I take the morning boat to Porto Santo, Madeira’s little sister. I am in Macaronesia, the five archipelagos of the Azores, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira and the Selvagen islands. Macaronesia is a modern biogeographical term, originally the name that the ancient Greeks gave the islands west of the Strait of Gibraltar. It means “the blessed islands”.
Why Madeira is a popular destination is easy to understand: it’s like a big greenhouse with amazing plants, with fresh and tasty water, clean and tidy, cars stopping for pedestrians and a lot of fish on the dining tables. One of the tastiest is the espada fish with black skin and white flesh that lives at a depth of 800-1200 meters daytime but goes up to 400 meters at night, which is why it is fished at nighttime. Right now, potatoes are delicious, strawberries grow on terraces, mimosa and magnolia bloom, the mini banana tree offers small sweet bananas all year long and the sugar cane is harvested and brought in haste to the refinery.
Madeira consists of two islands and I am on my way to n:o. 2 – Porto Santo. The journey takes two and a half hours by ferry m/s Lobos Marinha (“the Sea Lion”), a thousand tonner built in Portugal ten years ago taking a thousand passengers and 145 cars . We are traveling on Portugal’s sea, 1.7 million square kilometers, a thousand times larger than the my home islands’ Åland dry + wet surface.
I am in the company of dolphins, fulmars, islanders on their way home and Germans on holiday. When we come ashore I buy a map and rent a quad bike for the day. Porto Santo is an old volcano, standing like a Swiss alpine summits at the bottom of the sea which is a breathtaking 3,000 meters deep. The island is golden with long sandy beaches, yellow cliffs, steep mountain scenery, Atlantic color between the mountains and Atlantic light on them.
The quad bike is perfect to get around, the roads are great with rails where needed, dizzying vistas, friendly people who greet me (I encounter not more than ten cars outside the city). This is off-season with 5,000 inhabitants on the island. The 25.000 summer inhabitants are soon arriving as well as the tourists of course. In summertime, every youngster has a job, wintertime half of them are unemployed . This is typical for islands.
The island is blessed with a marvelous environment but still needs energy. Six years ago (2009), the whole island uses 74,000 MWh per year, half of which is electricity and half is oil. Most of this energy is spent on transportation – but ferries and flights are not included (yes there is an airport here). Much of it is consumed by the service industry which includes hotels, commerce and street lighting. A small part of it is used by the manufacturing industry including desalination of seawater. The total carbon dioxide emissions are 37,645 tons = nearly 7 tons per islander.
This is not satisfactory why Porto Santo in 2010 built a large photovoltaic park and a generator based on microalgae. By 2020 it is estimated that biomass (algae) will provide 20,000 MWh , solar energy will add 5,000 MWh and wind power will account for 4,000 MWh, while fossil fuels will account for only 10,000 MWh. Carbon dioxide emissions will have dropped to 21,236 tons, which is less than 4 tonnes per capita.
Right now, not so much energy is used as most restaurants are closed for winter (the service industry not spending its third of energy). I drive down to a beach with a view of the lighthouse on Ilheu da Cima. I spot a lonely restaurant with an door open ajar and stop to ask and yes, certainly, I am welcome lunch says the friendly woman who is wiping the tables.
She serves me on the terrace facing the sea with the precipitous Pico de Macaricos (285 m) hillside to my left. I am offered grilled cod which her husband fished this morning. Cod was the Portuguese staple food for centuries, they eat more cod than anyone else in the world and there is said to be more than one thousand different recipes. The one I get is cooked with onions, olives, chili, egg, salt and pepper. It I served with home made french fries, garlic bread in a basket wrapped with an embroidered cloth, fresh salad and a glass of Madeira’s own beer “Coral”. She takes care of me as if she were my mother. When I peek into the restaurant, I see that the family eats the same food as I do.
A couple of red falcons rise and fall along the mountain side. The sun is hot, the wind is warm, people are kind. It is a blessed day.