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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Whaling Museum - Canical, Madeira Island

Guys, I am almost at the end of my Madeira trip. 

I promise. 

 BUT FIRST I have a confession. 
I may be the only person who walks around a whaling museum and takes notes.

Tongue rubs with Kela, a beluga whale at the Mystic Aquarium where I interned and volunteered

 Lets chalk it up to blog research, and a slight obsession with cetaceans.  Or we can say a slight obsession with marine mammals that was only fueled further by interning at an aquarium (doesn't everyone grow up wanting to be Flipper's trainer?)

Whaling Museum and views of Canical

My love for whales and some free time on the eastern part of the island brought is to the whaling museum.  While I prefer to see whales out on a boat in their natural environment (or with my hand in their mouth at an aquarium) the whaling museum was a great way to learn about the amazing whaling history of the Portuguese islands.  For whatever reason, I find the whaling history of islands like the Azores and Madeira (similar histories) fascinating and I wanted to share some of the details with you all. (Disclaimer: This will be a bit of a history lesson and a bit about the town of Canical- read on if that is what you are here for).

32 d 44 ' 9 " N       16 d 14 ' 26 " W

Opening Times:
Tuesdays to Sundays: Open from 10H30 to 18H00
Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays.

Museu da Baleia
R. da Pedra da Eira, Canical, Madeira 
Tel.: +351 291 961 858

(Includes an audio tour set)
Adults: 10 euros 
Children: 5 euros 

entrance to the whaling museum
The whaling museum (Museu da Baleia) is on the east part of the island, a quick ride (10 km) past the airport in a town called Canical. It looks back on Madeiras whaling history and how it has changed over the years. 
The museum was once a small tribute to Madeira's whaling history, until it was upgraded and moved into a new building in 2012.  According to my tour book, it can probably be described as the best museum dedicated to whaling .

The museum is divided into two sections, the first being a walk through Madeira's whaling history and a secondly, a segment about cetaceans.  There are 3d films, various stations, and audio tour devices available.  You can spend as much time at each exhibit as you like. 

Sperm Whale Photograph

The whales hunted around the island of Madeira were mostly Sperm Whales. Sperm whales were hunted due to their abundance, and the fact that they were easiest to retrieve after a hunt due to their floating carcass' (sorry guys, this is one straight forward history lesson).

Full grown sperm whales can reach 18 meters and weigh up to 50 tons. There are usually 12 females in a unit and males tend to abandon these units and join with other males.   The sperm whale can dive the deepest, and stay underwater the longest, holding their breath for more than an hour. They also have the largest brain of any living creature found on earth.
(You can read more about the sperm whales here  and other whales of Madeira here)  

The first whaling operations in Madeira started in about 1941 with hand thrown harpoons on wooden boats with sails and oars. A hemp rope attached the harpoon to the boat, and the harpoon was hand thrown from the boat.  The picture below was a "to scale" replica comparing the size of the whales hunted to the size of the fishing boats used.

To Scale comparison of the sperm whales and fishing boats
To spot the whales, lookout posts were established, first on Porto Moniz (northwest coast) in 1940 and then later on the east coast of Madeira. Men in the lookout posts on shore looked for the water spray from the whales blowhole while it caught a breath at the surface, and would signal to the boats in the harbor via white smoke or a white sheet. 

diorama showing the hunt
In 1948, support launches like tugboats were used to support small fishing vessels by towing in the whale carcass. Motors were also introduced into the whaling industry as a way to maneuver the vessels, as well as to provide a barrier of sound when driving whales closer to the shoreline. A harpoon canyon was eventually introduced and replaced hand thrown harpoons. 

diorama showing the whales being brought up to process
Steam winches were also introduced to haul in the carcass from the coves. While imagining the sequence sounds grotesque and horrific, the Portuguese made sure to use every part of the whale possible. The oil (two types), blubber and meat went into a pressure cooker, and the bones and flesh were ground into a flour. Bones and teeth that were too hard to grind were used to create art, jewelry, and instruments. 

