22 Feb FOLLOWING LEVADA DA BICA DA CANA TO CASCALHO
We were supposed to hike in the mountains at Encumeada today, but while carefully steering our car through thick mist and pouring rain on the Paul da Serra plateau, we conclude we need a plan B! Since on Madeira, you can always find good weather somewhere on the island, we decide to leave the plateau in search of sunlight. While zigzagging down the steep mountain road, the weather is significantly improving with every descending meter. We are clearly going in the right direction. When we arrive at Levada da Bica da Cana crossing, the weather is actually very nice, so we park our car and start a hike from here.
Our plan B is the hike to Cascalho along the Levada da Bica da Cana. Reading the descriptions of Cascalho in my Madeira hiking guides, this place should be some kind of waterfall fata morgana. I love waterfalls, so this hike has been on top of my ‘to do’ list for years! We started hiking this trail some 6 years ago, but unfortunately we had to turn around halfway through the hike, because of landslide damage. Not a waterfall in sight back then. So, it’s time to try it again! Funny thing: although this hike is very quiet, we will only meet a handful of hikers this entire day, we’re not alone at the start of the trail. Along the levada are dozens of cows, lying relaxed in the sun, chewing on the fresh green grass. Absolutely a good thing to meet the cows here, at the start of the hike, instead of somewhere along the way on a narrow levada path on the mountain. On some of these narrow levadas, passing other hikers is already quite the challenge, let alone passing a big cow or an entire herd of these stubborn giants.
Walking in the clouds
Although the weather is considerably better here than above on the plateau, the first part of the trail takes us into a foggy landscape. These are just the clouds, hanging around the mountain at this height. I love this, a hike in a mysteriously looking landscape. We can’t really see far ahead, so the curving mountain path leads us from one surprise to another, leading us past misty trees as well as sunlit meadows.
Levada da Bica da Cana
We follow the narrow levada, which is largely hidden by tough overgrow. There’s not much water in the levada either. The clouds now and then part to give us a beautiful view on the blue sky they are so carefully hiding and the villages down below. On the slopes of the mountain are hundreds of bare, white trees, providing this hike with an even more mysterious vibe. These trees have been burned in one of the many forest fires raging Madeira nature the past years. Fortunately, nature is resilient and this area seems to be recovering very well.
The perfect place for a short break
About half an hour in the hike, there’s a lonely, huge tree next to the trail. I remember this tree very well, from our previous attempt on this trail. It was the middle of August, temperatures were blazing and there was no shadow on this trail, except this trees’ shadow. It was the perfect place to have a short rest, have some lunch and cool down a bit. Today, again we make a short stop here. Although now, we skip the shadow and opt for the green meadow which is comfortably warm under the May sun.
After lying here for a bit, soaking up the sun, we continue to Cascalho, following the levada again.
Sight of the forst waterfalls
Not long after walking through the last of the clouds, we can see the first waterfalls on the steep mountains ahead of us. As I take in the view, I spot more and more sparkling silver on the green of the mountains. We descend more, the road getting steeper as we go, and more waterfalls come into view. These aren’t waterfalls of epic proportions: they are modest in size, but they are very high, and there are so many! I am impressed by the beautiful surroundings and the absolute peace we experience here, without other hikers around or signs of civilization. This is a great day!
The last descend
We are almost at Cascalho. Cascalho is cauldron shaped, like Caldeirao Verde, with several waterfalls coming down the mountain sides. The last few hundred meters of the trail are challenging (hello, calf muscles). The repairs on this part of the trail are not even close to finished. While we carefully shamble down on loose dirt and rocks, we encounter some people working on clearing and restoring the path. Before the landslide happened, you could follow the trail further from here, but sadly that isn’t possible anymore. And seeing the state of the path, I wonder if we’ll ever be able to explore further on this trail. Large parts of the path are completely destroyed or buried under mounds of dirt and garbage. It’s really sad, because this must have been such a beautiful path once. I can still see parts of the path: a small levada carved out in the rocks and a very narrow path next to it.
The way back
After staring at the waterfalls for a while, we return the same way. We descended quite a bit during our walk to Cascalho, so the way back up is a nice workout for the upper legs.
The clouds are now almost entirely gone, so although we follow the same trail, the way back up looks very different. We can now fully enjoy all the views this trail has to offer.
#32 in ANWB Wandelgids
#36 in Sunflower Wandelgids