Isbjorn in Madeira: A Local Futbol Game

Mia sporting her new hat in Funchal.

I did 10k this morning, starting along the waterfront behind the marina and working east, quickly realizing that beyond the 2 or 3 kilometers of the main drag, there are no flat areas for running in Funchal. Past the Porto Maria hotel I jogged through old-town and across cobblestones that challenged my ankle joints and the road crept ever upward. At times I was down to a walking pace - gradients in excess of 12% sort of required it. The sun was high in the sky at 10am, and hot, but I wanted to get some on my skin so I ran without a shirt and let the sweat run down my back, my white tee-shirt getting soggier and soggier the more I wiped my brow.

Old town ended as I ran high above a public bath, far below the road at sea-level, a popular place for locals to swim and sunbathe. The road continued up and into the suburbs of Funchal. I passed two men smoking cigarettes outside their home on a narrow side-street, and 30 minutes later on my return they were still there, still smoking. A Sunday morning ritual.

Old Town Funchal.

The road flattened out around 1,000-feet and followed that contour in and out of valleys and clefts in the mountains. I passed a ‘Dogtel’ with lots of barking. First the road turned north, into the mountain, then curved back south again facing the sea. How they built these roads and the houses that occupy the cliffs around here I have no idea.

Across one steep valley I noticed a soccer (‘futbol’) field perched like an infinity swimming pool on the corner of a high retaining wall, with 15-foot chainlink fence around the field to keep errant balls in play (and out of the ocean, a few thousand feet below). The road took me right to the field, where I stopped on the sidewalk under a shade tree and watched the locals play their Sunday morning game. The field, and nets, were smaller than regulation, but they fielded teams of 6 players each, young and old, and were quite into the game. Shouting in Portuguese and wild hand gestures punctuated some of the more exciting moments. They didn’t wear matching jersey’s or anything, and with the age differences among the players (some appeared as old as 50, others as young as 15), it was obviously a pickup game.

Old Town Madeira just across from the Marina.

I stayed under that tree for 20 minutes watching the game. At one point the youngest player streaked down the left side and took a sweet pass from one of the older guys with a noticeable beer belly, and after two quick dribbles drilled a left-footer into the back of the net, to his side’s delight. He was clearly the most athletic and gifted talents on the field, and it was fun to watch the older guys slap him on the back. A young woman, maybe in her late 20’s, sat in a pink and black flowered dress on the small set of bleachers overlooking the field. Beyond the chain-link fence, all you could see was ocean, a very long way down the cliff, and the marina in the distance where Isbjorn was docked, awaiting tomorrow’s departure back towards mainland Portugal.