The whaling industry continued from 1941 until 1981.  The end of the whaling in 1981 was a voluntary stop in whaling on Madeira Island. One of the most amazing statistics is that throughout the 40 year whaling history of Madeira Island, not a single Madeiran Whaler died. The industry simple stopped when the demand for whale meet fell.  Soon after, ecotourism started to develop. Islands like the Azores and Madeira are very successful in using whale conservation via whale watching and educational tours to protect the species and boost their tourism. An industry where profit was made harvesting whales and then again protecting the same species. 

While we didn't have time to go whale watching, there are several companies that operate whale watching tours and one of the highly rated guides can be found here 

Whale (and dolphin) Watching in Madeira 

Common species to observe in Madeira:
Bryde's Whale - April to October
Sperm whale - All year but mainly from March to September
Short-finned Pilot whale - All year but mainly November to April
Common Bottlenose dolphin  - All year but greater number from Mars to October
Short-beaked Common dolphin  - December to May
Atlantic Spotted dolphin  - All year but mostly from Mars to November

After a trip to the whaling museum, we decided to check out the rest of East Madeira before heading back to the airport to hop on a plane to Azores, and then back to the Arctic home.

Views from Ponta de Sao Lourenco

We drove to the most eastern point of the island, Ponta de Sao Lourenco to see the vantage point from the eastern shore. This is about as far as you can go by car, but hiking trails will take you out to the actual most eastern tip. After a few pictures and moments in the Madeira sun, we drove into the town of Machico for lunch before our flight.

Book a running tour or hiking tour here

Views from Ponta de Sao Lourenco
Detailed streets of Machico
Stray dogs on the streets of Machico

Machico was your typical quaint coastal Madeiran town, with beautifully detailed cobble streets, tons of stray dogs, and quaint restaurants. One of the biggest things I notice when I travel is how different we treat animals in the United States vs other countries. There were more (unaltered) stray dogs and cats roaming around this island than I could count. It was common to see a local kicking at or shoeing away a stray dog looking for scraps or attention around the island. 

Overall, Machico was a beautiful little town with amazing views and quaint restaurants. Eastern Madeira seemed much quieter than other parts of the islands, and you will not find many tourists in this area. Whaling Museum, Canical, and a trip to Machico, it was savoring a few last moments of Madeira before heading home.

Monday, January 25, 2016

25 Fontes and Risco Levada Hike

Rabacal Levada
25 Fontes and Risco
Madeira Island

Section of the 25 Fontes Levada hike 
While in Madeira between all the sight seeing, a day of diving, and spending time with my family, I really only had one day to go on a levada hike in Madeira.  And if you are going to do one thing in Madeira, one thing that shows its beauty and its history, this is it.  

Before I go into the my levada walk, lets talk about what Madeiras famous levadas are courtesy of good ole fashioned Wikipedia

A levada is an open canal/ irrigation channel very specific to the island of Madeira.  Levadas were needed on the island of Madeira due to the island's varying climate.  The west and northwest parts of the islands receive much more rain than the drier southeast end of the island.  The southeast portion of the island  has some conditions better for the islands crops like sugar cane.  The levadas were a way to increase agriculture and crops on the island 

Levada on the Rabacal Trail 
The portuguese started to build the levadas in the 16th century, with the most recent levadas being made in the 1940s.  The levadas are maintained today by workers who keep the levadas clean and clear of debris.  While the levadas are a successful way to bring water to varying parts of the island, they were not an easy feat for the Portuguese who built them by hand.  Tunnels had to be dug through mountains, and levadas cut into the sides of the cliffs.  

While the levadas are an important tool to transport water, they are also a source of hydro electric power on the island. According to my tour guide, the island uses 40% sustainable energy, through hydroelectric power, wind turbines, and solar panels, a fact I was stunned by.  So levadas for water and power, but lets not forget the tourist industry.  These levadas provide beautiful walking paths for visitors on the island, and are a top tourist attraction.  There are more than 1,350 miles (2,170 km) of levadas on the island of Madeira, providing varying levels of walks, from leisurely strolls to ledges, vertigo and tunnels. 

