Day 103 April 16 (Funchal, Madeira)

Here is a little assignment for you. Find out which interpretation of Madeira's nationhood is correct. I have seen in writing here two different versions. One maintains that Madeira is part of Portugal the other says they received their independence shortly after Portugal got its independence. I want sources to support your answers people, no sloppy research please.

Don't forget there will be a quiz when I get home.

The port we docked in is called Funchal and I had never heard of it before. Apparently it is a very popular place and I now know why. The island of Madeira is beautiful!! It has a lot of history attached to it as well. It was a main stopping point for many ships travelling west or south. It lies south and west of the entrance to the Med.

Today's tour was another do it yourself one for five of us. It was Anita's idea because she and Jack had been here many times. She took the tour catalogue and put together a tour to most of what she thought were the best places to see. We negotiated with several drivers until we found one who seemed to offer the best deal. This was a more expensive ride than in Malta where we rode the Jeep around but we felt we got the best possible deal. We each wound up paying €36 euros for about four hours. Today's crew was me, Jack and Anita and another couple who live near me, Julie and Dick. We went to several locations to view the scenery. This island is similar to Japan in that it has very little flat land for farming. (OK, you got me. I have never been to Japan. But I learned a lot more about Japan than I ever heard about Madeira. "Have some Madeira my dear-a." is about the only reference I could summon up for the island before this trip. I guess if you drop bombs on us we pay more attention to you in school curricula. Hmmm.) So the solution here is similar to Japan's. Terracing. And I do mean terracing! Big time! It makes for very interesting scenery. We also visited the second highest sea cliff in the world (or so it is claimed). 580 meters s t r a i g h t down! There are pictures but you have to be there to really appreciate it I think. Awesome!

After stopping at several places we headed to the center of Funchal for the couch tobagan. The official name is Carros de Cesta which (if my Spanish is close) means basket cars. Julie and I decided to take the ride. The rest of the wimps just watched and worried. It was great. This is a tradition over 100 years old. I think I may have seen this on the Travel Channel or somewhere. But I didn't remember it at first. There are these wicker love seat size couches on skids. Two guys push and pull (one on each side switching from front to back depending on circumstances) the "couch" down the hill. Yes on regular roads! They grease the skids from time to time as needed. The hill is pretty steep in spots (Japan remember?) and the road is surprisingly smooth. No El Paso potholes. There is good news and bad. The traffic is quite light on the cross streets but the reason is that the roads are extremely narrow and the traffic apparently uses larger roads for the most part. I was never really worried but we did get pretty close to the walls, cars and trash cans we passed at times. Our "drivers" were pretty good. We never had to just stop because they couldn't keep us on the road. The only time we stopped was when people ahead of us had stopped. The ride lasted over five minutes and I have video. But here is the most amazing part. This is an old tech kinda of thrill. We had to wait in line for about a half hour to have our turn despite the fact that they now use flat bed trucks to bring the "couches" back up the hill. On the way down I waved at a photographer who had a nice looking camera at the side of the road and was pointing it at me. Well, about four minutes later when we got off at the end of the ride there was this guy with a lovely folder with our picture in it (€10). Talk about a contrast. Primitive ride but wireless transfer of a digital picture to the bottom in time to be printed and ready when we were! I understand high tech like this in Disney parks but...!

Of course I bought it. It was a great picture and the technology jolt just blew me away. Capitalism is alive and well in Funchal, Madeira! "Have some Minolta my dear-a." (Sorry...I just had to do it.)

After returning to the ship for lunch, Jack, Anita, Claire (ran into her at the front desk where I had to go for more euros...I am doing my part to support the local economy) and I took the shuttle back into town to explore a bit more. We walked and took some pics and then stopped into the Cafe Funchal for a beer. I'm turning into a lush I think. This one was quite good. The brand name is Coral. We walked a bit more and saw some nice stuff. There is a botanical garden in the center of town. Also photographed a kapok tree. Weird. I was about to reboard the ship when I saw my buddy Jane and we walked along the pier a bit. We saw a US ship being pulled into harbor by tugs. We waved and yelled U-S-A but I think they thought we were nuts. A few waved but most stood at attention on deck as Navy guys are no doubt supposed to do.

The best part of this last bit of tourism was that I was the next to last passenger to return to the ship. It was time to lift the gangway and it looked like they were ready. I asked the security guy who scanned my card how many were still not back. He said, "One." I felt a certain pride in getting the most out of my shore time. I think I'm finally getting the hang of this traveling stuff.

We had dinner onboard while sailing out of the harbor. The show tonight was a harpist. I just wasn't up for that. Seen a couple already this trip. Decided to go to the movie. The rest of our dinner table did likewise. The movie was "I Can't Be Your Woman" or something like that with Michelle Pfeiffer. It was amusing but not great.

Gained an hour tonight.

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