30 September 2012

Chão da Ribeira

Chão da Ribeira is, probably, the loveliest valley in Madeira. Located in the NW coast, close to Seixal, it's basically a suspended valley, about three kilometres long, and cut in the rock by the erosion forces of the Ribeira (stream) do Seixal. Contrary to most mountain valleys in Madeira (which are narrow and deep), its floor (about one kilometre wide) is flat and with good land for agriculture. Therefore, although the valley has no permanent human residents, the lands are well kept and a permanent source of potatoes and other vegetables for their owners.
Due to its altitude above sea level (about 300 meters) and because its opening to NNE, the valley has a moisty climate though all the year. However, the mountain walls around it keep it sheltered from the strong NE winds so typical in Madeira, helping, therefore, the agricultural efforts and making it at the same time one of the best spots in Madeira for a relaxed weekend among nature.
Endemic of Madeira, the Massarocos (Echium Candicans) are one of the symbols of the island and a common presence also in the Chão da Ribeira valley.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

29 September 2012

Dawn of a new day

While watching, though the tv network, the ending of a massive public demonstration that took place, until a few minutes ago, in Lisboa's Terreiro do Paço square, I can't help but to be afraid of the future laying ahead of us all.
Portugal, a notoriously peaceful country, is giving signs, during the past weeks, of cracking under the stress-induced austerity measures placed by the government. I'm, personally, deeply worried that what lays ahead is social turmoil and political instability.
Meanwhile, in our small Madeira, life goes on. Day after day. We just don't look for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow anymore. And we don't dream anymore. We are just trying to keep our jobs, to survive, and, while squeezing the Euros (shorter from day to day), we wait. Like this mooring foreman, in the Pontinha breakwater, standing-by for the berthing manoeuvre of the M/V Oriana, one day ago.
A mooring foreman awaits the arrival of the M/V Oriana, from P&O, to the port of Funchal, yesterday, at sunrise.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

24 September 2012

NRP Cacine

The NRP Cacine, a patrol boat from the Portuguese Navy, enters the Funchal port in the present day's afternoon.
This class of vessels were built in Portugal and with the military effort in the Colonial War on sight. After the war and the consequent Portuguese colonies independency, in the mid-seventies, all the units of the family were stationed in the Portuguese mainland and autonomous regions of Madeira and Açores, serving mainly for fisheries patrols and SAR operations. From an original class of ten vessels (each one baptized with the name of a river from the former Portuguese African territories), only four still navigate.
Pictures taken with Panasonic DMC-FT3 waterproof and shockproof digital camera.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

22 September 2012

Sétima Legião live in the Santa Catarina Park

Few bands shaped a whole generation in Portugal as did Sétima Legião. A pop sound with clear roots in the Portuguese ancient medieval music and troubadours, these musicians shaped the eighties and early nineties generation in Portugal. "Authentic pearls of the Portuguese music", as the Blitz music newspaper once said, both the LP's "Mar d'Outubro" and "A um Deus desconhecido" hardly had a weaker song in a perfect production of both lyrics and music. Multi-instrumentalists, the use of ancient instruments during their concerts, such as bag-pipes, hurdy gurdies, flutes, accordion and percussion, was frequent and added depth to the characteristic solemn sound of the band.
I spend my whole youth and also the Nautical School years listening to these guys. And suddenly (and sadly!) they disappeared.Most of them with college education, they went searching for their respective careers.
And now, after years away from the music world, they returned. To another (probably the last one) tour. With mandatory passage by Madeira (Ricardo Camacho, professionally a Physician, and the band's keyboardist, is natural from the island), it would be a sin not to be a part in the concert. I was not disappointed. I, suddenly, returned back twenty-five years in my live. To the dreams I had when I first listened to them. Some of those I managed to pursuit. And they became real. The others remained just like that. Dreams. To be fulfilled in the future. If life permits.
In the end, we are all twenty-five years older. Me, the band and the generation (my own!) listening to them in that peaceful end-of-Summer night in Santa Catarina park. But their music is still as young as when I heard it, two-and-a-half decades ago.
Sétima Legião, live in Santa Catarina Park, Funchal, yesterday's night.
Picture taken with Panasonic DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Autumn leaf

