July 25th – 29th, 2008 Department of Amazonas, Peru
Supposedly 5 years ago a German tourist was hanging out drinking in a bar with some locals when he heard of a mystical waterfall nearby. He wondered why no one ever went there when the locals informed him that it was guarded by duendes or elves. So he told them to round up their bravest men because they were going to make a trip. When he arrived he found the supposed duendes, big monkeys the size of small humans. Ever since, the waterfall has become a bit of a tourist attraction although the number of tourist who visit it is very slim compared to most other tourist attractions in Peru.
July 28th is Peru´s Independence Day so Peace Corps gives us a couple of days off because no one does anything for several days besides sit around and drink. So we headed out to Chachapoyas to discover the waterfall for ourselves.
This morning we got up and did a few errands before hopping on a bus to Chiclayo. There we said good-bye to Steve and Julia because we probably won´t be seeing them again before everyone heads their separate ways. At 6:00pm we boarded the bus for Chachapoyas. Sometimes these bus rides can be like 12 hour long roller coaster rides so we popped some Dramamine for motion sickness and woke up around 5am to the darkness of Chachapoyas. After settling into our hotel rooms and catching a nap we headed to one of the largest sites of ruins in Peru: Kuelap.
These ruins are actually older than Machu Picchu and were built by a civilization older than the Incas, the Chachapoyanas. The rocks weren´t as finely cut as those in Machu Picchu but the ruins were still impressive nevertheless. In some ways it was cooler to be here instead of Machu Picchu because it wasn´t overrun by tourists. The site has a lot of work to do because they have only recently discovered these ruins and don´t know much about them. Around 4pm we made the 3 hour hike back down the mountain.
According to National Geographic, Gocta is the third highest waterfall in the world. There are two steps to this waterfall. The first fall is 120 meters and the second is 650 meters or 2529 feet in total. So Sunday morning we headed out to a town called Cocohuayco. From there we hiked 2 hours to a small village called San Pablo where we grabbed a quick lunch and contracted a guide to take us to the waterfall. The path was pretty well marked on this side of the waterfall and the scenery was beautiful.
The guide was supposed to take us to the area between the two waterfalls and show us the path on the other side but frankly this guide was pretty bad. She abandoned us early because it was getting dark and she didn´t have a flashlight which we were told she was going to bring so she could get back. Later we would learn there were problems with this guide and the agency was thinking of dropping her.
The waterfall was absolutely beautiful and mystical. The boys set up the tents and worked on making a fire while the girls took a dip. The fire was nearly impossible to get going because we were working with wet wood because it had rained a good half hour during our hike. Eventually we got a fire going which we huddled around and roasted marshmallows. When the girls returned, they kept the fire going while we guys immersed ourselves in what had to be water very near 32º. The water is pretty much a mist by the time it reaches the base and creates a cold blanket of air surrounding the nearby area. The weird thing is that after submerging, you actually feel warm once you get out. I guess it is so cold that it shocks the body into some kind of warmness. Or maybe its just hypothermia.
We spent the rest of the night camping, although not necessarily sleeping because the tent was rather crowded.
There are approximately 150M between the first and second fall, so this morning we hiked over to the mouth of the second fall. Ryan and I ventured out to some boulders to get a good look of the fall. There was one rock which pretty much hung over the edge and would have proven the coolest picture ever. Although it looked feasible to get to it also seemed rather risky and we decided mom would never agree that a cool picture was worth life.
After an hour or so admiring our Creator´s beauty we started the hike from the second fall down to its base. At first there was a decently marked trail but it soon dissipated and we found ourselves blazing through the jungle, hoping we were heading the right direction. At times we were hiking through swamp. Eventually we came into a clearing and from there the hike was much more agreeable until we reached the town of Cocobamba. Originally we were supposed to get here much earlier in time for lunch but due to some unplanned deterrents we were slowed quite a bit. It was already 4pm.
From here the hike was a supposed to be a 4 hour walk round trip. Everybody was famished because we hadn´t really ate anything all day besides the random candy bar and packet of crackers. Some were proposing that we camp the night here and then do the waterfall in the morning. Others wanted to spend the night in the hostal we had already prepaid and then come back in the morning. Meanwhile Ryan was talking to a local and inquiring how long it would take if we ran.
Supposedly it would take an hour to run there and an hour and half to get back. We hadn´t ate anything all day and had already hiked 5 hours that morning. But we would save $25 in transportation and then have the next day to do nothing. So while Ryan and I were packing a light backpack of water and whatever food we had left, Casey (our resident marathon winner) ventured over to wish us luck. She had a goofy smile on her face and I could tell something was up.
Brent, “You want to go to, huh?”
Smiling, “Yeah. I think I do.”
“Grab a headlight. We might be coming back in the dark.”
And that is how the run started. We began jogging to the base of the second fall. The path was very well kept because most tourists only make this journey instead of doing the 2 day hike. It was also the most scenic run I have ever done. At one point my glasses fogged up and I tripped, falling to the ground with a thud, scraped knees and knocking my glasses to the ground. Casey and Ryan turned around.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah. Lets go. Don´t stop. Never Stop.”
Forty-five minutes later we were there. It was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen and Ryan put it the best, “I feel like we´re in the middle of Jurassic Park or something.” We took a quick dip in the frigid pool which felt utterly amazing after a day of sweaty hiking. From here we returned before dark completing the trip in quick 2 hours and 15 minutes.
While waiting for our transportation back to Chachapoyas we chatted up one of the local guides. Apparently the path had only been constructed a mere 6 months ago and just 2 months the town got electricity. The agency in San Pablo contacted the agency here in Cocobamba and apologized for the problems with the guide from the first day. Finally, some very nice people from Lima in their mid-twenties gave us a ride back to Chachapoyas in their Toyota 4Runner. What a day.
This morning Hana and Michael got up early at 6am to head back to Cocobamba so they could do the same hike Ryan, Casey and I did the day before. Ella headed off to see some ancient statues in another region nearby. Ryan, Casey and I got up for breakfast and then did what we had planned all throughout our run: nothing.
Later we would hop back on a bus to Chiclayo and from there to Piura.