Familiar Funchal with a Fruity Twist – Funchal, Portugal

It was surprisingly pleasant to visit Funchal and I am glad I got past my initial struggle to get off the ship. To think I almost passed up this experience! The last time I was there I had an OK time but nothing spectacular. In all honestly, I wasn’t actually really looking forward to this port at all. To me, it was really just a stop along the way.

The ship docked early in the morning and since I had no stretch class to wake up for (the only day in the who two weeks there was no class), I decided to just sleep in. And sleep in I did! I was jolted out of bed when the stateroom attendant, Julio, rapped on my door to see if he could make up the room. That’s when I found out it was already NOON. What!?! I shrugged it off over lunch deciding that I really must have needed the sleep. Again, Funchal was not meant to be anything spectacular for me and I toyed with the idea of not even getting off the ship.

During lunch, I learned from Leo, one of our favorite fellow passengers, that he had spotted what sounded to me like cherimoyas that morning in a market he had visited. Upon hearing that, I was off the gangway in a flash and excitedly hiking towards the island town.

We skipped the $10 shuttle which I know, as I was familiar with this port, is mainly for the older or un-abled. The walk took only about 15 minutes and that included time to take pictures and gawk at the vibrant flora along the way.

I was on a mission and though I didn’t know exactly where this fruit market was, I followed my instinct. Leo had given us vague directions but I reasoned that if anyone could find a pile of cherimoyas, it would be me.

The streets were more quaint than I remembered and the atmosphere seemed more relaxed. As I padded down the narrow side streets canopied by trees lush with purple flowers, I kept a mental tally of all the places I recognized. I pondered how different things seemed to feel this time.

It was like no time had passed at all as I breezed past the same old flower lady selling her blooms. I thought to stop and take a photo of her rainbow display but then I would have two identical photos just a few years apart. Besides, there was no time to be lost…the ship was debarking in just a couple hours.

Suffice to say, that within 30 minutes hearing there were cherimoyas onshore, I had the sweet creamy flesh in my mouth. The first fruit stand in the market had a several piles of the lovely fruit in all shapes and sizes. The first thing I noticed was that they called them “anona” and I wondered if they would taste the same. I eagerly squeezed one gently to see if it was ready for eating when the shopkeeper wagged his finger disapprovingly and made angry noises at me. A little shocked at his lack of tolerance, I decided his fruit must be rotten. I promptly turned to his neighbor across the way who not only let me sample the fruit but sold me two at a much better price.

With my two babies tucked away safely for consumption later, I relaxed a bit and explored the rest of the market. Little did I know what was in store for me. While the shops downstairs sold fruit, flowers, vegetables and handicrafts, the entire upstairs seemed dedicated to fruit. As I gleefully made my way through the stands, I was stopped repeatedly with freshly cut samples of exotic juicy produce. Each vendor insisted I try THEIR fruit, even though I assured them I had just tried one from two stalls down.

Finally I decided just give in and let them feed me from their various crops all the while chattering away happily in Portuguese. I realized resistance was futile against these people…they knew what they were doing. This wasn‘t their first rodeo. It goes without saying that I ended up buying a few more fruits.

I am glad I was open minded because I got to try a new fruit that I really liked. They kept saying it was a banana but it wasn’t like any that I had ever seen or tasted before. It was long and deep green like a cucumber but the skin was rough. Rather than peel, the skin crumbles away revealing a yellowy white fuzzy flesh. It’s like little compartments littered with hundreds of tiny black seeds. It was like a cross between a banana and kiwi with a touch of pineapple flavor. Very peculiar indeed but I liked it enough to buy one for just under a Euro.

After completing my tour of the market, I left with my tummy full and my tongue satiated. On the way back to the ship, the sun beamed down as I strolled through the grassy park filled with flourishing with crimson reds, effervescent oranges, aqua blues, and fuschia pinks. Spindley branches wound up skywards creating natural sculptures of sorts in the trees. I gazed up appreciatively at the charming old architecture lining the cobblestone streets and shared warm smiles with passersby. After spending five days at sea, I suppose it was a nice sensation to be upon solid land for a little while.

Grateful for knowing the way.

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