28 September 2013

Fajã da Nogueira hydroelectric power station

The Fajã da Nogueira hydroelectric power plant was the last of the "big four" (the others being Serra de Água, Calheta and Ribeira da Janela) to be built and became operational in 1971. The purity of its design is only comparable with its perfect integration in the surrounding natural canvas.
The least powerful of all the four (according to the Empresa de Electricidade da Madeira website), averaging an annual production of 7 GWh, the Fajã da Nogueira power station is, unquestionably, the most beautiful of the group.
On the picture's foreground you can see the "Compensation Reservoir", the final destination of the turbinated waters. From here, the water already used to generate electrical energy is conducted to the Levada dos Tornos, with the city of Funchal as the final destination.
I, sometimes, laugh to myself when I think about our modern-days lexicon regarding the present ecological policies and the so-called sustainable growth. How full of vanity and ignorance our modern generation can be.
The hydraulic system constructed in Madeira over the centuries is an example of a cyclopic engineering feat built with the utmost respect for nature and the natural laws. Like the North-Americans say: they were already country, long before country was cool.
The perfect integration of these structures in the natural world and the present non-aggressive use we can do of the natural resources processed by them is an homage to their creators and to their mastery.
It saddens me, though, that forty years have passed. And that all those people, those creators, are no longer living among us.
Our loss, for sure. They would still have so much to teach us.

27 September 2013

Casio Diver's Super Illuminator

The Casio Diver's Super Illuminator was my first acquisition as a (very small) watch collector. No longer in production the then called Casio Scuba Duro 200 Super Illuminator (model nº MDV-102-1AV) was - history tells us - apparently a sales hit worldwide.
If we look at the Internet, and particularly at the Amazon.com page related to this particular model, we can be quite amazed with the amount of information related to this Casio.
Probably the main reason for this celebrity status lies within its low price tag. Diving watches in the sub-one-hundred dollars category are not that easy to find. And the vast majority of them are from obscure watchmakers, raising some doubts regarding their reliability.
That's not the case with Casio products. In the watchmaking industry since 1974, Casio is no longer an apprentice. In fact, they revolutionized the digital watches so much that it's quite probable that you, dear reader, have, at least, one Casio product at home. With them (in a responsibility shared somehow with Timex) watches became a product for the masses.
And a product for the masses is this Casio Scuba Super Illuminator. And there's nothing wrong with it.
The Casio Scuba Duro Super Illuminator.
A cheap price tag is not, necessarily, a bad thing. In fact this battery-propelled quartz watch is a reliable time measuring machine. But, like everything in life, you only get what you pay for. So, don't be expecting four digits Swiss quality. In fact, it's not even a true Diver's watch. At least according to the industry standards. It's a diving watch, which is a little bit different concept. However, for such a small price, it's packed with some nice features: a one way counter-clockwise turning bezel with a luminescent dot at the sixty minutes mark, a screw-down crown, a date window at the four o'clock mark and an elegant slightly domed crystal, normally only present on very expensive watches. One silly detail, however, are the sub-second marks around the dial. It's an attempt to emulate the mechanic watches and their "sweeping" seconds hand chronometer philosophy. The Casio Scuba Duro, however, is a quartz machine. Therefore its seconds hand doesn't "sweep" across the dial. It "ticks", jumping from second to second in a single movement called "true beat", and thus rendering useless those additional decorative markings. The luminescence of the hands and dial marks is OK. Not exactly up to the Citizen or Seiko Diver's standards, but you can read it in the dark. If you can't, you can always use the last resource...
... and press that mysterious button above the screw-down crown. The watch dial has two leds (one at twelve o'clock and the other at six o'clock) that emit a strong white light, enough to lit the dial and eventually to lead you to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Believe me, if you can't read the dial with this light, you certainly need glasses.
The screw-down case back of the Casio Scuba Duro Super Illuminator. Mine is still running on the original battery, four years after I've bought it. Casio's secret Eco-Drive?

