Day 105, April 20:
The Madeira Islands of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean always piqued my interest for various reasons, including the association to the Lost Continent of Atlantis from Plato’s writings. While not likely that this was Atlantis (Santorini in Greece is considered most probable) it is, as our travel guide Barbara said, “romantic to think we may be sailing over the remains of a lost civilization.” Also, the Madeira Islands are associated with Christopher Columbus, who lived here, on Porto Santo, while trading in sugar.
As he always fancied the sea, he would go on frequent walks along the ocean and spotted some driftwood floating in the water and coming eastward. He had a great light bulb moment: that perhaps sailing across the Atlantic would be an easier way to get to the Indies. He took his idea to the King of Portugal, who dismissed him, and then to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, who outfitted him with the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria in 1492. The rest is history: he did not find a quicker route to the Indies, but stumbled upon what became known as the West Indies.
Amsterdam docked at the Port of Funchal in Madeira.
This was our last port of call during our 112-day Grand World Voyage on the Amsterdam, and we had never been there, so Humberto, Duffy (our bear that went around the world) and I took an introductory tour covering the highlights of Madeira. Our “Panoramic Island Landscapes” excursion bought onboard the Amsterdam took us along narrow and winding mountain roads to the sea cliff of Cabo Girao for views of the ocean and the terraces the locals use to grow vegetables and other crops, and to the quaint fishing village of Cámara de Lobos, where a famous visitor, Sir Winston Churchill, spent much of his time in 1950 painting watercolors of the village with its fishing boats and red-tiled roofs.
Me, Humberto and Duffy overlooking the city of Funchal.
Me and Humberto at Campo de Lobos.
Other highlights included Pico Dos Barcelos, where a viewpoint offers 360-degree panoramas of forest, ocean, hills, bays and city, and Eira do Serrado for additional views of the island, including the “Nun’s Valley” in a deep gorge, as well as opportunities to shop for local handicrafts, including embroidery; wicker work; ceramics; statues of Our Lady of Fatima, patroness of Portugal, and more at a craft shop. Other popular souvenirs are chestnut cakes and the Madeiran fortified wine –with 19 percent alcohol content. It is so strong that when tourists “drink three samples of it, they start talking Portuguese,” our local guide, Helena Jesus, said laughing.
Nun’s Valley in Madeira.
A chestnut cake, typical of the area.
Embroidery of bird of paradise flower.
Our Lady of Fatima statues at local store.
Flowers abound at private residences, in boxes and pots on balconies, and there are six botanical gardens. Flowers, including 3,000 kinds of orchids, bougainvillea, jacaranda, anthuriums and birds of paradise, bloom almost on a year-round basis on this subtropical island where such tropical crops as bananas, papayas and mangoes are also cultivated. “Bird of paradise is so abundant that a bloom costs just 50 cents,” Helena Jesus said. Our visit coincided with the Festival of Flowers and the Festival of Embroidery, annual springtime events during which the ladies of Funchal create lovely flower carpets that are displayed on Avenida Arriaga and embroidery exhibits, created by the hands of Madeiran women, are also held. These events were a fitting final attraction to our World Cruise – floral and fashion mannequins announced them in various locales including the cruise terminal. Now, we have seven days at sea as we make our way back to our embarkation point, Fort Lauderdale, to complete our fabulous circumnavigation of the planet.
Festival of Flowers floral display.
Freelance travel writer Georgina Cruz and her husband Humberto are currently sailing on Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage and will be sending in cruise diaries throughout their time on board. She has logged 174 voyages to all seven continents and visited more than 100 countries.