We returned to Los Angeles last night after a seven-week digital nomad stay in Portugal. On our last week, we took a 1.5-hour flight from Lisbon to Madeira, a small volcanic island about 300 miles off the coast of Morocco. I am in love with this island, and I’ll tell you why in this issue.
Madeira (pop. 250,000) is an autonomous region of Portugal, which means it is somewhat independent of Portugal. I’m guessing it’s similar to how Puerto Rico has a degree of autonomy from the United States.
Madeira’s capital is Funchal (pop. 100,000), making it the sixth-largest city in Portugal. It combines the old and the new that appeals to me. You can walk down a European street with small stores, sidewalk cafes, and gardens and five minutes later, see orchards of banana, breadfruit, and papaya trees.
You can take a short drive out of Funchal and find yourself in stunning nature preserves with forests, waterfalls, and hiking trails (I shot this video from the plane as we approached, which gives you an idea of how mountainous it is). When we rented a car and drove around the island, we were surprised by how many tunnels there were. It felt like driving through a brick of Swiss cheese. At first, I was not too fond of the tunnels because they prevented us from enjoying the scenery. But I changed my mind after missing an exit, which took us on a treacherously narrow and steep cobblestone road over the mountains. The rental car had a stick shift (almost no cars in Portugal are automatics), and the clutch was worn, making it even more nerve-wracking to wend our way through the rugged terrain. I was grateful to get back on the tunnel system.
One of my favorite towns we visited on Madeira was Ponta do Sol (pop. 9,000), on the island's southwestern coast. We arrived around lunchtime and found a parking spot in a large tunnel next to the water. I don’t know if it was legal to park, but other people were doing it, so I followed suit. Because we are in the low season, there weren’t many people there. As we walked up and down the steep cobblestones of the village and passed closed shops and shuttered windows, we hardly saw anyone else, which added to the mysteriousness of the place. I felt like we were in The Village from The Prisoner. “The village and its surroundings evoke culturally rich days gone by,” says this website, “preserved like a ghost town, with a mystical air eerily reminiscent of something out of the work of Lynch or Cronenberg.”
Carla and I were intrigued by an art deco building built against the cliff. It said CINE and had a logo of the Sun with a face. We walked up the road to investigate and found that it was boarded up. I looked it up online and learned that it had been built in 1933 by “visionary and aristocrat António Marques Teixeira,” according to the Ponto do Sol Municipality website. On July 15, 1934, it opened to the public and seated 300 people. Moviegoers would come from other parts of Madeira by boat to see movies by Charlie Chaplin and others. Tragically, Teixeira died in 1935, and the theatre shut down. According to the 2012 Madeira Micro International Film Festival website, which was held in the theatre, Teixeira’s descendants still live in the house next door.