It's now official.
Meteorology changed abruptly in the past couple of weeks. The weather in Madeira is moving towards Winter. And contrary to the past two years, it seems that the upcoming rain season it's going to be exactly that: rainy.
Not that I'm complaining. The land was already needing some water, with the levadas around the island with dangerous low levels, thus compromising the cultures, the hydroelectric production and also the fresh water supplies to the population. We never, actually, had any shortages in these matters. However, since Madeira is fully dependent on pluviosity to equilibrate the water consumption all the population welcome these early rain showers with a smile.
Oh well, as long we don't have strong winds (Pilot's worst enemy in this neighbourhood), the Autumn season is clearly welcome. And I'm sure missing the colours.
Autumn leaf close to Queimadas, last year's Autumn.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 18-50mm f/2.8 DC HSM.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

20 September 2012


Along the forest road connecting the village of Santana to Queimadas (the starting point to one of the most beautiful levadas in Madeira: to Caldeirão Verde) there are a few water streams and waterfalls. This is the land of the green-coloured forests and trouts enjoying their creeks.
And, although the past two years have been quite dry, the Northern forest stills keeps its magic and monochromatic enchantment. Under the green canopy, you'll find people like you passing by, and, just like you, with a strong bond to the natural world. In front of you might lay several miles of a fairytale forest. Made from the same stuff that molds our dreams. And "a river running though it".
Small waterfall in a creek close to Queimadas.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 EX DC HSM.
Manfrotto tripod and geared head.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

19 September 2012

Costa Deliziosa

After a couple of weeks on holidays, I have returned to my job as a Funchal harbour Pilot. While we wait that the rests of the passing-by hurricane Nadine pays us a visit, we keep on enjoying the remains of the Summer with nice weather and a few early-morning manoeuvres.
Today, besides the Aida Sol, under Pilotage by my fellow colleague João Santos, we had also the visit of the Costa Deliziosa, currently the flagship from Costa Crociere.
Color picture converted to Black & White in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
Picture taken with Panasonic DMC-FT3 compact waterproof and shockproof camera.

17 September 2012


On a cold and rainy November night, back in the early nineties, I stepped off from a bus coming from Pamplona and started looking for a place to sleep. While walking to the town's only hotel along the desert road, with the sound of the rain and my own footsteps as my only companions, I couldn't help but ask to myself what was I doing in the middle of the Winter in that small Pyrenean village. As soon as I settled down, the answer quickly shined in my mind. I came looking for a legend. A legend of medieval times, of dark ages, of war and Heaven, of courage and fear, of heroism and fate. The legend of a King, the Emperor Charlemagne, and a devoted knight, Roland, dying in his final battle not far away from here.
It's the legend of his courage and his more than legendary sword Durandal striking a final blow on the Pyrenean spine, while attempting to retreat with his army to France, in one of the many religious wars that grassed over our old Europe.
It's the legend of Santiago de Compostela. And the Way of St. James, passing by and leading to it. It's the legend of the Rocesvalles order of warrior monks, protecting the pilgrims to Compostela since the late XII century.
On my second day there, around two coffee mugs in a restaurant nearby, I met the priest of the collegiate church, of the cathedral. We spoke a little. About the History and about the Legend. He asked me if I was a pilgrim. I said that I was not. Just a simple wannabe-freelance journalist on a personal quest for light.
Now, when I look back and think about it, a pilgrim, truly, was what I was. Because there is no way that you can go to Roncesvalles without being in your own pilgrimage.
The altar in Roncesvalles abbey on a quiet November night, almost twenty years ago.
Picture taken with Pentax SF-1 and Pentax SMC 50mm f/1.7 KAF lens.
Agfachrome RS 50 ASA, scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

