if I were to say that I was not a bit aprehensive at the beginning ... but the thrill of the sail took  hold of my emotions ...  and in no time I was feeling  as comfortable as a long time experienced sailor ...  

The harbour (Left). "Our" catamaran (Right).

Although I didn't risk doing what some of my colleagues did (lying down on one of the front nets of the catamaran ... or  even diving during the short halt in front of Cape Girão) ... I  feel I fully enjoyed the sailing experience along  this part of the island, especially because one gets a completely different perspective of Funchal and the neighbouring villages from the coastline ...

Approaching Cape Girão
(Left). Another catamaran (Right)

As we were walking on the harbour peer again,  on the way to a restaurant located right in front of it two more paintings caught my attention ..., mainly   because of the expressions ... and the simple defining lines ... as well as the mermaid statue placed just a few seconds away from where we were having lunch (fresh tuna fish fillets in onion stew sauce).

Paintings on the harbour wall
Mermaid statue at the harbour peer

The afternoon circuit started off just across the pavement from this statue, (which I incidently found quite interesting ...) ... and although most of us were feeling in need of a "siesta" ... the proposal was too exciting for any of us to consider missing it ...  

(to be continued)

Friday, 24 September 2010

2001 Circuit around the Cape Verde islands - Fifth stop - Santiago island

(I have been so busy writing about my recent trips that I ended up stopping half way through the sellection of the photos to illustrate my 2001 Cape Verde circuit  memories).

 São Jorge dos Orgãos Botanical Gardens specimen

Santiago, the largest island remained as the other islands, (except Fogo) unexplored or exclusively exploited for both salt and grazing for hundreds of years.

I decided to stay at an aparthotel in Achada de Santo António ... but getting there by taxi proved to be an "adventure", for which I paid twice the price I was supposed to, taking into account the distance. The taxi driver having been quite charming and convincing, managed to lure me into paying him that excessive amount.
The good weather was so tempting that the day of my arrival (late afternoon) I walked down from the aparthotel Holanda towards  Quebra Canela beach.

The following day I "explored" Plateau and everything it had to offer the newcomers, from a "Rabelados" exhibition of artistic pieces made out of clay at the French Cultural Center to the views off the plateau down to the sea.

Assomada village market

Having bought an around the island circuit, the next morning we drove to the Botanical Gardens in São Jorge dos Orgãos (where we were shown around the garden with its hundreds of endemic species). We then headed to the market of Assomada (where all sorts of colours, smells and typical market yellings were mixed into a joyful atmosphere) on our way to the beautiful bay of Tarrafal, not before having stopped at the now desactivated concentration camp at Tchon Bom, just outside the village, which was known as the "Slow death camp" or the "Death village", when it housed Portuguese anti-fascists and political prisoners back in 1936 and later (in the 1960s) independence fighters from Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea- Bissau.

The conditions in which these prisoners were detained led to an international protest in 1954, but it was not until 1974, just a few days after the "Carnation Revolution" in Lisbon that its gates were thrown open. The endless list of those who died and what caused their death (from dysentery to typhoid fever) is the only"vivid" reminder of what happened there apart from the detention buildings.

Bay of Tarrafal (Left). Concentration camp, Tchon Bon, Tarrafal (Right)

On the way back to Praia, we stopped at Pedra Badejo, a small fishing village where we had, amongst other local cuisine plates,  a very special fish soup, whose taste I still remember to this day.

The following two days were entirely spent in Cidade Velha, (the once proud town, which has had nearly 300 years of a decaying process since the French robbed it of its wealth in 1712 has been recently designated a UNESCO site).

Remains of one of the first houses built by the settlers in Cidade Velha  (Left). Thatched-roof houses along Rua da Banana in Cidade Velha (Right).

The last day  around Santiago (before flying to Fogo island) was spent at the bay of San Francisco, to which I had to walk, as there were no "aluguers" going in that direction.

I was astounded by its natural beauty ... and although I was exhausted as I reached it under the blazing sun, it was worth the effort.

I left the area by late evening  ... but  having been revigorated by the sea breeze and the sea, the walk back didn't feel that hard ...   

Bay of San Francisco

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The new school year in Cape Verde (20th of September 2010)

The new school year has officially started in Cape Verde and Sibylle has just sent me the photos she has taken to all the girls and boy (whose Portuguese "Godmothers" have sent money to) after having herself taken care of whichever was necessary for them to attend school.

Nelsinha and her great grandmother (Left) with her new school bag on her back.

Ivanilda (Left) and Leinira (Right) looking at the new school bag and material.

Eduardo (Left) and Justina (Right) showing their new school material.

Tarine showing her new school bag (Left)Tarine, Simone, Ivanilda and Leinira proudly doing the same (Right).

Amongst the thousands of things Sibylle already has to do, I have asked her to thorough and wisely spend the money my friends and I send for the children, rather than having them (unthoughtfully) mispend it.

 I, therefore owe Sibylle my gratitude for having accepted this request of mine, in the name of what are the best interests of the children involved.

May God bless her ...

The weekend at "Monte dos Pensamentos", Estremoz - Alentejo (18th-19th September 2010)

The main entrance

Mia and I had been wanting to have a weekend out of the stressful daily routine of Lisbon, and although she  had offered me a "Life is beautiful" voucher a few months ago and we had already looked through the potential "Rural" guest houses and hotels we could sellect from, we hadn't yet had the opportunity to actually do it.

Our choice fell on "Monte dos Pensamentos" a rural house which  had once belonged to a Portuguese writer and following his demise was turned into a guest house. The whole setting was superb, in as much as it was close to the city, though surrounded by pasture land and vineyards. The interior was extraordinarily well decorated in a rustic like style. Regarding the commodities, there was nothing we would have further needed.

The bedroom and the breakfast room

The surrounding property and the swimming pool

We still had time to wander around the city, the local handicraft fair, the square with its typical Cafés  ...

and  finally climb up the medieval castle King Dom Diniz built for his wife Queen Isabel, the Saint.

On the way to the castle (Left). At the castle walls (Right)

The Castle entrance gate (Left) Statue in honour of Queen Isabel, the Saint (Right) and the Chapel (underneath)  

The vast surrounding plains were as impressive as the atmosphere itself cradling in languour ...

I cherished every  single moment I spent with my daughter around this area and like old time soldiers who had  once "conquered" Alentejo, we  returned to the bustling Lisboa, whose streets are in no way comparable to the old alleys in downtown Estremoz ...