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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

16 March 2015

Levada in the mist

9th February 2015

We managed an early start, in spite of the cold, and drove up and up and up onto the Paul de Serra, the high plateau, to a place at the end of the road called Bica de Cana. There was bright sun and patchy cloud, but the thermometer in the car read 2C – something I decided not to tell Maureen before we got out to start our hike. I swear it wasn’t that cold anyway. The hike took us off the edge of the plateau to the Levada de Serra, at which point I need to stop and explain what a levada is.

You may have heard me mention that Madeira is steep? It is. Madeira is less than 20km across at the widest point, but the highest peaks are 2km high (that’s a lot higher than Ben Nevis). And although the northern side gets very wet, the more sheltered and populated southern side is a lot sunnier and a lot drier. So there are levadas. These are tiny watercourses that run generally along the hillsides rather than down valleys, and occasionally through tunnels. Their purpose, and some have been here for many centuries, is to capture the mountain rainwater and divert it to the agricultural terraces of the towns and villages.

So the Levada de Serra winds along a mountainside, with sheer drops down into the distant valley below, and sheer cliffs above from which waterfalls often tumble into the stream. These levadas usually have maintainance paths beside them, and that’s what makes them ideal for hiking. Of course, by now the cloud had rolled in and at times we were walking through mist, but at other times windows of blue clarity appeared and occasionally we saw villages far, far below. They looked like the inhabitation of ants, and yet so directly below that I could have tossed down biscuit crumbs to them. It was magical.

In the evening we wandered around Funchal, at first just to explore this fairly low-key and amiable town, but later to try and find a restaurant that didn’t look like every other tourist restaurant and didn’t have an identical menu of skewered meat and scabbardfish with banana. We failed. But at least there were definitely two locals in the place we eventually settled on.


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