Madeira, oh dear ah…

For the past few years, I have taken a tactical holiday in November or December to get some much-needed vitamin D in the winter months, when it’s also cheaper and not overwhelmingly hot.

I have been heading towards the equator where the temperatures are still decent, with Malta and Gran Canaria my previous two winter holiday destinations. Coincidentally, these also seem to be locations where old people go at the same time.

This year, I had a look at the map and chose to put a year of learning Spanish on Duolingo to good use by going to Madeira, where they don’t even speak Spanish. Fortunately, I was able to become 18% fluent in Portuguese before I went, at least according to official Duolingo records.

I signed up for a mountain bike trek. I hadn’t ridden a bike in 14 years, but you never forget. It’s like… something I can’t currently think of.

Most things I book through Expedia are full of pensioners, those are just the rules. On the plus side, it means I almost always have superior fitness levels to the rest of the group. So it was quite a shock to get in the van to go mountain biking and be surrounded by young Germans and Swedish people in professional cycling gear. Then there was me dressed in cotton shorts and a t-shirt, with old trainers.

But it surely didn’t matter, because I’d ridden a bike all throughout my youth, mainly at Center Parcs as I wasn’t allowed out to ride in the road where I lived until I was 12. And I should add that when I was 12, I had a mountain bike with five gears. Five entire gears.

It turns out that mountain biking had changed quite substantially in the 21 subsequent years and I didn’t even know how to use the gears on my bike. The guide quickly saw my ineptitude and prevented me from going on some of the trails.

Despite my legs seizing up with cramp at various points and other members of the group literally pushing me along at others, I somehow managed to complete the 40km trek. I was completely caked in mud, but I’d made it.

It turned out to be a perfect metaphor for Brexit negotiations. I signed up for something I thought would be easy, only to be find myself in an uphill struggle that was way beyond my ability, surrounded by much more experienced and knowledgeable European people who ended up taking pity on me.

The next day I was unable to walk properly, with my inner thighs red and swollen. I was also bruised from falling over a few times and am naturally pasty. So I was at least red, white and blue to embellish the Brexit metaphor further. There’s your patriotism.

I did at least get a couple of days of sun before the clouds took over towards the end of the week. Then I rounded my holiday off by getting a norovirus on my penultimate day.

No prizes for how I spent my final day. Of course, I went on a sightseeing trip of the island.

Okay, I didn’t. I signed up for a sightseeing trip, but after having spent the night vomiting at both ends, I thought it was probably best to change my scale down my sightseeing to the inside of a toilet bowl. I even saw some local wildlife in the ants that were living in my hotel bathroom. A norovirus did at least give an edge to the flight home, like Russian roulette of the arse. I can’t think why the woman sitting next to me moved seats.

I’m now planning next year’s holiday. This one is going to take some topping.

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