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Library : Itineraries : Levada Walking Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 - 12:29:23 AM

The start of the great levada walking odyssey!
By Jorge Barbosa
Jun 16, 2008 - 4:52:43 PM

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The walk, albeit flat for the most part, was pretty time consuming and it was a little bit difficult to adhere to the schedule proposed in John and Pat's book - not nearly always because of the unexpected obstacles, but also due to my constant clicking of the camera. It dawned on me that I would have needed much more time than I had anticipated for the photographic work and it seemed I would have to sacrifice my quest for those "one-of-kind-a-la-National-Geographic" shots I was hoping to achieve. For the most part the walk was accurately described and routed correctly in John and Pat's book - including the smelly piggery at about forty minutes into the walk. This was at least one of the few things going right that day. Good on John and Pat Underwood, I had thought, that they had managed to signpost the walk correctly in the book up until then. I was unfortunate in not choosing the right month (June) to find the flowering agapanthus and hydrangeas in full bloom for my photographs as promised by them (I should have done the walk in July or August, perhaps). The two concrete roads that you traverse to get to the last stretch of the first levada were also described with precision and their timing, (discounting camera clicking and unexpected obstacles of-course) of the walk seemed spot-on too.

However, all was not entirely without confusion with their guide in the end though. I suspect they got tired at the end of their walk which preceded the publication: they got careless with the instructions for the end of the stretch along the first levada (the " Levada Nova"). For example, I think it should clearly state that you should not walk all the way up to the water station as described in the guide (this is the water cabin that acts as a catchment station for the levada and is the start or "birth" of the levada itself). You could walk all the way to the water catchment station if only for some touristic value but it does not expedite the walk in any way! I lost some twenty minutes there trying to find the next step of the described journey as per their guide! Instead, as I discovered, you need to walk down some steps (the only ones before the water station) which lead down to the stream - this is some 30 metres before the water catchment station. This detail is important: they don't mention "steps", they just mention "path". They should also have mentioned clearly too that you need to go "across the stream" - whether it is by washed-away-remnants of an old bridge or stepping on the boulders in the stream itself to get over to the other side!

At any rate you must get over to the other side of the stream safely and find yourself at the correct part of the bank to find the start of the last portion of the walk - an uphill "struggle" as Pat Underwood puts it - up to another levada (the "Levada dos Tornos"). *(see note below)

Bewildered at the less than helpful instructions of the guide I grappled with several options that looked like the correct track. This side of the river bank was heavily covered in dark green forest too. I chose to follow what looked like a more trampled path to my left and after some thirty metres or so found myself wading though some heavy and virulent plants that slowed down my pursuit to a halt. I was forced into retreat, realising that the only reason the path I had chosen looked more trampled than the others was that, like all the other mere mortals before me, they had to reverse the same route, so erroneously chosen, to return to their starting position again. Finding the correct path was a bit of trial and error in the end. However, as it turns out, like it always does, the path to be taken is precisely the one you least want to attempt: the steepest one, the one that looks the most difficult to wind up along by, the one you wish was flatter to aid your already sore legs from such effort at getting to this point already.... But, alas, the alternative to not choosing this option was to return on the path one had come by. That was too forbiddingly time consuming and now too far to walk to complete before it got dark. At any rate, according to the map in the guidebook, I was close to the end of the trip anyway.

So up I went. It was a very hard 20 to 30 minutes going up those very steep and very curvy paths. I had to pause several times to catch my breath and reassess my determination to carry on up. The slope was just at a low enough gradient to not call this mountain climbing! Some parts of the stepping trail were laid with stones to assist the climber whilst in other parts some of the inlaid stones had been dislodged or damaged enough to allow you to slip (if the path was wet). This was a dangerous climb for dry weather already, but probably murderous in wet weather. Not recommended for the unfit, mark you! I do weight training three times a week at the gym, and I try to do three or four cardiovascular sessions, such as "spinning" on a stationary bike, a week too. So I did feel quite confident, albeit tired, to attempt the climb. But even for me this was very strenuous. I had run out of water and had been dehydrating fast too. What an amateurish mistake I had made in bringing insufficient quantities of water, I had thought to myself. Even with all the cool shade and amenable temperature I perspired profusely. I had thought to myself how such a climb would be for anybody else less fit - especially if they were the typical tourist to Madeira.

* ( Indeed, it is more than just a "struggle"! It is disconcertingly difficult and in parts confusing, misleading and dangerous. This is where I thought, once I finished the walk, I would contact John and Pat Underwood, and vent my disappointment at their lack of correct descriptive instructions on how to find the start of the last portion of the walk.)


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