16 September 2012

Altimeter watches

About 25 years ago, back when I did my first steps in mountaineering, altimeter watches were a rare thing. During those days the instrument of reference for altitude measurement and weather prediction was the analog altimeter.
Basically it was a aneroid barometer (quite similar to those I would find in the maritime industry years later, although smaller) with a regulable needle, to allow the calibration of the instrument to a known reference altitude (the condition needed to have accurate readings in the future).
Later came the digital altimeters (I remember the pioneering ones from Avocet, particularly their Vertech line) and the game rules started to change. The developments of electronics drove to achievements in miniaturization and, as a consequence, systems integration. And the first altimeter watches started to appear. But like every time when we are face to face with evolutions or revolutions, there's always that moment of doubt. Our conservative side. Dependent of the technologies that, regardless of being dated, we've learn to trust. Will it work? And more important than that... will it be reliable?
Well, my two cents worth on this subject is that what was new and doubtful twenty years ago is now a more than tested mainstream technology.
If there's a nation that can take Mankind's best technological ideas, make them even better, mass-produce them and sell them at a cheap price, it's Japan.
And in this particular market niche, due to its genial politics of functions integration, Casio was always on the lead.
So, when I bought my first altimeter watch, about ten years ago, among all the (few choices) on the market, the Casio brand was the most obvious. The company had, until then (still has), a record of well engineered, reliable and durable timepieces. So choosing Casio was a no-brainer.
Therefore I bought the Casio G-Shock DW-9100ZJ-1T Riseman. The G-Shock armour made the watch look ugly as Hell but also made me confident that it could withstand a nuclear explosion, if needed.
But since I bought it mainly for its altimeter function, my biggest question was: how accurate the altitude sensor was?
Didn't have to wait too long to find out. A few weeks after buying it, I was standing in the Torre plateau, in the Portuguese Serra da Estrela, at a geographic altitude of 1993 metres, and the watch on my wrist (still on factory calibration!!!!) was showing 1990 metres. Now, considering that the altimeter function in these watches is a sub-function of their barometric sensor and, therefore, the altitude of a given place is measured by the particular air pressure detected in that spot (which is hardly the same everyday), we have to take our hats off to the competence of the engineers that designed this product and to the perfection of the software included in it.
I was so amazed with that measurement, that I left it untouched on the watch memory for months. Just for the sheer pleasure of looking at it.
Honestly, you would have to use a Differential GPS to have better accuracy. Because the conventional one don't go nowhere as near.
A couple of years later, however, I had to change its battery for the first time. So I send it to the Casio repair centre in Lisboa. Together with replacement of the battery, they performed (mere routine) the hydrostatic test, to confirm its water tightness. And with that I lost its factory calibration forever. From then on, I would have to calibrate it manually, in a place with a known altitude, before starting my mountain activities. But, performed that procedure, the measurements remained always accurate.
Now, the watch is starting to show its age. First the watch band, due to the intense use, was damaged beyond repair. So I bought a new one. However, a few months after the band replacement, the bezel (made of some kind of rubberized plastic) started to crack itself near the sensor, the joints and in the more pressure subjected areas around the fixing screws. For that damage there is no easy repair, except replacing the entire exterior carcass. However, the watch is already discontinued for several years. And spares for it are not easy to find.
So, I've decided to buy a new one. Its younger brother: the Casio Riseman GW-9200J-1JF. This is, basically, the same watch. However, there are some major advances. It still is based on the same dual-sensor architecture: One sensor for atmospheric pressure and another one for air temperature. The altimeter, as I have said previously, is a sub-function of the barometer sensor. The new model, nevertheless, is a clear improvement of the old one's characteristics with the addiction of a few more. It's now a solar watch, so goodbye cell replacements; it's also a world timer, with a memory of up to 33 different time zones; it's an atomic time-regulated watch, meaning that (depending on the world region where you are) it can receive, automatically or manually and several times per day, a radio signal from reference stations, thus keeping the watch with an almost atomic precision.
For the outdoor use, the altimeter has now a range from -700 mts to 10000 mts (the early model had a range from 0 to 6000 mts), meaning that the barometer range was also extended (from 260 to 1100 mbar, contrary to the old model, which range was from 460 to 1100 mbar).
