Saturday, 5 April 2014

Frogs on a Volcano?

Only two hours away from Madeira Island is her sibling, Porto Santo.
Its discovery dates as far back as to 1418, although the term is maybe not fully appropriate: The Portuguese sailors João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira were actually going southbound the African coast when their caravelles were struck by a violent storm and then drifted westward with wind and current. The weather still roaring, they found an island to seek shelter, which they called thankfully "Holy Harbor" - Porto Santo.
Early life on the small island (Porto Santo is 15 times smaller than Madeira) was harsh, as there was no real supply with drinkable water.
You may wonder why, knowing about the richness in water on the bigger sister and given the fact that both are of exactly the same volcanic origin. 
Well, it's all about topography; Madeira's mountains rise up to about 2000 m and are thus an efficient obstacle for the high mists or low clouds that brush the Madeira landscape, forcing them to precipitate. These rainfalls, however, are the one and only source of water on Madeira, making it a Garden Eden. But if the same clouds travel across a rather low island like Porto Santo - nothing happens.
So the first impression here is rather barren, and one starts to wonder why so many people take the ride over from Madeira. (Even Christopher Columbus moved away in early years, as we are told in the museum house.) But once you start exploring the place you change your opinion fast. Porto Santo has its charms elsewhere: An array of  medium-sized hills dominates the island, offering stunning views onto the shoreline in many places. Or - onto the beach... Yes, there is one, golden and proper and no less than 9 kilometers long. That comes as a big surprise, given the basaltic origin of all the rocks we have seen before. Then, the local authorities have classified this beach as specifically suitable for Thalassa Therapy, on account of the healing properties of the sand. Aha, the plot thickens. So it needs a little geological examination of the golden beach, which is best done by - chewing the sand. No, this is no joke - you can find out if your sand is made of the usual quartz or of something softer. And the first suspicion turns out to be spot on: The sand is easily ground down in the mouth to smaller and smaller grain size, until there is no more crunch - the beach consists entirely of limestone.
So there really is more to the therapeutical properties of the beach than to be a cool place to chill out and relax (which is therapeutical enough for most...). The high content of calcite is apparently good for you, says at least the university of Oslo.
But the ride around the island reveals more. The Quinta dos Palmeiros for example, a fantastic green oasis in the middle of volcanic soil, private garden project of an ambitious local gardener over fifteen years. Her populated it with all kinds of exotic animals, emus, parrots, beautiful finches, aras. But none of the animals seems more out of place than the frogs in the garden pond. 
Almost all the other attractions are manmade, too, like the 18-hole golf course, conceived by the world famous player Balesteros. The airport features a surprising 3.5 km runway, big enough for any type of plane. So Porto Santo is destination for quite a few international airlines. Also their attitude toward sustainability is remarkable, getting 70% of the energy from wind and solar, and creating the diesel fuel for the missing 30% from biomarine algae generators. 
So it is only to be hoped that the 5000 inhabitants are rewarded for their efforts (and their friendliness) by enough, but not too many friendly guests.
Like us.