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April 2010 Vol 10 - No 3
Star of the Month: 116 bhp in Purple
Motorcycle Diaries
Tech Talk: Is a bigger engine for you?
Globalizer: When promotion is a good notion
Tech Talk: Safety Equipment
Pic of the Month: World’s liveliest Indian
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Motorcycle Diaries: Emerald & blue

Riding on Madeira and Porto Santo

By Anton Popov,

Star Cruiser Co-Editor,

Star Riders Russia

Travelling is a nasty bug, you know. You get bitten once – and you're lost forever. Be it on two wheels or two wings, my journalist work or leisure – travel has been one of the few things that can make my heart pump real harder. And it's not just the road itself, it's the places also. There's an area in the north part of China that is called 'Inner Mongolia'. And there's a joke among Russian youngsters which says: 'Everyone ought to have his/her own Inner Mongolia'. And that's the exact thing I'm talking about here. There are places on Earth that remain with you forever once you've seen them. It's like having a corner in your heart that will always keep its beauty and peace no matter what happens outside. With time, the hunt for such places becomes your second nature. Today I would like to offer you a sneak peek at one at one of such spots, a real treasure...


There is only one problem with this place. You cannot ride to get there. You have to cross about 800 km of the Atlantic Ocean heading southwest from Portugal's capital Lisboa. You can do it on a ferry with your own bike in the cargo hold and Captain Jack as your company. Or you could do a little cheating: take a plane from the continent and rent your two wheels at the destination. Limited in time and resources as I am, I chose the second option. And never regretted it.

When the plane makes its final wide turn before landing in Funchal airport, you see it all in one glance. From the air Madeira looks like a bunch of flowers cast to float out in the ocean. If you have grown up in a big city, like me, you get dazzled by those colors in an instant. Ocean with its entire range of blue, red tiled roofs and the utter green of carefully tilted earth. Where am I? Middle-Earth? Garden of Eden? Or simply another planet?


 Bike rentals are rather scarce here and the choice of bikes is very plain. My pick was a 125cc off-road Honda. To be honest, I wouldn't imagine riding a rice rocket or even my own V-Star here. The island's only highway is just 100 km long. All other roads are very decent, but they curve and wind like bride's ribbons on a windy day. So it's best to travel light and slow. Anyway, there's so much to see around. One of the best places to ride is the old coastal road in the northwest of the island. There is a new route carved deep into the rock, while the old one balances on the very edge above the ocean. "Enter at your own risk", the road sign says, and for a good reason. At times, rocks come falling from the mountains above; at times, waves come sweeping over. But the trip is worth it. Here you will find the best views on the whole island: vineyards climbing up the steep slopes, waterfalls pouring right into the whirling waves below – all in emerald and blue.


But what makes Madeira beautiful makes it also a hard place for a conventional beach holiday. Those cliffs are spectacular, but they are razor sharp and they are just everywhere. Not a stretch of clear beach on the main island. You really have to be a fish to survive at least a minute off those shores. So the locals invented a thing called piscinas naturales. They choose a more or less level spot and lay it with concrete so that the rocks are not that sharp, then they add a layer of tablets, some shower cabins and chaise longue. What they get as result is a saltwater pool, constantly being refreshed by the ocean waves. Of course, when the sea gets rough, using those pools becomes a tricky sport. But then there is a measure of last resort. And it is literally a resort: the second largest island of the archipelago, Porto Santo.



Boasting a golf course, an air force base and a perfect 9-km sand beach, Porto Santo is usually visited by the Madeirans. So, odd as it sounds, it is a resort for those who actually live on a resort. A two-hour trip by ferry, packed with the locals (especially on weekends) and you are there. The nature here is more ascetic here, than on Madeira. The reason is that, unlike Porto Santo, Madeira has an extensive, over 2,000-km network of levadas, irrigation channels and aqueducts constructed between the XVI century and the 1940s. But Porto Santo has its own charm: quiet and thoughtful, heated by cloudless days and chilled by constant winds from the heart of the Atlantic.



The old windmills are long retired and my 125cc Rocinante is keen on gasoline rather than oats... but still the whole place has some Don Quixote touch. Also, Porto Santo has another feature for daydreamers like me. The small island lies right where the transatlantic air routes link Europe with the Americas. For some reason most of them pass this place almost at the same time of the day. So if you walk out on the beach at about 10 o'clock in the morning, you will see the blue skies slashed by dozens of white inversion traces. They just keep passing and passing west right above the island. At some point you feel like you are under a giant pergola stretched far out into the blue between sea and heaven.

When the ferry took us back to Madeira, I saw the main island burning in the sunset and a thought struck me. I suddenly knew I want to get back here when I get old... or die trying to find a better place.





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