Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Off my Beaten Track in Sao Vicente…

North coast, looking towards Sao Vicente
…today and I'm taking a bus ride along the coast road.  Come and join me…

I was up early and breakfast at the hotel in Ponta Delgada was peaceful and quiet.  But, as I can't afford to miss the bus, I didn't linger, as much as I would have liked to have done.
The stop is right outside the hotel.  As I get there I see a little girl dressed from head to foot in pink with a matching rucksack and purse. The latter adorned with sequins.  She's about 6 or 7 years-old, I think, and at first I wonder where her parents are and why they are not here with her.  It becomes quite clear that she knows the crack and I suppose that on an island as small as this, out of the city she's very probably quite safe.  It also transpires that being early for the local transport is the right thing to do.
The bus, an aging volvo that looks as though its best years were more than 2 decades ago, arrives with a cloud of exhaust fumes.  Miss gets on and greets the driver and flashes some sort of card.  Me next and I buy my ticket.  A whole €1.95 for the trip.  Seated and the bus sets off at warp speed.  Round the tight bends along what tiny bit of straight there is available and up hill and down dale, gear lever crunching through the box determinedly.  I have to hang onto the seat in front.  The journey might only be fifteen minutes but it's a quarter of an hour of a stomach-churning fright-fest.  I was pleased when we arrived and I could set my feet on solid ground.
In Sao Vicente just about everyone gets off at the stop in the town's central parking area.  The sun is bright and the blast of heat that hits you as you step off the bus is tempered by the cooler air blowing on-shore from the Atlantic.
The town is tiny (population around 3,000) and as I meander through the shady cobbled streets there seems to be no-one here.  The earliest habitation here dates from the middle of the 15th century.  On the north coast of Madeira, the river valleys are deep with steep escarpments on either side, making living, building and farming more difficult.  The land is rugged and the earth a dark grey.
I take a stroll along the very short esplanade, which could be anywhere.  At one side is the sea, the other a small line of a couple of restaurants, a bar or two, an ice cream parlour, and a churros & pizza place.  The beach is nothing but pebbles of all sizes in a myriad shades of grey.  The sea lashes at the protecting walls and rolls the pebbles back and forth on a palette of charcoal, the rocks and stones gradually worn into tiny particles of black sand.  It's the sheer, and enormous, rock wall on the inner side of the esplanade that reminds you that this is Madeira and nowhere else.  I think the tide is permanently in - no gradual drift back and forth across the long, soft, golden sand of a gently inclined beach.
Back into town and the  cemetery is across a narrow alleyway from the church.  Inside the stations of the cross are paintings, the walls and ceiling are decorated with murals and painted patterns, the retable is as ornate as the one in Ponta Delgada and I'm in awe of the sheer opulence of the place in such a tiny village.
Leaving the cool of the church behind, I step out into the sun and wander through the town centre.  I wish some of my usual haunts at home were as peaceful and as quiet as this place. 
As I meander back towards the bus stop, I see my bus screeching around the corner and out onto the bridge across the estuary.  When I check my watch I realise the bus is 15 minutes early, according to my timetable. I check the time of the next one - it's a two hour wait.  When I compare the timetable, with the info I picked up at the hotel, there seems to be very little correlation.  Not that the driver seems to pay much attention to any of the timetables either!
At the bus stop I'm joined by two other travellers (one Dutch and one Polish) and a local.  We debate the expected arrival of the next bus and the local man gets out his phone and calls the bus company.  There's a fast and furious conversation in Portugese. I haven't a clue of what's being said.  Finally, the man ends his call.
'No bus', he says. 'Only at four'.
I ask about the bus for Ponte Delgada. 'At one', he says and holds up a finger to make sure I understand.  I thank him and decide to go for a beer.  There's a bar with tables and chairs outside just across from the stop.  Ideal, I think, just in case the bus turns up unexpectedly early!
Twenty minutes later and a yellow taxi pulls up.  'Ponte Delgada', the driver shouts. 'You want to come, it's 12 euros'. He already has one passenger and I gulp down the remains of my beer.  As my fare would be the second for the same journey,  I say '10 euros' and hold up the relevant note.  He nods and I accept his offer of a lift.  The journey back is even more of a stomach-churning fright-fest - this driver knows all the short-cuts along the narrowest of streets.  Don't you just love little adventures like these…

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find my little adventure in Ponta Delgada interesting.

You can also find me #OffMyBeatenTrack in Verona and on the island of Sicily