From Boa Morte to Ribeira Brava and back

We are exploring the southern part of Madeira now. On Christmas Day, when most everything is closed, we somehow end up at a place named Boa Morte — “the Good Death”. It is a small village, placed high up on the mountain side. A trail goes from here: we can either follow the levadas to the next village, or we can walk down the steep mountain side through narrow streets down to the city — Ribeira Brava — “the Wild Stream”.

For pragmatic reasons (there will be food at the other end if we go for the city) we make our way down the hillside. The path takes us through narrow alleyways with small houses on either side, through mini plantations of bananas and passion fruit, and land that has been deserted or simply not built upon.

It is a warm day. It is not particularly far — we estimate 3 km — but it is very steep and very hot. It feels like a good work-out session for the knees by the time we descend into the city centre.

Ribeira Brava is sleepy when we get there; few people are out. It is a sunny seaside town that consists of an interesting mix of old and even abandoned buildings and newly built houses. You may also have guessed by now that a stream runs through the city; this is the Ribeira Brava. It runs through town and into the sea; dividing the beach that runs along the edge of town into two.

We get lunch, beer and a good dose of sunshine before walking along the water front. We come to the stream as the tide has starting to come in: with shoes off I wade across and realise that the water temperature is not actually that bad. (But not only am I without a swimming costume and a towel: the waves could be challenge as well.)

Sat on the rocky beach, we allow our feet to dry before starting the climb back up. The return always seems shorter: probably because we have an idea of the distance on the way back. But; it is equally steep and the sun is still hot. We stop for a few breathers on the way; at one point a local village lady starts telling us about how tunnels ruined walking in Madeira. They are happy when they discover that my husband has family on the island, and they want to know all about which village, the family name, etc. For a while I hang on there, but they speak way too quickly for my limited Portuguese. I still realise I understand more than I used to, though.

Then, around a curve at Boa Morte, our car awaits us. We sit down and do the math. We have averaged the walking at a 20% gradient. Note to self: this includes a few stretches on flat ground as well. The next morning my calves are on strike, though the rest of me is fine. I walk down a staircase and feel my legs protesting wildly. It is like someone has beaten them repeatedly with a wooden stick.

I suddenly understand why every household we have seen has cars. And how the place we walked that day came to be known as the Good Death.

Where not to eat: We ate at the O Caixote near the beach. The meat was tough, the mushrooms simply heated from a tin, and the toilets a disgrace.

Recommended: Nice beach side, sleepy city centre. I wouldn’t go there as a main attraction unless you really like the beach (which is rocky, not sandy) but it was nice to stop by.

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