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.