Our day started early, well early for us and Sam was in the bathroom just after 7.00am raring to start our first land based activity for 4 days. One of the features of Oriana is that it has a bow camera that is constantly on so that by turning on the TV you can see what is on the horizon and when we looked we could see the lights of Madeira not far off in the distance.
A quick shave and wash and we headed up to Deck 12 where we could get breakfast in the Al Fresco cafeteria and then we were outside watching the ship docking at the harbour side. Madeira is an island about twice the size of the Isle of Wight, but very steep. In fact very steep indeed. Taking the lift down from Level 12 to the embarking/disembarking Level 5 was smooth and we were among the first in line to get off. Disembarking is not just a question of jumping off the ship, everyone has to be electronically checked out and warned over and over again about not missing the departure time because the boat won’t wait for you. Free coaches were laid on to take passengers into town and again we were among the first to take it into the centre of Funchal.
The moment that we stepped off the coach we were surrounded by taxi drivers touting for business and telling us that we were wasting our time. “It is Sunday everything closed, you come with me, very sheep, I show you around island, you have a good time.” Sam gave them short shrift and probably peed one or two of them off and we continued with our own tour of discovery. We had decided just to wing it on Madeira and declined the offer of hosted P & O tours and in hindsight that was a very good decision but luckily Hilary had listened to the lecturer early in the trip and with the aid of a simple map we were able to make our way to the cable car. OK so it wasn’t the most straight forward way but we got there in the end and from then on it was a pretty simple process, tickets were €10 Euros each for one way – Sam was not impressed as he could see no other way down than public transport – but he shouldered his disappointment well and we entered the little cabin. We were lucky that it was early in the morning and there were no queues nor were we forced to have more people in the cabin with us. The obligatory photograph was taken and we thought no more about it as we didn’t expect to see the camera lady again. The journey up was incredible, bright sunshine, beautiful views of the Oriana tied up to the harbour wall, houses terraced in rows all with their bright orange tiled roofs and overhanging Bougainvilleas. We even saw some Plumeria (Frangipani to some people) bushes but they were not in full bloom. Many of the houses had rickety wooden ladders leading down to small gardens and everything looked very neat but Sam decided that living with such limited access was his idea of Hell.
Our arrival at the top of the cable car ride showed that the Madeirans are no fools for as soon as we stepped outside there was another lady waiting to show us that by the wonders of modern technology they could transmit photographs up to the top faster than we could ride there. So Sam succumbed to her sales technique and we paid our €10 for a photograph of us together with a “Free” 30 minute DVD about Madeira. We hung around at the top for just long enough to buy some postcards, some stamps and a small Christmas cloth with very pretty silver bells and patterns on it and as we rounded the corner we saw the famous Madeiran wicker baskets. For those who haven’t heard of these they are basically wicker chairs, capable of seating up to 3 people but they have wooden runners underneath and they are used to transport people or goods from the top of the hill down to the bottom. Once upon a time they were for commercial use but today it is only tourists who used them.
It had not been part of our plan to go down on the baskets and while we hummed and hawed we went a little bit further up the hill and took photos of the church and watched a few of the P & O official tour party clamber into their chairs. Sam then rose to the challenge and we entered our basket together with our travelling bear, had our photograph taken and started off. They get the basket underway with one man either side pulling on ropes and then they run around to the back and jump onto the wooden runners; basket speed is changed by either running or pushing harder or by scraping thick soled rubber boots along the ground. It was pretty hilarious and would have been uneventful had not the basket in front of us run over what looked like one of the men’s hats. That immediately slowed them down and swung them around sideways and we were in danger of running into them and also of having the basket behind run into us. Luckily the men were pretty skillful and controlled the situation quickly and we all managed to stop without hitting each other but from then on we played catch up with each other, ladies screeching behind us and the guide in front desperately trying to take photographs over her shoulder. Sam has videoed the whole ride and this will be incorporated into the holiday DVD. The moment the baskets were stopped we were again approached to buy another holiday snap and another “Free DVD”, but this one we declined – as we did when Taxi drivers implored us not to walk into town as it is “6 kilometres away and very steep. Not good for you Sir or your Lady. You should take taxi, very sheep, very quick.”
This is where Sam made his next mistake after the WALL-E episode, he said “no thank you,” to all the taxi drivers, ignored all their “very difficult for the lady,” comments and proceeded to plod doggedly down the hill. After all he could see the Oriana, it couldn’t be that far or that difficult after all could it? Well yes it could and it was and less than a third of the way down he was already regretting saying no to the taxi driver. How we both made it to the bottom is still a painful mystery, our knees hurt, our calves were aching, our feet sore and we were both very tired and wobbly by the time that we arrived at the sea front. I don’t know if it was 2 kilometres or 10 kilometres and quite frankly I don’t care, what I do know is that I never want to do that walk again.
We completed our stay on Madeira with a short stop on the seafront resting our legs whilst Hilary finished off writing her postcards and then hunting for a box to post them. While we were resting we saw one of our tour couples cleaning up the broken remains of a bottle of Madeira wine that they had accidentally knocked against a concrete outside seat that they had decided to sit on. Much grumbling, but 10 minutes later they were seen with another bottle shaped bag and looking a lot happier. We spent the last of our 100 € on a very nice round napkin that is prettily embroidered and then toddled off to catch the shuttle bus for the ship.
Just as we got back the mist that had been seen at the top of the island (but not luckily by us) had turned to a light rain which continued to fall as we waited in the queue for embarkation. Formalities over, bags X-rayed and we were back in our cabin for a short time, then into the Al Fresco for lunch before heading up to the highest outside deck so that we could film Sail Away. Finally we could head back for a lie down (we had to skip dancing as we couldn’t control our legs!), and a nice cup of tea and a rest while we ponder on what to do for the rest of the day. Incidentally I have just realised, that as we sit here sipping tea, eating cookies and looking out of our cabin window while we relax, that this is our second day without wearing our Sea Band bracelets. Admittedly the seas have been exceptionally calm, but there is a little bit of a swell but I think that we are beginning to get the hang of sailing. Keep your fingers crossed that we have this kind of crossing for the complete voyage