29 November 2014

November evening

Victim of a strong seasonality, almost with zero tourism occupation through the Winter months, the island of Porto Santo can be hard to a traveller not blessed with the living philosophy of Father Foucauld.
With all the hotels closed, except one unit (or two), this situation can also be a nightmare to the commercial airliners connecting the continental Europe to the island of Madeira. When forced, by meteorological reasons, to abort the call in Aeroporto da Madeira, the natural option would be the comparatively safer Porto Santo runway, twenty miles to NE.
Sadly, due to the lacking of available beds to accommodate those passengers in transit, many of these flights have to diverge to Canary islands, meaning an add of 400 kms to the initial voyage.
However, if solitude is (temporarily) your thing you'll probably have a nice time in Porto Santo during Winter. Less people means less confusion, therefore you will have certainly a better (available) service for your needs. And an amazingly beautiful 9 kms long beach only for you. 
Just enjoy the quiet peacefulness, the life moving slower, the peoples' approachability and learn about the place.
In the picture: Hotel Luamar and swimming pool at evening time, on the first week of November. Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix GH2 with SLR Magic Hyperprime 12mm T/1.6 cine lens. Conversion of the Panasonic proprietary Raw format to TIFF in Silkypix software and post-processing of the TIFF file in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

06 November 2014

Aida Stella

The Aida Stella, from Aida Cruises, a 2013 construction from the german shipyard Meyer Werft and the seventh vessel of the Sphinx class, rests alongside the Pontinha breakwater, one calm evening, a few days ago.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Nikkor 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5D AF. Manfrotto tripod and Junior Geared Head. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Ver. 4.1

27 October 2014

S. Jorge old pier

Once the gateway to the Northern coast of the island, the old pier of S. Jorge remains today a testimony of hardship. From a time when, in absence of good roads, connecting the main locations of the island, the transportation of passengers and goods, from South to North, was assured by open hull wooden cargo boats called "carreireiros".
From those times a few piers still survive all over the island. Mainly used by tourists, looking for a photo opportunity, and by local fishermen, looking for the next catch.
Among them, S. Jorge's, located a short stroll away from Ribeira de S. Jorge's mouth, is probably the one with the most vertiginous access. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Pictures taken with Nikon D610 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

21 October 2014

Ribeira de S. Jorge mouth

The Ribeira de S. Jorge mouth, with its stream flowing directly to the sea, today at evening time, on the North coast of Madeira.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 10-20mm f/4-5.6 DC HSM. Cokin Neutral Density Degradé, ref. 122, P system. Manfrotto tripod and geared head. Post-processing in Nikon View NX2 an Adobe Lightroom, ver. 4.1