26 September 2013

Levada do Caldeirão Verde and Caldeirão do Inferno

The Levada do Caldeirão Verde and Caldeirão do Inferno (P.R. 9) is, probably, one of the longest levada walks that you can make in Madeira.
From the Queimadas forest house to the Caldeirão Verde source and back you can count a good 13 kms. However, if you decide to start your walk in Pico das Pedras and ending it in Caldeirão do Inferno, you'll end the day with a good twenty kilometres under your soles.
Most of the time, you will walk under a dense canopy of luxourious forest and crossing a few short tunnels along the way. After reaching the Levada do Cadeirão Verde source you can continue upstream for another two kilometres of dry levada channel and one exhausting staircase until you reach the Caldeirão do Inferno source and canyon; one of the most dramatic scenarios that you can see in Madeira.
One of the starting points for this classic levada walk is the Queimadas forest house, located near the city of Santana. As one of the most frequented levadas in Madeira, finding a parking place for the car in mid-Summer and during the weekends in the nearby (small) parking area can be an almost impossible task. To avoid this discomfort, many hikers choose to park their cars two and a half kilometres away, in Pico das Pedras, and walk the stretch of levada between this site and Queimadas. That will cost you about four kilometres more at the end of the day.
Plenty of vegetation and abundance of water, either in Summer or during the wet season. This is the characteristic ambiance along this particular levada walk.
The Caldeirão Verde source, in a picture taken from the dry (at the time) levada channel leading to the Caldeirão do Inferno. The dense vegetation is omnipresent, giving to Madeira a sense of being an Atlantian Hawai. Or is it Hawai a Pacifian Madeira?
The Caldeirão Verde birth place, with its impressive one hundred meter waterfall and pond, is the spot where everybody eats a snack before venturing further deep in the mountain, up to the Caldeirão Verde, or just returning back to the departure point.
The Caldeirão Verde/Caldeirão do Inferno levadas  are one of the most complex hydraulic systems in Madeira. After climbing the exhausting staircase I've told you about a few lines ago, you reach this... let's call it... main square at, nearly, 985 metres above sea level. On this crossing, you'll notice three tunnels for three different destinations. On your left you see the entrance to the tunnel leaving you upstream, for about 1km, up to the source of the Levada do Caldeirão Verde (not the one you've made, but a smaller, higher, homonymous one). In front of you, if you follow with your eyes the railway tracks that once supported the wagons used to build it, lies the entrance of the Pico Ruívo tunnel and levada. One of the longest in Madeira, it was carved underneath Madeira's highest peak (hence the name) and has the function of feeding water to the Fajã da Nogueira hydroelectric power plant, built in 1971 on the opposite valley. With almost 2500 mts, you can expect a good 45 minutes underground if you plan to, like I did, traverse it.
Finally, on your right you see the third and last entrance on this crossing. This is the one you want (for now) to follow upstream for about 980 mts and a ten minutes walk up to the source of Caldeirão do Inferno.
The Caldeirão do Inferno is, by itself, a system within the system. It's a complex water collecting net, comprised of a few small dams and water channels, built with ingenuity in one of the most remote places in Madeira and right in the heart of the Laurissilva forest. In this spot, staring at one of the many waterfalls that abound in this place, you've reached the end of your present hike. Time to eat one last snack, drink some water and prepare your mind for the three hour walk back.
Pictures taken with Nikon D300, D40X, Nikon Coolpix P7100 and Nikkor 18-55 and 55-200 kit lenses.
Post-processing of converted NEF to TIFF 16 bit files in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

22 September 2013

Cat problems

Depending on how we look at it, wild cats in Madeira can be either a blessing or a curse. One thing is certain, tho: after a family of these feline fellas decided to call the Pico Ruívo hut and its surroundings their home the local rat community packed their bags, abandoned the neighbourhood and emigrated to other destinations.
Although the wild cats population in Madeira is larger than it should be (eventually endangering the existence of some local species, namely the Zino's Petrel), there's no question for us humans that we still prefer to share our ecosystem with these guys rather than with the others.
A wild cat cub in Pico Ruívo area, this afternoon. These are basically domestic cats (Felis catus) that left the human environment and are living with total autonomy, either in the wild or also in urban areas.
These animals are normally shy to humans, keeping a safe distance from people and avoiding close contact. Their behaviour is not aggressive (except, obviously, if cornered). And the only time that you have their full attention is when you have food in your hands. They are also called "Feral cats" and hunting has no secrets for them.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and cheap Nikkor 55-200 f/4-5.6 AF-S kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

18 September 2013


The bucolic fishing village of Caniçal, in a picture taken today, at dusk, from the Caniçal port South breakwater.
A place with a strong religious tradition (like all the seafaring towns in Portugal), Caniçal is still living during these days its yearly celebration that started in the past Saturday with the maritime procession honouring Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady Of Pity).
A place cherished by Madeira citizens and foreigners alike, Caniçal is a famous weekend destination in Madeira, mostly due to its restaurants and their seafood specialties.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and cheap AF-S Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR DX (uuuff!) kit lens equipped with a Hoya 52mm Skylight (1B) protective filter.
Post-processing of the converted NEF to TIFF file in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

