After we slipped effortlessly out of Las Palmas we resumed our northbound journey to Madeira. It was time to get back to the important business of enjoying life aboard the massive liner that would be our home for a few more days island hopping. The food served at Kings Court buffet restaurant was fit for royalty although we had learned to pace ourselves to avoid damaging the gym scale. Just before we retired, we received a reminder to set our cell phones forward by one hour overnight.
Welcome to Windy Funchal
We must have made good speed because by 9 a.m. on Monday we were approaching Funchal from the south having clocked 518 kilometres / 322 miles / 280 nautical miles while we slept. Before us, sheer black cliffs rose out of the ocean as evidence that Madeira emerged from the sea floor on the back of a volcano.
After taking on the pilot – who leapt across at some speed – we entered port through narrow breakwaters, and swung the ship around to come alongside with the bow facing in the right direction for a speedy departure later that same day. Not quite the easy manoeuvre because we had a virtual gale blowing from right to left.
Enter the Italian Lover
But what was that funny ship astern of us? It was much smaller – of course – and a cheeky Italian that seemed to be blowing a kiss in our direction. But then we had been warned that sailors will be sailors and we were almost in the Mediterranean. We joined the endless stream of coaches that thronged around us in every port. Sleepy Funchal and surrounds were waiting for a bonanza of over 2,000 tourists!
Behold the Ancient Citadel
We slipped away from the throng to explore a town that has stood still for centuries. Each back street had its own boutique shops and local characters. One of our strangest encounters was a busker with a magnificent parrot and his companion with an eagle. We declined the offer to have either beast sit on our heads for a photo.
Funchal – The Facts
Madeira archipelago is an autonomous Portuguese territory northwest of Africa in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, of which only Madeira Island and Porto Santos islands are inhabited. It is a popular destination all year round and noted for its wines, flowers and exquisite embroidery. We would avoid it over New Year because the locals celebrate this with loud bangs and bright firework displays and we would worry about the animals.
Madeira’s harbour and capital town of Funchal nestle in a natural rocky amphitheatre with houses set in every foothold. From the harbour the mountains rise up to almost 1,200 metres / 3,900 feet in spectacular fashion. Funchal is an exchange port where ships from Africa, America and the Mediterranean swop cargoes, and is the second busiest harbour in Portugal, after Lisbon.
There was much to learn as we wandered through the streets popping into museums and shops, and sipping sweet Madeira wine blessed by sunshine high up on terraces. Funchal takes its name from the fennel plants known as funcho growing wild and giving off heavenly aromas, and there is an awful lot of Inca gold on the ceilings of the churches. All too soon we had to leave our time capsule, jump into a coach, and return to our ship down winding streets to the harbour below to end the island hopping.
Island Hopping – Farewell Funchal and Fennel
Then it was hawsers away and outward bound for Vigo in Spain on our cruise from Cape Town to Southampton, with the usual deafening blasts on massive sirens! This time, the mountain amphitheatre returned them with an echo. We remained on the top deck as we skirted the island and headed out to open waters, until the sun slid into the ocean and it was cool again.