20 October 2014

Brunton ADC Pro - A short review

It didn't take a long time, on the course of my present professional occupation, for me to realize the need of up-to-date meteorological data.
When I was at sea, particularly during my period as a Deck Trainee (cadet) and also as a Second-Mate, some of my responsibilities were related to meteorological duties. Besides chart work (updating the navigation charts and correcting them), the correction of nautical publications, the care for the ships infirmary and a few more responsibilities that we "lower" deck-hand people have to perform in order to learn the trade and subsequently transit to a higher level of enlightenment, I had also at my care the nautical instruments. They were not so many, to be honest. Just enough equipment to allow us to measure the basic weather parameters: air temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity and wind direction and speed. To achieve this goal, a typical on-board weather station generally comprises one atmospheric thermometer, a barometer and a barograph, a hygrometer and one anemometer Commonly the hygrometer is replaced by the wet and dry bulb thermometer, less expensive and less prone to calibration errors. The only difference between the two is that instead of a direct reading (on the case of the hygrometer), you have to calculate the atmospheric RH by reading both data values (wet and dry) and compare them in a standard chart, normally placed on the instrument itself.
Far from being useful only at sea, a good knowledge and interpretation of these elemental atmospheric parameters can be quite practical also in our daily lives, easily transforming us in amateur meteorologists.
Well, at home, near the technology and information, this knowledge might seems redundant. After all, if we need to know the weather conditions for tomorrow we just have to read the newspaper. Or listen to the TV. Or check the web.
However, when you are far away from civilization, either at sea or on the high peaks of our Earth's highest massifs - in a word: away from that easily digested information - a general meteorological knowledge is not only mandatory: it can actually save your life.
Naturally there's only so much you can learn when you look at the skies, regardless of that visual information being already quite useful. To be more effective in weather interpretation, you have to actually know, with the best possible accuracy, those elemental parameters I've said before.
"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning;
Red sky at night, sailors' delight."
There's only so much you can predict by using visualization combined with the old adages...
In the picture: peaceful red-painted evening sky over the high peaks of Madeira. A clear prognosis of the next day's weather trend.
To reach that higher level of enlightenment, you will need instruments that give you answers to those parameters we've spoke about. Combine them altogether in the same place and what you get is a meteorological (or weather) station. If space and weight is no object, as it is not on the bridge of a ship or on the deck of a fire lookout tower, you can have the luxury of a fixed station. On the other hand, if you are hiking or trekking in some remote wilderness, you'll thank the Lord for the miniaturization.
Because the portable (or handheld) weather stations are the answer to our weight and space limitations.
These products give you the chance, today, of taking to the field a more or less accurate forecasting equipment that will vastly improve your knowledge about the climate, therefore helping you to make a proper judgement of the weather surrounding you.
And I emphasize the "more or less" comment, because, like most instruments, its accuracy is directly dependent of two main factors:
You get what you pay for. As a rule of thumb: the more expensive the equipment the best it is.
You have to know what you are doing. You have to have a clear understanding of the equipment you own and also be able to interpret the data it gives you. To achieve both, you have to read its technical (or user's) manual and be proficient in meteorological knowledge.
From the several instruments existing on the market, I've chosen the Brunton ADC Pro. For two main reasons: it has the qualities I need, with the best (less) price, from a known brand.
Although I clearly doubt if this equipment is really made by Brunton - if you look around, you can see the exact equipment on sale from other makers, like the Swedish Silva - at least a well known label should give us some confidence on the product.
I won't go too far on the equipment's description. For that, you'll have plenty of info on the web. It's suffice to say that, for outdoor adventures, as long as you have an equipment that gives you barometric, air temperature, atmospheric humidity and wind speed readings you are well equipped. All the remaining functions are just software power embedded on the equipment. Just a way to make data more easily readable. Altimeter? The altimeter data is directly related to atmospheric pressure, hence to the barometer. Atmospheric pressure decreases roughly 1 mbar for each ten meters of altitude you climb. So you see, with a good, calibrated, barometer, all it takes is some math. Wind chill? Wind chill is a relation between air temperature and wind speed. There are tables for that. The software embedded on the equipment just makes the calculations for you. Get the picture?
Regarding the Brunton:
Well, I guess nothing is better to test an equipment than time. We are a society of easy consumption. And, nowadays, when we buy something we don't expect it to last. Although I understand that, somehow. This makes sense worldwide, since there are so many mouths to feed, dependent on the factories production. Brands all over the world should, nevertheless, be more proud of the durability of their products. Invest on it. Compromising durability is, ultimately, a compromise in quality.
Using this product for more than six years, on my professional life and occasionally on my leisure time, I can tell you that time is now taking its toll and this equipment is far from being great.
The Brunton ADC Pro is far from being a great handheld weather station. We can call it "competent", just for the sake of courtesy. After six years of use, always with the equipment protected - except in observation times - as you can see by the absence of marks on its screen, the Brunton accuses its age. The rubberized cover is collapsing and so are the push-buttons, which are becoming sticky, due to rubber deterioration. Not acceptable. The impeller, which is basically an half-sphere encased in the instrument's structure is now too loose. Under pressure from strong winds, it now closes by itself, difficulting readings.
The device has one IR port, to transmit data to a PC. For that, you have to order the IR USB Data Transmitter (eg: Amazon) and install the respective software on the computer. I have also to tell you: almost nothing on this equipment is user-friendly. Menus and sub-menus are not that intuitive. If you want to use it at its fullest bring the (at least) simplified manual with you. The PC software is simple and (as far as I know) it's only accepted up to Windows Vista. Beyond that you are on your own. Synchronizing PC with the ADC Pro is also not easy from the start. It takes some trial and error. To the best of my knowledge, after all these years the software was never updated. It's still on its original form.
As I've said previously, the software is very simple. No interaction with the equipment. It just receives its historical data, nothing more. Limited customization is possible.
The ADC Pro back panel, showing its battery compartment and cover (water-tightness granted by a rubber o-ring). To replace the battery (one CR2032 3 Volts), the cover is somehow stiff - probably due to the sealing o-ring - forcing us to use the tip of a knife's blade (gently) to remove it. Notice the impeller's half-sphere on its closed position. Missing a lock for the open and closed impeller's position. As you can see, the rubberized cover is nearly gone, giving the equipment a not-so-good looks.
It's accurate. Barometer and thermometer can be calibrated up to the tenths of the units. And tenths of units are also shown in the anemometer and hygrometer readings (sadly both these two values cannot be calibrated). From observation (comparing it with ship's stations) I've noticed often variations of up to 2 mbars on the barometer measurements and up to two degrees Celsius in air temperature. We can accept these discrepancies since the equipments on board are not exactly reference instruments. Just make sure, when taking measurements, that you leave the equipment steady for a couple of minutes, preferably on the shadow, for the best accuracy possible. The sensors are so sensible that, if you move or lightly shake it, changes on barometric and altitude reading are almost immediate. If we follow this rule, we can accept the precision given by the manufacturer as honest values.
Brunton ADC Pro reviews:
Comparison of the different ADC's:
Bottom line:
If your are tight on a budget, this equipment should suffice your needs. On the other hand, if money is no problem or if you are looking for a more durable piece of equipment, built for more intensive use (and paying for that the price of twice the cost), you should look at Kestrel. Good luck.

18 October 2014

Echoes of Switzerland

On 1998, during my InterRail Winter sojourn around Europe, I passed though Switzerland on my way to the Eastern countries. In a nation built over a dramatic orography, Swiss citizens had (and learnt) to be resourceful in order to occupy every inch of useful land available.
When the train left the station and the apparent safety of the green valley below, the alpine landscape unfolded before me and so did the human ingenuity to conquer it. The conventional train, unable to vanquish those steep gradients, was a black spot on the faraway station left behind, while our present transport, a cog train - similar to the former Caminho de Ferro do Monte, and wise replacement of the previous one - was leading me to the alpines meadows of the Kleine Scheidegg, right below the monstrous North face of the Ogre and well above the tree line.
On the way up, Milka look-a-like cows and farmers were both taking care of their own private businesses, two steps away from the nearest one-thousand-meter precipice with an easy-going attitude and tranquillity as if they were taking an evening stroll along the Lido Promenade.
At the time I thought this was as extreme as we humans could be. Well, as we all know, where there are humans (or cognitive animals, for that matter) there are also boundaries to be broken. And there are almost no limits to engineering.
On the particular subject of men versus orographic environment, Madeira is, hands down, our little Switzerland.
With a volcanic substrate carved by millions of years of erosive forces, Madeira's landscape is as dramatic as it can possibly be.
And also here the human inventiveness knows no limits in order to overcome the difficulties.
You need to carry heavy weights over a steep mountain trail, suitable only for people or pack animals, but you have to do it with some kind of motorized transportation?
Well, there's a solution for that too!
The reforestation operation taking place by these days along the mountain trail heading to the island's highest peak is being helped by a mechanized assistant, rarely seen in Madeira's "adventureland":
The Kubota KC110H, a small crawler dumper, built for restricted spaces, although not pretty, looked quite effective for the task.
Climbing the steps on the trail seemed to be the most delicate manoeuvre for the machine. Well, if you cannot ride it, you can always walk along with it. Just like motorbiking. On these particular parts of the trail, the additional grip given by the rubber caterpillar tracks makes a difference. It's hard to imagine that a cargo-carrying machine can advance through this terrain. Naturally, steady hands from the driver are paramount.
Pictures taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 10-20mm 1:4-5.6 DC HSM and Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Macro. Fill-flash (on the top picture) provided by Metz 54MZ-3 in Auto mode, with -2/3 EV correction. Post-processing of the original JPEG files in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

08 October 2014

STS Pogoria

The sailing vessel Pogoria, from Poland, one of the few tall ships still in operation, reminder of a distant past at anchor in Machico bay, on a particularly calm afternoon, a few days ago.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 70-200mm 1:2.8D APO HSM equipped with Kenko MC UV 77mm filter.

