Que de chemin parcouru

The trail seemed easy enough. The hotel offered a free shuttle ride up to the start of the three-hour walk along ‘Levada Nova’.

Levadas are the irrigation channels that carry water down to the seaside towns from the top of the mountains on Madeira. We were visiting the Portuguese island for an extended anniversary weekend, a mini holiday that we take every year around this time. The weather was perfect: spring-like temperatures with a few clouds and a bit of fine rain. Walking along the levadas is a popular activity for visitors to the island.

I was wary of getting in over my head, though. The Frenchman I married all those years ago is far more at ease than I am at altitude; he skis and climbs and can keep going forever. I figured we should start small and see how we went. So we chose the easiest trail.

It started out well. The paths were fairly narrow but flanked by lush vegetation of all kinds on both sides. Madeira was once the world sugar cane capital but these days bananas are the more lucrative crop.

But it quickly got a lot scarier. The narrow path edged along the mountain side with a fairly sheer drop just centimetres away in many places. Where it was steepest, there were barriers — stakes with ropes attached – which provided at least psychological support.

I had to fight my fear of heights to keep going. Coupled with my challenged sense of balance ever since I had inner ear surgery several years ago, the fear of taking a wrong step had me seriously considering walking in the irrigation ditch, lower and away from the edge. But it would have meant slowing down and soaking my feet, so I slogged it out. I was too afraid to stop and take photos of the steepest parts. You’ll have to take my word for it: it was impressive.

We didn’t have a map but had been told the path was clearly marked. No one said anything about a tunnel. Did I mention I also have a fear of the dark, of both open and closed spaces? Basically I am a mess. I thought the man I married thirty-odd years ago would have known this by now.

Reaching the tunnel, I balked. Then ensued a scene not dissimilar to many others we have navigated over the years together.

“No way am I doing this. Are they out of their freaking minds? It’s pitch black in there. Why didn’t they give us torches?”

“Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust.”

“Mine won’t. Wait, I’m going to use my phone flashlight.”

“But you can see light at the end.”

“No I can’t, you’re blocking it.”

“All right, then, just let me step aside…” There was a splash and my scream echoed through the tunnel as I turned my phone light and saw him struggling to right himself from where he had fallen into the ditch.

“Oh, god, are you okay? You could have broken your ankle!”

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me, just get moving.”

I walked as quickly as possible without running in the dark, as the speck of light at the end of the tunnel grew bigger.

We emerged on the other side to a gorgeous waterfall with another sheer drop. I collapsed on a rock. He looked at me and shook his head.

“You’re not your daughter’s father!”

I cracked up. “No, that would be biologically impossible.”

But he was right: I’m my mother’s daughter, not my father’s. My dad is the adventurous one, the guy who goes kite surfing at the age of 86. My late mother’s idea of sport went no further than the dance floor.

I inherited her fear of heights, of enclosed spaces, of flying, of fear itself. I also got her eyes, some of her kindness and a lot of her sensitive soul. Sadly I did not get her ability to cut a rug. From my dad I got a love of the outdoors and some of the exercise gene. Just not at altitude.

We continued on, through gorgeous vistas. Fifteen minutes past the tunnel, he couldn’t find his sunglasses.

“Where did you have them last?”

“On my head.”

“Right. They probably fell off in the tunnel.”

“I’m going back for them. You wait here.”

I put my foot down. I may have even stamped it.

“No way! There is no guarantee you’ll even find them. And I’m not going to wait here for half an hour worrying while you go and look. We’ll buy new ones.”

He was not happy. I reminded him that if we had made it this far together it was because we both knew when to pick our battles and when to cut our losses. We moved on.

A short while later, the path disappeared. We stopped at a fence where it had been washed away. Some other hikers confirmed that the steps we had passed some ways back led down to a different levada, one that would lead us back to the hotel.

On reflection I suppose that marriage is like that trail. Sometimes it is dizzying, and sometimes there are dark passages where you can’t see the light. But you just keep walking, a step at a time, putting one foot in front of the other. You keep the faith. And suddenly you realize how far you have come. Que de chemin parcouru.

Happy anniversary, mon amour!

One of the last sightings of the sunglasses…



  1. Taste of France · November 29, 2018

    OMG it’s gorgeous. So lush! My greatest fear would have been big bugs and snakes. I also have terrible eyesight and dislike finding my footing (which I usually can’t see). However, I find it’s better going up–it’s getting down that I have a problem with, always afraid I’m going to pitch forward into the void (including on escalators).
    Happy anniversary. Wishing you many more.

    • MELewis · November 29, 2018

      Wow, I never even thought of snakes! (A new one to worry about…lol). The great thing at this time of year was few pests and really comfortable temperatures. You sound like my husband: he also prefers going uphill. I must say downhill is harder on your joints but not so challenging for the heart. We walked up some ski slopes of streets in Funchal that almost had me in cardiac arrest! Also, I find it less scary to face the void than have it at my back. Thanks for your wishes! 😊

  2. phildange · November 29, 2018

    It’s a pleasure to see you and your mysterious French lover . May I infere that you eventually survived ? (if it is so, blink twice) .
    Nice journey in the island of Wood ( you know madeira means wood in Portuguese), I envy you . You seem to know some art de vivre, kudos for a poor little Anglo-Canadian .

