Having this blog really pissed me off today as we explored Funchal, the capital city of the Madeira Islands.
Before I explain to you why I got so peeved, let me first explain to you where and what the Madeira Islands are. Because I didn’t know. And if you did, let me be the first to point at you and say, “Nerd!”
The Madeira Islands are controlled by Portugal, and are located about 360 miles off the coast of Africa and about 535 off the coast of Lisbon. Funchal is located on the island of Madeira itself, and is a large city known for its wine (glass of port, please) and boasts the Guinness World Record for biggest fireworks show – which happens on New Year’s Eve. It is also known for it’s beautiful flowers and trees and overall flora-type stuff.
There. I saved you some Google time.
Funchal was so beautiful and so fulfilling that I became angry. I was annoyed that I had to write about it in this blog because I knew I would never be able to accurately sum up our day on the island.
But, I’ll try. If only because it was the first inkling of land we had seen in six days and deserves a bit of pomp for that fact alone.
Funchal looks like an amphitheatre, as the city begins at the harbor and rises up, about five miles high. Cozy. The first thing we did was pay 10 Euros a piece (or about $780 American – just kidding. It’s about 14 bucks) to hop in a tram that would take us to the top of Funchal. Remember Paradise Point in St. Thomas? Try higher off the ground, higher up into the sky, and various hard, concrete highway and homes below you, not soft, possibly life-saving shrubbery.
It was terrifying, but I did it and survived. (Hey, are you noticing a pattern of risk taking, subsequent fear-conquering, and personal growth? Me too!)
The view was breath taking, even for those without anxiety problems. There are purple trees in Funchal. Not CGI, not made of silk, not an illusion. Real trees full of real purple leaves.
When we got to the top, we began walking around and exploring the gardens, the paths, and a beautiful church that was at the top of a hill. It was dedicated to Emperor Charles of Hungary who had died in Funchal and had a nice little shrine dedicated to him, his coffin included. Then, we too got “Hungary” (boom!!) and decided we wanted to go back down.
The best method of getting down the mountain island of Funchal is by bobsled.
Portuguese men, often dressed like Venetian Gondola drivers, pull you down the sides of the island on bobsleds (for 25 Euros per couple), flying you down the cobblestone paths of Funchal. We were all up for doing it, as it is the definition of, “When will I ever get a chance to do this again?” But, alas, the line was too long and the bobsled men we quite tired and the main bobsled man informed us that they were closed, but he could easily get us a taxi down the hill for 45 Euros.
We declined. But the bobsled man persisted, concern peering through his obvious sales pitch.
“It is a…very, very, steep you know. (Points at Dave, who is wearing flip-flops). You not wearing shoes for this. Very, very steep. You - I give you taxi for 40 Euros.”
We replied, and I may be paraphrasing here, “No, thanks. We’d rather walk five miles down at a 45 degree angle because we are obviously huge jerks.”
And for the next hour, we scaled an island. On foot. Downhill, of course.
On the way down we got to see all the homes on the island, as they are built into the hill. Every home has a fantastic garden, a beautiful patio, and at least one dog, sunning itself lazily. It was a Sunday afternoon, so we got to see folks hanging out their laundry, playing cards, tending to their gardens – you know, life.
Our legs still ache, but it was definitely one of the most fantastic thing all of us had ever done.
When we got to the bottom, it was time to eat, and we had a lovely meal in the town’s main square.
The town has fantastic cobblestone streets with mosaic patterns woven into them, little, European-style alleyways, the cleanest air imaginable, and trees and flowers and flowers and trees.
I am willing to bet that the majority of the people reading this will probably never visit Funchal, because it really is sort of off the map. Like Steve said earlier about the middle of the Atlantic being somewhat uncharted territory for visitors, the Madeira Islands are the same way. It seems like the way things are going in the world more and more places are becoming dirty tourist traps and, worse yet, more and more places are becoming off-limits, even to the most adventurous of travelers. We have the means to go anywhere we want, but are becoming less and less welcome, especially as Americans.
It was something amazing to visit a place that felt like our footsteps weren’t sinking into the footsteps of millions of backpackers and tour guides and warriors and families and joyful hearts and broken ones that had already completed the journey we were beginning countless times before us. It felt pure. And I think we all walked away a little lighter, feeling like our steps had fallen a bit heavier than normal.