24 September 2014

From Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruívo - PR 1 - The new route

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the trail between the two highest peaks in Madeira is open, since last April, for traffic, following the repairs that took place after the landslide. Today, six months after the conclusion of the work, the opinions regarding its effectiveness diverge, being most of the hikers skeptic about the durability of the chosen option: the construction of a whole new section of the trail, instead of repairing the damaged one. Many believe the new route will not survive the Winter season approaching and the consequent worsening weather conditions. Time will tell.
Regardless of the decision's technical questionability, the fact is this was a strenuous work for a group of construction workers, since all the materials, due to the remoteness of the location, had to be carried by human portage, including an eighty-kilograms generator.
The photos below, taken one day before the official public opening, gives us a vision of the structures built in-situ to surpass the terrain obstacles.
Picture above:
On the afternoon of the last working day, a team of surveyors and construction workers retreat from the newly-finished trail and head on to Achada do Teixeira, ending an intervention that lasted nearly four months.
All photos taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor 18-55mm DX kit lens. Post-processing of the NEF to TIFF converted files in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

20 September 2014

Tamrac Adventure 10 backpack

The Adventure 10 is a mixed hiking and photography backpack from Tamrac. This means that, contrary to the traditional photo backpacks, which only function is to carry and protect photographic equipment, this particular pack includes in its design an additional separated top compartment suitable for the transportation of items normally needed by nature excursionists, e.g. additional pieces of clothing, food, hiking equipment, etc.
This versatility makes it the right photography backpack for any hike that takes you farther from the parking lot, giving you a higher autonomy in anything that exceeds a morning or a afternoon walk.
I'm growing rather fond of my Tamrac Adventure 10 nowadays. Why? Well, in Summer time, here in Madeira, there isn't much we need in the hills except a couple of boots in our feet, a hat, a t-shirt or a polartec fleece and a pair of shorts. For food you carry a couple of power bars or snacks and for drinking you just need a filled up 1 liter water bottle. That's all. During that gentle season, my favorite photographic pack is the trusty Lowepro Inverse 200 AW belt pack. It has plenty of room for a Pro (D)SLR, together with a couple of lenses and a flash, and can also carry the needed food and drink.
In the Winter season, now starting, it's another story. The weather becomes unpredictable in Madeira's highest peaks and trails. The natural excessive humidity in the air, the sudden rain showers, the stronger winds and the low atmospheric temperatures, all conspire to change a peaceful walk in the hills into a living hypotermic hell in a very short notice. In those moments the difference between panic and self-control is proper equipment and preparation.
For the actual preparation you have to start working months before. You have to know your trade. And being an experienced hiker, as in all human activities and endeavors, requires commitment, dedication and time. Grouping the necessary equipment is easier. You don't need to be a PhD for that. You just need to follow a check-list taken from the web. Using it properly, however, requires you to reread the above paragraph.
Well, the first piece of equipment for us nature photographers of the Northern Hemisphere facing the arrival of Winter might as well be this dual-purpose backpack, that will allow us to carry, besides photo gear, all the other items to make our walks in the wilderness a bit more comfortable. A rain poncho or a Gore-Tex jacket, a all-weather cover for the backpack itself, additional dry clothes, a flash light, a mobile phone, a compass and charts or a portable GPS - don't forget a whistle and a signaling mirror - are all items that I stow religiously on the Tamrac's top compartment.
If I can find a negative detail on the Tamrac Adventure 10, this is, without doubt, its harness, back padding and straps system. These are quite simple and - it doesn't really matter how much you try to adjust them - you'll have a hard time trying to equilibrate the pack on your shoulders and back. Not nearly in the same league as the Lowepros. But for the luxury of an internal aluminium frame, you have to be prepared to pay twice the price. As in many things, you get what you pay for. Zippers are also far from perfect, being a little stiff and the opening of the top compartment could be better engineered. Besides that, this particular pack doesn't bring an all-weather cover. So, if you are planning hikes in rainy conditions, you better buy one on the E-Bay, from the many Chinese sellers out there. Four or five Euros should do the trick.
The 17' laptop compartment (visible here, near the back padding) is a must, and, due to that, this backpack quickly became my all-around carry-on air travel bag, allowing me to bring on the cabin all the valuable photographic and personal items that, otherwise, I'd have to send to the hold.
Two mesh pockets on either side allow for a small tripod transport or a water bottle. Along the pack's body and straps there are several points for connection of accessories of the M.A.S and S.A.S lines, also compatible with several accessories from other makers.
Bottom line: if you want a dual photo backpack that does the job, without damaging excessively your bank account, you will not make a mistake. The Adventure 10 is a reliable piece of equipment, with plenty of load capacity, without the bells and whistles that characterize more expensive options. However, if these bells and whistles are important for your needs, you should look nearby, on the higher specialized Lowepro competition.

13 September 2014

Levada dos Cedros - P.R. 14

The Levada dos Cedros has one of the most handsome sources in all the Madeira's levadas. However, as strange as it may seem, this path is not as visited as its nearest neighbours, in Rabaçal valley. Hidden deep in Fanal, this hike is, nevertheless, a pleasurable one, taking you deep into the Laurissilva forest.
The departure point to Levada dos Cedros source, nearby the ER 209 (Regional Road).
Departure position:
Lat:   32º49'33"N
Long: 017º09'29"W
Altitude: 870 mts
Source (arrival) position:
Lat:    32º47'57"N
Long: 017º08?39"W
Altitude: 910 mts
Distance: 5.4 kms
Time:       aprox. 1h30m
The round hike (from departure to departure) will take you about three hours on the trail and nearly eleven kilometres of walking.
Wooden bridge in Levada dos Cedros...
The always luxurious vegetation is a constant presence, as we proceed deeper into the Laurissilva, heading to the source of the levada.
The remote and luxuriant source of Levada dos Cedros, deep inside the primeval forest of Fanal. A well-kept Garden of Eden, rightfully deserving a visit and the 5.5 kms long approach march.
Pictures made with Nikon D40X with Nikkor 18-55mm kit lens and Nikon Coolpix P7100. Tripod Sirui T005 for the last picture.
Post-processing of the converted Nikon NEF Raw to TIFF files in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

05 September 2014

The North Face Dhaulagiri II GTX - The perfect all-around hiking boot?

