29 June 2013

The Silva Ranger 15T compass

The Silva line of outdoor compasses are probably the most well-known in the world. And I think one of the main reasons for such popularity is that they work. Plain and simple.
I mean: what do you really need in an outdoor compass? I can think of four main characteristics: accuracy, durability, ease-of-use and a reasonable price.
So, why, among such a noble line of different equipments, is the trusty Silva Ranger the first among equals?
Well, my guess is that part of its popularity has something to do with the military use of this particular equipment, for several decades already, in many armies over the world.
And, on the other hand, although the needle accuracy is mostly the same in every Silva compass (about 1º), you, as an observer and in similar circumstances, can always have more accurate bearings with a mirror sighting compass than with a base plate one.
The mirror and its cover has also two additional and very important functions: a) protecting the compass capsule and b) be used as a heliographic mirror in emergency situations.
My trusty Silva Ranger 15T, bought in a nautical store in Lisboa, more than twenty years ago, and still working perfectly to this day.
The Silva Ranger 15T liquid-damped compass capsule, assuring a very stable needle and, therefore, very (up to one degree) accurate readings. Its acrylic base-plate has two rulers (one in centimetres/millimeters and another in inches and 1/20 of inches). The recent models, however, are equipped with more complex rulers, giving them more versatility for topographic charts work.
On the lower right of the picture you can see, on the top of the black circular azimuth scale, the small screw used to adjust for compass declination.
The declination scale is adjusted using this small screwdriver attached to the compasse's carrying line.
All in all, a trusty and simple piece of orienting equipment that stood the test of time. Would I buy a new outdoor compass today if I could? Eventually. Which one? The latest Silva Ranger model. Certainly. Keep on enjoying the outdoors.

27 June 2013

Levada do Norte

The Levada do Norte is not for the faint-hearted. One of the longest in Madeira, it starts in the hydroelectric power plant of Serra de Água and snakes along the middle of the thousand-meter vertical rock wall rising above the left margin of the Ribeira Brava stream, crossing several tunnels and vertiginous precipices, before reaching Boa Morte and entering in a more relaxed and man-made landscape. Five or six years ago, I was feeling courageous enough to attempt it. And so I did. But it was a scary experience (although with lovely vistas). And I'm not a person, normally, scared with heights. But the section of this levada passing right above the village of Serra de Água is enough to make (even for the bravest of "levadeiros") us think twice. It's the verticality, it's the exposure, it's the height above the far, far... away ground. If it's difficult for us, nowadays, to walk through, one can only imagine how hard it was to build, sixty years ago. Those were brave people. No doubt about that.
Well, I did it once. And, for the time being, once was enough.
However, I was missing it. And so, a few weeks ago, I decided to repeat part of it. Just a small section. Between Boa-Morte and the small village of Espigão.
With a length of 8 kilometres (sixteen in total, if you plan to return back by the same way), it's a good introduction to this levada and to the fabulous landscapes we can see along it. And you can always drink a beer or a coffee, at the beginning and at the end of the walk in the nearby friendly bar "O Pinheiro".
A sign plate, near Boa Morte, orients you to the Levada do Norte. Eastwards, it runs thru a humanized landscape of agriculture fields and small villages to Quinta Grande and beyond. On the other direction, Westwards, if you like strong emotions, the Levada do Norte will take you to its birth place, near the Serra de Água hydroelectric power plant, and after a walk along one of Madeira's most dramatic geological formations: the Ribeira Brava valley.
From Campanário and Câmara de Lobos to Boa Morte, the Levada do Norte mostly traverses a bucolic landscape of agriculture fields and small human settlements. A strong contrast with the more isolated, exposed and dangerous section laying upstream.
The small village of Eira do Mourão, one of the most remote in Madeira and once only acessible by a two hour long staircase walk, starting in the Ribeira Brava basin, stands isolated on top of a rocky ridge, high on the left margin of Ribeira Brava valley. Picture made from the nearby-passing Levada do Norte.
Pictures taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and cheap 14-42mm plastic kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

