Even though Madeira has, if I’m not mistaken, around 2000 kilometers of levadas, not all the trails are open and not all the trails are safe to explore. This is an important thing to keep in mind. Before going for a hike, you should always check if the levada or vereda you’re about to walk is in good conditions and offers safety. And if somebody says the trail is dangerous – you don’t go.
Should be obvious, right? Well, wasn’t for me.
So some weeks ago I found this one levada on a map, Levada do Curral do Castelejo. It was marked on the public communication map of Funchal, one they give to tourists, so I figured it had to be safe and easily walkable. I did my research, however, and curiously, I couldn’t find almost any recent reviews of the trail. Those that I did find, each and every one of them, said the levada is dangerous and not recommended.
This should have been the end of the story, but there was one thing that REALLY got my attention. Fajã do Poio. An abandoned village once inhabited by around 30 people. 10 ruined houses lost in the wilderness, and quess what, Levada do Curral do Castelejo is said to be the only access point to the place. Only one. There’s no other way to get there. Exciting! I’m going!
(And so my inner child decides to put my outer self in danger, because it craves adventure. Now that I think about it, lately I’ve been reading “Uma Aventura nas Férias de Natal” and the kids there were exploring abandoned villages in search of hidden treasures, so I guess I could totally say that’s where the inspiration came from. I blame Ana Maria Magalhães.)
Levada do Curral starts in Funchal, not too far from Madeira Shopping, and goes all the way to Curral das Freiras. The first half an hour is already a disaster. You’re still within the city limits, so it should be relatively safe, but the concrete blocks covering the water channel are thin, shaky and full of holes, so you have to watch your every step. After half an hour it actually gets very beautiful, as you’re walking up Ribeira do Curral maybe more than a 100 meters above the bottom of the valley, and even though there’s no protection, at least you’re walking on a solid ground, so there’s more comfort to the walk. This is when I thought – I really did! – that Levada do Curral is a hidden gem, unfairly described as dangerous.
Then there was a moment with water falling directly on the trail (a 40 cm shelf) – I found it fun – then there was MUCH MORE water falling on a 30 cm shelf with 60º degree stairs up the wall of the cliff – I found it rather dangerous – and then a tunnel with a muddy entrance closed by a massive spider web. That was more or less when I started to think entering Levada do Curral was a bad idea.
As for Fajã do Poio, you can see it from maybe 50 meters on the other side of ribeira before the trail gets nasty. After the tunnel you’re passing right next to it, but since levada is completely closed by the vegetation, you can barely even continue the hike, and descending to the village is absolutely impossible. No fun. Just the opposite of fun, actually – once there, you’re left between a decision of coming back the same (dangerous) way or continuing towards Curral das Freiras, hoping it’s going to be safer from that point on.
I continued, and the trail continued to be more and more dangerous. There were narrow shelves next to what seemed like an infinite abyss, there were landslides entirely covering the levada, making you walk on slopes of loose rocks, there was an insane vegetation and spider webs closing the trail and making you realize nobody had walked there for months. And then there was the distance to enjoy – you had to endure all that during what might be more than 10 kilometers.
I don’t usually do that, but I texted my friends letting them know about my location in case something happened to me during the hike. I walked the big part of the levada in an adrenaline-boosted state of alert, and when I finally got to Curral das Freiras, I was mentally exhausted. Lesson was learnt, though, and I’ll certainly not go for another trail that I’ll know to be closed and damaged. I’m sharing this story for you to remember about the safety rules, too. Hope you will!
Maciej Śpiewakowski. Polish volunteer at AAUMa, passionate about journalism, photography, music and travels.
Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.
Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.
In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3, which is for the support of reformation policies.
Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.
We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.
Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.