Tuesday, June 07, 2011

She's back! With a short story...

Bet nobody noticed, but I've been away - hence the deadly hush ;)

And I also bet you can't guess where I've been. OK - I'll put you out of your misery...

Madeira Island! Yay!

If you haven't been around here for long you may have been wondering what the name of my blog, Lauracea, means. It's actually something I feel quite passionately about: lauraceas madeirense or, more simply, the laurisilva forest of Madeira. This forest, which is actively being protected by the environmentally conscious Madeirenses, covers about 20% of the island and is mostly found on the north coast. If you're planning a trip to the island, include some guided walks through the protected forest. I promise you won't be disappointed because you'll be transported back 20 million years and you might find a species or two that have survived since the Tertiary Period.

It's not the first time I've talked about it. There's a post here  if you'd like to know more.

After the cut, there's a little story about a levada walk...



Levadas are, or should be, a Wonder of the World because they're an engineering feat beyond imagination. They're channels of water gouged into vertiginous mountain ledges to transport water for irrigation all over the island. Started in the 16th century when Madeira was discovered, the most recent was finished in the 1940s so that, today, the channels stretch for over a thousand miles all told and even supply the hydro-electric power plant.
You can walk along these channels and enjoy fabulous views (as long as you don't suffer from vertigo).
Here's a short tale about one such walk.

"We don't need a guide," Victor said. "It's easy with this map, look - just carry on along the levada. We'll catch a taxi back to the hotel."
"Are you sure?" Margaret murmured, her finger tracing the page in the guidebook. "Victor, it's fifteen miles and it says difficult. I can't..." She looked down at her sneakers.
"It's fifteen kilometers, that's far less than fifteen miles. We'll be alright - they wouldn't advertise it if it was dangerous, now would they?"
"I don't know. Perhaps they don't know what's dangerous. They're not English you know."

Three kilometers into the walk Margaret couldn't imagine there were enough words to describe "green". The variety was almost too much, ranging from bottle-green as light and shade filtered in through the laurel and giant heather trees, to bright emerald in the sun-dappled clearings. Birds flitted above them, darting in and out of the foliage as they piped a canary-like song that was strangely in tune with the trickle of running water in the levada.
"I'm hungry," Margaret said.
"Yes, I am too. I wonder if there's a cafe or half-way house up here?"
"Don't be daft. There's nothing up here except trees. And tunnels. And mud." Margaret grabbed a tree trunk to steady herself as she lost her footing.
Victor peered at a small bush laden with purple, round berries. "Maybe we could..." He reached out to pick one.
"How do you know they're not poisonous?"
He withdrew his hand as if stung and without another word strode up the path that was becoming narrower and steeper with every step.

"I don't like this," Margaret said, screwing up her eyes against the light as they emerged from a long tunnel. She shivered and wished she'd brought a sweater with her, this t-shirt just wasn't enough. "Can we go back?"
Victor trudged ahead. "It's not worth it," he puffed without turning round. "We're more than half way. Must be."
The clouds looked very close to Margaret, it looked like they were climbing up to heaven. She bent and  drank a refreshing hand-full of water from the levada. They seemed to have been going for an awful long time - so long, the sun looked as if it was getting low. Maybe they should turn back. But Victor's shoulders were hunched in that way he had when he was not open to suggestions. Oh boy, there was another damned tunnel up ahead and it looked even narrower than the others had been.
When they emerged into the fading light at the other end, Margaret brushed frantically at her shoulders. She was sure bats had been in that one. Her hands left green marks on her t-shirt - she'd had to feel her way along by holding onto the slimy sides of the damp walls. God knows what she'd caught - leeches probably.
The sound of rushing water made her stop and take in her surroundings. Dear Lord. That was a waterfall. No, not a waterfall - more like a rushing torrent that dropped in a curtain of water from the top of the mountain and crashed over the path up ahead. "We can't go through that," she stammered. "Victor, we'll have to go back." Her heart sank at the thought of returning through those tunnels. But it was either that or get swept over the side.
Victor licked his dry lips, his face pale in the sunlight. "It's too far to go back. We'll just have to try it. Here, take my hand."
Sidling along the rocky mountain face, hand in hand, they slithered sideways towards the deluge ahead. Margaret screwed her eyes shut and hoped for a quick end as she gasped at the force of the icy water that soaked her and knocked her off her feet. As her feet slid from under her, she knew that at any moment she'd be in free-fall. 'Please God, don't let it hurt'.
But Victor's grip was tight on her arm and she felt his strength as he hauled her upright. Opening her eyes just a slit, she could see nothing but a thick curtain of water.
They inched onwards, clinging to each other and the rock-face and, when she thought she'd have to take a deep breath of water and drown, the gush became a flow, then a stream, then a trickle. Coughing and gasping for breath they leaned on each other as they waited for their heart-beats to slow down. Margaret could feel the warmth of her tears on her freezing face. This was too much. They were stupid for coming out here alone without a guide, without proper clothing, without food and they weren't going to survive another experience like that.
The crunching of branches broke her out of her miserable reverie. The breaking undergrowth grew louder than the roar of the waterfall and she grabbed Victor's hand, her heart-beat starting to race again. They'd been through all that and now some kind of Madeiran yetty was going to get them?
What was that? Whistling?
Margaret couldn't believe what she was seeing. On a diagonal to the levada path, coming up the side of the mountain, as precipitous as Mount Everest, and which no mountaineer would venture without harnesses, helmet, rope and picks, came a wizened old man with a woolen hat that sported a pom-pom and ear protectors. A hand-made cigarette dangled from his lip and over his shoulder he held a huge bundle of roped firewood. He could've been on a jaunty Sunday afternoon stroll in the country as he negotiated the terrain with the ease of a mountain-goat. When he crossed the levada, he caught sight of them which made him pause. He raised his hand in a salute. "Boa tarde," he rumbled and then carried on up the side of the mountain.
Victor and Margaret could only gape in amazement at his hairy climb. Far above, just below the clouds, as if on an eagle's aerie, a patchwork cottage with a thatched roof perched. White smoke puffed from a small metal chimney and a fragrance of fried meat filled the air. Margaret's mouth watered and she stared at Victor who, after returning her look, shrugged.
"It's downhill from now on," he said and started off again along the levada.

9 comments:

  1. That is truly amazing. And a little unnerving without guard rails.

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  2. Wow. Nice to have you back here.
    Karen

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  3. I noticed there was no Lauracea around. Didn't realize we almost lost you forever. What a crazy (but beautiful) trip. :-O

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  4. OH...you are kidding me! That looks amazing! I could use an island right now!

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  5. Thank you! It's a true story (but I'm not Margaret :) )

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  6. This is lovely. I have never been to Madeira but my mother has and she keeps telling me we need to go there. This really whets my appetite. Thank you!

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  7. OH, how fun is that? I'd love to get out of life and live it. ;) Sue, thank you for entering our MC Blogfest! :)

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  8. Thank you Catherine and Elizabeth :)

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  9. Very well written. You have a way with words.

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