Spontaneous Xmas Vacation 2014

Due to the weather conditions in germany (and the lack of a summer vacation), I decided to leave for a couple of days. I was looking for a warmer, less rainy, and easy to reach destination, which allowed for some hiking. Madeira was the perfect candidate.

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Osmand

I used Osmand (alternative download via f-droid.org) for a couple of purposes:

  • provide speech instructions to navigate from the accommodation to the hiking destinations.
  • display pre-downloaded GPX tracklogs as breadcrumbs on top of the map.
  • record the trip as a tracklog and allow to insert waypoints with descriptions for mapping purposes, e.g. to improve the openstreetmap data set.
  • display elevation contour lines (f-droid.org alternative download) based on SRTM data, which are available for additional download from within Osmand after installing the plugin.

Osmand is a bit awkward to use some times, but since I am used to it for some time now, I have to say it did a pretty good job. The openstreetmap data set of the island is impressive, so navigation was no issue at all. The speech instructions are very useful, thought sometimes a bit verbose and confusing at times. I recommend to use a suction mount so the displayed route supports the understanding of the speech instructions.

What I’m still struggling with is track logging. Osmand provides four profiles, which read as “Map”, “Car”, “Bike”, and “Pedestrian”. Enabling logging is not enough. In case one wants to keep Osmand logging even in case the phone’s screen is off, background logging must also be enabled. Some times Osmand forgets that the setting was enabled, even when immediately revisiting the options dialog. Additionally, this setting depends on the abovementioned profiles. Even in case it was enabled for the “Car” profile, it may be off as soon as the profile changes. And the profile also changes to “Map” after restarting Osmand, effectively switching off background logging.

Displaying a tracklog on top of the map is also limited. It won’t work in the default Map mode. The user has to switch to one of the other modes first. Otherwise Osmand asks to enable track logging first. Also, Osmand does not remember permanently in case one enables to display the currently recorded track.

Despite the minor glitches, Osmand is a swiss army knife and a mappers dream. In case one only wants track logging, I’d recommend a dedicated logger or some other app. In case one needs a multi purpose app, Osmand is for you. Offline vector data is available, the map rendering performance is pretty good, the map is highly configurable (including points of interest), it can display third party tracklogs, and last but not least, it can provide speed warnings in case one drives too fast.

osm2go

Unfortunately I coudn’t use osm2go for on-site mapping, since the IP connectivity was so poor that osm2go timed out during my attempts to download the areas of the hiking trips. It’s a pity, since I love to use the beloved Nokia N900 for on-site mapping when hiking.

Openstreetmap

The data of the island is quite good. I added a lot of details and fixed some minor issues anyway.

What I really dislike are relations, since they often hinder some minor fix for the sake of keeping a relation intact, despite one senses that the relation is of little use. For example, Osmand did not provide the usual turn instructions for two roundabouts in Arco de Calheta. Thus I wanted to make them roundabouts. Unfortunately those were split, with sections showing different directions, opposite oneways (does anyone remember unordered segments?!?), and different route relations including partial sections of the roundabout.

Sometimes the levadas are covered by sheets of concrete, so the path leads directly on top of the levada. This often is due to the lack of space for a separate way. In those particular cases, one would tag a way with both waterway=ditch as well as highway=path. But for the ditch, one would like to add a tunnel=yes (or even layer=-1), while this does not apply to the path. Since there’s no simple solution for this problem, I accept it this way.

But even worse, some of the levadas consist of one way only, despite the fact that the path is beside the levada. The mapping approach is valid (“a levada always consists of the waterway and the path”), but has some disadvantages (e.g. sometimes the path deviates from the levada). I didn’t fix such issues, once again due to the fact that some relations have been used to put the sections of the levada in one levada relation, or to put the levada in a hiking route relation.

Camera

The pictures have been taken using a Samsung NX30, a mirrorless camera. I dislike some things. The auto stitching is rather limited in image size, it often fails during processing, and it often fails to stitch the images correctly. In manual focus mode, it is not possible to pan the focus loupe to somewhere else than the center of the image. The camera has no built-in GPS receiver, and the ED-GPS10 I used for the NX300 is not compatible.

