If someone were to offer you a few hours on a desert island, enjoying the sunshine and the ocean, would you jump at the opportunity to go? I did. And that’s how I ended up in an obscure place called the Ilhas Desertas, the Desertas Islands, off the coast of Madeira. All I knew about the islands was three things: 1) it was a natural habitat for the endangered monk seal, 2) only two or three people live there at any given time, and 3) nobody I knew had ever been there. All three things made me want to go even more.
We embarked on a sail boat with a company called Ventura Nature Emotions, where we met the crew who would be guiding us that day: the skipper, Marco, and a marine biologist, Zofia. Not only was this my first time on sail boat, but it was also my first time on a sail boat with my hubby, who loves to sail. I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with the possibility of sea sickness but Marco gave me some tips on avoiding it. About 45 minutes after leaving the Funchal marina, we came across the best prevention for sea sickness I could’ve imagined: dolphins!
Spotting wildlife isn’t guaranteed and a lot has to do with luck, so I was very excited when we saw the dolphins in the distance. They didn’t swim away as we approached them; they were curious and friendly. The Atlantic spotted dolphin species is smaller than the “typical” bottlenose dolphin people are accustomed to seeing on TV. They’re darker on top and white on the bottom, and the older they get, the more spots they have – it’s the dolphin equivalent of wrinkles… The clear water made it easy to observe them. There were an estimated 100 Atlantic spotted dolphins around us, and they came right up to the side of boat and swam alongside us. I can’t convey what a wondrous experience it was! The cherry on top was the baby dolphins jumping out of the water (less gracefully than the adults, but so much more adorable. They were trying really hard!).
The remainder of the trip up until we arrived at the island was less eventful, but Marco and Zofia kept us entertained throughout, and gave us a bit of background on the Ilhas Desertas and the species found there. As we approached the islands, we got to see just how deserted they were: large, brown and red colored, rocky masses coming out of the ocean. “How are we supposed to dock here?”, I wondered.
Just then, we see an area that looked like it has suffered a rock slide, with a small cove surrounded by azure water where a single boat was docked. On land, there were only two visible man-made structures. This was it: we’d arrived at the Desertas!
Part 2 of this post to follow soon!