This week we are featuring an interview with Gerry Sluiter. Gerry is Dutch, from The Netherlands, and lives for more than 10 years on Madeira Island, together with his Madeiran wife Guida, son Bart and daughter Annika
Gerry, we want to thank you for the opportunity for us to have a ‘peek’ into your relationship with the Green Pearl of the Atlantic also known as Madeira. Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I met my Portuguese wife 20 years ago on Guernsey (Channel Islands). When I heard that she was from Madeira, I couldn’t wait to visit “her” island and from the moment I arrived by plane I was in love with Madeira. Since then, over a period of 10 years, I visited Madeira twice each year. After that we decided to live here definitively. I have been never be so happy in my life since I took residence in Santa Cruz,
How long are you living on Madeira Island?
Can you compare Madeira with for example your birth country The Netherlands?
First of all Madeira is surrounded by the Ocean, with the contrast of the Deep Blue color of the Atlantic Ocean, a volcanic landscape and a large variety of vegetation. All this makes it a paradise that is enjoyable 12 months a year. Many parts of the island are still “rural” whereby you experience the “true” way of living from the locals, with their traditions and culture. All this in combination with a mild climate, great food, kind people, very low criminality and pollution and a slower/relaxing pace of life, makes it for me the ideal living location.
How do the people (locals) treat (see) you now here on Madeira Island? As a local or as a foreigner?
I find it important to mix with the locals, and as long as you try to speak their language you are accepted. Trying to understand what and why they do things in a certain way (as it sometimes does not make sense to some Europeans). Avoid thinking that (as a Western European) you know it all. Certain locals on Madeira don’t always understand what the foreigners “sees” in Madeira, however once you explain why you are so enthusiastic about Madeira, then the doors open for you. Most Madeirans don’t see the beauty of Madeira in the same way as foreigners do. Speak with them, play cards or domino’s with them, sing, dance, eat and drink with them and you will become part of them!
“Certain locals on Madeira don’t always understand what the foreigners “sees” in Madeira, however once you explain why you are so enthusiastic about Madeira, then the doors open for you.”
What do you think of the locals/people from Madeira?
As a father of 2 children, I do have a mixed opinion on this matter, especially that I am also an employee for a Portuguese company here. As a father, I get (quite often) upset with the local authorities who think that they are some kind of “God”! I experienced that when a Portuguese has a function with authority that they abuse it by being unreasonable, rude, selfish and arrogant. I always offer my full corporation from the start, however most of them they continuously try to remind you who is in charge. Unfortunately, this happens also at the schools and the health centres, resulting that children at an early stage get in contact with this ‘unpleasant’ phenomenon.
As an employee, it makes a huge difference if your superior is a Portuguese or not. I am lucky that I have an English “Boss” who understands that there is also another way of working than the traditional Portuguese manner of working, namely “Shut up, I am the boss” culture!
On the social level, you can’t find kinder people than the Madeirans. For me, they are the nicest people I ever met.
In which way you are related to the locals?
My luck is that I married one, and that makes my life a lot easier. It helps me with the language and makes it easier for me to communicate with the locals. As a father I meet my kids teachers, their friends, the parents of their friends, at the activities and charities etc. I live in the suburb, outside the city, where I am daily involved in local issues and conversations. I have a great relationship with the neighbourhood. I am happy that I am 100% accepted by them. On my side I try to blend in as much as possible (making quite often a fool of myself) and that is very much appreciated by the locals.
Madeira is slowly becoming a popular holiday destination. What are the three best reasons for someone to include Madeira on their travel list?
Quality (accommodation, services, environment).
Relaxation (peace, nature, pace of life).
Climate (pleasant throughout the year).
Tell us about your most favourite and also the least favourite thing about Madeira.
My favorite “thing” on Madeira is the climate in combination with the relaxation.
My least favorite “thing” is any form of authority that is arrogant and rude.
Lets talk about food: what is your favorite Madeiran food and that you would suggest everyone should try?
What is nice?? I like any form of local product (vegetables, meat and fish). These products are mostly organic and fresh. As a dish, you can’t beat a fresh Tuna steak with potatoes and salad!!
What is the first thing you recommend when people want to do a Levada walk?
Take your time and take a deep breath!! On every corner there might be a surprise. Try to imagine how the Levada was “build” and the purpose of it. Always respect the nature surroundings and most of all … Enjoy! Stand still for a while and look around!! A Levada walk is a healthy way to discover Madeira.
Do you see benefits in doing a ‘Guided Walk’ on Madeira? And if so, what are they?
This is a little of an unfair question, as I work for a guided walking company. However, guided walks offers so much for very little money (in comparison to DIY walks: time wasting, no safety, no information, sometimes it can be more expensive). By joining a “Guided Walk”, you will be collected from and returned to your accommodation, you will get a (multi lingual) guide throughout the day, he/she can answer any enquiry you might have. The guide’s priority is your safety which means that any kind of danger (bad weather conditions, vertigo, landslides, rock fall etc.) will be avoided. The combination of transport and guide will make your walk far more interesting, safer and less time wasting (last one is important if you are only for a short time on Madeira).
What is your favourite ‘off-the-beaten path’ that you discovered on Madeira?
Difficult question, probably: Cabanas – Santana.
“Take your time and take a deep breath!! On every corner there might be a surprise.”
Do you think there is a difference between hiking/walking on Madeira Island and in Europe? If so, what are the differences?
There is a big difference between walking on Madeira and Europe. Madeira is has volcanic landscape and therefore steep (up or down)! The walks in general are fine; however you can encounter more vertigo issues on Madeira. Secondly when walking the surface can be “rocky” and on many locations the tree roots are on top of the path. This means that walkers need to be extra careful when walking on Madeira. The feedback that I receive from my clients, is that they find it harder to do a 4hrs walk on Madeira, than when they do similar walking time in their own country. The footpaths on Madeira do not offer clear marks or signs as what can find in most European countries. Here you must be sure you know the way where you want to go.
What is the first thing you recommend travelers to do when they arrive in Madeira?
Have a cup of coffee: Chinesa or a Bica.
Where do you recommend to go for a day trip on Madeira Island?
First of all arrange your own transport, or book a private tour. This gives you freedom, and allows you more flexibility. Start the day early and drive to Camacha – Santo da Serra – Portela – Porto da Cruz – Faial – Santana – SãoJorge – Ponta Delgada – Sã Vicentes – Encumeada – Ribeira Brava.
What is the most famous landmark? And which one is your favourite?
The most famous landmark might be Cabo Girão, but it is not my thing, especially as it now, for some unknown reason, has been reconstructed into a ‘circus’ attraction with a platform of glass. I prefer the viewpoint at Eira do Serrado. The route to the viewpoint gives you a good impression of “Rural Madeira”, the mountains, the rural landscape and an impressive view of how local people have use any free space to cultivate and create a village, and how they live from the land.
Do you have a place on the island where you feel most comfortable, or had the most fun? Where’s your secret hangout place on Madeira?
When I am with the locals in the country side, I am happy (I am not a city person, I lived too long in London for that). I like to get involved in local activities, such as: farming, slaughter/cleaning chickens and pigs, cooking, dancing, and singing. I also love to get involved in local events (whatever it is).