On the other hand, I’m quite content with the device. In case someone asks me for a good camera, my stock answer is a Samsung NX300 for more point-and-shoot oriented customers and NX30 for more ambitious users.

The lens I used was the EX-T50200CSB 50-200 mm. It did a very good job. However, I missed my wide angle lenses rather often. Samsung provides the L18200MB 18-200 mm. It is expensive, and one has to consider a compromise concerning the quality for the impressive zoom range.

I left the tripod and the ball head at home due to the weight. Instead I used a bean bag which served me very well. Of course it is less flexible than a tripod, but many of the pictures taken, especially the ones with long exposure times, would not have been possible without it.

Hiking

I used the GPS tracks provided by madeira-tipps.de (german language). I rent a car on-site, since it turned out to be demanding to get to the hiking trails by third party transportation.

Levada dos Tornos

This is a starter trip above Funchal, just an easy walk along a bigger levada. It was relatively quiet, but I was not the only one along the path.

I placed the car at some parking lots. Alternatively, dropping a couple of meters and a nice viewpoint, parking is possible along the street here.

Levada do Castelejo

A relatively small levada in a nice valley. I’d not call it a walk, but it’s still convenient to follow. I met about 6 other hikers, so it’s relatively quiet. Parking is possible using the street.

Lavada da Ribeira da Janela

This is the levada found in many glossy brochures. It’s a nice one, with some fall between two tunnels. As a consequence, you won’t be the only visitor, though I’d not call it overcrowded.

I started at a popular viewpoint and picknick place. The first few meters provide some further picknick places, and a lot of lizards are populating the rocks.

The first tunnel is a straight line (though the levada leaves it a couple of meters before its end) and provides dimensions of about 2 meters in height and 1,2 meters in width. The exit is always visible. The levada requires most of its width, so only a couple of centimeters remain to walk, and those are often covered with some water.

After the first tunnel, a small shelter construction provides protection from some water falling down. A rain coat is useful anyway.

The second tunnel consists of two sraightforward segments and is as easy to pass as the first one.

The next facility is a small house used by the Levadeiros. A couple of meters further one will find the next tunnel, which I didn’t take. Instead, I returned the same way I came along.

About 5 hours are required for this trip.

Three things are required for this trip. Hiking boots, rain coat, and a torch. Additionally I recommend some repellent against flies (danger of Dengue fever) and ticks (Lyme disease).

Paul da Serra

Sometimes people compare this elevated plain with Scotland. Well, at least I found the cattle grids reminiscent :) .

This was a relatively short trip around the peak of Bica da Cana (1620 meters), but of great fun anyway. After descending through the bushes (and admiring the many lichen), I followed a small levada which just starts along the way. I left the levada to get back to the top of the peak and then visiting the nearby picknick facilities.

This trip is not a convenient one anyway. Hiking boots, strong trousers, and a rain coat as a minimum are required.
Additionally, due to the altitude, it is much cooler than at the coast.

Levada do Alecrim (Ribeira Grande)

There is a parking lot above the house of Rabacal, the entry to some other levadas. To reach the levada do Alecrim, leave the road to Rabacal immediately after the lift gate at the power pole and cross the meadow. Note that all levadas near Rabacal are well visited, even the levada do Alecrim.

The levada grabs the water of several springs and a stream. It also includes a fish ladder.

At its origin, a small fall invites for some more photos with long exposure times. The paths on the other side of the valley lead to nowhere. IMO it’s not worth exploring them.

The way back leads the hiker the very same path. At some point, a path from above is crossing, which allows to enter the other levadas of the Rabacal area.

This is one further trip where some rain coat, hiking boots and strong clothes are useful.

Levada do Risco, 25 Fontes, and Rocha Vermelha

Once again the hiker leaves the car at the road to Rabacal. Sometimes a shuttle bus brings tourists to Rabacal, except on public holidays. Alternatively one uses her feet.

