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26th November, 2016

Mystery Cruise. Port No.9

I certainly had them guessing for a while, strange islands never seen by anyone before were passing down the port side. Great barren cliffs coming straight out of the ocean and ending in a jagged skyline hundreds of feet high, they were the Islas Desertas and part of the Madeiran Archipelago. Normally when arriving into Funchal from the south these deserted islands are way over to starboard, but on this afternoon we were sneaking up so that Madeira would not be seen.

It was something a little different, arriving in the early evening and staying alongside for twenty four hours, an opportunity perhaps for some of the folks to take a stroll into town, we even provided a shuttle bus. The following day a tour was of course organised, and one which went off to places not normally visited on the regular tours. When I spoke to some of the participants later they were most enthusiastic, ’Best tour we’ve done so far’, but then there was an adequate supply of that delightful tipple Madeira, along with the similarly named cake for which the island is famous.

Mrs R and I however, did something entirely different. A group of us took the cable car up to Monte, a ride which gives amazing views over Funchal and seems to just clip the roofs of the hillside properties. It is, at the very least, intrusive as anyone living below will have no privacy whatsoever, it is that close. It also took us into the hills where the fires raged during last summer and many blackened trees have now been felled. Houses had smoke damaged walls and missing roofs, one or two were under repair. In the next valley the other cable car that goes down to the botanical gardens was closed.

After refreshments, we walked around the corner to join a small but bustling crowd intent on plunging down the shiny tarmac road in a wicker sledge not fitted with any breaking mechanism. Apparently this has been going on for years, long before bungee jumping was invented and seemingly, to me at least, twice as dangerous. No seat belts, just hang on for grim death and off we went with two burly locals hanging on to well-worn bits of hairy string. The first 90 degree corner was negotiated without a reduction in speed and then all of Funchal seemed to reach out before me. Swerving this way and that we avoided walls, parked cars, wheely bins, deep gutters, the odd stray dog and even a family who casually walked to one side as we raced past.

We survived, and then some chap had the gall to offer us a photograph taken at the moment of our extremis. Ten Euros, not likely. 

Captain Philip Rentell

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