22 Ağustos 2015 Cumartesi

The Island of Crazy Cliffs; Madeira/Portugal

This is an article written by me after the transnational visit we did with teachers within the EU Erasmus + KA2 School Project. "Peace through Traditional Toys and Games"

Would you be scared if you landed on a small airport built on the 
sticks by the Ocean? What if it was the night and the weather was rainy? I do scare. I land on Madeira Island terribly shaking and holding the chairs of the plane tight. I arrive to a different world, weather, climate, plants, voices and faces.
After flying from Lisbon for 1.5 hour I get surprised to meet the mountains standing like ghosts in the night and wild nature close to the African Coasts.  I, soon, realize that it is not going to be the first thing to be surprised on the island.
The dark green island with lots of volcanic mountains is covered with the banana fields. The high small pieces of lands by the cliffs are supported by strong walls on the skirts of the mountains, turned out to be gardens and life is being
harvested from there.  Once I travel on the island for a while and when you come across with the architectural beauties such as houses, churches, bridges and big walls, I understand that three things have made this island extra ordinarily charming. First, the skilful architects of the island, second the harmony with the nature and the third, people’s hardworking lifestyle. It seems that the whole island and the lands have been touched and treated well by skilful hands. The Portuguese people have succeeded the hard thing that we, in Turkey, haven’t been able to succeed in the Black Sea region which has almost the same geography. They could reshape the nature without fighting with it. They haven’t hurt the nature or done something the nature hasn’t not allowed them to do.  Instead, the Madeirans
have filled the missing things in the nature which make it more liveable. So the nature treats the local people with respect and share whatever it has in her chest. It is strange to witness that the Madeirans are also good at working with lands although they are known as good sailors. Who says the Portuguese are only good sailors or fishermen? The island proves that is not true. 
The Islanders have created more miracles on the island. For example they have planted huge water pipes on the tough mountains to carry the plenty water of the North to the South 250 years ago. You see no limit to craziness here. A walking path has been opened along the pipe for the mountaineers. Today, nature lovers can cross the island from one side to the other following the pipes. Tropical climate exists on the island. The
weather is unpredictable and usually changeable. It can be cloudy, wet, sunny, hot, foggy or rainy during the day. Living in such weather could be annoying for most of the people but for me it is something very special. Different weather conditions mean different plants, views and feelings.

Who are the islanders? Where did they come from?
The discovery of the island is very interesting. The Portuguese sailor Joao Gonçalves Zarco and his friends were dragged to the coasts of island by the storm and they found themselves on this beautiful piece of land accidently. It was in 1419 then. Discovering the island, they brought Algerians from the northern coast of Africa to Madeira.
These people have been assimilated in hundreds of years living with Madeirans. Carlos, who is in charge of education affairs of the island, tells me interesting information about this topic. He says, “the Portuguese people discovered and owned a lot of colonies in the world. Since they didn’t have strong military forces they didn’t try to assimilate the native people by force. Instead, they preferred to marry the local people so that they could assimilate them”. Carlos, who is originally from Mozambique, keeps telling me and I listen to them attentively and carefully. “When the sailors discovered the island they saw that the entire island was covered with jungles. So the named the island, Madeira, which means timber. The first inhabitants of the island believed that beasts were living in the forest and they were
scared to go into the jungles. So they were mad enough to burn the jungles of the island. The fire lasted for seven years and the island was saved from the beasts and trees. It was strange to realize that the fears of the human being were lessened a lot through the information collected and evaluation experienced. Enjoying talking, Carlos, keeps telling things about the island. “After the fire, the islanders planted banana and grape trees. However, the seeds of the jungle trees appear again since the seeds were stronger than the fire. Eucalyptus, pine trees and other beautiful tropical trees are now under protection in the national park of the island”. It was not surprising to witness that human being has the potential of destroying and building again.

Madeira, with the population of 270 thousand people, has a couple of cities and many villages with scattered settlements. It has been an autonomous region since 1974. The island has a flag, a regional parliament and its own system. Observing the life quality, the streets and education standards the autonomous system is not something horrible as most of the people think like this in Turkey. By the way, I haven’t come across any policemen or soldiers during one week of my stay. Madeirans make their lives by growing bananas, making wine and tourism. The hotels build on the high points of the hills with the ocean landscape usually host tourists coming usually from Europe and Scandinavia. More than one million tourists (four times more than the population) visit the island every year. It is
relieving to see that tourism is also possible without destroying the nature and the local people. I see that people, mostly, do their job in a respectful way and with attention. Moreover, unlike the western European countries the island is relatively cheaper. The accommodation at a five star hotel costs around 40-50 Euro, a good espresso coffee is 60 cent and a beer in pubs costs 2 Euro. Fish and cheap is dirt cheap.
The Madeirans have proved that hospitality is not only common in Anatolia or the Eastern parts of the world. The mayor, school teachers, the students and parents have welcomed us warmly. One of the universal attitudes of showing hospitality; ‘forcing the guests to eat’ is so common on the island, too. Meanwhile, despite the economic crises that Portugal has been suffering for a while, I can
easily notice that the life standards of people and their behaviours have not changed a lot. There are 21 teachers, 11 workers employed for 160 students of the school. Seeing this, I wished to have the crises in my country than maybe we could have more workers at my school in Turkey J. We have 14 teachers and only one worker employed for 360 students.
I could see some other differences between Turkey and Portugal during my stay. For example in Turkey the governments have build large roads whereas the Portugese people on the island have built big schools with big gardens, gymnasiums, football pitches and sometimes auto parks despite the difficult geography.  Anyway, let’s talk about nicer things now; the Madeiran cuisine. It is not surprising to see that the best dish of
the island is fish. However, as the island is in the middle of the ocean there is a big variety of fish and the taste is so delicious. I have enjoyed the fish marinated with garlic, spices, olive oil or butter. Shark is the best option to eat this way. The lovely friend of the fish is the special wine of Madeira which makes your eyes closed with pleasure.  The other dishes such as mussels, yummy rice and potatoes with meat are some of the rich Madeiran cuisine. In some restaurants you are served grilled meat in sticks hanged down an iron hanger which is set on each table. Banana is the common sweet taste at every meal during the day. By the way, seeing the endless fields of banana on the island it reminds me of the Turkish writer, Ece Temelkuran’s novel, ‘the Sound of Bananas’ written by her in Beirut. Ece tells in the book that the bananas grow up fast during the night and they produce sounds like ‘chit, chit.’ It would be amazing to spend the night in the tent and listen to these sounds here in a banana field here.  

