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.