However, the thermometer of the new model is a little short (from -10º to +60º Celsius), when we compare it with the older one (from -20º to +60º Celsius). For outdoor activities, and in particular for mountaineering, this is not nearly enough. Minus ten degrees I have in the Portuguese mountains, during Winter time, and they are not, by any mountaineering standards, particularly cold. What would say about that a climber in the Alps, in the Rockies or in the Andes? This was clearly a step backwards, Casio. Why?
Meanwhile, while I was looking, searching the web for the Riseman's best price, I stumbled over a curious offer from Pulsar. Also a twin sensor watch, with temperature and pressure gauge, the Pulsar/Seiko PS7001 caught my eye. Cheaper than the Casio, this Alti-Thermo offer from Pulsar has a stainless steel bezel and, therefore, a more conventional (nevertheless elegant and stylish) look than the Casio. It's also a cheaper option. So I ended up buying both.
Yesterday, I went to the highest peak in Madeira to test their accuracy. After calibration of the two units at sea level, close to home, I hiked to the top of the island to check with my eyes the competence of these small wrist computers.
No surprise to me, they both performed very well. Both watches allow for manual calibration of the altimeter and thermometer functions. And that, as you might imagine, is quite important. The barometric sensor might become inconsistent with the aging of the equipment. It's not a defect. It's a technological reality. So, a sensor unable to be calibrated is useless in the long run. However, only the Casio watch has the ability of, besides the altimeter, manually calibrate (in full mb units)  the barometer function. In mountaineering activities, an exact barometer is not truly needed. As long as it's consistent, doesn't really matter if you have 1020 mb of pressure or 1010. The atmospheric pressure in the high mountains is completely different (lower, naturally!) than at sea level. And for weather prediction (supposing that you stay at the same altitude enough time - at least twelve hours -  to get sufficient data for interpretation) you just need to read the graph tendency: if the curve goes up (pressure rising), you will have good weather, if it goes down (pressure falling)... be aware.
However, I'm a professional mariner. And, for me, a barometer has to be exact. That's the reason why we send the ship's barometer and barograph every year ashore for calibration. To get, as much as possible, accuracy in readings. I'm prepared to accept five or six millibars of error as long as I know how much error do I have and if it is up or down. Much like the chronometers on board. They don't have to be exact. Actually, they never are. But we always know their errors. And the knowledge of that error makes a great difference in astronomical navigation.
So... that is a failure in the Pulsar that I cannot accept. On the positive side: the Pulsar data refreshing rate is faster, while the Casio is lazier. The Pulsar calibration is in full units (1596, 1597, 1598... etc) while the Casio altimeter is calibrated in multiples of five (1590, 1595, 1600... etc). Both units calibrate their thermometers in full units. To me, honestly, the multiples-o- five altimeter calibration in the Casio is not really an handicap. Like I've said before, you will be lucky, at any given place,  if you get a GPS accuracy for altitude of twenty meters. So, if you can get a precision of five meters with an alti-baro, we are already on the surrealist level.
In this point both units performed remarkably well.
So, in the end both are very interesting offers. The Pulsar is not as rugged as the Casio. It's a dressy Alti-Thermo. Looks nice, either with crampons or with a sporty suit. Its WR of 10 Bar is half of the Casio. Its altimeter only?! reaches 9000 mts, against 10000 of the Casio. And the displayed temperature (between 0 to 50º Celsius) is a tad more limited. On the other hand, the Casio is a legitimate heir of the G-Shock name. With a rugged design, you'll either like it or hate it. Environmentally speaking, it's a watch built for rough use. And abuse. And with a solar cell, it has the autonomy of a lifetime. For me, personally, if I had to be on the mountains everyday, I'd choose the Casio. Hands down. Surprisingly, on my daily near-the-sea-level routine I find myself grabbing the Pulsar quite frequently right after awakening.
Truth be told, you will be happy with either one.
The Casio Riseman GW-9200J-1JF and the Pulsar PS 7001, side by side in Madeira's highest peak (Pico Ruívo, alt. 1862 mts above sea level), showing their altitude measurements. Three meters error for the Casio and two for the Pulsar. Both units were calibrated at sea-level, several hours before. Sadly, since I don't have a precise meteorological thermometer, I wasn't able to check their temperature sensor accuracy.
Picture taken with Nikon D40X and Sigma EX DC 18-50mm f/2.8 Macro HSM, with Cokin Series P Linear Polarizer.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