15 September 2013


I don't play golf. And, as a spectator, I don't even fancy that much the sport. But while at work in Porto Santo, I always use a couple of hours of my spare time to head on to the Porto Santo Golf Club.
The golf course was designed by Severiano Ballesteros and divides the island in half, from North to South, with its 27-hole green field.
Located a couple of kilometres away from the relatively busy main town of Vila Baleira, the PSGC is a oasis of calm within an already quiet island.
Besides the nearby golden beach, this is, probably, the best spot in Porto Santo to drink a coffee, a tea or a beer, while enjoying the late afternoon sun setting westwards.
And for that free pleasure (beer or coffee not included!) you don't even have to be a golfer. It's just enough that you recognize its therapeutic properties.
A detail of the Porto Santo Golf course, photographed yesterday, in the late afternoon light, from the club's restaurant and promenade.
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and converted NEF to TIFF file post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

08 September 2013

Levada das 25 Fontes

Travelling to Madeira and not hiking the Levada das 25 Fontes it's like visiting Rome and not seeing the Pope. This levada, located in the North-western coast, in the Rabaçal area, is probably - together with Santana's Caldeirão Verde (more on this one soon) - the most famous in Madeira.
And (if you forget the long approaching march, by a two and a half kilometre tarmac road, from the parking lot to the Rabaçal forest house) one of the most enjoyable.
Like I said, after parking your car in the parking lot near the water chamber of Calheta's hydroelectric power plant, you proceed downhill along the tarmac road and heading to the Rabaçal forest house.
Once there you'll catch the trail leading you to the levada level, a couple hundred meters below. From here a shorter route will lead you to the Risco waterfall and the longest one will take you to the 25 Fontes source. My advice: explore both. Just don't forget that's going to be a long way back. So start early.
Whith good parking conditions, on the Paúl da Serra plateau, and therefore easily reached by car, the Levada das 25 Fontes is a good introduction to us, nature lovers, on the biodiversity of Madeira. Along this easy but long walk, you'll have the chance to look around, to your heart's content, for plants...
...and birds.
Just make sure that you bring with you, for the trail, either in Summer or Winter, an adequate supply of "bom-dia's", "bon-jour's", "hello's", "guten tag's and guten morgen's, "ciao's" and "hola's" (just to name a few). You'll surely going to need them.
Being one of the most popular in Madeira, the Levada das 25 Fontes can be, sometimes, a little bit crowded. Ohh, well... this is also part of the fun. Picturing the levada's source, on a, somehow, busy Summer day.
All pictures taken with Nikon D40X and Nikkors 18-55 and 55-200 kit lenses. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1 of TIFF images, converted from NEF files in Nikon View NX2.

04 September 2013

Madeira fauna

A few days ago, I went back to the P.R. 1. This time alone, I, once again, trekked the most demanding of all the Madeira hikes: the route between the Pico do Areeiro and Pico Ruívo (see From Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruívo and back in this blog). It was not my intention to beat the times of our most competent trail runners. I don't have the guts for that. However I did manage to hike it (in a fast pace) in about 1h 36min and choosing the longest route (by Pico das Torres). Not so bad, I guess, for an out-of-shape guy. The route is about 7 kms in length and since I had to return to Pico do Areeiro (had the car there), I ended up doubling that distance and it was almost sunset when I finally arrived to the departure point, located close to the Radar Station nº4 of the Portuguese Air Force.
On the way back, and with the mountain in almost absolute silence (at the time I was alone in the trail) I had a surprise close encounter with representatives of the local fauna: a cool band of partridges.
I remember going hunting, when I was a child, with my granddad. Besides wild rabbits, partridges were our most wanted trophies. Back at home, my grandma would then make some nice stews with them.
Although I did love those hunting "expeditions" with my grandfather, as I got older I developed an ecological consciousness that led me away from hunting. But I do miss those days I've spent with him.
So, imagine my surprise when I saw this flock of about a dozen partridges appearing right in front of me, a few minutes after passing the Pico do Gato tunnel. And contrary to what I remembered from my childhood, these were the coolest partridges I've ever seen. So cool that I sat down in the stairs for almost an hour to photograph them, while they were eating some wild flowers a couple of meters away from me. Fearless. Just like domestic chickens.
How lovely is nature when everything is in harmony.
The Radar Station nº4, of the Portuguese Air Force, in Pico do Areeiro (1818 mts above sea level), is both the starting and arrival point of the P.R. 1, the trail connecting Madeira's highest peaks.
All pictures taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.