    • MELewis · November 29, 2018

      Ha, ha…I looked for but could not find a blinking emoji. As usual, Phil, your comments are an education in themselves. I did not know that Madeira meant wood. How could I have missed that? 🤓 However, this little anglo Canuck is flattered that you think there is hope for me yet… 🤪

  3. midihideaways · November 29, 2018

    What a wonderful post – on so many levels!! Relationships need constant work, mutual respect and compromise and a portion of romance – you seem to have all of that in yours! 🙂 Looks like a fabulous walk, although I’m with you on the fear of heights!!

    • MELewis · November 29, 2018

      Thanks, so glad you enjoyed it! 😊 I only wish some of these lessons had been clearer earlier on…and that someone would come up with an anti-fear app!

      • midihideaways · November 30, 2018

        Would love an anti-fear-of-heights app!! 🙂

  4. suzlearnsfrench · November 29, 2018

    I loved the last paragraph.

  5. Mary Katherine · November 29, 2018

    What a lovely story and photos! I’m a new subscriber from across the pond, but your posts are like a fun letter from a friend far away to this Francophile. Merci!

    • MELewis · November 30, 2018

      Hi Mary Katharine, nice to ‘meet’ you and thanks for following along! Glad you are enjoying the posts. I will do my best to keep ’em coming!

  6. George lewis · November 29, 2018

    Good post. I laughed my head off. I felt I was there with you and Stephan.

    • MELewis · November 30, 2018

      Well, you were there with us 32 years ago so I guess it’s appropriate that you joined us today! I have no higher ambition than to bring tears of laughter to people’s eyes, especially yours, Dad! x

  7. Suzanne et Pierre · November 29, 2018

    Very good post (as ever). A good testimony to long term relationship. Sorry to hear about all of your fears but glad to hear you did overcome some of them to finish this hike which looked very amazing. We have yet to make it to Madeira but hopefully one day we will make it there. (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · November 30, 2018

      Thanks, Suzanne, so glad it spoke to you much more brave adventurers! 🤗 I’m sure that you and Pierre would love Madeira and find so much to photograph. We only stuck to the south side between Funchal and Calheta but there were many groups of French-speakers who were hiking all over. Well worth a visit.

  8. Susanne · November 29, 2018

    You are a trooper! You navigated many perils on your hike not the least of which was the potential for acute marital discord and somehow survived still declaring your love.

    • MELewis · November 30, 2018

      Thank you Susanne! I think one of the benefits of having come this far together is that we both recognize it’s not easy for the other at times as we are very different. It’s one of those lessons I would definitely go back and teach my younger self but, hey, hindsight, right? 😉

  9. Heide · November 30, 2018

    Have I told you lately what a MARVELOUS writer you are? I feel as if I’ve been on this trek with you (clinging to you the whole time along those insanely narrow paths). But you are so right that the day’s trials and travails are a wonderful metaphor for marriage! If we’re lucky — as you two have been — we find someone who both accepts us as we are, but who also helps us to continue growing. Please pass on my compliments to your husband on his observation that “You’re not your daughter’s father!” Mangled family tree aside, I think your father must be very proud of his daughter. xx

    • MELewis · November 30, 2018

      It’s funny, I only saw the metaphor yesterday as I was writing the post. I had intended it to be purely comical as I do recognize that we often make people laugh with our histrionics (mine especially). 🤣 But Heide, I cannot tell you how much your kind words mean to me. At the risk of making this sound like a mutual admiration society, the praise is gold coming from someone whose writing I truly admire. And, as I’m sure you know, this path as a writer is fraught with doubt, disappointments and what feels like an eternal slog for recognition. So merci mille fois…and I only hope you keep reading! 🙏🏻

  10. acflory · November 30, 2018

    Happy anniversary! And as someone who is also terrified of heights, bravo!

    • MELewis · December 1, 2018

      Cheers, Meeks! I am reassured to see that so many other people share a fear of heights. It is comforting to know I’m not alone. 😌

      • acflory · December 2, 2018

        lol – we are LEGION! 🙂

  11. Colin Bisset · November 30, 2018

    How lovely – romance at its finest (and most truthful!). And I’m with you on steep, dark, enclosed,exposed…

    • MELewis · December 1, 2018

      Truthful is the only kind I know. ❤️ Thanks for sharing your anxieties — I feel like I’m in pretty cool company.

  12. eyelean · December 22, 2018

    I am familiar with some of this tension—being with a rock-climber means having one tenth of his balance and endurance abilities. Sometimes he still manages to take me places where I get to thinking “You KNOW I wouldn’t like this, WHY did you bring me here.” Somehow I always forgive him at the end… and end up stretching my limits as well. But still your hike sounds too scary for me (I’m okay with tunnels though).

    • MELewis · December 23, 2018

      Your guy and mine sound similar: eternal optimists that we will one day love heights the way they do. I guess we both know it’s never gonna happen, but still nice that they believe it worth the effort to get us to try. You are right – it does push me to stretch my limits, however reluctantly. Always glad when it’s over though. 🥴 I wish I could be like a drone over his shoulder and just sail along for the ride.

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