The day was sunny and pleasant when we docked at Funchal, Madeira. We loaded into buses and drove to a big new modern cable car station that took us up a steep mountainside. We had a spectacular view of the bay, the town and our Navigator home away from home. We arrived at a tiny village full of expectations for a unique experience and a toboggan ride. We were not disappointed!
In the late 1800s, inhabitants that lived way up the mountain in Funchal needed a way to move themselves and their wine products down the 5-kilometer hill to the port to sell. The mountain has steep cobblestone streets and it is a long way down. It was not easy to negotiate when merchants had lots of product to move. So they came up with a novel and fun approach. They used wicker-backed two-seater toboggans that glide on wooden runners.
Nowadays, it is an exciting tourist attraction that uses dozens of toboggans. There are more than 200 men with rubber-soled boots who are employed, two per toboggan, to guide the primitive vehicles down the winding streets to the bottom.
We got into our toboggan with its Santa’s sleigh appearance with a hand bar on the back for the two men behind us to guide the sled! We flew over the five kilometers of bumpy paving, around corners, down through the tiny village. It was wonderful, scary, hilarious, delightful, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and all of us would do it over again in a minute!
After catching our breath, we next went to the Madeira Botanical Garden. What a beauty it is. With patterned partiers created on the flat places on the mountain side and meticulously tended by who knows how many gardeners, we enjoyed their beauty and the clear, warm sun.
Afterward, we went into town and were taken to a shop selling Portuguese lace and embroidered linens. They were lovely and were priced higher than the same things at Bedded Bliss in St. Matthews!
We left Funchal. Our next port before we disembark in Miami will be St. George, Bermuda, after five days at sea. The captain says we may be in for some rough weather. Oh well – it has been smooth sailing for the last four months!
These days at sea are like a vacation within a vacation. We have spent many hours attending lectures, climbing numerous hills, visiting churches and museums and shopping. Now we have five days to play cards, read, go to the movies or just “veg” out. Oh! And pack!
The ship always has an auction (it benefits the crew) on one of a long string of sea days. Passengers donate items they bought along the way and had second thoughts about. The captain of the ship “donates” tours of the kitchen and the crew decks. Friends of ours paid $600 for six of us to have a tour of “below decks.” It was fascinating from the crew quarters to the laundry to the engine and boiler rooms. Some passengers before the auction got together and gathered a case of champagne from friends (a bottle of very expensive champagne is in the fridge of every “world cruiser”), which went for a high price. Someone even bought the Captain’s hat!
The money raised goes into a special account to be used for emergency trips home, special events on land, celebrations and communal bicycles for the crew to use in ports when they have some time off.
The seas had been high and we were not sure we would make port in St. George, Bermuda on time. Bermuda is comprised of a cluster of 150 small islands! They collectively total just 21 square miles! I couldn’t wait to get there to an antique shop. They had several of them but they were filled with junk. (Oh well, David Friedlander always has lots of goodies in St. Matthews!)
Hamilton is the capital of Bermuda and is larger than St. George where we were destined to dock. It is a quaint community with lots of pretty pastel buildings. The shore excursions that were offered by the ship didn’t seem too exciting, so I stayed aboard and started to organize packing while husband Brad took a long walk to see if we were missing anything. He came back tired, empty-handed and happy.
Even though it seems like on board ship it is always cocktail time, we sailed just before evening cocktail time. At this point, we have only two sea days left on our trip around the world. So far, we have sailed 34,988 miles since leaving Miami on January 4. Now it is time to take packing seriously. Ugh!
We have nine bags to pack! We started off with eight. Lots of old clothes, books and odds and ends hit the trash can to make room for our purchases. We needed the extra one to pack “Marvin,” a 3- foot tall balsa wood wall sculpture we bought in Bali for $10! The ship puts all wood purchases in a freezer for three days to be sure to not carry home any unwanted bugs. This included Marvin.
Some final, hopefully interesting statistics: When we step ashore in Miami, we will have traveled 35,900 miles in 128 days to 62 distinct ports in 31 countries on six continents (missed Antarctica). And this included 29 UNESCO heritage sites. VT
Photos Courtesy of Carla Sue Broecker.