At Rabacal there are some picknick facilities. Some steps lead to the levadas. The first one is the Levada do Risco. In the afternoon hours it is on the shady side of the valley, so I decided to choose the steps down to the Levada das 25 Fontes. This one also is relatively small, about 30 times 30 centimeters.

The path is narrow, and there is some touristic traffic. The trip is worth the effort anyway. There is an interesting bridge with steps down on either side, where the water of the levada also follows the steps and the bridge.

The trail now is on the sunny side of the valley, before the levada turns to the shady side. After a couple of meters the levada splits. The smaller one goes over a small bridge. The bigger one comes from the right from a fish ladder, which is fed by a picturesque water fall. It’s no wonder that this trail is that well visited.

Following the smaller levada over the bridge leads to some more quiet section of the trail.

On the way back, I took a small path downhill to the Levada da Roche Vermelha. It is bigger than the other ones, and I followed it in direction of its flow. After a metal bridge one has to take a small path uphill instead of the tunnel.

I cannot recommend this path. Parts are paved or built as steps, but other parts are blown away by some earth slide. The incline thus is a dangerous one. Until it is repaired, avoid it.

After this section, one reaches the levada des 25 Fontes again. Before it ends in some rather long tunnel, some steps lead back to Rabacal and, following the road, to the car. It may well be that it’s now foggy and much cooler than at noon. I used the last sun rails for the following pictures.

Levada dos Cedros and Laurissilva

This trip starts at a picknick site near Fanal. Following the road in direction of Paul da Serra, a small path leads to a rather huge amount of steps, which lead down from about 1000 meters of altitude to about 900 meters. The samll levada, about 25 times 5 centimeters, is now reached near its origin. A nice water fall can be used for some long exposure pictures.

This levada looses a lot of water, but is still maintained.

The main attraction are the old laurels, covered by lichen. Additionally it’s a quite quiet trip.

I left the levada where it crosses the main road. Frankly, the incline back to the car was a hard one, and meanwhile it was foggy and cool.

The next time I would try to leave the car near the crossing, follow the levada, take the steps and then follow the road downhill. An alternative could be following the levada forth and back.

Levada do Moinho and Levada Nova

Instead of following the instructions of the routing software, which lead to some narrow and steep residential roads, I recommend to head to Ponta do Sol and to take the ER226 via the roundabout.

The levada passes right at the back of the church, and there are some parking lots in front of it.

The levada is a small one and only maintained at minimum effort. One can see that it was more important in former times, when it was used to water the many gardens, but nowadays most parcels are disused.

Some of the garden inhabitants are ticks, so a repellent is recommended. Near its origin, some picknick places can be found on the other side of the river.

Some newly built steps lead to the levada nova. It is much bigger, approximately 40×15 centimeters in size. After a while one reaches a deep cut. At its deepest point, a stream comes from above. A horizontal duct for the levada was built around the rocks and behind the fall. A rain coat is useful anyway.

After this fall a straight tunnel follows.

Despite those obstacles the levada nova is a quite easy walk, though I’d like to emphasize once again that strong clothes, hiking boots, rain coat, torch, and repellent are required to enjoy the trip.

Levada do Norte and Levada das Rabaças (Encumeada Pass)

This is a bigger levada near the Encumeada pass, feeding a power generator.

SAMSUNG CS

It’s a quite easy walk. The levada splits after a couple of meters. One part, the levada das Rabacas, brings water from this side of the mountain. The other part crosses a tunnel to the other side of the mountain (Folhadal).

Conclusion

If I remember correctly, I never was on vacation during the Xmas break, since it is the time to visit friends and family members. I booked the trip just a couple of days before the departure, and work was rather intense until the day before I left.

I didn’t relax that much. I had nine days, and I did nine hiking trips. The climate was better than expected. I never used a coat, and the rain did me a favour and returned just a couple of hours before I left. At the same time, germany was covered by snow.
Last but not least, I’m glad I booked a car the day I arrived. The trips haven’t been possible using public transportation.

A great trip, worth every cent.