In Europe we are often talking about the tree line – the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing. The tree line is in general found at high elevations and high latitudes. Beyond this line the conditions are usually not the best, neither for trees nor for me, with cold temperatures, snow and wind. Instead of the tree line, in Madeira they like to use the Banana line as reference for how the conditions are. It is defined as the edge of the habitat at which banana trees are capable of growing.
Where is the banana line?
Well, as for most things in Madeira it is hard to tell but at the same time also very simple. It is hard to write down the exact elevation and location, because it changes depending on the part of the island you are looking at. But then, when you are in Madeira, just looking around will give you the answer. Everywhere you see lush banana trees is what is below the banana line. As Madeirans tend to have banana trees in their garden, or next to their gardens, or next to the main streets in villages, there really are banana trees everywhere. I had a meeting once with an architect in Calheta whose office was surrounded by a whole banana tree plantation, a whole field so that you could hardly see the house with the office inside. And it was really dark inside the office because the only thing you could see from the windows was green banana trees, and some bananas.
When you do not see any banana trees, or only a few of them, you are probably already beyond the banana line. But where is this line now, exactly?
The banana line is higher in the area of Ponta do Sol (around 300 meters) than it is anywhere else in Madeira. Actually, in this area it would also be higher than the banana trees would suggest – the reason the banana trees stop at some point is that there are steep cliffs and nobody, not even Madeirans, are able to cultivate them there.
In the east and west you will find fewer banana trees, which has partly to do with the cliffs but also with the strong winds in these areas. The eastern side of the island is actually known for its wind – which is also the reason flights have to be cancelled every other week (okay it is not that bad, but sometimes it is). The western part of the island is also very windy and rough as anybody who knows the map will immediately believe: there is just the ocean between America and Madeira, so the wind can take a good long run-up before reaching Madeira.
In the northern part of the island, which is known to be the wet part of the island, the banana line can be found close to the coast. However, if you look carefully, you will see that there are also quite a few banana trees up in the mountains between the other green stuff. There are some protected and warm areas in the northern part of the island as well! Some areas of São Vicente and Porto Moniz are very similar – weather-wise – to the areas in the south.
“Don’t build beyond the banana line.”
– a German, who had moved to Madeira years ago, told me once. “It is too cold beyond the line for us Europeans – and you will be moving to Madeira because of the warm weather, not the wet weather.” Well, I thought he might be right and started thinking about it.
Fortunately, every time I visited Madeira I was staying in a guesthouse which is located in Lombada Dos Marinheiros right next to a Levada , which is – as all Madeira fans know (at least since now) – at 600 meters elevation. Also, it is in the far west of Madeira, where there are practically no banana tree farms at all. The weather there however is not so bad as the German man suggested. Also, there are banana trees in this area as well! In the village where we bought our land there are some banana trees in the gardens of the locals. With some I mean few, just for own use and not for sale. You know, bananas grow almost everywhere where people live on Madeira. The closer to the shore and to Ponta do Sol, the higher are your chances to have a banana tree farm in your garden and to sell your bananas for a living. The higher up the mountains, the more probable it gets that you will be eating all your bananas by yourself – and do not have to trash any bananas because you have too many of them.
So it is true that it is colder beyond the banana line, but it is not cold cold. In the morning and evening it does get a bit chilly but I prefer wearing a light sweater while sitting outside in fresh air than wearing tanks all day long anyways. This brings me to the advantage of living beyond the banana line.
I want to live beyond the banana line because …
1. Fresh air
I don’t know whether you have ever been in a banana tree farm or in a garden with many banana trees or not, but the smell there is very unique. It does not smell too bad but a bit like after cooking pasta… in a small kitchen… without any windows. So it is okay and bearable, but it is not the freshest air! Beyond the banana line, the air is nice and fresh, and my stress is less. But sure, I understand that some people like the smell and maybe also think there is something tropical to it and therefore enjoy it – I can only tell you about my opinion in this blog.
As everybody on the island is telling the story that you have to build your house below the banana line, many people actually do so. So there are in general fewer houses beyond the line and therefore everything is much calmer. This is also something I love and enjoy. So again, something very positive for me.
3. The view
In most areas of the island living beyond the line means living on some cliff or mountain. Having a house or apartment on a cliff or mountain means that you will have the best view over the ocean! And if you are lucky, not only will you see the ocean from your garden, but also some banana fields from above. This is truly awesome.
You still believe one should stay below the banana line?
What do you think, are you one of the living-below-the-banana-line-worshipers? Tell me about your thought in the comments. I love it beyond the line, but maybe there is someting I am still missing here. Lotsa love, Hana.
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