Monday, March 1, 2010

Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme...

Remember in "Cool Runnings" when the recently formed Jamaican bobsled team practiced their moves by piling into a plywood box on wheels and maneuvered their way down a large grassy hill?  Well, go a few thousand miles to the east on another island of sun, switch the plywood box on wheels for a wicker basket on wooden skis and a large grassy hill for paved roads, and you've found yourself at Madeira's famous Monte Toboggan ride.

The toboggan rides, which are steered by two men in white suits and a straw hats, initially started in 1850 as a quick mode of transport to get down the hill into the city of Funchal.  In the early 1900's this mode of transport soon changed from a convenience for the locals to a tourist attraction.  Since then it's become nothing short of a legend and a "must do" for everyone who makes a visit to the island.

In order to get to the toboggans you make your way up the hill by a 10 minute cable car ride that provides phenomenal panoramic views of the island and coastline. As you enter the cable car your picture is taken; when you reach the top, someone is waiting to greet you with your photo for purchase. You can either graciously (and eloquently) decline like we did by stating "um, we'll think about it and, uh, come back", or pay the 10 euros for a picture of you sitting inside of a cable car that's not in the air.

Then when the time comes that you'd like to go back down to the city, you head over to the toboggan rides.  (You could also go back down via cable car, which is cheaper, but quite lame in comparison).  The entry point is filled with toboggan drivers playing cards, standing around in groups and relaxing on the wicker baskets.  The ambiance is full of peace and relaxation... and then you enter the wicker death trap that speeds down narrow streets as you slide sideways, barely missing the ravine like ditches that line the roads.  You think about all the bones in your body and how you love them just the way they are. You pray that the skilled drivers who are steering the toboggan from behind don't allow you to flip or hit an oncoming car that could shatter every last one of those bones you internally expressed your love for. But most of all you laugh and try to carry on conversations with the drivers who are out of breath from running and steering and running some more.

When you reach the bottom, which is actually only half way down the mountainous hill, you're again greeted with someone presenting a picture of you being driven down the mountain.  You could pay the 10 euros to remember the once in a lifetime experience, or you could graciously decline like we (meaning my sister) did by saying, "haha...what?!  Please Claire, don't buy it... you look good but I look like crap." To which you take over the situation and say, like I did,  "since I'm an awesome sister and only aim to please my family, we won't buy the picture. But thanks anyway... ".  They may persist by exclaiming, "but what better way to remember the ride than by this great picture?", because they are salesmen after all.  You then put on your sweetest smile and reply, "oh, not to worry, we already have that taken care of.  See?"

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