30 April 2017

Summer's coming!

Always a pleasure to visit the island of Porto Santo during this time of the year. We are still in mid-Spring, but it's like we are already in Summer. The atmosphere gets clearer and all the natural formations seems to be closer and bigger than they actually really are. The few occasional rain showers are a blessing at this time of the year, to fill up the levadas, instead of a premonition of stormy weather to come.
The air temperature, although still a tad on the cold side, doesn't discourage the occasional stroll at the peaceful evening time, along the sand patch of one of Portugal's most beautiful beaches. With everything that surrounds us in perfect harmony.
A bucolic Porto Santo scene, photographed yesterday, around 2130, with the whole beach pretty much for myself, following the berthing manoeuvre of the M/T Letízia Effe (IMO 9373230).
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and cheap Polaroid PLTRI42 light tripod. Post-processing of the NEF file and conversion to JPEG in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

20 April 2017

Life’s a circle.


Photo:
Ceramic wall panel on the Megre family country house, in Águas, northern Portugal; depicting the many voyages made by José Megre during his lifetime. An homage of the Penamancor City Hall to one of the county's most illustrious sons.
 
Months ago, one of my regular travels to the mainland was as much a periplus as it was a pilgrimage.With the purpose of visiting my alma mater, to fulfill some academic duties, I decided to make the best of those short eight days in the continental  Portugal and, school compromises solved, head out to the Northern part of the country, to the Beira Alta region, steering my course towards the Central Massif to enjoy a few peaceful days of mountain air, surrounded by the high peaks of granite before returning to my island.
For a few reasons, I’m glad I’ve done it. Because that short trip was one of discovery and reflection.
 
He was a reference to many. Both mature and young people alike.
A mechanical engineer by college formation and early profession. A former Army Comando, with war commissions in Angola. An adventurer and a leader. A writer and a communicator. A grown man who, I can easily imagine, never ceased to look at the world with a youngsters' eyes.
He was also a father and a husband. A family man.
José Megre was all of this and, certainly, a bit more.
To the common layman, myself included, he was mostly the “father of the Portuguese off-roading  movement”. He started it all, during the late seventies and early eighties, when this poor nation, freshly recovered from the Carnation Revolution, was opening up herself to the modern world and Europe.
 
There were many famous Portuguese adventurers through the ages. Many more forever anonymous, forgotten by History, although they were part of it. We were always a country of voyagers. Of dreamers. Of people trying to see beyond the horizon. A poet once said that this nearly millenary nation is too small for her own people. Hence the diaspora.  And the simple, unquestionable, fact that anywhere in the world you’ll find a Portuguese.
José Megre had it on his genes. The “carpenters' bug”, as we say in Portuguese. A restlessness that forces us to move ahead. To unknown territories, mostly within ourselves.
 
Like for so many young kids of my age, avid readers of Jules Verne and Jack London, he was Mr. Adventure personified.
Sadly, I never met him in life. He was already a seasoned respected voyager while I was still in elementary school. Our paths never crossed. And today it’s already too late. So, I’ve decided I’d pay him a visit on his last resting place, when I had a chance.
 
So here was I, together with my faithful Citro AX GT, my very own modest, unpretentious (to say the least!) and timid approach to the motorized sports, at the gates of Águas one September afternoon.
Águas, like so many villages in the Portuguese mountainous interior, has a telluric relation with the Earth. The austere granitic architecture, seen from afar, looks like a part of the natural landscape. Like so many towns around, Águas seems stopped in medieval times. I sometimes wonder how can this be possible. How can a country be so full of contrasts, between modern and old, between futuristic development and the total lack of it. And all of this in a rectangle of 90.000 square kilometers.  How can this diversity be possible in such a small area? A nation smaller than most of the USA states?
For an American citizen, used to its square-grid modern cities, where everything looks the same in the landscape for hundreds of kilometers regardless of the direction taken, the fact that the scenery changes at every fifty kilometers must be puzzling.
 
The central square of the small town is dominated by two main buildings, constructed side-by-side: the Catholic church, built in a neo-gothic style, and the country house of the Megre family, his own.
He was the son of one of many aristocratic and bourgeoise landowning families so common in Portugal’s interior during the XVIII, XIX and early XX’s centuries.
So, financially speaking, he was a wealthy person, having born within a rich family, whom, according to a local inhabitant , owned the vast majority of the land surrounding the village. But would that factor alone explain his devotion to motorized sports early on his life? And the later pursuit of adventure that led him to organize the first Portuguese team to race in the Paris-Dakar rally, during the early eighties?
And his passion for travel, fueled late in his life, that drove him to visit – in his own words – “all the nations of the world, except one”?
Hardly.
 
That’s an ambition, a need for fulfillment that has to come from within. And although money does help, it doesn’t justify it entirely. Otherwise, how could we explain the thousands travelling the globe as we speak without a dime in their pockets?
Someone said “every voyage is an unsatisfied anxiousness”. I would concur with the author. There’s a certain restlessness that some people have that always seems to move them to perpetual motion. José Megre, we can easily imagine, was part of those few. Living life by his own terms. Facing challenges where all the others saw unclimbable mountains.
 
