Handsome dancers show off tropical flair at the Madeiran Carnival

The island of Madeira comes alive during carnival season, an annual event celebrating the last days before Lent with typical drinks and dances that last for days on end

I’m back to the British coldness after heating up with dancers at the Madeiran ‘Carnaval’. I’m still reeling from the colors and the perfumes of one of the best carnivals in Europe, held on the quasi-tropical island of Madeira.

Vibrant flowers, fragrant papayas, bananas and mangos from the tallest trees I have ever seen took me on a Caribbean trip in the Mediterranean. Madeira is a piece of Europe in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a gentle land with a friendly people.

The Carnival of Madeira (Carnaval in Portuguese) is a festival held forty days before Easter, that ends on Shrove Tuesday (called Fat Tuesday in Madeira – Terça-feira Gorda in Portuguese).

After the carnival, Roman Catholics traditionally abstained from the consumption of meat and poultry, hence the term ‘carnival,’ from carnelevare, which means ‘to remove meat.’

My carnival experience started with the ‘Transvesti Night’ on Friday. Hundreds of men and women dress up for a night of fun and drinks. The poncha is the most popular libation: Rum, honey and fruit juice (usually lemon or passion fruit juice are the best, but the English tomato one is worth a try as well). Ponchas run quickly in Funchal, the Madeiran capital, a gourgeous city between the mountains (the tallest one is more than 1,800 metres) and the ocean. I met the Gaymadeira staff, and while we had fun I won’t tell you how many ponchas I had.

Saturday is the day of the allegoric parade. The celebration is very similar to the world-renowned one in Rio de Janeiro. In the afternoon, I had the chance to attend the dress up at the Associação Animação Geringonça, one of the groups participating in the parade. A thrilling atmosphere with dozens of ponchas (again), the party was the perfect way not to feel alone on this remote island because the Geringonça is like a big family. The dress up is also the occasion to finish and fix the wonderful costumes, to try the dance steps and to plan the crazy night.

Then, the actual parade starts at 9pm. Thousands of people gather to the sea promenade, waiting for the parade to start. It was almost too much: Costumes, colors, very loud music, hundreds of tourists from the cruises, a live broadcasting by the local television channel, kiosks with fried malasadas and sonhos, delicious sweets of the Madeiran tradition. I had the chance, thanks to the Madeira Promotion Bureau to walk along the parade.

But Madeira’s charm extends far beyond its capital city Funchal. In almost every town or village, Sunday is dedicated to popular and more intimate parades of the carnival season. Here, people look more authentic, forget the crowds and forget the glamour. By chance, I saw the Porto Moniz Sunday parade. Strong gale winds, with steam coming from the sea, were my companions during this uncommon Sunday. With some espetadas (chaircoal grilled beef skewers) in my belly, dancing was quite hard. But the delicious food certainly didn’t stop me.

Monday was the Hippie Day (and hippie night). I think these pictures are enough for you to understand its true spirit. It is the night of some more spirits as well: ponchas (again), daiquiri and margaritas, local beer and Madeira wine (strong and sweet, the Blandy’s is one of the best ones). Of course, if you go to Madeira, please drink carefully – excesses are never good – and avoid driving so as not to risk ending your night at the hospital or at the local police station.

The Saturday’s allegoric parade costs a lot of money, but the most authentic – and probably most funny – is the ‘trapalhão’ on Tuesday. The trapalhão is older and used to occur all over the island, now it floods the streets of the city center of Funchal. Everybody can take part.

A historical fun fact: During the 19th century people from Madeira emigrated to Hawaii and took the tradition of Malasadas on Terça-feira Gorda (Shrove Tuesday) with them. Now it is called Malasada Day in Hawaii. But the best place to try them is, of course, Madeira.

Thanks to the Madeira Promotion Bureau for facilitating this amazing experience.

We flew thanks to TAP Portugal. TAP Portugal is the leading airline to Portugal from the UK, connecting through the Lisbon hub to numerous destinations within Europe, Africa, North, Central and South America. There are 74 weekly flights from the UK to Portugal, making TAP the most frequent flyer to the country, offering direct services from Manchester, London Heathrow and Gatwick to Lisbon, Porto and Funchal.

Until the 29th of March: daily flight from London Heathrow to Madeira, prices start at £148 return including all taxes.

From the 30th of March: daily flight from London Gatwick to Madeira, prices start at £132 return including all taxes.

For further information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0845 601 0932 (UK number).

by Daniele Guido Gessa
Source – Gay Star News