Traveling with kids—going downhill!

Have you ever gone on a sled ride where there was NO snow involved? 

I’ve been posting about my family trip to Europe and the experiences of two veteran travellers adjusting to adventuring with a five-year-old. There were a lot of ups and downs. The experience we had on the island of Madeira was definitely a “down” experience!

We spent a week on the island with our extended family, and my in-laws kept talking about the Madeira toboggan run. I couldn’t quite understand what they were talking about, so I did some research and, yep, people go down asphalt roads on sleds. The strange way of traveling originated in the 1800s as a way for locals to quickly get from the village of Monte at the top of the hill down to Funchal by the water. 

Here’s my photo of the classic Portuguese tile art that depicts this in years gone by:

Doesn’t it look like a gentle, courtly activity?

It’s not quite like that these days! The journey is now primarily for tourists. The sleds are made out of wicker and are powered by two “carreiros”, dressed in white and wearing straw hats. They also wear rubber soled boots, which they use as brakes.

Things go downhill . . .

Well, we had to try it. After all, we had taken a lot of public transport on our trip (subways, trains, tuk-tuks, donkeys), so why not this? During my previous travels, I’ve ridden horses, camels, and elephants—not to mention that, being a good Canadian kid, I’ve done my fair share of tobogganing down icy slopes.

On the day we went, we had a particularly long wait because a cruise trip had pulled into Madeira and the island was swelling with extra tourists. Still the wait—and the cost—was worth it. Sledding into Funchal was one of those tourist trap activities that you just have to do. I’m all about the unique experiences . . . and this was it! 

Well, down we wait, shrieking in delight all the way down (all three of us!).

The route is about two kilometers and takes many twists and turns. It even crosses traffic intersections patrolled by attendants with stop signs to halt the cars. I’m not sure how fast we ever went, though official literature says you can go up to 38 km/hour!

The route ends at a souvenir stand (no surprise) where you can purchase a photo that they’ve taken of you along the way. Once again, that was another one of those tourist trap things that we fell for—because, well, you kind have to.

Afterward, the carreiros are bussed back to the top of the mountain, and the sleds are carted up on flatbed trucks. As for us, it was a one-kilometer walk down the steep slope to where we were staying. As it happened, we were on the same road. I imagine, back in the day, the sleds would have gone right past that house!

Well, what’s the strangest ride YOU’ve ever taken?


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