The Wolves’ Room – Madeira

It was an uncomfortable moment, looking round the vast and shiny hotel lobby and realizing my clothing and demeanour so closely resembled that of our fellow inmates in this island hotel. Shorts, socks, trainers, check, t-shirt, check, and some kind of outerwear, hooded sweatshirt or anorak, check. White hair? Not yet, but only thanks to L’Oreal. What will you do with your time on this island? Check the notice board.

This is the woman who lived on the edge of the Sahara desert, who spent weeks with Eastern European Roma. Getting soft and soggy.

Decided to get real. Explore the island. Set off, intrepid against the breeze, rucksacks firmly attached to backs. Over the cliffs and far away. To the next village westwards.

Descending the steep walkways between pastel coloured houses, the little fishing harbour slides into view, nestling between steep, rugged cliffs on either side, to the south the great grey ocean littered with breakers stretches grandiose and awe-inspiring, all the way to Antartica, to the north, some shops and a bus stop.

The harbour is sheltered from gales and waves, still and deep blue waters, rocks under metres of polished saphire, brightly coloured fishing boats languidly sway at their moorings.

The little fishing village is called Camara de Lobos. Winston Churchill did a painting here. It means, the Wolves’ Room.

Where the water laps the concrete harbour’s edge, among boats already landed, a semi circle of intense activity. A dozen bedraggled fishermen, darkened by the sun and toughness, focus on the tasks at hand: hauling boats out of the sea, co-ordinating their rythmn and strength,  calling loudly to each other in dialect, with voices evolved for the purpose of shouting across the sea and valleys. Hanging above one boat, like a strange tattered sail, flayed fish are hung to dry in the sun. Half a dozen  grubby dogs scavenge for scraps.

But around this central stage, a raised semi-circle of tables and chairs, the outdoor seating of a handful of cafes, like a large outdoor lounge. The chairs are all turned to face the harbour and upon them, drinking beer or coffee and eating sandwiches or chips, about two hundred tourists enjoying the spectacle. This real life, living fisherman at their work, view.

Just sitting, and scoffing, and swigging, and staring. And I’m doing it too!!!!!!!

A coach disgorges its load of fat northern europeans and they muscle through the workers, taking photos as they pass on their way to some newly emptied cafe seats. A guide explains the scene to them.

Spying a sun-blackened youth on a bike talking to his skinny, malnourished friend with holes in his ancient sneakers, one visitor has the audacity to direct his handicam straight at the pair framing their picturesque poverty neatly and capturing this parallel universe forever to deliver it for later viewing back home in Munchen.

The wolves’ room indeed.

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