Friday, January 22, 2016

Madeira Hiking Day 5: Levada do Paul and Rabaçal Valley

(Typos all belong to me. I type these posts "blind" in the sense that I'm not watching the screen and sometimes either because I mess up or auto-correct tries to help odd things happen). 
Photo: It is a little hard to tell but if you look in the left of the photo you can see that there are many billowing clouds below us: and a few clouds above us too. But at our elevation things are wonderfully clear. Madeira has many climate zones and microclimates within those zones. 

Photo: Madeira gets most of its electricity from, I believe, diesel. However there is a growing industry in windfarms, solar farms, and hydro power.

Our last HF walk would be up high starting at about 4,500 feet above sea level in, I think, the Ponta do Sol area. The walk was 8.5 miles long and we would spend much of it working our way along several different levadas. We began walking downstream along the Levada do Paul and the weather could not have been better. The sun was out and the clouds that were visible were all below us. To be sure that obscured some views a little bit but the clouds themselves were interesting to look at and overall the sky was clear enough that we had nearly constant vistas.. The path was easy to walk upon. Now and then a brief rather narrow bit would appear and drop-offs on the left were a bit sheer but I don't think anyone was really perturbed by them (Mom is less than thrilled with those bits). Up in these higher places we found ourselves passing by some interesting man-made structures: a wind farm and solar farm. While Madeira generates most of its electricity through diesel (I think) they have a growing industry in solar, wind and hydro power. The large body of water we would cross at the top of the roadways descent down into Rabaçal may have been part of a hydroelectric plant. We also walked through some places were reforestation  was being done. I think they're planting indigenous pines and oaks. We also passed through some longer stretches of gorse-lined path. Gorse is a pretty yellow plant when flowering but it is rather rough when you brush against it: at least it isn't full of cactus spines. I imagine the people who maintain the levadas must trim the gorse back on a regular basis. 
Photo: Ken striding along the Levada do Paul. 

Photo: Watch out for your legs. Gorse is blooming here and the tough raspy plant can scratch your skin. It won't draw blood with anything like the ease of a cactus spine but you'll notice it as you brush by or get pushed on by it like Dad is here. 

The walk along Levad do Paul covers about 6km and it was a great way to spend our morning. It is followed by a winding descending road walk down to Casa Rabaçal. The road is still used by a minibus that for a small fee will ferry passengers back and forth. I believe House Rabaçaal must have once been a hostel and their is some habitation in the area adjacent but if you are imagining a cafe stop purge that notion from your mind. You can certainly stop there for a picnic lunch, refill your water, and even use a bathroom (bring toilet paper because while there are functional toilets they lack toilet paper).

Photo: our group at Casa Rabaçal having lunch. The people who added the extension, turned out not to be worth it, are just arriving. 

Many people visit the 25 fountains (25 Fontes) but our understanding is that while the path is generally not at all a tough one since it is a levada path (25 Fontes) the levada path itself is often quite narrow making it something of a pain for groups to pass each other. If you are visiting by yourself or in a tiny group it's probably well worth the visit but when groups of our size, about a dozen, are involved it just isn't worth the effort. At least that is the reasoning given by HF. Personally I wish we had seen the pools as if I found the right pictures some of them, or maybe just one, look quite lovely indeed.  Instead we left Casa Rabaçal and began heading down another levada and then too several hundred rough-hewn stone steps that we descended easily a couple hundred feet to Levada Risco. Descending those steps was a sweat-inducing experience. If you have normal vision it is just normally annoyingly tough as the footing isn't ideal and the steps vary in their riser heights. For me: a definite workout.  Once you reach the levada the going is easy again and you stroll along a high ,weeping, cliff on one side and lush forested valley (Risco Valley I believe) on the other. The sound of the high waterfalls can be heard in the distance. You will almost certainly pass people along the way. This is a popular place  though I am not sure how most people come to it. Certainly we saw no one else at the shelter/picnic area.  The Risco waterfalls are certainly worth the walk.
Photos: This water in the Risco valley (I think) may be the tallest we have seen. Great area to spend time. 

From the waterfalls we retraced our steps and then dropped down again to another levada (25 Fontes I think at this point) and began our final segment of the walk to Calheta. This is a segment that you  definitely do not want to miss. It contains the Tunel do Rabaçal which is 800 meters long. No light. Narrow. Damp but good footing. I suppose people go in both directions but you better be willing to squeeze against the wall if someone has to pass. I am certain I have never walked through such a tunnel before. Wow. It took about 15 minutes to walk through and it did not feel like it took that long. Perhaps the impromptu singing helped pas the time. Once we burst out at the southern terminus we turned to our right (southwest) and followed the path into Calheta which is, as far as I could tell, not much to remark upon at all. It may just be a place to park cars: that's all it seemed to be to me.  

I very good walk. A varied walk with superb weather conditions. When a walk provides you with variety it matters far less that it be full of physical challenges. While it is nice to have some ups and downs (and we all prefer undulating terrain to relentless up or down) a walk like this that had only a minuscule amount of ascent and vastly more descent (the road walk to Rabaçal House and the rough steps to Risco Levada) it was wholly enjoyable and a good way to end our hiking part of the trip.

Here us the video for this hike of 8.5 miles. Minimal ascent and about 1,400 feet of descent most of which is the road walk to Casa Rabaçal and then the steps to the Levada to the waterfall. 

Bonus: after dinner at the Atlantis restaurant which was a fine multi-course meal including palate cleansing dishes and what was certainly the best dessert of the week we fell into some great good fortune. A troupe of 14 performers were setting up to dance at the hotel as Dad and I were heading out to the Russian-lady cafe for coffee. We turned around and settled down to watch the troupe. What a treat. We even got involved in the dancing. 
Photo: 14 performers showing us some wonderful local culture in their music and dance. They had young and far more senior people in the group which I think is a great indication local culture is alive and well. 

Video of the dancers. We all got in on the dancing though you'll only see Dad here in the video. 

Video of the dancers.
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