Travel in a time of Covid-19

We read all the instructions several times to make sure we’d covered everything.

  • Vaccination proof? Check
  • Madeirasafe website information completed? Check
  • Airline check-in done? (although with much cursing at the airline’s rubbish website on my part) Check (Although the airline website generates a document that declares “This is not a boarding pass. Please check in at the airport to receive a boarding pass.”)
  • Several months of potentially useless Duolingo Brazilian Portuguese language lessons done? Check

We get to the airport more than three hours before our flight because this is not an airport or an airline we know well and we don’t know how long the pre-departure Covid-related checks will take.

As it turns out, we cannot check in until three hours before our flight and we’re turned away to wait for ten minutes.

Check in done (again), boarding passes received (proper ones this time), we proceed through security which is just like security used to be, only now everyone is wearing masks. And we still have more than two hours until our flight. But I always say it’s better to sit at the airport and be bored than to be running late and panicking.

Our flight leaves on time and after a short snooze (I was tired after all the excitement) I wake up and spend the rest of the flight reading, and doing sneaky sideways watching of the ipad belonging to the guy sitting next to me. (He’s watching Creed, and then Ghostbusters III, although he mostly sleeps through Ghostbusters.)

We arrive but as I don’t have a window seat I can’t appreciate the drama of landing at Madeira airport. We get off the plane but as I’m still wearing a mask I miss that first impression arrival smell – you know, when you arrive somewhere and behind the sharp mineral smell of airplane fuel, you get a first scent of what the place you have landed is like. Is it the salt of the sea? A pine smell of the mountains? A wet decaying scent of the tropics? Everywhere has a first smell. But I’m wearing a mask, so I miss that. I’m going to assume it would have been salt of the sea, because the airport runway is right by the ocean.

We take a taxi to our accommodation. Our driver drives with the speed of someone very familiar with these roads. We are up high, travelling on a freeway and across bridges, and then when we are above Funchal we spiral downwards through a roundabout, twisting and turning along back streets and down near-vertical alleyways into the old town and suddenly we have arrived.

Our apartment is big and we’re shown around by a friend of the owner who doesn’t speak much English. My Duolingo Brazilian Portuguese is not helpful here, but there’s not much we need to understand – here is the internet password, here are the spare bathroom supplies, here is the key to the balcony… We have a balcony!

We don’t, however, have any food in the house, so we make our way to Pingo Doce, the nearby supermarket, to pick up some basics for breakfast… and a bottle of wine. Because we like Portuguese wine and this wine is normally €8,99 but is on sale for €3.99. And it has a picture of a bird on the label. Maybe you don’t judge a book by its cover but you can (sometimes) judge a wine by its label. Visiting a supermarket is not normally on my top 10 things to do at home but for some reason, put me in a foreign country and suddenly supermarkets are the most fascinating places.

People are wearing masks – not just in the shopping centre but also on the street. We weren’t given any advice on what to do but we wear our masks on the street as well. It makes for a sweaty face but we don’t want to look like ignorant tourists (which we hear in passing, most of the non-mask-wearers are).

Back in our apartment we try the TV. There seem to be stations but it’s not picking them up. That’s OK, we have brought plenty of books and we need to plan for what we’re doing while we’re here. But it’s hot, very hot and sticky, and it feels like… it feels like home. Humid nights that follow humid days, this is the weather I grew up with.

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