13 September 2012

Shipwreck two

The Portuguese West coast is not among the gentlest in the world. In fact, it's so beaten by storms and heavy seas during the Winter months that it is, somehow, a surprise that this country embarked in a bigger-than-life expeditionary effort six centuries ago. We don't have a myriad of safe natural ports and sheltered basins like the guys on the North Sea. And we don't have the fair weather of the Mediterranean basin. All we have is a tempestuous sea beating on a square-drawed and vertiginous rocky coast. Hard to imagine that a small and poor nation of fishermen could see anything more than desolation in that distant liquid horizon. Granted, one thing I've always enjoyed while navigating in our waters: you have always a mile of water under your keel. At a distance of more than two miles from the shore line and you can forget shallows, sand banks, rocks, reefs and other nautical nightmares. In fact, this factor alone was so relevant for me as a seafarer that I really didn't care so much that every Winter time I was being served, quite often, with ten meter waves while on my personal quest to supply the supermarket shelves with fresh yogurts.
So, only for this circumstance alone, we can consider the Portuguese coast as a safe body of water for navigation. You can draw straight lines to your heart's content in the nautical chart. Just pay attention to the rules of the road.
Due to this evidence it's always a surprise when we hear of a grounding. Touching the bottom with your keel is something not very common while navigating along the Portuguese coast. And for that sad happening, there are only two main reasons: nautical error or propulsion/steering malfunction.
I don't really know how the fishing trawler Vougamar's life started, but I do know how it ended: lying down on her port side, agonizing on a rocky coast, near Peniche. There are two thoughts that haunt a seafarer during his entire career at sea: one is the loss of his vessel, being the other the loss of his life. And, for many that I've known, the loss of the latter would be a bearable price to pay compared with the first alternative.
Sadly and quite often, the seafaring family looses both.
Fishing trawler Vougamar grounded near Peniche, in the West coast of Portugal. Early nineties.
Picture taken with Pentax SF-1 and Pentax KAF SMC 50mm f/1.7.
Agfachrome 100 ASA scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

10 September 2012

Fall skies

The weather in our North-Atlantic island is slowly changing towards Winter. I've noticed that already about two weeks ago, while at work, early one morning in the port of Caniçal.
The hot temperatures and hazy skies of the morning time, regular during the past months, gave their place to a fresh dawn breeze and crystal clear atmosphere.
In the mountains things are no different and during the past two weeks the reduction of daylight time was so abrupt that made it noticeable.
Luckily, as in the previous year, we'll have a peaceful transition to Autumn. Meaning general decreasing of air temperature, increasing of the cloud cover and, hopefully, some rain showers (it has been a dry year and the levadas through all the island are somehow on the low level) and light breezes from the North. Better than that, only Spring time, during May and early June.
The skies look already different and yesterday, while descending from Pico Ruívo I had the first glimpse of the next season as you can see by the colors in the photos below.
Yesterday, while descending from Pico Ruívo, the highest in the island, I turned back, looking West, to watch the setting sun. The cloud cover, nonexistent during the afternoon time, was already thickening as a premonition to the rain showers promised for the next few days.
The cloud shape has also changed and the Summer sky, composed mostly by Stratus and Cirrus clouds, gave place to the more water-friendlies Cumulus clouds. During my professional mariner's life, we used to call Cumulus "the good weather clouds". Life's always good for a seaman while navigating under a sky filled with these puffy friends.
Pictures taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor AF-S 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