Levada walks are a great way to see Madeira, and you can virtually find a levada walk in every form of terrain on the island, from the famous laurel forests in Rabacal to rocky mountain cliffs at Pico do Arieiro.  I only had one day to levada walk and a dozen levada walks on my radar.  Looking through the brochures, the top two walks on the island were Pico do Arieiro to the other two Madeira peaks, and 25 fontes in Rabacal.  I had already seen Pico do Arieiro, so I decided to head to a part of the island I hadn't seen yet and hike 25 fontes in Rabacal.  

In the pouring rain. 
Location of Rabacal - Levada hike 
Rabacal is about an hour drive from Funchal.  You head to Ribeira Brava, and then north to the central eastern part of the island, Paul da Serra, a plateau that makes up the flattest part of the island up at 4,900 feet (1500 meters).  This is where you will find the islands cows and beautiful views of green grass and a flat plateau.  With the fog and clouds, we could barely see the road, a very common problem up here on the plateau.  

Signs on the 25 Fontes and Risco Trail
For this levada walk, I decided to go with a guide for a few reasons.  My family wasnt able to cover the long distance so I was going to have to go on my own.  I have heard about tourists slipping and dying (sorry to be dreary) while along on levada hikes, as many of Madeira levadas are perched dangerously on cliffs, through tunnels, and in slippery conditions.  Also, with an hour drive each way, it was easy to go with a tour guide that provided transportation, and insurance.  Lastly, being in a foreign country without cell service and google maps, I decided it was best to go with a guide and relax, instead of getting lost in the laurel forests of Madeira. 
All well worth the 38.50 euros for the hike. 
The hike includes transportation to Rabacal, and a guided walk to Risco and 25 Fontes before returning back to the van.  There are no bathrooms at the trailhead or on the trail so we stopped at a cafe before and after the hike to sip espresso and use the bathroom.

When: This tour guide completed this hike on Tuesdays and Friday 
Duration: approx. 4.5 hours 
Distance: 12 km (7.5 miles)

Highest point: 1290 m (4,232 ft)

Lowest point: 900 m (2,952 ft)

Location: Rabaçal

Difficulty: Moderate
Days: Fridays (with this group)
Note: Tunnels and Vertigo

Price per person: 36,00 € ($39)

"The Levada Rabaçal begins in Paul da Serra, more precisely in Rabaçal.
From this point we can observe one of the most beautiful valleys of Madeira, the Rabaçal Valley and down to the Forest House of Rabaçal. 

We operate in full Laurissilva Forest, a World Heritage site. After a few meters of pure beauty we make our first visit to the stunning waterfall of Risco. After a break in the Risco balcony we follow our path. All around you can be dazzled by the green beauty of the forest and the sound of nature, the natural heart of Madeira Island.  We can enjoy a variety of plant species, to highlight the Tree Heather (Erica arborea), Besom Heath (Erica scoparia) and Madeira Bilberry (Vaccinium padifolium). 

Among many species of birds, hopefully we can find the Trocaz Pigeon (columba trocaz trocaz) a unique species of Madeira. In the end we find the 25 Fontes and its beautiful green and fresh lagoon, surrounded by vines and giant ferns. After appreciating its natural and breathtaking scenery, we go round the same track back".

I knew the weather forecast for the day was looking bad.  Like 100 % of rain bad.  But its an island, the weather changes fast,  the weathermen are rarely right, and it was my last full day on the island.  It was now in the rain or never.  I called the company and they said they will only cancel hikes on-site, as the start of the hike was an hour away and you can never tell what the weather is like.  I got in the van and we drove the hour to a cafe, and then the  trailhead in Rabacal. 

We got up to the start of the hike and it was lightly drizzling.  
The guides said go so off we went. 
We had all packed rain coats and the guides had an extra just in case. 
First part of the trail, on the way to the tunnel
Signage and view at the end of the tunnel to continue to Risco and 25 Fontes 
The hike started down a dirt road that lead to a small shack and finally, a tunnel.  It was about a 10 minute walk through the completely dark tunnel, and thankfully, our guide handed everyone a flashlight to make our way through.  The tunnel was only tall and wide enough for us to walk single file, with a pipe on one side, feeding levada water to the hydro-electric plant. 
Signage along the trail  
Following the levadas on the trail
Green hillsides of the gorgeous laurel forests

Once we were out of the tunnel, we were greeted with a gorgeous luscoius green valley, with green hills, a beautiful path, and a hand carved levada.  We followed our guide up to the first fall, Risco, as he pointed out fresh oregano, mint, and other herbs along the trail. 

