02 February 2012

Bye, bye Armas

Well, it's a fact. The ferry "Volcan de Tijarafe" made her last call in Funchal on the past 30th of January, coming from Portimão and heading to Canary islands, thus ending a commercial operation of nearly four years and her contribution in approaching the populations of Madeira, continental Portugal and Canary islands to each other.
Madeira and Azores remain, therefore, two of the few ultra peripheral European regions without a ferry connection to the European mainland. I don't now about you, but to me it sounds as a regression in time... back to the medieval age. I had the pleasure of being a customer once. And since I'm in an island where when you think travel you think flying, I loved the very refreshing idea of driving my car from Funchal to Portimão and all the way to Singapore and back if I wanted. And so I did it. Not to Singapore, granted. Just to my hometown, in the continental mainland. To me the experience was worth the (comparatively low) cost. And I dare to bet that if you ask that same question to each and one of the thousands of passengers and tourists transported in the past four years, they will give you the same positive answer.
Some carried goods were also arriving to the market shelves with lesser prices than before, namely fruit and fresh vegetables.
And thanks to that ferry line, Madeira got acquainted with a new type of tourist. New, at least, in the island history:  the camper van tourist.
Motor biker expeditions became also common, with several motard clubs in the three vertices of the triangle Madeira-Portuguese mainland-Canary organizing trips within it.
All that is, at least for the near future, gone. And strangely as it may seem, people were not convinced about the reasons. Some say it was due to commercial reasons. The line simply could not be profitable. Others will give the politics answer, eventually colouring it with a few words that we cannot say, for the sake of decency, in front of children. Well I don't know about that. I'm not versed enough in shipping economics to know if the line had the slightest chance to survive since the beginning.
And the politics. Oh, yes... the politics. Well, I couldn't care less about the low level of the regional politics that surrounds us (the same statement is valid to the national one also, by the way!) and it's eventual intervention - or lack of it - in all the process.
However, as a common citizen, living in the "Atlantic Pearl", I'm worried. I'm worried about our increasingly narrow quality of life. And with the reductions in alternatives. With the disappearing of this shipping line we are today one step further away from Europe, when yesterday we were one step closer.
The Armas farewell is only a symptom of the difficulties and solitude that lay ahead. Maybe I'm exaggerating, seeing a black canvas. Maybe they'll return in Summer time, bringing the nice weather and more peaceful voyages. I can only hope so. However, until that day comes, my last memory of that visionary enterprise is a peaceful Winter evening in the bay of Funchal and a departing ship greeting her for the last time. On that evening of January, we all felt a little bit poorer.