Ask any hiker which part of the equipment he values the most and the vast majority of them will mention the boots.
The reason for that choice is, we all know, quite simple:
Hiking, naturally, presupposes walking and for that you need your feet. Without adequate protection, they won't take you far.
In the end, as in many options in life, choosing the right hiking shoes is a matter of personal taste and always subjective.
Furthermore, if we try to separate and classify things by makers and nationality, we all get more confused in the process. We could argue that the best shoemakers are Italians. An in a way we may be right. Therefore, in terms of quality (at least), we could expect a good quality product, if bought from an Italian company. Brands like Scarpa, La Sportiva, Asolo, Crispi or Garmont - to name a few - became over the decades synonymous of quality handcrafting.
However, when, nowadays, we check their tongues, we hardly get surprised to see that these shoes are not made in Europe anymore.
So much for the European production and quality, if there is still any.
Increasing our doubts, instead of calming us, the market is now being invaded by shoes made by companies that, until recent times, had no tradition whatsoever in the shoe-making industry.
Millet, The North Face, Karrimor or Salewa are just a few, among several companies, that are presently diversifying their catalogs and including in them lines of shoes and mountains boots.
Seeing a clothing company designing shoes should gives us the same peace of mind we would get from a luxury automobile company attempting the construction of jet engines, right? Well, as the latter proved, there is nothing wrong with that.
Today I have the proof of that. Three years ago, while looking for a pair of all-around hiking boots suitable for the Madeira environment and wouldn't destroy my wallet, I gave a moment of attention to the North Face Dhaulagiri II GTX. I had a few guiding lines of what I thought the right hiking boot for Madeira should be: light construction, preferably in a mixed of leather and synthetic materials, hence breathable and simultaneously waterproof (meaning a Gore-Tex membrane), a rubberized toe cap and Vibram rubber sole. I discarded the full-leather construction because, in my opinion, although being clearly the best in impermeability, they are too hot for the Madeira gentle climate. The handful of days per year we have in the island's highest mountains sub-zero temperatures and snow that could justify an all-leather boot are not enough to justify walking with the feet soaked in perspiration the rest of the time. They are also harder to maintain, requiring more complex care.
Having previously used hiking shoes from The North Face and being quite happy with them, I decided to give their boots a try.
First of all, I've noticed that they were with a very large discount. Which isn't always a good sign. Second, the opinions on the web were not that unanimous. Some were saying the boots were great, the others said they were amongst the worst. Well, all I can is to give you, also, my two cents worth on the subject.
And from day one I couldn't be happier with the choice I've made. The boots fitted my feet like gloves. Wearing a 7.5 UK size on the hiking shoes, I choose to buy their boots in 8 UK - half size bigger. I do not regret the decision. The feet are more free inside the boot, without excessive play. No blisters to account for.
The North Face Dhaulagiri II GTX hiking boots. These boots from The North Face ended up being a good surprise, lasting more than two years, after continuous use and abuse in the mountains of Madeira. 86 UK Pounds well spent.
The worn out Vibram soles of the Dhaulagiris. After two years of continuous use, this was, not surprisingly, the first component to collapse. A second (new) pair is already at home. To replace them.

Shoe-making of another era.
Twenty-six years ago, when I embraced mountaineering, we could notice an informed mountaineer (not necessarily a good one!) by the boots he or she wore. Contrary to the present diversity, during those days mountain footwear was categorized for their specific use: low mountain, medium mountain and high mountain. There were almost no hiking shoes (people used tennis shoes for all uses that did not require a stronger footwear) and the modern and so popular approach shoes - a mix between light hiking shoes and rock climbing shoes - were yet to be invented.
In those days, a pair of good quality mountain boots - according to the books - had to have the following characteristics: a Vibram sole, full leather construction (with leather preferably of three millimeters thickness), the minimum of seams on the upper body (meaning using the minimum of leather pieces for the whole boot), the sewing of the sole should be made with a double (preferably triple) seam and the shaft should be high enough to protect the ankle movement.
The rubber soles should be flexible for low mountain use, semi-flexible for medium mountain (suitable for use with strap crampons) and rigid for high-mountain (recommended for use with automatic crampons).
Regardless of their final use, these boots were more or less built with the same technical quality. And we expected them to live a lifetime.
My Dachstein medium mountain boots, reaching now a quarter of a century, have already many hundreds of kilometers of mountain trails under their (original) soles. They just need to be washed once at home, left to dry in the shadow and then greased with Dubbin.
So far, they lasted for twenty five years. And since I don't use them quite so often anymore, with the same proper care, they will probably outlive me.
Well, those days are gone. Except a few high quality models, no shoemaker makes a boot or a shoe to last. The ergonomy in the products, propelled by a better knowledge of body mechanics, evolved, as the technicality of the materials used. But the durability was compromised on the process. For instance, where once you had a flat or straight Vibram sole glued to the insole (allowing for replacement), you now have the same Vibram material on a vulcanized sole with a sinuous and exotic profile, irreplaceable. 

Why am I telling you all of this?
Well, because if you are a little bit complicated - just like me - you still expect, presently, to buy a pair of mountain boots that lasts for your entire career among the peaks.
Forget it. Mountain footwear is becoming more and more similar to any other consumption product. It is supposed to have a lifespan of a couple of years and then you send it into the dumpster. As Sam Rockwell wisely pointed out in Iron Man 2: "Don't get so attached to things, learn to let go!". You just have to accept this as an actual fact, expect the equipment to perform faultlessly during its entire lifetime and move on to another one in the nearby future.

So, as long as you admit this - the temporary and finite condition of any present good - any mountain footwear that you buy today should give you miles of pleasant hikes in the nature. As long as it fits your feet.

