Science fiction in real life.

18th September 2021

Porto Santo Harbour, Porto Santo

 Many eons ago a creature crawled out of the primordial soup, stopped using their gills, grew legs and ultimately turned into man. This took millions of years and was coined by Darwin as evolution. As we have toured Porto Santo we have evolved from walking on 2 feet, to rolling on 2 wheels and finally gliding on 4. This evolution was essential and allowed us, in our evolved state, to unlock otherwise hidden gems.

Before we were to evolve, we lucky enough to be invited to sample the most basic of lifeforms; Algae. Porto Santo hosts Europe’s largest algae factory and in the company of the marine biologists from Copepod we toured the facilities. It was like a scene from a science fiction movie and could in time, like the best plots from science fiction, save the world.

High above our heads algae grew in huge test tubes, filled by the seawater of the harbour and aeriated by waste CO2 from the power plant. The critters loved this environment and could turn the tubes from totally translucent to radioactive green and in just a matter of hours, their weight would double time and time again and when they doubled no more they could be harvested. We were given a vision of this resolving global food shortages while at the same time reducing the acidity of the ocean, cleaning all the pollutants and removing CO2 from the air.

Full of vigour that we are not all doomed, we took off on foot to survey the coastline of this amazing island. The plan was simple, hike the coastal path, take in the hills over the harbour and then simply follow our noses back down to the boat. The ‘follow our noses’ bit had been described to us as ‘sketchy’, but until we got there, we didn’t quite know how sketchy, sketchy was.

The coastal path was dramatic in the extreme. Black volcanic rock sat right next to stark yellow sandstone while the blue ocean sat under towering hills. The views also didn’t disappoint as around us a scene of ancient volcanoes made this feel like the land that time forgot. Now all we had to do was get down.

Following our noses, the path got steeper and steeper and had been changed by years of erosion into a surface that was ideal for sledging but not for walking and we then happened upon a cliff that once would have been a waterfall. Deciding that this was beyond even our adventurous limits we turned tail and what we’d just slid down was now impossible to walk up. We were literally between a rock and a hard place.

Out of options Iain took the plunge, jumped and hoped for the best. The best was an inelegant landing with half the cliff following, but he was down. Now it was Fiona’s turn. We tried going forward, backwards, sideways, but every way Fiona’s legs didn’t get any longer and her centre of gravity remained in the middle of her body. Finally, after using Iain as an impromptu stairway Fiona was down, full of both adrenalin from her body and silt from the hill. That wasn’t just sketchy, that was sketchy as f*ck!

We decided that, if we wanted to see more of the island, we’d have to grow 2 wheels and that’s exactly what happened when the Brompton bikes came out. Beaches that ran on forever were cycled along and deserted little coves were discovered, but all the time the ever-present extinct volcanoes looked down on us and these needed exploring.

Thinking that no hill is beyond a Brompton Iain took off at breakneck speed and quickly discovered that the only way you’ll get a Brompton to the top of a volcano is by carrying it. Something had to be done and so we evolved again, this time to 4 wheels and a big engine.

Buddying up with Cerulean, the 4 wheels and engine took us effortlessly to all the top spots. We wandered around basalt columns, before taking in miradouro after miradouro in ever more remote parts of the island which tested the little car to the limits. Spying one particularly big hill with one particularly steep road the centre of gravity went back and back threatening to flip us over backwards and then as we pointed the bonnet downhill things were reversed. Rolling down, Iain took Fiona’s* squeals as signs of delight and encouragement with his competence at piloting the legendary off-road Corsa.

Although we have evolved our land based transport mechanisms, our preferred method of aquatic movement is still the fine ship Ruffian and the calls of the towering hills of Madeira are on the horizon and growing stronger by the day.

* While Fiona was squealing Helen from Cerulean was resolutely silent and Steve egged Iain on in only the way a native NZer could.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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