Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Madeira Hiking Day 1: Camacha to Monte

(Apologies for typos). 

Our first full and proper hiking day has come to an end. On most HF trips the first hike tends to end, and often start, at the hotel. Today's harder hike (easier too) broke with that rule. We piled into minibuses under overcast skies and drove to the town of Camacha where we found the clouds were refusing to contain their water and we're releasing it steadily though with not much force upon the ground below. Given that the first 0.5 miles of the walk was on an ascending road with no sidewalk and that it was lightly raining we hopped back on the bus and drove to a pull-out by the start of a levada. Levada so are water channels, perhaps two feet wide by 4 feet deep, that are essentially irrigation ditches. Their will be a high-quality path next to the levada that seems to be usually a hard packed dirt path sometimes just wide enough for a single person and other times practically a highway for foot traffic. We soon found ourselves strolling easily through lush forest at an elevation of about 2,900 feet above sea level. I am not sure how much rain Madeira actually gets (we understand their are some 63 climate zones) but the lushness of the forests suggests to me it must be a fair bit. It's good that we had such variety in the forsts because the views farther afield were completely hidden by billowing clouds. While the rain was never heavy it was persistent.

Along the way, especially near the start of each levada, we did pass by several other people all heading the other way. They were no doubt folks on walking holidays like us. Who knows perhaps some of them were in for the day from cruise ships docked at Funchal. I am glad we were not with them because some of them seemed rather too exuberant for my piece of mind. We marched on through the mists of Madeira passing plants small and large and often colorful even early in the year. But most were dwarfed by the stunningly tall and straight eucalyptus trees that were planted after large sections of forst were removed. Of course, after those removals erosion blame a big problem so fast-growing (and pretty useless for anything else) tree were planted to help control erosion. They're impressive.

The toughest part of the walk was the stretch, probably requiring about 20=25 minutes walking, that dropped us down from the first levada to a tiny town. The road was cobblestone with some mud and grass and remarkably steep and slick. While some people seemed to zip right now the treacherous way I certainly found it slow tough going. In fact, I lost my footing on a section where Tarmac and cobbles converged and took a spill mildly hurting my right upper arm in the process (fine now). I suspect that this stretch is a challenge even when the surface is dry.

In due time our second levada, much better made it seemed to us, and associated path wound us in and out of a box-like canyon to the valley just east of Monte. Once again we began a steep descent on stony paths (they build strange shallow rolling steps into the paths) that required care to traverse. Into the shrouded forest we went but we could see, now in early-mid afternoon, that the sun was trying to break free. Down some 300 feet and then we climbed back out along what I suppose must be an old road (more cobbles and well made steps this time) with the sun actually peaking through and at about 15:20 we arrived at the cable car terminus for the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. We had begun the 7.8 mile walk just a bit before 11:00 and while I believe the distance I have my doubts about the elevation gain and loss numbers I recorded (780 feet and 1,600 feet both of which strike me as high by at least a third; though we clearly must have dropped 1,000 feet as we started around 2,900 and ended around 1,800).  We enjoyed the next hour at a cafe soaking up the newly appeared sunshine and a good slice of carrot cake. I wish I could say the Irish coffee was good too but it cooled down way too quickly.

An 8-Mile Hike: Camacha to Monte

Bonus: After dinner, and the buffet here is simply providing fuel and so far will not go down in memory as highly tasty, we walked down to a cafe for some live music. Two Russian violists serenaded us for a while playing an astonishgly wide selection of pieces from classical to rock and roll. It was a lovely way to end the day.

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