Apparently there is more to Madeira than the beach, so we decided that it was time to explore the centre and North of the island. As you know if you read day 2 blog we have a hire car. So far though we have only really used it to get from the airport terminal building to the end of the runway (where our apartment is, just next to the wind sock. Have I mentioned that we are close to the end of the runway?). So we decided to see how this little beast performs in a gear higher than 3rd gear (or so we thought).
Our friend from church Annie had leant us a book and in it was driving tour, so we thought we’d do that. Not sure when Annie (and Chris) were here, but there were some new roads that weren’t in their book. The main one being the VR1 which runs along the vast majority of the South coast. VR stand for “Via Rapido” or “fast road” (not virtual reality which disappointed me). Apparently this road was built by the Brits. Mr Alton rang Mr Towers about a new ride he wanted to build, not in Staffordshire but Madeira. They both agreed this job was too big for them so they rang Mr Thorpe who in turn rang his colleague Mr Park. Still needing more backers, they rang Miss Pleasure-Beach. They quickly realised that her idea of a Pleasure on the Beach was not what they had in mind so hastily rang Mr Flamingo and Ms Land. Together they were going to build the craziest, scariest ride in all of Madeira.The plan was to build a road with shocking changes in elevation; going through numerous tunnels which would require the driver to turn their lights on and off at random and traverse canyons on spindly bridges. Then, for that added frisson of danger, everyone would have to drive on the the wrong side of the road and the speed limit was set in Km so no one ever really knows what speed they are doing. And that is how the VR1 came to be built. It’s a fact. Google it if you don’t believe me.
We took the VR1 as far as Funchal and then turned off onto the 103. We were on this road for most of the journey, the only problem being that someone forgot to put the road numbers on the signs. We climbed into the mountains past the banana plantations, through the eucalyptus woods until we reached the barren wasteland that was Pico do Arierio.
Up to this point, 3rd gear had been my favourite gear of the holiday. Today though it was 2nd and occasionally 1st. Still, we got to the top of the mountain and were treated to a spectacle. Unfortunately the spectacle was the parking. The car park was packed andso people were just leaving cars anywhere. We joined suit and abandoned the car on the wrong side the road on a a blind bend. 2 minutes later someone else came along and parked in front of us and so the overflow car park snaked down the mountainside stopping any coach trips from reaching the summit.
As is the way these days at the top of mountains, there was a cafe, gift shop , toilets and in this case, a military radar in a golf ball. Oh and spectacular views (I knew there was something else). We spent a good hour up there (mainly trying to get a selfie we were both happy with). So after a drink, cake, browse around the shop and checking for wifi (there was none. So much for the big golf ball) we headed off.
We spent the rest of the day touring around the villages. During the course of the day we learned 2 things. Just because a town is in bold on the map doesn’t mean that there is anything there (Don’t be fooled by the heavy font on the maps describing Santana. There is nowt there). And a thick line for a road could be a dual carriageway, or a single lane dirt track stuck to the side of a cliff. The VE 4 (Via Excruciating?) was all these. Saying that, we went through some extraordinary countryside. At times the landscape looked like the rainforest, 5 minutes later it was like being in a Welsh wood, 5 minutes later it was like being on Mars (but without Matt Damon. Has anyone seen that film yet? Is it any good?).
The tunnels are amazing as well. We went though one which was over 3Km long (we actually went through that one 3 times as we took a wrong turning. Seems to be a trend this holiday); some that had there own parking and some that started off a tunnel, then turned into a cave and then back into a tunnel. It was after we came out of one on these cave tunnels that we found ourselves on a single track road which clung to the side of the cliff like a mountain goat (if a mountain goat was made out of tarmac, which I don’t think they are) with sporadic crash barriers whose gaps offered exciting views of the waves crashing on the jagged rocks below.
“What happens if you need to pass here?” Karen asked, partly out of interest, but mainly out of fear. We soon found out. The Madeiran works department had decided that today was the day to fix the pot holes in the road. So we found ourselves in a single lane traffic jam. Eventually they called us forward and we all sheepishly squeezed our cars between the rock face and the low loader with the tarmac on the back.
From then on it was back onto stupidly fast roads where I still have no idea how fast I was going. Is 80Km/hr faster or slower that 80 mph?
I have no idea what I am going to write about tomorrow, so you will just have to turn up and hope for the best won’t you?
PS: tonight’s quiz is a crossword. Enjoy.