Whilst continuing my ongoing search for photographic evidence of our levada walks I came across a couple of shots illustrating life in the north and they got me thinking!
For much of the 19th century Portugal lagged behind western Europe’s industrial revolution and economic growth, and for a huge proportion of the 20th century found itself shut off from most of the world because of the actions and policies of the dictator Salazar. Consequently Portugal began to stand out in Europe as the country with the lowest income, lowest life expectancy. highest illiteracy rates, highest percentage of workers in agricultural work, lowest industrial productivity and the statistics continue.
No wonder so many Portuguese (more than two million) left their home country for new lives on the other side of the Atlantic. Most headed for Brazil, but significant numbers also headed for the United States and other part of Europe.
The exodus began to slow by the late 1980s when life in Portugal began to dramatically improve, thanks to Portugal becoming a member state of the European Union in 1986. One of the noticeable differences, apart from the dramatic improvement in infant mortality rates and a steep rise in tourism, was the advent of ‘highways’ across mainland Portugal and even Madeira. However despite the improvements and the new infrastructure Portugal remains one of the European Union’s least developed Member States. The upside is that much of the countryside remains untarnished by human activity, which is great for the environment and is why we love it. But the downsides are not great, high levels of poverty remain visible throughout all of the Portuguese regions.
As in the UK one of the very visible signs of poverty is the quality of housing, and it really isn’t good in some areas. However because some of the Portuguese rural ones look rather quaint they have of course become a tourist attraction.
Photograph – Lorraine Hawkins, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
These tiny wooded houses consisting of just one or two rooms have been purpose built in Santana on Madeira’s northern coast, specially for tourists. They are based on original housing designs, and were once a regular type of home across the island. These ones though with their perfect reed roofing, colourful front doors and paintwork, and the beautiful gardens however they don’t give a true impression of how hard life would have been like to live in one.
Away from the town in the countryside we did spot one or two traditional homes which looked more lived in and original, and some of you might say that even these look charming from a distance. Well the one closer to us does, I am not sure about the one further up the hill.
However they are probably not as charming to live in full time. Self sufficiency is not easy, and I know I wouldn’t even want to try home working or commuting from here. There is no road, just a long footpath beside a levada to take you to the road, and then a twisty drive to the nearest town. Living here almost certainly means hardships and sacrifices, but for many in Portugal they have no other choice. Romanticising rural life whilst great for the tourists and our photographs, certainly doesn’t improve it, particularly in a world where climate change is making it all that much more difficult. I don’t know what the answer is in a world run on consumerism.