Madeira’s Landscapes: A Cultural and Culinary Journey

Posted on 2 November 2018 @ 3:46pm

Madeira’s Landscapes: A Cultural and Culinary Journey

Our second stop in Portugal was without a doubt as breathtaking as the first, with it’s beautiful mountains, it’s coastal houses and it’s rich culture.

As we sailed into Funchal, we were almost instantly struck by the beauty of the island. The Gulden Leeuw approaching port, we all looked out the port holes with excitement and apprehension. After all, we just had sailed 9 days in a row from the Mediterranean Sea.

Madeira, Class Afloat 

We got to take a refreshing little shower with this waterfall that fell directly on our path.

Our first full day in Madeira was a port program that consisted of a hike in the morning and a  museum in the afternoon. I was personally very excited for the hike since I am very active at home and felt like I could use a good exercise. We all got up at 6:30 in the morning to make our own sandwiches in preparation for the day. A bus took the students and staff to Santana, the city in which we were going to walk in the mountains.

Our hike, called the Lavada Walk, was around 10 kilometres long. It was named after the Lavadas, little structures that keep the water flowing throughout the mountains, which we followed all the way in the forest. The views from up there were simply breathtaking. I had never seen such a perfect setting, with humid soils, tall green trees, valleys, and mountains. The temperature could switch from very warm in the sun to pretty chilly going inside the vegetation and the shade. We could hear the waterfalls and the birds. The walk, as it showed us the flora of Madeira island,  also allowed us Floaties to talk amongst ourselves for these hours together in nature. It felt different from being on the boat, because moments of silence were frequent to admire the different landscapes. It almost felt normal to take the time to admire around us without saying a word, and then to start talking about various things when we felt like it.

Madeira, Class Afloat 

The cliffs were very high and sometimes so narrow that only one person could fit.

The second part of that day was a visit to the Whale Museum, where we got to learn more about whaling in Madeira and the conservation that is now in place to save the whale species. Ending the night with an evening of shore leave was great considering all of us were starving after a busy day.

Our second day in Madeira was just as great as the first, as we got to meet with students of  two different schools of the area. The first school, after visiting our boat, showed us around the city of Funchal. We walked through the art district, where almost all the doors were painted with beautiful murals. The language barrier was an obstacle we had to fight through, but using our little knowledge in Portuguese and Spanish, our crew and the students of Funchal had some very interesting conversations. The cable car and the toboggan were some of the more touristy activities we did, which I personally enjoyed a lot because we got to see the island from above. 

Murals in Madeira, Class Afloat 

A lot of the painted doors represented things related to the sea and marine life.

In the afternoon of that day, all the Floaties walked in the pouring rain (which turned out to be pretty funny) to the high school that we were visiting. A group of around 80 people our age welcomed us into their beautiful big school. As we wandered around to get to their auditorium, I noticed numerous paintings and drawings on the walls. Later on, we were told that all these amazing pieces of art were done as final projects by their art students, which impressed me a lot.

We got to listen to some Fado, a Portugese music style that is characterized by nostalgia and slow rhythms, that was very well interpreted by one of their students. We ended our visit in the cafeteria, where tons of traditional foods and drinks were waiting for us, beautifully displayed on tables. Some of them were Bolo de Caco, a garlic butter bread, and Bolo de Mel, a honey cake traditionally made for Christmas that distinguishes itself by a taste similar to molasses, created by cane sugar. There were also tons of banana, passionfruit and cane sugar products, crops that are amongst the most popular on the island. With a very happy belly, we walked back to the boat, ending our day with a tour of the boat for the Madeiran students. 

Altogether, I can definitely say that I loved Madeira. It was really striking to see the beauty of the island. I felt like their culture was so unique and distinct from Portugal, and their traditional meals were delicious. During the many conversations I had with the local students, I realized how similar we all were, even when we are living worlds away. We are all a group of young, curious minds seeking to discover the world. Many of those who I talked to had great plans of travel for the future, going to university in England or other places, or taking a gap year to  travel. The thrill of discovery and adventure, I think, is what unites us all, young people of our generation. In the end, wherever we come from, we can connect on so many things just by sharing life experiences and goals. I am very thankful for that time I spent on a beautiful island, sharing and learning, becoming myself a global citizen.

Written by: Class Afloat student, Elisabeth R.