Now, I cannot help but to think about the ephemeral nature of life and how dramatically short it is. There’s never enough time to fulfill our own very personal definition of destiny, although I’d say that José Megre approached his.
And after nearly forty years of an adventurous life, that took him to the four corners of the world, he found rest in here. In the same old town where he probably used to play as a child and, perhaps, dreamt with those faraway places he’d love to visit someday.
And, with that final act, he closed the circle.

27 November 2016

Dreams of Aneto

(Or the affective life of the Pyrenean marmots)

A street in the mountain town of Benasque.
 
Benasque was a dream of youth. An almost mythological place which name I used to whisper, in an age when the world still seemed infinite and my childish future career plans were a crossing between Galen Rowell and Sir Edmund Hillary. To a kid of fourteen who had never left Portugal, the Pyrenees might as well be in Bhutan.
Meanwhile, amongst readings of well-intentioned authors and day-dreaming, I got older. And like the vast majority of the human race, while we progress in life, from beginning towards the unavoidable ending, we have the sad tendency to replace romantism for pragmatism.
Like a very personal and intimate civilizational crash, to me that happened abruptly around my twentieth birthday.
Someone once told me that “in a family the younger child does what he wants to do and the older one does what he has to do”. Being the older brother in the family I knew what I had to do, alright: achieve my independence as soon as possible.
So at twenty I was choosing seafaring life over bum life (for some, they aren’t really that different, you know?) and a few years Iater I was finally living a totally independent life. On the side of that path I left a few (questionable) dreams.
The Renclusa hut. Departing point for so many adventures in the Posets-Maladeta massif...
...and the cool marmots living on the neighborhood.

Well, although I may hold some bitterness for a dreamt future never fulfilled, truth is I’m glad, so far, how things turned out and the Earth’s spinning movement drove my life to the present moment in time.
To me, for decades, and pardon my lack of ambition, the Aneto was my “Everest”. As the actual Everest is the Everest for so many.
The Mahoma step in front and the last problem before the summit.

Now, twenty-six years and kilograms later from my first visit to the biggest Iberian cordillera, I was finally standing at the top of the Pyrenees highest peak, after a seven-hour climb from La Renclusa (well, it was more like a high-mountain hike) and wondering why was I so lazy in the last quarter of a century.
After kissing the Virgen del Pilar statue that adorns the summit and while looking East, to the uncomfortable Mahoma step I’ve just crossed and to all the people following the same path, I finally understood it.
Like Monte Perdido, that I ascended twenty-six years ago, and, perhaps, the iconic Mont Blanc, this wasn’t just a climb. It was a pilgrimage.
Far from being just, in the words of legendary French climber Lionel Terray, “conquests of the useless”, there’s a lot to be learn, on a spiritual level, about such accomplishments.
We are living in an Era with fewer geographic boundaries to overcome. With less and less blank spots on the world map to be cartographed, and the progresssion curve of human physical capabilities leaning slowly to the horizontal plane, we find ourselves slowly steering from the Neanderthal-like bravado to a more spiritual level.
The statue of the Virgen del Pilar looks at the distant horizon from the highest summit in the Pyrenees in a particularly peaceful June morning.
 
The same also happens in mountaineering, where, after all the important conquests have been achieved, the only objective still worthy of a look is the ascension of Everest during the winter season, oxygeneless,  solo and… errr… bare naked.    
In the end, regardless of the narcissists’ childish opinions, reaching the high peaks accounts for just that: a deeply personal, metaphysical and spiritual experience that, hopefully, will bring a bit of light to the mysteries of our lives and, by that, perhaps, contributes to give us a better understanding of ourselves and the others.
But, above all of that, within the most intricate corners of our souls, we all secretly believe that it will lead us closer to God.
 
All the pictures taken with Nikon P7100

27 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Christmas in Porto Santo island.
Picture taken at dawn, in Vila Baleira central square, with Nikon P7100 secured in a cheap Polaroid 42" travel tripod and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

12 August 2015

Luxuriant

The dense and luxuriant Laurissilva forest in Pico das Pedras, on the North coast of Madeira.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Manfrotto tripod and Junior geared head. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

07 August 2015

Sophisticated weather station

Looking for a replacement for my cheap digital no-brand cr.. weather station, which I bought six years ago in a general store, I began a few weeks ago to do a bit of searching.
In the Funchal Pilot station we have the trustworthy (for advanced amateur standards) Davis Vantage Pro 2, well renowned by weather buffs worldwide. For use at home, however, the price of nearly 700 Euros is a deal breaker, since I also don't need so much complexity and parameters. Now I'm looking for accurate, simpler and cheaper. A few days ago, aboard the Icelandic research vessel Neptune, I've noticed this advanced equipment that seems to fit the bill. The only drawback is the inexistence of a reseller in Portugal.
Picture taken aboard the RV Neptune (IMO nº 7504237), with Panasonic DMC-FT3 compact digital camera.

Summer diet

Only our natural and ever-present human arrogance allow us to, sometimes, forget our actual position on the food chain: somehow nearby the middle.
For many of our fellow inhabitants, within this tiny blue ball drifting around in the universe, we are nothing more than a nice and tender snack.
Picture taken along the shoreline of Olinda, in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor DX 18-55mm standard zoom lens. Post processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.