Have a Madeira. M’ dear…
…and oh boy did I need it. My insides were scrambled. I was scared and my legs were shaking as I gingerly climbed down from the toboggan that had just brought us down from the Botanical Gardens in Madeira. I glanced at Bert and he was peeling his fingers one by one off the bar that he had gripped as he turned a paler shade of white as we descended. But let’s start at the beginning.
We were on a Transatlantic cruise from Barbados to Malaga, Spain. We had had a problem on board ship with the water and would be in Madeira earlier and longer than scheduled. The ship docked at tea time and the island looked so inviting a few of us decided to have dinner ashore.
Four of us were lucky to get Fernando. My journal says: “taxi driver is Fernando, about 4 ft 2 ins. and very enthusiastic about his island”. He was funny, garrulous, a walking encyclopedia of what to see and do on Madeira. He recommended a restaurant DAVINAS and took us there with a promise to come back for us. This was a seafood restaurant and wonderful, I wrote. I made note too that we had Madeira wine both as aperitif and after dinner drink.
We made a date with Fernando to pick us up next morning for an all day island tour.
The island of Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal. It is small, very mountainous, flowers always in bloom. However, if you love the beach then do not go to Madeira. Rocks, cliffs, craggy outcroppings, wonderful hiking routes on the levadas (irrigation channel found only in Madeira) with amazing views are what you will find in abundance but no good beach.
Fernando was magnificent as he took us around the island and showed us all the sights while peppering us with a running commentary that took in history, social mores, politics and everything in between. At Our Lady of the Mountain in Monte church we saw the tomb of Charles the 1st of Austria. We had drinks at a restaurant in a Pousada which was located at an elevation of 6000 ft. in the clouds. Literally. We stopped for lunch at Marico, El Padrilo which was surrounded by bougainvillea and where for the first time I tasted passion fruit liqueur.
Fernando then sold us on going up to the Botanical gardens by cable car and coming down by toboggan. We were game. He would be waiting for us halfway up the mountain where the toboggan ride ended to take us to Madeira wine cellars for a talk and tasting. Sounded good and off we went. Bert was not too enthusiastic about the cable car as he is afraid of heights but if I am going then so is he and he was looking forward to coming down on a toboggan. That would be fun he said.
It was this ‘fun’ toboggan ride that scrambled the insides and resulted in the death grip. The toboggan is actually a wicker basket guided by two men in boaters, white pants and special shoes…think of the gondoliers in Venice but on dry land with you in a basket hurtling down a steep hill of many curves with two mad people running behind. All you can do is hold on for dear life and pray. It was wonderful to reach the stop and see Fernando trying desperately not to laugh. He did not say much as he drove us to the cellars. Wise man. We tasted and tasted and after enough Madeira we agreed the toboggan run was sort of ‘fun’. My journal says we bought four bottles of Madeira, two bottles of passion fruit liqueur and two bottles of Vinho Verde. I wonder now if my insides had settled enough to drink any that night. I doubt it.
The Meander: We have been back to Madeira three or four times, and have encouraged others to do the ‘run’, but for us once was enough. Travel to discover, to explore and sometimes to dare.