"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Levada Novo Hike - Jan 2022 - Madeira
My first few days in Madeira had included a rather challenging swim in the cold and choppy sea just outside our hotel and a gruelling climb on the bike up to Monte and Poiso to the north of Funchal. Then at lunchtime I got talking to Nivedak and he told me that in 5 minutes he and a couple of other guys were heading off to hike a Levada for the afternoon - 5 minutes was enough to dash back to my room and grab my boots and to let Rabinath know so he could do the same. Ten minutes later (five minutes, after all, is rarely actually five minutes) we were heading out in Nivedak's car along the coast to the west of Funchal. A series of fast highways through dark, mesmeric tunnels brought us to a stunning valley that reminded me of the mountain country I'd seen in China - steep valley walls and beautiful trees filling the view in all directions. Steep climbs that tested the engine and gearbox of the hire car brought us to a quiet hamlet in the hills and we parked up and got going - Udayachal navigating us on paths between the houses away from the roads and into the valley on a delightful trail. We had started quite high up and were following a Levada - an irrigation channel carrying water down from the mountains to the drier coastal farmlands - so the going was flat but the path was narrow with sheer drops to one side - I felt a touch of vertigo as we started to hike up the valley but the views were truly amazing. This was the epic Madeira scenery I had heard about and it was great to be seeing it close up for the first time.
Even in winter, Madeira is incredibly colourful, with many of the trees still fully in leaf and some turning golden or russet. It felt as though Autumn had started late and was going to head straight to Spring without a proper winter. Here and there we saw exotic flowers in full bloom and the scenery had a lush feel to it, despite the air feeling dry and cool under misty skies.
Udayachal, Nivedak and Prachar set quite a fast pace but me and Rabinath, still adjusting to being there on our first hike of the trip, hung back and tool it slowly, drinking in the views and taking it carefully on the narrow sections where there was no handrail. This was a popular trail and we passed quite a few people coming back the other way, or ahead of us but walking at a slower pace. As you can see the trail was only wide enough for one along much of its length so passing someone often meant straddling the levada with one foot each side to make room for someone to get past you on the narrow strip.
I had heard that some levadas had tunnel sections but I was surprised to encounter one on my first outing - especially one so long, but this one had the amazing feature of opening out on to a view of a waterfall. So after a long trek through the darkness with only the sound of the water in the levada echoing through the tunnel, the emergence into daylight and the sound of water plumetting over the cliff into the valley was really something.
As you can see from the photo, the trail led behind the waterfall and gave us the chance to get a cool spray on our faces before we carried on. Soon after, Rabinath and I caught up with the others and we found ourselves at the head of the valley. The path leading onward had partially collapsed and it was pretty much time to head back anyway, but we had a choice of a lower levada or back the way we came, or a broad trackway along the valley floor. Prachar and Nivedak were having to multi-task and wanted to learn songs as they hiked from sheet music - they are both part of Kaliash's singing group that is aiming to learn all of Sri Chinmoy's songs, well in excess of 20,000 compositions, so every day no matter what else they are doing they need to dedicate time to learning and practicing their latest tranche of songs. The trackway on the valley floor seemed the easiest way back for this, as they could have both hands free to hold the music and not need to keep their eyes glued to a narrow trail, so they headed that way joined by Rabinath who was finding his knee reacting a little to the exertion. He was warming up for several days hiking/camping in western Madeira so it made sense for him not to overcook things. The lower levada was officially closed and taped off, but Udayachal reckoned he had seen people walking on it from above and it must be passable so the two of us headed back on that trail to see what we found.
This turned out to be a good decision - the lower levada was beatutiful and there was only one partially-collapsed section which we had no trouble getting over.
The route was parallel to our outbound trek, just lower on the hillside, giving a different perspective on the valley.
The hike was brisk (so we could keep pace with the others on their more direct & therefore shorter route) and we passed through the terraced fields and plantations of sugar cane, as well as clumps of eucalyptus trees shedding their refreshing fragrance in the warm afternoon. It wasn't long before the paths converged back at the trailhead and we negotiated some extreme roads in the car to pick up the others from the end of the valley trail. It had been a great hike and a superb introduction to these unique Levada trails of Madeira. Afterwards both of the injured parties felt their knees had benefitted from the experience (mine definitely did) and the singers had learnt some new songs. All good!