Two years after our first failed trip to Madeira, we decided to try again. I found an amazing offer for the end of August 2012 and convinced my boss that they could spare me even if I missed the beginning of the Brussels rentreé.
This time I planned the trip even more thoroughly. I bought the updated version of the Sunflower guide to Madeira as an e-book, which I browsed on my iPod Touch. I created a spread sheet where I detailed all the main walks and some of the possible variations. We went on regular hikes to improve our condition and spent money on some more hiking gear.
We had a scare in the summer when forest fires raged across the island. But they subsided and our holidays seemed to be in no danger.
On a beautiful sunny morning we landed in Madeira, and as we sat on the terrace of the hotel, looking over the pool and the sea, while eating the most delicious hamburgers, we were happy and expectant. Finally we had made it!
But this state of bliss did not last for long. Things began to go wrong a only few hours later while we were walking in Funchal. My boyfriend complained of pain in his lungs and difficulty breathing. I did not take it very seriously, assuming he was suffering from a lung cramp. I kept insisting on this explanation throughout the evening, until next morning when he was unable to eat his breakfast because he lacked air. Off we went to the emergency room, where 4 hours later we were told that he had a pneumothorax.
My boyfriend spent the entire week of our holidays in hospital, with a tube in his side to extract air from around his lung. If the windows of the hospital had not been painted over until the height of 1.5 metres he might have enjoyed quite a spectacular view, but as it was he only saw the rather dilapidated interior of the old hospital building.
The hospital and the view my boyfriend could not see
I spent the first few days trying to find out whether the hospitalisation could be covered by our insurance. Neither of us had applied for the European Health Insurance Card and everything indicated getting coverage would prove difficult. In addition the doctor said that once my boyfriend was out of hospital, he would not be able to fly for a week. As his release from hospital was postponed day after day, I wondered what we could do about our return. My boss kindly accepted that I would stay for a while longer, even if this meant I would miss the very important Annual Meeting. But, not knowing when we could fly again, I could only explore options, never making an actual booking.
After a few days of stress and hospital visits I made up my mind to make some excursions on my own. I began by taking the bus up to Eira do Serrado and walking down a winding path to Curral das Freiras.
Two days later I booked a group excursion to walk the Levada do Risco and Levada 25 Fontes which was one of the sights I had definitely planned on seeing during my visit. I am happy I did those excursions, but half my mind was occupied with my boyfriend lying in the hospital bed.
I did both walks in the morning, leaving me plenty of time for visiting my boyfriend in the afternoon. In the evenings I would pick-up some food at the supermarket and eat it in my room while watching American crime series, in no mood to sit in a restaurant by myself. I also spent a lot of time on the phone with the representative of the tour operator and my boyfriend’s health insurance company. The longer my boyfriend stayed in the hospital the larger the bills would grow and I knew that neither of us could afford to pay them.
Finally, more than a week after our arrival my boyfriend was released from the hospital. Around the same time we also heard that the hospitalisation, as well as the travel and accommodation for our extended stay, would be covered by my boyfriend’s insurance. Finally we could begin our holiday, although naturally it was not the holiday I had been planning. We spent most of the week by the pool. My boyfriend was not allowed to swim, since the place where the tube had been had to be kept dry, but he stood in the cool refreshing water, while enjoying the warm rays of the sun.
It took a lot of work but finally I did convince my boyfriend to make one hike during that week. I selected an easy path not too far away, to avoid crossing high-lying areas that might trigger another pneumothorax. Unfortunately, I was not aware that valley I had selected was completely ravaged by the summer’s fires.
The valley looks almost autumnal although it should be lush and green.
We also walked around Funchal a little bit. I particularly liked the colourful displays of fruits, herbs and vegetables at the Funchal Market…
…and the art on Rua de Santa Maria.
I still did one final hike on my own since my boyfriend judged it to be too strenuous in his condition. I took the bus to Ponta de Sao Lourenco and hiked towards the point for one hour and then returned the way I came. This landscape was the complete opposite of the lush inland I saw on my first lonely walks. I felt as if I was on another planet, with desolate silver coated rock stretching into the distance.
Looking back, the moments I miss the most are the breakfasts on the hotel terrace, looking at the sun rising above the ocean.
In the end my holidays contained many good moments, particularly during the second week, when I was not panicking about the possibility of us having to cover the cost of the hospital as well as the extended stay and return travel. Looking back at the pictures now it looks like quite a nice trip. But it was not the holiday I had planned and at the time I felt very disappointed.
What I have learned from these experiences is not to make too many plans or have overly high expectations. For my upcoming holidays I have decided to accept whatever happens and make the best of it. If I go to Spain and find it cold and rainy, I will buy lots of firewood and spend the week reading by the fireplace. What can possibly go wrong…?