At the top of some twisty little roads in Madeira is the mountain pass Boca da Encumeada. There is not much here at all. Actually just three small souvenir shops. Most passers-by stop here just to have a cup of coffee and enjoy the magnificent views from the coffee shop. But that wasn't our plan. We went here to walk along water channels and tunnels Levada das Rabacas.
The weather on the coast on this February day was sunny and fine when we left Calheta, but here in the mountains the clouds are rolling in in a row. The weather actually feels a bit changeable. Is it going to rain? Or is the sun going to peek out? It is neither hot nor cold, in fact it feels like a completely normal Swedish summer day. Quite nice but a bit unreliable. It must be shorts and a gore-tex jacket.
The mountains around Encumeada are wild, green and lush, more reminiscent of Hawaii than Lanzarote. The greenery is a bit unexpected, as the winter has caused most of the livid's flowers to wither. But Madeira is not called the "green island" for a reason.
The first stretch along the Levada das Rabacas is both flat, wide and easy to walk on. In fact, so wide that we are overtaken by two mountain bikes. The trees embrace life and partially form a tunnel of leaves. We pass by the life guard's house. His two dogs are not convinced that we should pass by. Fortunately, a fence separates us from the dogs, so we can continue our hike without four-legged company.
Purple-pink fuchsia hangs along the slope. My mother used to have such flowers hanging in ampels in her glassed-in porch. In Madeira, fuchsias are wild winter flowers. At my mother's, the flowers required northern summer heat.
Some passages are so wide that you can almost dance your way through. The Guacamole song goes on repeat with movements. "Peel the avocado". "Peel the avocado". “Guacamole!”. If you haven't seen "The Guacamole song" on YouTube yet, it's time to Google it now.
Behind the next ridge there is rustling at the rest area. A hen and two roosters prance around looking for food. Are they wild chickens? We can't see any house nearby. The roosters stretch a bit as we pass, but again some of them make an attempt to chase us away. Great, roosters can be a little scary.
Even though the levada has so far been both wide and easy to walk, none of us has probably had a thought of swimming in the levada. Until a sign appears in front of us. "Swimming prohibited". Yes, if it hadn't been so incredibly cold and current in the water, it would probably have worked! The sign suggests that someone has tried anyway.
The once wide way of life begins to narrow. It takes a bit of concentration at times, as none of us want to trip and fall into life. It is not too rare to read in the news that the emergency services had to pull out and save tourists with broken legs.
In an old stump, a bush has grown up and fills the dead tree with golden flowers. The stump becomes almost like a natural vase, which holds together a bunch of winter flowers in anticipation of spring.
The trees that have bent over the levada become fewer and fewer as the mountain slope below us becomes steeper. Suddenly the landscape opens up and we are met by a valley that makes us involuntarily stop. Here we stand, alone at a levada in the mountains of Madeira, with a view that beats most. The kids are getting a little hungry, so we sit down on the living room where it is most beautiful and take out our lunch bag. A difficult lunch hook.
Our goal is to pass through a shorter tunnel that we saw on the map before turning around and going back. But the further we go, the narrower the edge of levada becomes. Now we can only walk on the gravel path on the side of the levada. Some passages have cliffs of several meters next to them, but there are few guardrails.
Thick, lush leaves grow on the side of the levada. Beautiful as they are in their simple greenery, they gossip about summer's floral splendor. The blue lily of Africa usually blooms here in abundance with its large blue balls. Walking here in the summer with all this floral splendor must be like walking in a landscape of Liberty patterns.
We are approaching the tunnel. At least we think so. Right up until we get to the overhang. We had read that it would be a bit steep during parts of the hike, but we probably thought we had passed the worst parts. So wrong we were.
Now we are standing at a 15-20 meter drop, a narrow levada edge and an overhang that means we adults have to duck to avoid hitting our heads.
The least afraid of heights among us goes out on the passage to check the situation. Slowly slowly. The rest of us stand and watch. Suddenly he turns and walks back. He was close to having vertigo. Not good. He walks even more cautiously back towards us. This is nothing for either me or the kids. We'll probably just have to turn around. We will not be able to reach the tunnel we intended to go through.
But wait a minute... Didn't we pass another tunnel on the way here? We decide to go back and test it instead, our flashlights need testing!
The slopes are full of overbloomed hydrangea. Brown and dry. I try to imagine what the slopes look like when they are in bloom, completely filled with showy blue flowers.
I look around and find a hydrangea still blooming. It's dark pink, just like my jacket. I realize that I read somewhere that the ph value of the soil controls the hydrangea's color. Blue flowers for acidic, lime-poor soils and pink flowers in lime-rich soils. Here the flowers appear to be blue on one side of the levada and pink on the other.
We arrive at the intersection between Levada das Rabacas and Levada Norte. A 300 meter long tunnel leads to Levada Norte. Time to test the flashlights.
The life guard comes walking with one of the dogs we passed earlier. A small furry dog, who doesn't look so cocky without his canine companion. The life guard enters the tunnel. The dog stops and looks at us for a bit, but then jumps fearlessly into the darkness of the tunnel. It's our turn. Can a small furry dog walk in the tunnel, should I too?
We pick up our flashlights. A few flashlights are left in the house. Ouch. We split up. The first gang trudges in. The ceiling is low, adults have to crouch quite a lot.
Our gang begins to trudge into the tunnel. Our little flashlight can only shine either on the ground or on the ceiling. We need to watch where we put our feet so as not to fall into the levada, but the backpack gets stuck in the tunnel ceiling all the time. We turn around. We need better lights. The first gang has disappeared into the darkness. A moment later we hear them again in the tunnel, on their way back. The 300-metre-long tunnel was defeated - on the return trip as well.
We approach the parking lot and our car again. Aloe vera blooms on the side of the levada, like a red ladybug. Walking along levadas in Madeira doesn't always turn out as planned, but usually much better.
How do I get to Levada das Rabacas?
Walking trail: Levada das Rabacas
Distance: 1,5-3 hours round trip (from the car park)
Difficulty: Easy – if you're not afraid of heights. High risk of fraud.
Start / End: The roadside parking at the Encumeada mountain pass. Go down to the crossroads and then take the small stairs up to the levada.
Height difference max/min: 0m
Who is the hike suitable for? Levada hiking without altitude difference, with beautiful views and lots of flowers. Be prepared that the safety fences are quite sparse and some passages are very steep.
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Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.