Would you like to travel on the island with me? Are you ready to be scared, surprised and amazed?

The bus goes up through the narrow roads with deep cliffs, the ocean appears and gets lost every
minute and I scream and watch the miracle fields and the beautiful house built at the high hills of the mountains. The driver gives breaks by the cliffs higher than one thousand metres and I find the opportunity to gaze at the cute villages placed in the valleys and dream about life over there. It is an unusual feeling that gives me the creeps. When you see the banana trees so small (as big as fleas) through glass balcony placed over a cliff and you walk on it, it feels like you lose a big piece from your heart. It makes me sure that Madeira is an island of crazy cliffs. The cliffs make me feel great. I guess you should avoid flat cities to live in or you cannot experience a colourful life. The cliffs, adrenaline, water, wine and quite faces of people. What else would you need? After following the dangerous road for a while
and drive down I reach the small village in the valley like the palm of my hand among the mountains. This village is called Curral das Freires. I come here with my colleagues to discover the local toys and games on the island. We meet the old people near the beautiful cemetery and the white church. Then, we start making toys with them and at the end we fly the kite we do together over the church across the high mountain. The theme of the kite flying is peace and friendship among countries, people and all livings of the earth. We get on well with the local people although we don’t understand the language. However, we can understand each other. A smiling face doesn’t need a language. This is the best way of communication.
We have lunch in the village building where the old people meet to play cards, do laces, handicrafts and chat to forget death. I forget my world, where I come from, who I am and my lifestyle. This is the award of travelling. I am lucky to be the grandson of a woman who earns her life by travelling between villages and read the future of people. I owe my nature of traveller to her. For happiness we need travelling. If you don’t spend some time in the local bazaar of a city that means you miss the biggest part of the city. You can spend one day in the bazaar with the flower, fruit-vegetable and fish parts in Funchal city of Madeira. The tropical fruits which you can eat their seeds only, the colourful flowers as bright as parrot feathers and lots of weird fish that I used to see in the books of old sailors’ stories
help you discover the island much better. When the sellers force me to taste, buy and let me bargain I feel myself in my county. It is something familiar to many cultures of the world. Bazaar is a bazaar. Isn’t it?  If you think you have enough time in the crowd and feel like having fresh air and some space you go out of the bazaar within a few steps and meet up with the large streets with lots of mosaics, old buildings and old trees with interesting yellow flowers that cover the area. It is the time of espresso. While sipping the espresso with lovely flavour you notice the statues which provoke your imagination and complete the life itself. You sense that life without the statues on the island would be impossible. Espresso helps you regain your strength.
It is time to visit a museum with 2000 toys which belongs to a Maderian man. This visit tells you the time period you have lived with toys till today. And then you can enter into the old and magnificent cathedral of Funchal to experience the spiritual part of the island.  

Let’s go to the seaside? A short walk along the ocean. And maybe swimming in the salty water. You can see the statue and the museum of the famous footballer, Ronaldo, near the port. He is from this island and he is the hero of the island. When you raise your head and look over the port you will notice a hill with a flag. This hill is a republic. I am not joking. It is an independent country.
An art teacher who fights with the system declares his independence. He produces electricity with solar panels, makes his life by fishing and does all of his jobs asking no help from the local government nor from the municipality. You can see the population of the hill (0001 people) under the waving flag of the republic. I smile with happiness and admiration because I respect the people who turn their utopias into reality. As you see not only the island but also the people are crazy here. Now, we climb up another hill by cable cars. Time for high adrenalin. You can watch the endless ocean, the pretty old houses with red roofs, the flowers, the goats in the fields, the historical streets and the slow world running beneath your feet.
The story ends here all of a sudden although there are more pages to read about the island. My eyes and the soul are not satisfied yet. I still feel the taste of the coffee and the wine. But I have to come back to reality and go back home. I change my mind at this moment. Madeira is not a lonely island in the middle of the ocean but we are lonely in the mainland.
Mehmet Ates
June 2015, Izmir/Turkey

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