Today’s excursion will be a completely different type than we have experienced so far. We are signed up for a 4×4 Jeep Tour with Up Mountain Madeira. The Madeira Islands are located off the coast of Portugal. This will be our last stop before a 6 day trans-Atlantic crossing. Nora (who we met in Venice) set up the excursion; we have two jeeps full of people today. We were not sure what to expect, but this turned out to be an outstanding day!
The excursion started out a little rough. Apparently, there was some type of miscommunication between Nora and the tour company. She was sure we had booked a full day tour for a certain amount of money; the tour company thought it was a half-day tour. After much discussion, it was decided that we could have our full day tour, but it would cost us 5 Euros more per person. A very good deal, if you ask me.
This was definitely not a historical tour, so I don’t have much information to share. We drove up winding roads, and saw many scenic vistas. We passed through several ecological zones. Below 400-600 meters, there were lots of banana trees and tropical fruit trees. Above 400 m, but less than 900 m, mainly grapes (port wine comes from Madeira). Above 900 m, no one lives because the soil is poor and it is cloudy. Everywhere we looked, there was beauty beyond compare!
We stopped for at a little shop. I had a taste of Madeira (1 Euro); Clayton had coffee (.8 Euro). We bought a small, traditional cake as a gift for a friend back home. The vegetables grown here are not exported; they apparently are not “pretty” enough to be sold anywhere but locally.
The next stop was for a traditional drink of Madeira – poncha! Our guide told us that the poncha sold in town, near the cruise ships is expensive, and not made fresh. He was taking us to a hole in the wall bar where the poncha would be made fresh for us. It contained tangerine juice (freshly reamed), passion fruit juice (freshly reamed) and some other juice that I can’t recall, mixed with lots of rum and a touch of anise. It was exceedingly delicious, and only cost 1.5 Euros per glass. Apparently, they also made some nasty beer and a chocolate drink, but everyone in the group ended up mainly drinking the poncha. Peanuts were served as well; it was considered rude to leave your shells on the counter. You were supposed to toss them on the ground. I would hate to be rude. . .There were restroom facilities available there as well, but frankly, they were so nasty, I couldn’t use them.
We stopped at an overlook. If I remember correctly, it was nun’s valley, or some such thing. The story behind is that during WWII, the nun’s had to be hidden from the Nazis, so were taken inland to this area for hiding. It definitely was hidden away from everything. We loaded up the jeeps again, and continued on to the 4 wheel drive part of the trip. We drove for a couple of miles on unpaved roads. At one point, I was sure the jeep would tip because the road was so steep. It was fun, but personally, I was happy to return to the paved road.
On to lunch! Free wi-fi!!!! I actually had my iPad with me, so I could get caught up! We stopped at a lovely restaurant that overlooked the water. Their specialty was shish kabobs. In the picture below, you can see the skewers hanging on the tables. The meat was hung on the skewers; you then took off as much as you wanted. We had beef and chicken kebabs, garlic bread, sweet potatoes, white potatoes (mixed with spices and very tasty), and french fries. Outstanding meal; only 11 Euros each.
Continuing back towards the port (Funchal), we passed through small towns with extremely narrow, winding roads. We stopped at an overlook that had a glass walkway over the ocean, built over a cliff. You could look straight down, and see the water. There was a great gift shop there where I purchased the most ridiculous hat I have ever seen! It is a traditional cap of Madeira; it reminded me of a “Who Hat” with colorful markings. I am not sure where I will ever wear it, but it was so spectacular that I had to buy it! I also bought a Christmas ornament and a couple of tea towels.
We got back to the ship at 4:45 pm, and spent the rest of the day relaxing. We now have 6 days in a row at sea!