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Cape Town to Southampton: Madeira, Portugal:

Madeira is a lush green island, the largest in the Madeiran Archipelago west of Morocco and about 280 nautical miles north of Gran Canaria. Ilha da Madeira translates from Portuguese as Island of timber. 

Madeira holds a special sentimental value for me as I noted in a previous post (Cape town to Southampton: cruise days 12 to 16).

We docked in Funchal, the capital city, on the southern coast of the island. The name derives from funcho,  Portuguese for fennel, a plant that grew abundantly in the area.

I decided to take one of the ship excursions that went up to the high peaks of the island to get an idea of the area around Funchal. It was a good choice as we traveled to two incredible view points where you could see panoramic views of the south part of the island.

Madeira is actually the top of a massive volcano which is fortunately dormant, having last erupted about 6500 years ago but the  volcanic activity that created this island left the peaks that give these wonderful views of the lush green valleys that rise up from the harbours.

The first stop on our tour was at Pica dos Barcelos which is an spectacular viewpoint north of Funchal from where you can get a panoramic view of the city as well as the mountains, valleys and ocean vistas.

Unfortunately our visit to this picturesque spot was marred by an unpleasant mugging incident.

As I was walking back to the tour bus after taking photos,  I heard a woman shouting 'leave him alone, let him go."  I turned to see in the distance, two men tugging violently at each other. One was an older man from our bus, who, with his wife, had actually been sitting in the seat just in front of me. The other was a young local who was trying to steal his wallet. Several people ran toward them but as they struggled the younger guy pulled harder and both of them crashed down on the side of the road. The assailant broke free after the fall and ran away. Our passenger was bruised and cut but luckily had not broken anything. He described how this man had handed flowers to him, and he had foolishly pulled out his wallet to give him some cash! So much for being decent.

Meanwhile the bus driver and tour guide had called the police. They arrived in about ten minutes and took the particulars but it was sad because it created such a bad impression for this beautiful island. After the incident was over I thought I should have snapped a picture of the assailant but it all happened so quickly that there was no time to react. Later that day at dinner, when I was describing this incident to my table companions at dinner, the subject of "bystander apathy" was brought up.

This is only one of several stories I have heard from people who have been robbed or mugged in one of the places i have visited on this trip to South America, South Africa and now the cruise back via England  to the US. More about this in another post of my Cape Town to New York Travelblogue. I want to show more of the beauty of this island.

After the police had interviewed our  passenger and checked the extent of his injuries we left and drove past the fishing village, Camara de Lobos to the Pica da Torre viewpoint. Camara da Lobos is named for the lobos - Portuguese for the sea lions that inhabit the bay - by the explorers, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira. It is a very picturesque area and a claim to fame is that it was captured on canvas in many landscapes painted by Sir Winston Churchill.

Our guide told us about the special fish of this region. It is the black espada, or Black Scabbard, a bathypelagic fish (one that swims at a great depth in a region of the sea that receives no sunlight) and is thus black and cold. The adult  black espada swims at 100 - 500 metres and is caught using special weighted ballast lines called pandulho, that hold around 150 hooks. On exposure to light the fish turns black. I would assume it must be due to some melanin-like pigment in the skin but our guide mentioned that the black colour can be washed out. That does not make a lot of sense to me so I need further reading to find out how exactly it works.

Anyway this fish is used in the Black Scabbard stew of Madeira, cooked with lots of onions, garlic and tomatoes. But since it is only found in the Atlantic Ocean between the latitudes of 27 and 69 degrees North, you can substitute swordfish or other firm fish for this dish.

As we drove around the island you could see how almost every bit or arable land is cultivated. Terraced fields hold vineyards and compact areas growing a range of fruits and vegetables. Bananas are a major crop of this island too.

At Cabo Girao, apparently the second highest sea cliff in the world, there was a glass viewing section where you could look straight down to the sea. Several people with fear of heights could not even walk onto the glass. Phobias are so bizarrely irrational - just think of me and butterflies! and enclosed spaces - yet I could walk on the glassed area with no difficulty.

The tour bus then took us back into town for the last part of the tour; a visit to an establishment for a tasting of Madeira wine. Madeira wine is a fortified Portuguese wine, which is made in a variety of styles from sweet to very dry.

The four main styles are sercial, verdelho, bual and malvasia or Malmsey. Sercial is very dry, with very little residual sugar  and high acidity. Verdelho is less dry with high acidity.  Bual has a sweeter character, is darker in colour and has raisin notes.  Malmsey is a sweet wine but balanced by high acidity. It is a dark rich wine with a caramel note.

Our ticket allowed us two wines to taste. I naturally opted for the Bual and the Malmsey. I did not really like the former but thought the Malmsey would make a very pleasant after-dinner dessert wine.

Since I had been avoiding any alcohol on the ship - can't dance if I am dozy from wine, and I can't afford the calories anyway - just these two small tasting samples were enough to make me a little light headed, so instead of hanging around downtown and exploring  more, I  headed back to the tour bus and back to the ship.