09 September 2012

Into the Garden of Eden

Since my first days in Madeira, about eight years ago, I've been dreaming about hiking along the Ribeira da Janela valley, in Porto Moniz region.
However, the sheer length of the levada that leads us to the depths of the valley was always enough to turn me off. In fact, from the end of the levada (in Lamaceiros) to the beginning of it (near it's source, deep in the valley) we have a good fifteen kilometres. And since when we reach the end of it (or the beginning!), we have to turn back and return by the same way we easily end up our hiking day with thirty kilometres in our Vibram soles.
That's not too bad, since it's a gentle walk along one of the most modern levadas in Madeira, with a few tunnels along the way.
However for a person alone it can become quickly tedious, since you have to be prepared to be on your own in the mountain for at least eight hours.
For this reason only this levada, whose construction started in 1961 with the objective of feeding water to the hydroelectric power plant of Ribeira da Janela, was never to me a priority.
Until yesterday.
With a couple of friends, I finnaly decided to give my feet a little bit of action. Starting the hike in Fonte do Bispo (at the end of Paúl da Serra plateau) a forest road first and a mountain trail later would lead us to the levada itself, after seven kilometres of (sometimes) steep terrain.
When we finally reach the levada, it becomes obvious to us that we are in one of the most magic places in Madeira.
The Ribeira da Janela valley is one of the most pristine places in the island. There is nothing man-made here, except the gentle water stream flowing at our feet.
From this intersection, and since we've came a long way from the high plateau, we might as well walk upstream a couple of miles to reach the "mother" (or the spring) of the levada.
Up there, surrounded by a dense primeval forest and deep inside the Laurissilva, we easily imagine ourselves as characters in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.
The return would take us three and a half hours, in a good pace, to complete the remaining fifteen kilometres separating us from Lamaceiros. Three and a half hours of thick green Laurissilva in the most preserved forest area of Madeira.
When we finally reached it, our feet were sore but our souls were shinning. Seated in a nearby bar, drinking a glass of fresh water, in a peaceful September afternoon, I was thinking to myself that we went to the Garden of Eden and returned back. In the same day.
Who has the courage to say that time travel is impossible?
The Levada da Ribeira da Janela begins (or ends) right at this spot, in Lamaceiros. From here it will be fifteen kilometres...
...and nine tunnels up to the spring, deep in the valley.
This levada is so vast and remote that, for maintenance purposes, some houses were built along it to help the "levadeiros" with their works. In the old days these professionals spent an entire working week away from civilization, only returning home at the weekends. These "levadeiros houses" were, therefore, vital structures to help the levadeiros with their works. Here they would have a shelter, a place to rest and to prepare their daily food.
The levada spring (or "mother"), near the end of the Ribeira da Janela valley, fifteen kilometres upstream from Lamaceiros. The levadas springs are, quite often, humanized places. Most of the times there's a small concrete wall, a dam, crossing the river in the optimal position to deviate part of its waters to the levada channel. However all this construction is well integrated in the landscape. So, it hardly hurts your eyes.
A friendly inhabitant of this levada. Always a nice companion along the trail. If, by any chance, he notices that you carry crackers, you'll have a friend for life.
Pictures taken with Nikon D40X and Sigma 18-50mm EX f/2.8.
Post-processing and resizing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

05 September 2012

The second horseman

Maybe it's just my natural pessimism, but, in these volatile times, I, sometimes, have the feeling that the worst days lay further ahead. That the crisis in which the all world is submerged is far from being dominated and vanquished.
And, amidst all these cyclopic forces, that we seem unable to control and truly understand, lies our old Europe. Helpless to herself. Navigating without a coherent course and lacking a competent helmsman. Heading to the shallow waters of a prophetic disaster and risking the peace project that took the founding fathers of our united Europe decades to build.
As we advance in time, the sinister look of this shell-beaten building in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is always a strong reminder to me that the war in Europe is, in the future, more than a virtual possibility. It's a fact corroborated by the past History. And that keeping the peace and fraternity among all the European citizens is a matter of survival. Survival of us all.
In these uncertain times, we can only expect that our leaders know what they are doing. For their sake. And for ours.
Shell impacts on a Budapest building.
Picture taken with Pentax MX and cheap Cosina 50mm f:2.
Kodak Ecktachrome 100 VS scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop CS3.