Ascending to Risco 
Some parts of the levada hike involved climbing out way up slipper rocky stairs.  Be warned there is a little bit of elevation on this hike when you hit these stairs, and that the stairs are likely to be wet and slippery. 

Stairway to Risco

Following the levadas
Our guide pointed out how the levada systems work, that even without the rain, the clouds moving through this part of the island leave dew on the leaves, that then drop their dew into the levada canals.  The rainstorms help, but arent neccessary to fill the levada. 

Section where Risco and 25 Fontes separate
We reached a point in the trail where we turned to reach the Risco fall.  Once you reach Risco you will turn around and come back this way to reach 25 fontes.  

Small falls and fountains along our levada walk
Some parts of the levada hike have these rails on the cliff edge, and some do not.  In some sections where the levada was raised up and there was no railing, our guide suggested keeping one hand on the levada to catch ourselves if we fall.  The drops were steep and the footing narrow and slippery. 
Not your typical american hiking trails!
Following the levada path

Levada walk to Risco 

Levada trail to Risco  
Risco waterfall at the end of the Risco trail
Eventually, you will reach Risco where you can enjoy your first large waterfall, before heading back to the way you came to continue onto 25 Fontes.  This was also the part of the hike where it went from drizzling, to raining, to a full on downpour.  Like, no longer need to avoid puddles because you are SOAKED downpour. 

Risco Waterfall 

On our way to 25 fontes, we reached one of the most beautiful parts of the hike, and one of the most well photographed.  The levada was raised, while the trees made a gorgeous tunnel over the trail.  No picture will do this part of the trail any justice.  

Trail on the way to 25 Fontes 
After about 30 minutes, we came to 25 fontes, where the waterfall was gushing with the recent rains, and many small waterfalls trickled down into the pond around it.  The area is called 25 fontes, because it is said that 25 fountains drain into this pond.  Normally, you would enjoy your packed lunch here, but as I said, we were standing in the pouring rain, cold, wet and pretty close to miserable. The second you stopped moving you were on the brink of hypothermia.  

25 Fontes at the end of the Levada Hike
We made our way back to the trailhead, like a pack of wet rats trying to keep our sense of humor in the cold Madeira rain.  As we walked back down the trails, the waterfalls were doubling in size, and the levadas were overflowing .  

Finally we reached the van where we ate our soaked through lunch under a shelter (everyone brings their own lunch and water).  We were all sopping wet head to toe, and I emptied about a liter of water out of my pack.  Of course I was the only american, and only women in the group, and when I turn around to see what that flapping noise is, I was greeted by several men in their skivvies drying out their pants.  Yes, I have seen different parts of Europe represented by Tighty Whities.  

While the rain overall was a big bummer, it meant that the trail was virtually empty, only spotting a few hikers along the way.  According to my tour guide, this is one of the most popular trails on the island and on a hot summer day you can be sharing the waterfalls with a hundred other people.  We had the area to ourselves today. 

Even with the rain, this levada walk was an absolutely beautiful way to see the island.  The green laurel forests, beautiful hand built levada system, long dark tunnels, and several waterfalls along the trail made this an epic walk I will not soon forget.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Brooklyn Pizza

This can be called my trip to Brooklyn, New York.  Or it could also be called "That one time I drove 104 miles (one way) to get some amazing pizza".  I had to drop Thatcher off at JFK to catch his flight back to Salt Lake City.  And if I was driving the 2 hours from Connecticut to New York City, I was not going at rush hour, and I was going to make it into a fun trip to the city.

 I had been to New York many a times, and have fallen in love with that New York/New Haven style of pizza you can find in New York and Connecticut.  And while I have been to Manhattan a bunch of times, to walk the city or to see the rockettes, I had never been over to the other side, to Brooklyn.  And if I was going to kill a few hours in Brooklyn, I was going to eat some amazing East Coast pizza I had been dreaming of. 

