It is a sunny morning when we get an aluguer - or minivan - directly to Paúl, and another one up to the first village. The description in the guide is not clear, and we miss the turnoff for the hike up the Ribeira, but once we are on our way, the going is steep, and we sweat it out. We soon pass picturesque houses, some of which turn out to be attractive pensions, all of them with gorgeous views into the valley. Once we are a little higher, we find a track, the going gets easier, and the views ahead are spectacular. The valley floor is green, there are flowers, and ahead, the rock formations have jagged peaks. Even though we have now seen the weird volcanic formations for a couple of days, seeing them still makes us stop, marvel, and wonder how on earth the landscape was shaped as it is now.
We end up on the main track leading up the Ribeira do Paúl, on the other side of the valley. We pass several villages, are greeted by the people, talk to some of them, have a session with a bunch of school kids who find in us the perfect excuse to run away from school for a short while, and admire the wall paintings in Cha Manuel dos Santos, one of the villages. There, the track ends, and arrows point us in the direction of a clearly defined trail. We are still much below the Cova, our goal of the day, and the trail inevitably steepens. We pass several interesting houses and stables, and find terraces everywhere, just like in other parts of Santo Antão. We walk into the fog, and stop when a guy with an enormous pole, big as a tree trunk, passes us on his way down. When we finally climb out of the clouds, the views are superb again: mountain peaks sticking out of the clouds, trees above us, and the sun warming us for our last climb to the road. There, we have great views, but are surprised that we do not see the Cova: the trail is supposed to end right there. It soon turns out that, even though the trail was well-defined, we apparently should have taken another one. We now walk the road back to the crossroads at Agua das Caldeiras. The clouds have reached this altitude, and we cannot see the Cova anymore. We would make up for that the next day, when we take a private car on the old road back to Porto Novo.
For now, I leave my companion at the crossroads to wait for transportation down, and walk the road we just came from. I now climb out of the clouds again, in the pine forest, and the views over the island, and across to São Vicente island, are fantastic. When I reach Pico da Cruz, I try to ask for directions, but the answers are not clear, so I just walk down the road, which soon becomes a track, and fortunately, find people to ask directions. I am back in the clouds again, and I know that this descent will be a long and steep one - from 1300m to sea level. It starts to rain, but I am lucky: it never really rains hard on my way down. Cows appear in the fog, I head a farmer saluting me above me, and I concentrate on the stones, the slippery parts, the curves on a trail that is often bordered by flowers, and where clouds whirl around steep rocky cliffs. When Ribeira da Peneda finally opens up to me, I am thrilled: I can see the Ocean! I have calculated that I should be down before 18:00, to have a chance to catch an aluguer back to Ponta do Sol, and it seems that I will make it. I go down as fast as I can, and even feel my ears pop - when I finally arrive at the road, the entire descent from Agua das Caldeiras has taken me two hours. I sit on a wall at the seaside to wait for an aluguer, and am happy it does not arrive too soon, so I can relax and listen to the crushing waves on the stony beach.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Paul to Peneda via Cova (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Paul to Peneda via Cova.
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