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.