On one cold rainy Funchal, Madeira December night in 2008, I was enjoying the fruit of the gods (some smooth and sweet concoction with not enough honey, citrus and ginger to cover the distilled alcohol aftertaste) with some new friends. The Poncha mixture, as explained by my hosts Tadeu and Jacinta, had not fermented enough for guests but was good enough for friends and family.
Yes, this is the life I lead as a lone traveler: I get off the boat, plane, bus, train, or taxi then unpack my bags someplace and go out to meet the locals of whatever town or city I’m visiting. Sometime later they usually invite to me out for a drink or a meal at their house, tell me about some secret hideaway restaurant or unknown ruin, and/or ask me if I’ve ever had any problems as a single female on the road. And I answer them as though I’ve known them all of my life.
Anyway, I was just regaling my new friends about my life back in the USA when Tadeu got a call on his cellphone from a friend in need. Rather tipsy from the Poncha, we three merrily traversed the rolling hills and valleys thru mist, rain and dark of night and one-way roads to help this friend who had been involved in an accident in the Laurissilva Forest closest to Achadas da Cruz.
Achadas da Cruz is on the far northeast coast of the country, near Porto Moniz, with wonderful vistas from high cliffs and a lava-laced rocky shoreline far below. A teleferico (cable car) will get you from top to bottom and vice versa but due to high winds it was closed both days I went to ride it. The Laurissilva (laurel) Forests in Madeira were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Finally reaching the friend in need, Rafael, we assessed that the car was totaled and should be towed before it caused another accident but the desperate friend was more worried about the sheep he ran over. Tadeu, short but hardy and can drink twice as much as any man I know, had an idea and promptly popped the trunk of his Twingo, picked up the animal by its front hooves, tossed it in, and yelled to us to “get going”.
Of course, I jumped in the backseat as commanded but my warm-fuzzy Poncha-induced haze had dissipated immediately as the smell of blood hit my nostrils; I felt faint and fear had crept into my bones like the rigor mortis that had taken the poor animal sprawled out right behind me.
To this day, I’m unsure whether I was more afraid that the sheep was just unconscious and would soon wake up kicking and bleating or that the Gestapo at the forest gatehouse would decide to inspect the car and cart us off to the local jail for killing an animal on parkland. Fortunately, we weren’t arrested and the sheep was truly dead. Sometime after midnight, I was eventually dropped off at my temporary lodgings and asked if I was available for dinner in three days time. I agreed to the scheme and waved to the departing car while clutching a bottle of Madeira wine that I would most definitely be polishing off that night.
The next day I met up, as scheduled, with my friends from the states and told them of our dinner plans that coming Thursday and, of course, the sheep story that went with the invitation. We visited many sites all around this beautiful island as Luis, who was born in Funchal but left at the age of 11 when his family moved to California, borrowed a vehicle (another Twingo!) from a family member and drove us around.
My favorite spot was Ponta do Garajau where the statue of Jesus Christ looks out towards the Atlantic Ocean beckoning all sinners in the sea to come unto him.
The walk down to the headlands was invigorating yet the climb back up the stairs, as you can see above, was exhausting!
It was such a joy to see places on the island of Madeira where most tourists never venture nor do they have time to savor the site before traveling on to the next one.
Nonetheless, Thursday came and it was time to be treated to a home-cooked meal. It just so happened that Tadeu and Jacinta had invited us up to a new house that they were in the midst of building, at their leisure, in the Achadas da Cruz parish. At that time, the kitchen and dining room were nearly complete and were the only rooms that had a roof over them.
So, while some cousins were grilling meat, a tour of the upper-level gardens and the imaginary second floor in the drizzling rain (it rains a lot in that part of the island) was something that I had never imagined.
And although I was cold and wet and chilled to the bone, the camaraderie of all gathered warmed me through and through. We were treated to delicious appetizers of Lupini beans (tramosos) and olives, Portuguese beer, and more home-made brew. But, best of all, was the road-kill stew.
I had somehow conveniently forgot about that dreadful night and Tadeu laughed at my
aghast surprised face but, my goodness, that sheep was truly… Delicious!