CHAPTER II. MADEIRA, TENERIFFE, AND CAPE DE VERDE ISLANDS.
Full many a green isle needs must be
In this wide sea of misery,
Or the mariner worn and wan
Never thus could voyage on.
Sunday, July 16th. - Porto Santo being visible on the port bow, a quarter of a mile ahead, by 3.55 a.m. this morning, our three navigators congratulated themselves and each other on the good land-fall they had made.
It looks a curious little island, and is situated about thirty-five miles north-east of Madeira, with a high peak in the centre, of which we could only see the extreme point, appearing above the clouds.
It is interesting to know that it was from his observation of the drift-wood and debris washed on to the eastern shore that Columbus, who had married the daughter of the Governor of Porto Santo, derived his first impressions of the existence of the New World. Here it was that he first realised there might possibly be a large and unknown country to the westward; here it was that he first conceived the project of exploring the hitherto unknown ocean and of discovering what new countries might bound its western shores.
An hour later we saw Fora and its light, at the extreme east of Madeira, and could soon distinguish the mountains in the centre of the latter island. As we rapidly approached the land, the beauty of the scenery became more fully apparent. A mass of dark purple volcanic rocks, clothed on the top with the richest vegetation, with patches of all sorts of colour on their sides, rises boldly from the sea. There are several small detached rocks, and one curious pointed little island, with an arch right through the middle of it, rather like the Perce Rock on the coast of Nova Scotia. We steamed slowly along the east coast, passing many pretty hamlets, nestled in bays or perched on the side of the hills, and observing how every possible nook and corner seemed to be terraced and cultivated. Sugar-canes, Indian corn, vines, and many varieties of tropical and semi-tropical plants, grow luxuriantly in this lovely climate. Nearly all the cottages in the island are inhabited by a simple people, many of whom have never left their native villages, even to look at the magnificent view from the top of the surrounding mountains, or to gaze on the sea, by which they are encompassed.
We dropped our anchor in the bay of Funchal at about twelve o'clock, and before breakfast was over found ourselves surrounded by a perfect flotilla of boats, though none of them dared approach very near until the health-officer had come alongside and pronounced us free from infection. At this moment all are complaining much of the heat, which since yesterday has been very great, and is caused by the wind called 'Este,' blowing direct from the African deserts. It was 79 deg. in the coolest place on board, and 84 deg. on shore in the shade, in the middle of the day.
The African mail steamer, 'Ethiopia,' last from Bonny, West Coast of Africa, whence she arrived the day before yesterday, was lying in the bay, and the children went on board with some of our party to see her cargo of monkeys, parrots, and pineapples. The result was an importation of five parrots on board the 'Sunbeam;' but the monkeys were too big for us. Captain Dane, who paid us a return visit, said that the temperature here appeared quite cool to him, as for the last few weeks his thermometer had varied from 82 deg. to 96 deg. in the shade.
We had service at 4 p.m., and at 5 p.m. went ashore in a native boat, furnished with bilge pieces, to keep her straight when beached, and to avoid the surf, for it was too rough for our own boats. At the water's edge a curious sort of double sleigh, drawn by two oxen, was waiting. Into this we stepped, setting off with considerable rapidity up the steep shingly beach, under a beautiful row of trees, to the 'Praca,' where the greater portion of the population were walking up and down, or sitting under the shade of the magnolias. These plants here attain the size of forest-trees, and their large white wax-like flowers shed a most delightful fragrance on the evening air. There were graceful pepper vines too, and a great variety of trees only known to us in England in the form of small shrubs. This being a festival day, the streets were crowded with people from town and country, in their holiday attire. The door-posts and balconies of the houses were wreathed with flowers, the designs in many cases being very pretty. One arcade in particular was quite lovely, with arches made of double red geranium, mixed with the feathery-looking pepper leaves, while the uprights were covered with amaryllis and white arum lilies. The streets were strewn with roses and branches of myrtle, which, bruised by the feet of the passers-by and the runners of the bullock sleigh, emitted a delicious aromatic odour.
The trellises in the gardens seem overgrown with stephanotis, mauve and purple passion-flowers, and all kinds of rare creepers, the purple and white hibiscus shoots up some fourteen to sixteen feet in height; bananas, full of fruit and flower, strelitzias, heliotrope, geraniums, and pelargoniums, bloom all around in large shrubs, mixed with palms and mimosas of every variety; and the whole formed such an enchanting picture that we were loth to tear ourselves away.