Starting the Levada do Norte from its source (near the Serra de Água hydro power plant) and our walk will be mostly under the canopy of a luxuriant forest. At least for the first miles. Until the village of Espigão there are also several tunnels to be crossed, the biggest of them all measuring a good 3 kilometres. Some of them are somewhat flooded. So be prepared for wet feet. And don't forget the torch light.
The most dramatic section of this very exposed levada is this one, right above the village of Serra de Água. In Winter time it's quite often impassable, due to the waterfalls that fall right on top of the levada channel. It's simply to dangerous.
In this picture made from the valley floor, near the Serra de Água village, you can have an idea of the exposure of this particular section. And how difficult it was, certainly, to be built.
A picture of this particular section, taken right from the track, a few years ago, during Spring time. You can still see the water falling right at the exit of the tunnel. The picture doesn't give justice to the exposure and verticality of the place.
The last four pictures were taken with a Nikon FM3A and a 28-105 Nikkor zoom lens. Fujichrome Velvia scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

21 June 2013

Porto de Galinhas

I always have a smile when I catch a plane from Lisboa to Brasil. Don't get me wrong; I'm proud of my nationality and I like being European (whatever that may be). However, it's obvious to all of us... Europeans... that we are getting old.
The old Europe needs a breathe of fresh air. We are deep in  a crisis, that's a fact. But how much of it is a crisis of values instead of mere debt numbers? It seems that, presently, we are (almost) all drifting to the first conclusion.
Part of it, of the swamp we are living in, has a direct relation with our own (continental) age. Our tortuous History, with several ups and downs over the centuries, is not helping also. We, naturally, tend to fear the future, when looking at the (poor) examples of the past.
Eventually, we all will overcome this handicap. Europe always was and always will be a beacon to the world. And there is a common heritage that bonds all the nations and all the people in this continent.
To do so, we need to overcome this militant pessimist that invaded all our souls, from the common citizen to the government bureaus.
That capacity for adventure is in our blood, in our common DNA. We just need to vanquish fear. In a way, learn to smile again.
And that capacity for smiling, for "sucking the marrow of life" is something that we always find in the new nations of the world. At least I see it in Brasil. But I guess we can also experience that in the great plains of the Australian outback, in the vast "savanas" of Africa or amidst the great plains of the American Midwest. The sheer continental size of these geographic areas is more than enough to make us forget any symptoms of European depression we may have and turn it, instead, into a positive entrepreneurial force in our lives. In these countries there is no past. Only future. And we Europeans have a big problem: we delve to much into the past.
So, why is Porto de Galinhas a good therapy for this depressing behaviour? Well, I think I'll let the photos speak for themselves. Using the medication is up to you:
Miles of endless sands and an ocean front protected by a offshore coral reef are guaranties of perfect morning walks and relaxed baths. Must be difficult to see the red flag hoisted in Porto de Galinhas. On the background, along the dune cord, a forest of coconut trees. This beach is quite often considered the most beautiful in Brasil. I'm not surprised.
The typical rafts of Porto de Galinhas, once used for fishing and now mostly used for touristic activities, decorate a short strip of sand in front of the town. Believe it or not, this picture was made at 0630 in the morning. With the sun well above the horizon at 0600, don't be a lazy photographer and stay at your hotel room. Pick up the camera and go stretch your legs for a walk on the sand. You'll have plenty of light to shot and only the fishermen on the beach. It's the best time of the day in Porto de Galinhas. Spend a couple of hours photographing around and only afterwards return to your hotel for the breakfast.
The beach right in front of the town's promenade. Early evening. A colorful art show exhibit every day.
Just do yourself a favour.
Avoid Porto de Galinhas on the peak of the Southern Hemisphere Summer. I was there during June of 2010 (the "Winter" and rainy season) and it was simply perfect. Just enough tourists on the street to make it cozy but not overcrowded. You'll have, certainly, better service from the professionals of restaurants and hotels. And you have the sea water at a "chilling" 24 or 25 degrees Celsius... Ah! Ah! Ah!... and the whole beach mostly for you. And if it starts raining... well... just dive in. The sea water is warmer.
Enjoy it!
Pictures taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor 18-55mm kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.01.