31 August 2014

How to create a raster chart for the Magellan Explorist GPS

Raster charts are the best of both worlds. You can get the most accurate graphic description of the Earth's surface existing today - in the form of topographic charts - adapted to be read by the modern portable GPS on the market.
Certainly today we have also the Vector charts. And these are, probably the future in digital cartography. These are digital files made from scratch and presented in the GPS display just like that. I mean: you don't have a paper look-a-like image. Instead, what you have is a digital rendition of the terrain. This is, certainly, the future. You can control the information you want to see, therefore avoid crowding the GPS displays with too much or excessive information. For example, and since these modern charts work by "layers", you can clear, momentarily, the exhibition of roads, or cities, or man-made constructions such as power lines, etc., thus giving a clearer presentation of the natural features of the ground. As good as they are, these charts (normally bought in digital folios - packages of charts of a specific Earth region) are not cheap. Quite often just a single folio (for example: Northwestern Africa or US West National Parks) can cost as much as the GPS receiver itself. And you still have to face the cost of the cartography updates, if you wish to be... updated.
So, if you have a folio of old topographic paper charts at home, its easily understandable that you might wanna use them on your portable GPS receiver. After all, even if they are outdated, they still remain accurate. Changes in topography are mostly of human nature. Th natural world, except some abnormal catastrophe, remains the same. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason not to use your accurate topographic charts on your GPS unit. Even if they are twenty years old. Hell, here in Madeira I'm working with Portuguese Army topographic charts, in a scale of 1/25.000, which survey was made in the late fifties and sixties. If they are good for the Army, they certainly are good for me.
How do we do this? The magical conversion from an accurate paper topographic chart to a similarly accurate digital topographic file?
Well, it ended up to be easier than expected. I'm no expert, but here is how I did it:

1. Scan your paper chart (or part of it) in a flatbed scanner and save the resulting file (picture) in .jpeg or .png format. Strangely I've found the jpegs files not color accurate on the GPS. The files in this format always shown a strong magenta cast and the colors of the original chart are lost on the GPS, giving us a monochromatic image in magenta. The .png files seem to work OK.
2. Download this file onto the free program RMP Maker and calibrate it, using for that a minimum of three geographic positions, widely separated on the picture. Don't forget that the chart datum of the chart must be the same you are using for the calibration process. Otherwise, you'll always have a positioning error, up to several hundreds of meters. Nowadays almost all the topographic charts are referred to the WGS 84. But many of the old charts are not. Create one .rmp file, already calibrated on the above-mentioned program. Now, if you have a Magellan Triton GPS receiver, at this stage you just have to export this file to the GPS and it should work faultlessly. But if you have one of the latest Explorist family, and since these equipments use different file formats, you have one additional step to make. Convert the .rmp file in a file readable by the Explorist:
3. Convert the .rmp calibrated file into a bak.rmp file (readable by the Explorist) in the free program RMP Tools.
4. Download the resulting file directly to the Explorist Maps Folder, by USB cable connection, either going directly by Windows Explorer to its directory or using the free Magellan software VantagePoint. It should work perfectly, as you can see on my previous post, about the Magellan Explorist 610.

Once again, I tell you that I'm no expert in the field, but I've found the process quite manageable, even for an ignorant like me. All the software mentioned is intuitive, and you can easily get the grip of it in just a couple of hours.The most important part of the process being the digital chart (file) calibration. If this is done right, you'll have an accurate raster chart on your Magellan Explorist. Good luck. 

29 August 2014

My first AI lens

As many photography lovers, I would never give up film photography if it wasn't for the slow decline of the support system behind us.
Nearly ten years ago, when I shifted from a seafaring career to a more terrestrial one, I still could find a laboratory in Funchal able to process positive films. A couple of years later, with just a handful of last clients, they were forced to close the service and, consequently I, too, reluctantly, migrated to digital, with my first acquisition in the field: a Nikon D40X and its standard Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S zoom.
And I emphasize "reluctantly" because, back then, I knew I was opening a Pandora's Box full of superfluous things, many of them not truly indispensable for our photographic endeavours. Menus, auto-ISO's, VR's, autofocus I, II and III and so on, were designed to make our life easier in the field. To make picture taking simpler and intuitive.
On the contrary, and most of the times, these modernisms, as Ken Rockwell wisely pointed out, gives us more chances to loose a photo opportunity than to achieve one.
On those frustrating moments, I wish for simpler techniques and equipment. Anything that returns to us the simplicity of the photographic act.
Nikkor AI lenses mean just that: simplicity and effectiveness. Just an optical tube with both manual focus and diaphragm rings. It just doesn't get any simpler.
Understandably, and since all these lenses were designed in the film age, you have to be smart while buying a modern digital body fully compatible with their manual iris selector.
But even if you own the simplest of the Nikon digital bodies, these lenses remain perfectly usable. You just have to guess the exposure or do it by trial and error.
After all, it's the digital age. What do you have to loose? Card space?
And have I told you that they are really cheap, bought second-hand, on E-Bay, these days?
The notable Japan-made Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI, bought second-hand on E-Bay, from the competent Japanese seller AIHALAND-JP. 110 Euros of solid metal and glass, as Ken Rockwell wisely points out, "...built like a tank for a lifetime of great pictures.".
The quality on the details is simply amazing. Reminiscent of an era when handcrafting perfectionism was a standard industrial procedure. Note the detailed depth-of-field scale, painted with the same colours of the numbers on the diaphragm scale. Small red dot for Infra-Red focus correction also present.
The aft part of the lens, showing its bayonet mount and the diaphragm activating lever. 257 grams (naked) of solid construction with, in my modest opinion, just one drawback: a minimum focus distance of 0.45 mts. But, anyway, this was normal for a 50mm lens of that era. If you want to focus closer, you might prefer one of the fabulous - according to many reviews - Micro-Nikkors 55mm f/2.8. You'll loose speed, however.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI focused at minimum distance at f/2.0. No so bad bokeh, don't you agree? Shot with a Nikon D610.
In hyperfocal focus, from foreground to background, in the distant horizon. Shot at f/8 with a Nikon D610. Sharpness all over, so it seems. Notice the tree branches?

