October 2, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Village of the Chickens

Village of the Chickens, Madeira Island, February 1985

Madeira Island is a mile-high volcanic mountain range that sticks up out of the Atlantic off the coast of Africa. No place is flat on this island. They even had to build the treacherously-short, airport runway on bolders just to create a flat place.

I was at a spectacular viewpoint In the middle of the island watching the birds dive into the valley and become so small you couldn’t see them anymore when I noticed this village through the haze, as the sun revealed it from the darkness. The tourists found it fascinating that anybody dare live there when the Portugese woman standing next to me said that it was called the Village of the Chickens. It got that name because the small farming community seemed to barely cling to the side of a mountain so steep that the goats were faint-hearted and chickens were the only livestock that wouldnt fall off.

As you can see, the farmers couldn’t even make a flat terrace and the land above, below and to the sides is too steep stand on, much less farm. This woman had distant family that lived there still and had visited as a kid. When she was young, the only way to leave it was a steep path over the mountain. It took inhabitants an entire day to get to the captial of Funchal, only seven miles away. Since then, the government had built a real road on the other side of the mountain that cut the trek down to about an hour, half of that was still climbing over the top to get to the road.

Despite my fear of hights, I managed to trek on Madeira on some of the most beautiful hiking trails on the planet. The pinnacle, literally, was the five-mile long trial between Pico Arieiro (third highest peak on Madeira) to Pico Ruivo (the highest) that dips 3,000 ft down into the valley along the way. There were spots where the railing fell off. I found myself standing on a chiseled, three-foot-wide, skree-strewn trail with a rock face on one side of me and nothing on the other. Looking off the edge into the haze, the ground more than a third-of-a-mile below, there was this feeling that there was no bottom. That if you fell, you’d fall forever. Strangely, with nothing for your eyes to lock on below, your fear of heights can become suspended. Maybe that’s why people can live at such a steep angle that even the goats were wary of.

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Learn how this photo was copied from a 35mm Kodachrome slide with a Moment 10x Macro lens and an iPhone.

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