Captain's Log, Halloween, 1998
La Gomera, Canary Islands
With great difficulty we have torn ourselves away from Funchal, after a stay of almost 3 weeks. We got in a total of about 10 levada and mountain walks apiece, and there would be enough for several months more. The blisters are starting to heal. We rented a car for the last 2 days, which opened up a whole new world of more remote walks inaccessible by bus, but for the most part were able to get where we wanted to go cheaply using public buses and our own shanks. We might have stayed even longer, but for the fact that our bilges were starting to smell like the harbor; imagine equal parts septic tank, old motor oil, and fishy salt water. Marina fees were a bit steep, too.
On one of our walks, along the Rabacal Levada, we startled a group of sheep grazing on a very steep slope. We saw them bounding up the hill and heard a splash, which we thought was a rock they'd dislodged. We rounded the bend, and were amazed to see a very young lamb down in the water, bleating wildly and losing ground against the flow of cold, cold water, which was about a foot deep. Without a pause, Shifra took off her shoes, jumped in, and set the poor wee beastie up on the bank. He was just barely able to clamber up to his mum; hard to imagine how he even got up there in the first place. This was on the side of a mountain, 3000 feet up, with slopes averaging about 45 degrees, much steeper in places. Tough sheep they've got there in Madeira. We did observe, by the way, that they all had legs of equal length, unlike the cows of the Azores. Perhaps evolution is not so far advanced in Madeira.
Another highlight of our time in Funchal was the purchase of a barrel of wine. Ziggy, our French friend, had found the shop, and brought back his barrel with great panache. He even went so far as to cut into one of his bulkheads to make a permanent mount. God forbid we should be outdone by a Frenchman. So off we went in search of the nameless, signless shop on one of the backstreets of the old town, and in our very best (unintelligible) Portugese, asked if we could purchase a barrel for our very own.
The old gentleman replied, in a torrent of toothless Portugese, that it was "vinho natural", no additives, stomped by foot in the traditional way, and for domestic consumption only, illegal to export. We would have to take it out in a big sack and tell no one who had sold it to us. This took some time to work out, during which various people came in with plastic jerry cans of various sizes, which he filled with a siphon from one of several immense oak casks, a line of which stretched back into the gloom. In the intervals between other customers, he let us sample some of the vintages, dipping into the casks with a long bamboo cup.
We asked if we had a choice between red and white wine: "ha, ha, we only have MADEIRA wine, which is neither red nor white". Overcome by the rustic wonder of it all, we plunked down our 18,000 escudos (about $100) and watched entranced as he uncorked a bright new 16-liter oak barrel, popped in a funnel, snaked a long hose into the mother cask, sucked on it to start the flow, and ran the pinkish-orange stuff in till the little barrel overflowed. Then he bunged in a large cork, and Bob's Your Uncle. We stuffed it into our largest knapsack, and staggered off (due to the weight, of course) in ridiculous pride. Once home, we screwed in the petcock, and invited all the other boats in the raft-up over for a victory round. Fortunately, there was still quite a bit left afterward. We lash it down while underway, and prop it up in the foc's'le while in harbor. At our fastidious rate of consumption, it should last most of the trip, unless the barrel springs a leak, in which case proper thrift would demand a quick kill.