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.