It is November. Autumn has arrived, temperatures have dropped and my garden is gradually succumbing to the annual drop of leaves. This much I know because I’m checking in on my webcam from a remote island retreat in the Atlantic. I close down the IP camera session and return to the here and now. Here is a cliff top cafe outside the Madeira capital of Funchal. Now is Sunday afternoon and my immediate concerns are shuffling into the shade of a parasol so I can sip an iced coke out of the 25 degree heat.
Of course, none of this needs any justification but I feel the need to explain this is not a holiday but an extended stay during which I will be working during the week and exploiting whatever opportunities Madeira has to offer the rest of the time. This is not my first visit to Madeira. On previous visits I have been wowed by the impossible beauty of this fantasy island and have immersed myself into notable cultural events including the annual Carnival and Flower Festival.
Regardless of my familiarity this latest visit is going to take some adjusting to. It’s not just that I’m swapping the gloom of a British winter for the promise of unbroken sun and warmth. My overriding discombobulation comes from swapping 18 months of Covid-dodging isolation with rare distanced meet-ups and zero trips to the pub / restaurant / cinema etc, for an almost daily routine of socialising in bars, cafes and restaurants. That this is possible stems from the implementation of firm covid management policies that are not only keeping a lid on cases in Madeira but inspiring confidence amongst the population, swollen as it is by a rotating influx of tourists.
On face value I have adjusted almost seemlessly to this flick of the switch but it feels surreal nonetheless. It reminds me of the time Bobby Ewing returned to Dallas a season after being killed off and we were asked to dismiss the intervening episodes as the product of a dream sequence.
The collective and personal cost of pandemic life to each of us is something I feel will take a long time to appreciate let alone fully move on from. Madeira will be my medicine. Each day I feel a little more human, a little more hopeful. It turns out that my batteries were lower than I had realised.
This is not our first winter escape. Last year we spent 10 weeks in Spain combining work with the mild outdoors. We had a great time although covid restrictions left us socially isolated. This year is already shaping up to be a much more human experience thanks not just to the relative safety of the island but specifically due to an initiative that is seeking to redefine Madeira.
A destination synonomous with older or retired tourists is attempting to attract a younger and more dynamic demographic by promoting itself as a community for Digital Nomads. The concept is simple enough: if you can work remotely why not swap that home office for somewhere more exotic. Digital Nomadism is not a new concept but, in an age where remote working is an accepted norm its time has come.
Based on the first year of operation the Madeira Digital Nomad initiative has been a success with many hundreds converging on the island so far and many thousand more expressing an intention to do so in the future. They come from around the world and stay for a week, a month or even a year. Some are buying property and moving in.
The authorities have backed the scheme by offering various incentives to travel and stay. The calm town of Ponta Do Sol has been energised by the many Nomads who have taken lodgings there so they can access the free co-working facilities. There is the coordination of a busy social calendar with daily events in PDS, Funchal and a number of other towns.
We have been using the Slack channel to keep track of events and integrate with fellow nomads. There are many opportunities to hike, paddleboard, surf, dance, paint, etc. Some nomads are doing skill swaps or collaborating on work projects. In our case we are going to social events to meet great people, share unlikely stories and support the regions drinks industry. There are all types of nomad.
It seems impossible that in just 2 weeks we have transformed our lives. We handed keys to our house sitter and left a cold damp country where our lives had contracted due to disasterous handling of the pandemic and Brexit. We have begun to breathe again in the temperate climes of outward looking Funchal, where we can live the outdoor life and shoot the breeze with a Pole, Canadian or Italian over coffee.
It has turned into a quiet balmy November evening and I’m putting the finishing touches to this blog on my balcony 100m from the coast.
Jupiter and Saturn are blinking out from the night sky. A gentle breeze is rolling off the Atlantic through the banana enclosure behind my apartment block and to the mountains beyond. Madeira is alive with possibilities.