After doing my research, I came upon Grimaldis, home of the famous best New York Pizza, with its coal-brick oven and amazing pies.  They are well known for their pizza, and the original location under the Brooklyn Bridge was the perfect way to start the day off in Brooklyn.

Let me start by saying Utah is many wonderful things, but they have no idea how to make a good East Coast pizza.  You know, the thin crust fresh out of the pizza oven, with fresh ingredients, perfect cheese, and just a touch of grease.  And then the way the dough makes that perfect fold when you go to each eat slice.  

I had read there is usually a line out the door, but I was still surprised to see a line out the door an around the corner on a rainy Tuesday at 3pm.  Line or not, I had driven over 100 miles, I was hungry, and the smells wafting out of that door were absolutely amazing. 

This place is very laid back, NO frills, with plastic plates, a simple menu, and some very basic service.  There is also no reservations, on credit cards, no slices, and no delivery.  You wait outside, in line, order your pie, scarf it down, and go about your merry way in NYC. We went with the large red pie for 18$, and added on pepperoni and olives for an additional 5$.  The pizza was amazing, the peporoni perfect, but we thought the whole olives could have benefited from being slices on the pizza. 

It was a large pie, that was supposed to serve 3-4 people, but I am going to be honest and admit that Thatcher and I polished off this pie.  Two people, one sitting.  Eight slices of cheesy saucey perfect crust heaven.  We loved this pizza, and agreed this was the definition of a perfect crust.  Coal-fired oven.... who knew.

After the pizza, we went for a walk around Brooklyn.  I loved this city so much more than I thought I would.  I have never been a big city person, and always considered New York City to be a big place full of mean people, dirty homeless, and the absolute worst place on garbage day. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm - Madeira Island

Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm 
You are probably wondering why I am spending the day talking about a trout farm today.  Well, you must know I love everything anything water related, and in truth, this isn't just a fish farm.  It is one of the most beautiful, organic looking fish farms I have ever seen.  Park, garden, fish farm, adorable town all in one little visit.  The grounds, the structures, the town, everything about this area was beautiful and charming, and a great way to spend a few hours when visiting the island of Madeira.  

Your average fish farm looks a little something like this below.  A cold sterile environment that is an eye sore, and not very inviting.  Never mind the highly unsustainable practices that go into various forms of aquaculture throughout the country. 

Typical fish farming operation Source
But the government run Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm is very very different from your average fish farm. For one, The grounds are beautiful.  This fish farm is more like a park than a concrete enclosure.  Stone enclosures, fresh flowing levada water, and viewing areas set against a beautiful park like background. 

Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
It is located in this beautiful town a little of the beaten path, and serves as a tourist attraction for the town. Ribeiro Frio translantes to Cold River and this part of the island still has the Laurissilva’ forest (subtropical laurel forest) feel with thick greenery all around. The grounds of this trout farm make it as much as a lush garden as it does a trout farm. You won't feel like you are on an volcanic island when you make your way across Ribeiro Frio.

There are a couple different levada walks and hikes in this area,

Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
Viewing areas at Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
Viewing platform at Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
fresh flowing stream water Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
Trout are a freshwater fish, and this farm is fed and constantly refreshed by the natural levada water.  The water is cold and clear and you can watch hundreds of trout chase each other, in enclosures where fish are separated by age and size.  There are several different pools and enclosures on the property, and you can see the levada system running throughout the farm to feed the various tanks.  

Trout enclosures at Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
Trout enclosures at Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
Trout enclosures at Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm
Trout enclosures at Ribeiro Frio Trout Farm

After you visit the trout farm, you can try the local farm raised trout at the nearby restaurant, or take a nice levada walk. Ribeiro Frio is a start to one of thee islands popular levada walks. The Ribeiro Frio to Portela Levada Walk (11km) is a moderate walk along one of the most beautiful and known levadas of Madeira surround by Laurissilva Forest. You will see the sign and levada entrance by the trout farm.  

Start to the Levada walk to Portela 
If 11 km is too big of a commitment, you can also take a short walk to Balcoes, one of the islands prettiest viewpoints. At just 50 minutes there and back, this is an easy trip.  

Start to the short walk to Balcoes viewing area