20 August 2014

GPS Magellan Explorist 610 - A quick review

While navigating (regardless of being in the wilderness or on your own neighbourhood), you permanently need to answer to three questions; where you are, where you want to be and how to get there. The first and second questions are normally answered by a geographical position (either a Lat/Long pair of coordinates or a location, for example: Lisbon), whereas the latter can only be answered by a combined use of resources and science known by us as navigation.
Contrary to the common knowledge, the GPS is a not a navigation system. It's a positioning system. The name (GPS - Global Positioning System) clearly implies it. It was built and devised with the ambition of being the (near) perfect system to plot the position of its user anywhere on the globe, with the greatest accuracy that the modern human knowledge allows. It is, therefore, the successor of the sextant and the nautical tables and of the Decca and the Loran electronic positioning systems. It was never designed as an orienting system. For that job, to tell you how to go from the departure position to the arrival position - in a word: to give you the travel direction, you still need an orienting equipment. And this can be as simple as the common magnetic needle or as sophisticated as the modern gyrocompass. Let's face it: if all you ever needed for navigation was a 400 Euros GPS, why are all the ships worldwide equipped with gyros and gyro-pilots that can cost more than one hundred times that amount?
Regardless of that, GPS technology evolved a lot on the past twenty years. From the ancient bulky, professional, fixed and power-hungry receptors costing a small fortune we reached now the frontiers of portability, with these equipment's reaching the size of a wristwatch.
With the miniaturization came also the expansion of capabilities. Thirty years ago, the ancient GPS's only gave you a geographical coordinate. Nothing more. You'd have to plot the information on the nautical chart to perform your navigation calculations. Nowadays, a GPS receptor is a more complex machine, allowing you to elaborate tracks and courses and it is becoming more and more (with limitations) a navigation-do-it-all computer.
Since the system is fully functional either over land, sea or air, it was a matter of time for it to be used on outdoor activities.
Somehow curious how this type of equipment would help my mountain activities, I took the plunge and decided to buy one of them.
From the various makers on the market - Garmin, Lowrance, Trimble, Magellan, to name just a few - I choose the Magellan. Primarily for the noble name of it. In second for its technical characteristics, and in third for its already included worldwide coverage map and topographic charts (Summit series) for Europe.
As in everything in life, nothing is totally perfect. And this GPS equipment, although competent, is far from it.
Here's my two cents worth on the matter.
The GPS Magellan Explorist 610, with its navigation screen on Course-Up mode. A competent equipment, loaded with features. This equipment is, somehow, positioned, in characteristics, between the Garmin Oregon 450 and the Oregon 550, its direct competitors. Relevant features include:

Display: 3" Resistive Touch Screen colour display with 240x400 resolution
Altimeter: Barometric and/or GPS altimeter
Camera: 3.2 mega-pixel camera with auto-focus (capable of geotagging photos)
Video: 320x240 resolution size
Audio: Built-in microphone and speaker (capable of recording voice notes)
Compass: 3- axis electronic compass
Waterproof: Rated to IPX7 standards (immersed in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes)
Accuracy: 10-16 feet
Interface: mini D to USB

A detailed and competent review is also available on the site BackCountrySkiingCanada.
The back of the equipment, showing its camera lens, the speaker and the belt hook and the back panel lock - both made of solid stainless steel. The USB connector (protected by a waterproof cover)  is located near the palm of my hand, near the plastic loop. Regardless of the so-called waterproofness, I have to be honest with you: I'd be very careful with any attempt to sink the equipment in water to its IPX7 standards - waterproofness up to 30 minutes in 1 meter depth. The O-rings on the equipment don't give me that confidence, particularly the USB connector. Having tested the equipment in heavy rain though, I can vow for its resistance to rain showers and wet conditions. Which is, basically, what we need it for.
A side view of the equipment, showing its three control buttons. All of them allow for some function customization which is, in my opinion, a plus. GPS receivers are supposed to be operated with an alphanumeric keyboard, particularly on its major functions, like saving a waypoint. Going through menus to do this simply isn't practical. This is one step ahead from the nearest competitors.
The front of the equipment, showing its microphone (useful for voice notes on the trail). You might ask yourself why the need for this. Well, honestly, since you have it... it's never too much. After all, all the professional Nikon camera bodies of the last decade (D3, D3S, D4, D4S) have also this kind of gizmo. It's useful for photographers in the field. To record some voice memos about pictures and places, they say. Well, you have the same ability on your Magellan Explorist 610. The chart shown on the screen is a Raster chart of the Pico Ruívo area. It's basically a digitalization of a Portuguese Army topographic chart, on a scale of 1/25.000, geo-referenced, and transformed in a digital file, readable by the Magellan GPS. With this ability, we get the best of both worlds: the precision and graphical perfectionism of a paper chart and the ability to use it on a digital equipment.

What I like about it:
- Robust plastic, metal and rubber carcass.
- Customizable buttons.
- Good computer software: VantagePoint (there's still place for improvement, though).
- Plenty of accessories on the market, even from third-parties: 12 volts car connectors, bicycle, car and motorbike supports, etc.
- Bright display with recessed screen, giving additional protection to impacts.
- Excellent "Suspend" mode, allowing for extra duration of batteries, while keeping GPS fix and tracking.
- Waterproofness.
- Acceptability of Raster and Vector charts, either topographic and maritime (the latter due to a Magellan partnership with Navionics, a worldwide respected leader on electronic charts and navigation).
- Good accuracy, up to 5 or 6 meters on the ground. In my modest opinion, it's more than enough. Anything more, and you are entering on Differential GPS universe. Do you really need this improvement of precision in detriment of more useful functions?
- Integrated loop, allowing to suspend the equipment by a carabiner or a piece of rope to the backpack. You either like it or hate it. In my opinion, it's useful.
- The included cartography.
- Availability of free cartography on the web, particularly on the site Maps4me.net.
- Integrated photographic camera, with workable definition, allowing also video shots. It's not 4K, but suffices for a geo-tagged photo or video clip.

