Day 5 |
Apr 22, 2010

Madeira Island, Funchal

By Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 32°38´N; 16°54´W

Weather: cloudy

It was 7 o’clock in the morning when I looked out of my window and saw Madeira, the island of flowers, a green jewel in the Atlantic Ocean, in the mist of the morning. Half an hour later the sun was above the horizon and I could recognize the lush green slopes of the island, a sharp contrast to Lanzerote with its volcanoes and hardly any vegetation.

For today, two excursions were planned to explore the island. The first one showed our guests the capital of Funchal including the famous toboggan ride. The second, in the afternoon, included a one-and-a-half-hour walk along a so-called levada in the mountains of Madeira.

After a delicious breakfast in The Restaurant, the morning excursion left the pier at about 8.15 heading directly to the market of Funchal, our first stop. Arriving at the entrance, the normal market life was in full activity. Fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers were sold right by the entrance. Going one floor down, one could find the fish market. The most impressive fish on the tables was the Espada, a local delicacy fished during the night when it comes up from the deeper regions of the ocean. There were also limpets, tuna fish and moraine eel, demonstrating the richness of the ocean waters around the island. After having explored the market, our guests were invited to a fruit dégustation, where they could taste tree tomatoes, cherimoya and other fruits of the season.

Having had the first contact with the abundant varieties of fruits and flowers, on the next stop the guests could experience the beautiful scenery of the bay of Funchal. Going up with the cable car to Monte, the view was just spectacular. In the Monte parish a short visit of the church and short break gave the opportunity to regain energy for the next Funchal experience.

As the cable car brought us up on the Monte Mountain, the famous downhill ride in a wicket basket brought us down to the base of the hill. I think our guests also enjoyed very much this toboggan ride through the narrow streets of Funchal. After this spectacular experience the last stop of the excursion was a wine cellar right in the center of the town, where our guests could taste the famous Madeiran Wine.

The excursion day on Madeira was only interrupted by a very but excellent lunch on board the Prince Albert II. We had just a little over an hour had to have lunch before we went out again on our afternoon hiking tour.

After a short bus drive (about 25 minutes) the starting point was reached for our tour. The hike took us along an old levada or irrigation channel on the steep slopes of the island. It was an easy flat walk through the agricultural landscape. The vegetation was strongly influenced by introduced plant species like pine, eucalyptus and oak trees. Garden flowers grew along the path, giving the impression that we are really on the flower island and that the climate is so favorable that nearly every plant can grow there no matter of what origin it is. Luckily, we also found some of the endemic jewels of plant species such as the Madeira Cranebill, Black Parsley, Madeira Violet and the Pride of Madeira, a beautiful blue flowering Echium species. At 4.30 pm the excursion was back again on board, and the Prince Albert II set sail to our next destination: Casablanca in Morocco.

In evening, Expedition Leader Conrad Combrink gave a short briefing to our guests about tomorrow and my colleagues Stefan Kredel, Olga Stavrakis and I held a recap regarding earthquakes, food and farming on Madeira and espada fish, as well as endemic plants from today’s excursions.

After a strenuous exploration day, our guests enjoyed very much the delicious dinner in The Restaurant.