DEAREST MADEIRA

Seven days at sea is rough.  And it’s not just the swells that can throw you through the ringer, but also the lack of fresh air and down time, not to mention the inability to offset a Lido diet with some quality “land food.”  Most of the crew is overworked and underappreciated, and dying for the guests to have a good port day to empty out the ship a bit and improve the overall mood.

Normally my job on a crossing is pretty chill with the general lack of children most of these cruises receive.  Unfortunately, this cruise has been a serious exception to that rule.  There are only two of us staff, which you would think could successfully handle 13 children, no problem…but that’s barely the case this time.  The youth on board at the moment are very difficult to handle.  I am so ready to switch back to a normal cruise!  I even got a call yesterday morning to host a crafting event in place of a sick party planner and later help with an appetizer demonstration.  It was a great way to mix it up but it just goes to show that we’re all doing the best we can while running on fumes.  A few of us have been offsetting the long hours with a photo scavenger hunt for fun though.  That’s been fun.  Anyway, enough about work.

After a week at sea, our first port since Fort Lauderdale certainly did not disappoint.  A small island off the coast of Portugal, Madeira is beautifully endearing with its hill full of beautiful houses and coast hugging roads.  Sidewalks lined with cobblestones and mosaicked tiles provided a welcoming red carpet as we rode bikes about a mile and a half into town.  We left around 9:30, greeting the sunshiny morning with excitement and speed.

It wasn’t long before we rode the cable car lift to the top of the hill, not cheap but totally worth it.  The view is beyond belief.  Such lush pockets of nature mixed in with lovely houses and buildings.  We wandered around a bit, exploring the top, checking out a church, and watching tourists set off on toboggans down the large hill, which is apparently a tradition of the area.  The toboggans are basically wicker benches set on wooden sleighs that are guided down a very large hill by two locals.  We weren’t up for waiting in line but it would have been a great experience – looked like a lot of fun.

We found a quiet old hotel nestled into the side of the hill where we settled down for some hot tea and flowing conversation with a friend before heading back to catch another cable car back down into the town of Funchal.  Upon returning to sea level, a scarlet macaw was set on my shoulder and a camera thrust in my face, followed by a leather glove being encouragingly shoved onto my left hand where they coaxed a gorgeous full-grown, 22-year-old golden eagle with 10, one-inch long talons onto my sheathed perch.  Apparently she weighed between 10 and 15 pounds, which was definitely more than my fully outstretched left arm was ready for.  A crowd gathered around us, she outstretched her wings, I made a horrifically terrified face, they shot the photo, and as we were walking away to retrieve our bikes came the sales pitch once one of the guys caught up with us.  I always feel bad saying no but all I wanted was to read the story on the eagle’s stand and find out if she was real…

On the way back to the port, we detoured through a wonderfully artistic alleyway lined with colorful paintings and decorated doors, not to mention quaint little restaurants and cafés.  I would have loved more time to explore and browse through the market we passed.  As we neared the port, the advertised flower festival was clearly in full swing, streets lined with people, and a makeshift talk show studio set up along the water-lined sidewalk.  We stopped for a bit in time to be caught on camera a few times, helmet clad; and to watch a local singer perform for the cameras and crowd flanked by her dancers.  The freedom of an amazing day with amazing weather was coming to an end.  Returning back to the ship against our will is NEVER fun, especially when I had energy on reserve specifically for this day, but when duty calls…

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