It was a perfect day in Funchal on the island of Madeira. I started my day near the centre of town where there is a collection of buses and a cable car that takes you up to the town of Monte. I decided to make that my first stop. The ride in the cable car provides a great view of Funchal and ends at one of the many formal gardens that are so much a part of this island.
A short walk on a cobble street brought me to one of the most important churches. There is a special festival celebrated on August 8th for Mary that occurs at this church.
This church is a very simple church that contains the tomb of the last Hapsburg Emperor. The views from this outside this church are also spectacular.
Next to the church was a wonderful garden that reminded me of a very special garden of a very special place in Sonoma, California. While I was wondering through the garden, I came upon a pond with two swans — and I got some amazing pictures of these beautiful birds.
Also near the church was one of the strangest ways I’ve found to travel down a hill — a toboggan that goes on pavement! It is a wicker basket that holds two people and there are two men that get it started then steer it down the hill. The ride takes about 20 minutes — and it a bit scary as you are steered through the streets.
Once back in Funchal, I got on a bus and took a tour of the city and headed to a little fishing community. We passed by groves of bananas, gardens (one dedicated to Santa Caterina), and churches. Everywhere was green and lush.
Once back in the city central, I headed to the main market where you can find fresh food, fish and flowers sold by women in traditional outfits. You can also find crocheted handicrafts.
Before taking this cruise, all I knew about the Canary Islands was what was in books about the first sailors and discoverers — basically, not much at all. However, after 6 days of not seeing land – land is what I wanted to see. I wanted to experience nature in all its glory. Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, can provide an amazing experience if you want to get close to nature. I set out with several friends to see the Teite volcano which helped form and shape this island. We basically went from sea level to over 3,000 feet in a little over an hour and a half. Talk about feeling light headed! On the way, we learned some fascinating things about the local ecosystem and how the unique Canary pine trees help maintain the water supply of the island, their long needles collect the moisture from the trade winds and low clouds. We saw how quickly a clear day becomes cloudy then clear.
We also saw the change in vegetation as we climbed up the hills to the area of the lava flows. From tall trees, to small bushes to a crater filled with rock formations of obsidian and crystals, we saw it all. Looming over this whole adventure was the top of the volcano – at first just peeking through the trees. Several of the rock formations have been given names based on what they seem to look like. One looks like a first, while the most famous is called the “Finger of God.” The grouping of rock formations was used in the movie the Ten Commandments when Moses is given the ten commandment tablets.
Another area filled with obsidian rocks was used at a background for the latest Clash of the Titans movie. There is an “other worldliness feel” to this whole area.
On a more practical note, it was nice to be able to breathe this very fresh and clean air.
This island also has a stepped pyramid that intrigued discoverer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. He seemed to feel this was a connection between the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids. Other people seem to disagree because they have not been able to place the date as early as it should be if it is a link between these two civilizations. Regardless of the history, they are very intriging
There are black sand beaches, lovely towns, and beautiful people that combine to make this a great place to visit.
Six days at sea – no ports, no land, and no news – we did not even see another ship. The sea was calm the entire time, however I started out my 6 days with a cold — complete with stuffy nose and sore throat. I do not think getting wet and then cold in Salvador helped. So, I spent the first sea day in bed, leaving only to eat and make one trip to the medical facility to get the most expensive cough drops in the world (for some reason, I could not find the ones I packed, of course). At first, I was a bit annoyed with myself for not being able to “enjoy” the ship – then I realized that I paid for my bloody cabin with a balcony, I might as well enjoy it, too – nice, clean soft sheets, a gentle breeze from the balcony, and towel animals – a great way to sleep and recover. By the next day, I was a bit better – at least I could drink at the bar! And slowly, as the week went by, I spent more time by the pool in the Solarium than in my cabin.
So, what so you see for 6 days crossing the Atlantic? You see lots of grey water and cloudy skies. At some point during this trek, we also crossed the Equator. There was a “traditional” celebration, complete with King Neptune who had to be appeased with sacrifices in order to cross his realm. Officers of the crew made the sacrifices for us – then we all had to sing (of course the song was in Portuguese, so I did not do so well with the singing). We also got a certificate commemorating our crossing.
The days kind of flowed one into another. We changed the clocks ahead four hours during this crossing (but only one hour at a time). A typical day for me was breakfast, finding a chair in the Solarium, reading, swimming, maybe a trip to the spa, lunch, back to the room for a nap, maybe up to the bar to meet other English-speakers before dinner (we had our own event, since there were so few of us), head to another bar for my evening “cappy”, or maybe go to a show, dinner, back to the bar for dancing, then finally to bed. Repeat.
It was very eye opening to be in the minority as far as language is concerned. 85% of the ship’s passengers were from Brazil and they really seem to not understand that you are never going to understand what they are saying. At first, I tried desperately to say that I did not understand – even saying the phrase in Portuguese, and yet they would continue to have long conversations with me. I finally just started to smile and nod. At least I appeared to be interested in whatever they were saying and they seemed to be happy.
The crew came to my rescue – and a few of them were so happy to speak English after so many months sailing around Brazil and knowing only a little Portuguese – so I made quite a few friends. And, since the English-speaking group was relatively small, we got to know each other, too. There were people from Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Britain, South Africa, and Malta. Besides one officer, I was the lone Canadian.
A highlight for me was the addition of the Pampas Devils as one of the performers. They were on my last cruise from Buenos Aires and taught several tango classes on that cruise. On this one, they did a performance and taught two classes – the first on the day I was sick, of course, but the second class was right before dinner on one of the formal nights. That was cool. So, dressed in a long, black dress, I not only get to tango, but I danced with the main performers (since I did not have a partner). These professional tango dancers told me that they could tell I had some experience in dancing tango and gave me good compliments and tips on my dancing technique. At dinner, a Brazilian couple stopped me to tell me that they enjoyed watching me dance (and he said it in English, so I did understand!).
As we got closer to the Canary Islands I started to watch for wildlife – and I was not disappointed. One afternoon, the ship was practically surrounded by a very large group of dolphins. They were swimming along the ship and playing in the wake – even a few leapt out of the water. It was amazing.
So, that is pretty much was six days at sea was like – and no, I am NOT getting into any more specific details. Let’s just say I had the best bartenders who knew that before dinner I would drink a caipriniha and after dinner, I would drink a B52. My waiter knew I liked chocolate. My new friends made me laugh – usually at myself. And of course I danced. I am also completely caught up on the Game of Sword books and George R. R. Martin needs to write the next one NOW (don’t do a Robert Jordan on me and make me wait forever). Basically, anything else I do at sea will remain at sea (except for the shots of me in the cruise video and pictures that other people took that I will not be sharing).