What should be improved:
- Lame software. The equipment is not intuitive to operate and I find myself quite often reaching for the manual, to remember a procedure, even after months of frequent use. The menus, although extensive, are not coherent. There's lots of information, but lacking organization.
- Very weak manual. Some functions of the equipment are not clearly described and some icons appearing on the display are not even mentioned, leaving us to guess their meaning. Not good. Not a professional behaviour from a company that gave so much to the GPS technology. It leaves us with the impression that the equipment was designed in the States, built somewhere else and the manual, additionally, on another place. And all that with lacks in communication.
- No turn-by-turn tracking and routeing in nature (my friend's Garmin Oregon does this by default). Since on Terra firma (contrary to sea navigation) we rarely navigate in a straight line - the only exception, in some tracks and routes, being the deserts - the lacking of this function is not understandable.
- The autonomy of 16 hours in optimal conditions is... optimistic, to say the least. Half of that, with a fresh pair of alkalines is closer to the truth. With normal trail use, with frequent operation of the equipment, you can expect a maximum of three to four hours of use. If the ambient temperatures are low... well... good luck. Do yourself a favour and carry a couple of pairs of freshly recharged Ni-MH cells, even if you are just contemplating a single day hike. Truth being said, the competition doesn't seem to be better.
- Time to first fix. Poor. I've read some reviews saying this equipment is fast. It's not my experience. The processor seems to be slow and even with the latest firmware available (ver. 7.14), the equipment takes a minimum of 30 seconds to boot and an additional 30 seconds for the first fix. My friend's Garmin is almost instantaneous.

Bearing the name of the greatest navigator of them all is not an automatic receipt for success. There's a lot more work to be done by Magellan, if they wish to achieve a leading position in the consumer GPS market.

04 August 2014

Summer spirit

As the Summer advances, the religious festivities multiply all over Madeira. These fairs and festivals, peaking during the month of August, are normally organized by the municipalities' parishes as an homage to their patron saint.
In the end, more than a religious experience, these events end up being great social meetings, gathering not only the locals but also the tourists and the emigrants of the Madeira diaspora, who return to their homeland to review family and friends.
Among the biggest, the Arraial dos Lameiros, in São Vicente, during the first weekend of August, is, probably, the most loved one.
Thousands of people in the streets, religious ceremonies in a beautifully decorated chapel, music, party, food and the typical "poncha" within one of the most enchanted natural and human landscapes of Madeira.
Picture taken last Saturday night in Lameiros, North coast, with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and Sirui T005 tripod and ball head. Post-processing in Nikon Capture NX-D and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

03 May 2014

Full moon fever

The visible face of the full moon as seen and photographed from my hometown of Caniço, near sea level, about two weeks ago. Visible on the lower right part of the picture is the massive impact crater Tycho, with its distinctive ray system, forming long spokes that reach as much as 1500kms from the impact centre.
This is, nevertheless, and regardless the long focal length, an extremely cropped image and the result is somehow soft, meaning, probably, that the resolving power of the lenses is nowhere near on par with the sensor's definition.
Picture taken with a Nikon D300 and  Sigma EX 70-200mm f/2.8D APO coupled with a Sigma APO 2x EX DG teleconverter, giving a useful focal lenght of 600mm, at f/5.6 (max.). Image parameters: 1/250 at f/8, ISO 800.

20 April 2014

Montado do Pereiro

Both pictures taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm f/2.8 EX Macro HSM. Hoya HMC Super 77mm Circular Polarizer. Manfrotto tripod and ball head.
For more informations, please check the DRFCN site.

14 April 2014

Madeira Island Ultra Trail 2014

Cloudy weather, low atmospheric temperatures and occasional rain showers. These were the conditions of the present year's MIUT, during the past Saturday, in contrast with the sunny weather of last year's edition.
Regardless of the meteorological inconsistency, sending to the organization the clear sign that the best time for mountain activities in Madeira still remains the month of May, the event is increasing in popularity, with a presence of 750 athletes, from 27 different nationalities.
In the picture, a solitary trail runner, arriving from the Encumeada pass, approaches the highest peak of Madeira, during the present year's edition of the Madeira Island Ultra Trail.
Picture taken with Nikon D610 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI standard lens. Post-processing in Nikon View Nx2 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

13 April 2014

The spectre of Brocken

As we can read up on the Wikipedia, the Brocken spectre "is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun".
Due to the frequent local optimal conditions for this phenomena to take place, the peak of Brocken - Harz Mountains, Germany - gave its name to this particular atmospheric halo. However, its presence is frequent in mountain regions, as long as you are walking above the clouds and the sun is on the right angle to project your shadow onto them.
Strangely, these conditions in Madeira are not the easiest to find. Most of the times the atmosphere is either fully clouded or not at all.
Or, as one fellow hiker wisely pointed, on the vast majority of Madeira hikes you're walking in the cloud.
Sometimes, nevertheless, generally at morning or evening times, we can also have a glimpse of this optical phenomenon, while hiking along our highest peaks:
The Spectre of Brocken, photographed two days ago, at evening time, on the trail and close to Pico do Areeiro.
Picture taken with Nikon D40X and cheap AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G II ED with B+W 52 E KR3 1.2* filter.

Legendary among mountaineers, the Spectre of Brocken has a mixed fame, which is both mystical and sinister. Perhaps the most famous of the latter connotation was achieved on the nineteen century, during the first successful climb of the Matterhorn.
The mountain, "conquered" in 1865, by a party of seven, claimed the lives of four on the descent, falling to their deaths due to a broken rope.
According to Edward Whymper, the expedition leader, on his book "The Ascent Of The Matterhorn", this tragic finale was preceded by a spectral vision forming in the clouds nearby and resembling crosses.
To this day many Historians still claim that the phenomena they saw was simply the Brocken spectre playing games with their already exhausted minds.
Was it?
The spectral phenomena witnessed by Edward Whimper and his companions, while descending from the first ascent of the Matterhorn, as illustrated on his book "The Ascent Of The Matterhorn".

10 April 2014

P.R. 1 is now open

Concluding a strenuous work which started on the past January, a team of construction workers finished today the repair of the most celebrated of all the Madeira mountain trails: the PR 1, connecting the highest peaks of Madeira.
Just in time to be ready for the present year's edition of the MIUT (Madeira Island Ultra Trail), scheduled for the next Saturday, the repair operations suffered several meteorological setbacks, namely rainy and snowy conditions, forcing the constructers to slow down.
Well, better later than never. And the island's trail event, growing famous year after year, will, once again, have on its route the notorious path connecting Pico Ruívo to Pico do Areeiro.
The Pico Ruívo mountain hut will be, once again, a mandatory passage for all the athletes participating in the present year's MIUT. Here pictured yesterday, at midnight, during a particularly amazing and clear blue sky.
Picture taken with Nikon D610 and Sigma Aspherical 24mm f/1.8 D EX DG Macro mounted on Sirui T-005 travel tripod and ball-head.
Post processing in Nikon View NX2 (conversion from NEF to TIFF) and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.2

