Madeira’s population is roughly 250,000 in round numbers. About 50% of these live in the capital, Funchal, with its buildings climbing up hills surrounding the harbour rather like the banked seats in an amphitheatre. Today was our last full day on Madeira and we were free to wander around and explore the town to our hearts’ content.
Target one was the market, which starts at 7:00 AM. Outside the hall we came across ladies selling flowers dressed in their traditional costumes o colourfully striped skirts and hats bearing contrasting side triangular shapes that looked to me like pixie ears. Cute! Such ladies, we were told, used to walk down the mountain side carrying their flowers to sell at the market, then walk back up the mountain side after their day at the office; distances of anything up to 10kms/7mls each way. That’d keep you fit.
The market hall itself, on two levels, were mainly the fruit and vegetable stalls with the buzz and bustle I’ve come to expect of non-UK European food markets. I hadn’t, however, come across anything approaching high-pressure fruit selling before but here, they were particularly keen on offering tasters of mangoes, passion fruits and the like followed by a pre-emptive close. We tasted – everything was excellent – but resisted signing a contract.
At the rear of the market hall was the fish market where we were able to come face to face with a Madeiran speciality, the black scabbard fish. Being essentially an old volcano in the Atlantic ocean, the land shelves away rapidly and the surrounding waters get very deep very quickly. The scabbard fish is a deep water fish that is, well, frankly bitch ugly; it’s very long and thin with a black skin, large eyes and fearsome looking teeth – most unappetizing in appearance. However, once prepared it makes damn good eating and is traditional served with another popular commodity on Madeira, bananas. Fried fish and bananas – yum! It sounds odd but it’s a curiously interesting combination – exactly what I jump at on a menu.
After the market, target two was one of Funchal’s two main gardens. Both require a climb and one way to achieve the climb is via a cable car which, though it struck us as a little on the expensive side, looked the most fun. Actually, there are two separate cable car runs linked by a short walk. The first takes you up to the higher of the two gardens, the tropical garden. The second brings you about half-way back down again to the lower botanical garden. To return, you have to reverse your journey and go back up before descending all the way back to sea level again. This seemed a slightly curious arrangement to me but I’m sure there was some logic to it somewhere. One of our party had already visited the tropical garden and pronounced it “very green” so Carol fancied the botanical garden instead. The combined ticket for both cable cars and entrance to the tropical garden was ~€28.00 each.
Our choice turned out to be a good one. Firstly, it most certainly wasn’t just green:
Secondly, while Carol was in her element and I was wandering around pretending to be interested in nature without a pulse, up popped a very unexpected visitor and landed beside me posing cooperatively for my first dragonfly encounter of 2012. It even waited long enough for me to purloin Carol’s proper camera. New species are always a thrill and, though this looked basically like a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum), it was actually a related species, an Island Darter (Sympetrum nigrifemur). By itself, this would have made my day but then I spotted a new entry for the butterfly collection, too, a Macaronesian Red Admiral (Vanessa volcania). Big grins all round. 🙂
Our wildlife thrills were not yet over. Having retraced our cable car route back to sea level and whilst investigating Funchal itself, we spotted a few large butterflies flitting about the small but charming Municipal Garden in the middle of town. I knew that the Canary Islands and Madeira were two of the very few places in Europe that were home to populations of Monarch/Milkweed butterflies and, though I might have secretly held hopes that I’d see one, I really didn’t expect to. Here they were, another new species for the collection. They weren’t alone, either. A very small blue was flitting about the grass and, though we really needed our wildlife lenses, we did manage to catch it on pixels and identify it as Lang’s Short-tailed Blue. (A publishable view of the topside proved impossible to get.)
All in all, a pretty successful day. 😀