Monday, 22 March 2010

First Levada Walk

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Wednesday 11th November 2009, Encumeada, Madeira, Portugal

Walk: 5hrs 54mins starting at 9.28
Low: 870m at 15.20
High: 1510 at 10.31
Descent: 688m
Ascent: 455m

We were down at breakfast for 8am. It was a bit disappointing. This cafeteria approach can sometimes work at breakfast. Everything was lukewarm. A least the coffee was good. Getting a packed lunch arranged was also a bit of a palaver and we had to wait whilst they got it ready. After that we found out that they were short of drivers and we would have to wait fr a driver to take a party of French hikers out and then return for us. So we sat around for half an hour.

Being delayed like this was a bit frustrating as I was aware that the best times for photography on the high mountains is early. Of course it would have been better to be up there before breakfast but that wasn't possible. As it happened we just got to the top as the clouds rolled up and obscured the views to the ocean. Frustrating.

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After a short drive we were dropped off where the Levada de Serra crosses the road. It was a warm sunny morning. The walk is lovely with greens; mosses, ferns, flowers, water falls and the browns of fallen leaves. The landscape all around is weird and wonderful. It's spiky like the Dolomites or Bora Bora. first the first hour we follow the levada as it gently wends it's way. We are walking against the flow of course. The levada is not much more than a foot wide and a foot deep, but it's flowing quite briskly. We are mostly walking in sunshine though sometime we have to scuttle underneath part which are virtual waterfalls. In some places the overhanging pine-trees make for amazing green light dappled tunnels as we follow the tiny stream.

After a short cobbled section we take a small break and watch some butterflies; a Speckled Wood and a Small Copper.

As we continue to climb to get to about 1500m and are suddenly engulfed in cloud. We pass two other groups; a French group and then an English group who are being led by a guide. The trail then becomes rocky and overgrown and we leave the levada to begin an hours descent past Laurels and Bilberries. Eventually we break out onto a wide muddy track which looks like it may be a road development. We descend this essentially scruffy and boring path for about 45 minutes, but at least we are now below the cloud and have views across the island to the ocean.

We reach a small house beside the Levada Del Norte and we sit here for a while having our lunch in the sun listening to the tinkling water. Around us the Agapanthus and Hydrangea are in flower in whites, blues and pinks.  The levada meanders prettily along with plenty of flowers on one side and a mossy wall on the other.

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When the levada opens out from the woods we have spectacular views across the valley below. Soon however we reach the first of five tunnels. We had been warned so we were prepared with head-torches. The first tunnel was short an easy to negotiate but the next two took 20 minutes to walk through and were dark, cold and slippery and quite dangerous. Easy to bang your head here and easy too to slip into the levada itself.

Back into the light we pass some amazing waterfalls. Everything is green, green, and more green. At one point we pass a team or workers who are repairing a washout. The levada itself is carried over the gap by a couple of plastic pipes whilst they rebuild the ledge and the levada itself. beyond this the levada is covered in split wood planks so that they can wheelbarrow supplies in. This continues even in the last tunnel which is thus made slightly easier to get through, though the wood can be slippery too and missing in some places.,

Eventually we pop out onto a track which leads down to a road which leads, after a 10 minute walk, back to the hotel. Once here we sit in the sun and enjoy a beer or two.