05 April 2014

Our own mountain playground

As the biggest and highest mountain massif in the continental Portugal, Serra da Estrela is, bar none, our own mountain playground. Its high above sea level, ending at nearly 2000 meters, together with a gentle climate and its location and accessibility, makes this small mountain range the Portuguese climbing and mountaineering school by excellence.
An initiation place for generations of Portuguese mountaineers, in a country with negligible tradition in the sport, I remember reading some touristic pamphlets in my infant years stating that "one week on the mountain equals one year of health".
In fact, by the nineteen century the Serra da Estrela massif was nearly unknown for the vast majority of the nation. In a time when the nation was poor and the communications all over the country were almost non-existent (worth remembering that the construction of the Portuguese railway system only started on the second half of the XIX century) and the social structure of the contry consisted basically on the small and rich aristocracy and bourgeoisie for one side and the vast analphabet rural population on the other  , a shepherd living in this mountain range might as well be living on Mars.
The place was so remote that, in 1881, the Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa (est. in 1875) organized an expedition to the area, in order to perform some scientific studies and install the first meteorological observatory - one of the firsts in the whole Europe. Leaded by the Navy Officer Hermenegildo Capelo (a Portuguese Africa explorer, contemporary of Richard Francis Burton), the expedition departed from Lisboa, by railway, with a team of 42 expeditionists. According to a news correspondent of that Era, they were "dressed with a full pack of sheep's wool over them and above that... a revolver against the wolves and pig's bacon against vipers bite".
But regardless that auspicious expedition to the Portuguese Himalayas, the Serra da Estrela massif remained on the next decades a place of wolves, sheep, the fabulous Serra da Estrela cheese and sanatoriums.
Its role as a recreational area started only after the Second World War, when the nation developed and the middle class expanded.
Then, and only then, the Portuguese looked at the Estrela as more than a sanatorium for the cure of tuberculosis.
As the decades rolled by, and with the raising interest in nature tourism and sports by the population, the Serra da Estrela started to show its hidden potential.
Potential that can be resumed in one word... well... two: (meteorological) stability.
Contrary to the other massifs in Europe - namely the Pyrenees and the Alps - subjected to violent and sudden changes in the weather conditions, the Serra da Estrela climate, after the Winter season storms, is gentle and predictable.
This means that you can engage yourself in a full week activity on the mountain without having to look, apprehensively, and every hour, to the barometer.
In this moonlit landscape photo, taken at the crossing near the Centro de Limpeza de Neve (Snow Cleaning Center), in Penhas da Saúde, are pictured the most dramatic geological formations of Serra da Estrela. In this particular place, known to us as the Central Plateau, are visible, in the foreground the Nave de Santo António, with its conspicuous chapel, and on the horizon line - from left to right - the escarpment of Covão do Ferro with its icy corridors, the Cântaro Raso, the Cântaro Magro and the Cântaro Gordo. Behind the Cântaro Raso lies the Torre plateau, the highest place in continental Portugal and not visible in the picture (see The Sno-Cats odyssey in this blog).
Granted, it's not the Himalayas and neither the Alps or even the Pyrenees for that matter. But there are still good conditions in Serra da Estrela for some nice Winter mountaineering activities. Higher than the Scottish peaks, the birthplace of the British technical Winter mountaineering, the Serra da Estrela massif has, nonetheless, a shorter Winter season, meaning that the snow and ice will stay less time on the ground. Also, the global warming is not helping since the temperatures can now change in the massif from minus ten degrees to plus eight or nine during the course of one week. That makes precipitation inconstant.
During one week might be snowing and on the next one it's probably raining.
I miss the full Winter seasons of the late eighties and the early nineties, when the temperatures would stay below freezing for weeks and the conditions for ice climbing were near perfect.
However, we can still be blessed with some years, once in a while, when the mountain keeps its snow cover for a longer period of time.
In the picture, taken on the past 10th of March, my brother Rui reaches the top of a small ice route, not far from the Torre plateau, on the slopes of Covão Cimeiro.
Since Serra da Estrela is our small "playground" for all mountain activities, from mountaineering to ski, we can find on it all the details (on a smaller scale) that are present on the big mountain ranges of the world. That makes, somehow, Serra da Estrela an invaluable school for initiating the younger generations into the wonderful world of the mountain sports and environment.
Not wanting to be left behind in such a typical mountain event, Serra da Estrela has also its avalanches, as you can see, above, on the remains of one, portrayed on the Covão Cimeiro.
They are probably not so dramatic as the ones you can see at the Annapurna basecamp, but an avalanche is an avalanche.
And the same rule applies, either in Nepal and in central Portugal: just make sure you are not below them, when they start to fall.
When we think about Serra da Estrela we think not only about snow and ice but also about sheer rock. Pure, clean and hard granite. Regardless the many sandstone crags equipped in the last twenty years all over the country and responsible for a formation of a full generation of competent sport climbers, and with the utmost respect for a granite massif located on the northern Portugal - and our only National Park - the Peneda-Gerês mountain range, no mountain has contributed more, in Portugal, for the development of technical rock climbing and mountaineering as Serra da Estrela did.
It's our rock climbing cathedral
And if any cathedral has its altar, Serra da Estrela's one is the Cântaro Magro. Raising nearly 500 meteres from its base, near the camping ground of Covão da Ametade, this massive granite monolith is, unquestionably, the symbol of the Portuguese mountaineering.
On the picture above, my brother Rui searches for a nice spot to give proper use of his Pentax K5II, while facing the North-easterly face of the colossus.
The Covão da Ametade, pictured here lit by the midnight moon, during the past March, is the usual camping ground in Serra da Estrela for the Portuguese mountaineering community visiting the "serra". The Cântaro Magro stands, in all its greatness, 500 meters above us, making us dream about faraway places and remote mountains. Here it's where all begins.
According to a story we heard, the technicians of Jaguar, the British car maker, highly praise the sunset light in Serra da Estrela, saying it's the best in the world. So, they keep coming to Portugal to direct their commercial videos here. I'm sure they are worldly persons, so I think we must take their opinions for granted. What do you think?
In the picture: sunset in Torre plateau, the highest point in continental Portugal.