Winter Holiday Day 4 – Gocta

July 24, 2012

What a spectacularly amazing day! Woke up feeling awake before my alarm, could hear breakfast so got up and had my coffee standing overlooking an incredible view of the mountains. They are some kind of sedimentary rock that has been pushed up and the patterns you can see in the strata are really clear – I can’t even begin to imagine the forces or the time scale that has been involved in making them! You can also clearly see marks where water runs in the rainy season.


After breakfast I got changed into my walking gear, packed my bag and then had to wait for about 20 minutes while the family I would be walking with got ready… Apparently when the woman said ‘ leaving at 0830’ they heard ‘finish your breakfast at 0830 then go and get changed and get your bag while people wait for you’. I was slightly concerned that the girl was wearing pink Peruvian stripy trousers and matching pink converse slip on trainers that were obviously new, but decided not to comment – they are her feet… I couldn’t really get angry at their rudeness however as the tree by the door to the lodge was full of humming birds so I was really quite happy to wait.


The day started off hot and sunny (even at 9 am) and I started to worry about my lack of sun cream – I had presumed (because I can be as stupid as the next man!) that we’d be under cover for most of the walk as it is in forest, however the first hour or so is actually across farmland and quite open. I wasn’t so worried in the morning, but I was thinking ahead to the afternoon when we’d be coming back with the sun fully overhead.


The walk to the falls took about 3 hours, it is only 5.1 km however a lot of it is up and down; quite steeply in places. There are also 3 bridges to cross (one suspension bridge, one made of wood and one mad of concrete). Since the local village formed a ‘ tourism committee’ in 2006 they have done a lot of work on the trail and it was very well maintained, although I could see that in the rainy season it would become a bit more treacherous. The views of the surrounding countryside are spectacular! You can, if you want, hire horses to take you there and back. I personally think I’d feel less safe on a horse than on my feet – some of the drops were very long and very steep if you fell off at the wrong point!


The trail to the falls starts about 50m from the lodge, this meant that we were the second group to get on the trail (the first group being other guests at the lodge) about an hour before other tourists start to arrive. The beauty of this was that we walked in complete isolation all the way there and had a good 15 min of peace (which would have been longer if we’d left on time!) at the pool at the bottom of the falls. As we walked back though we passed people every 5 minutes or so and later on, about 30 mins from the lodge, people on horseback started passing us. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it as much had we been walking a couple of hours later with everyone else (the people who had stayed in Chachapoyas for example!), although everyone assures me that it’s because it’s Sunday. No one has, as yet, given me any reason for Sunday being busyier than other days. Must be an organised tour thing.


The falls themselves are beautiful – your view of them changes as you get closer and closer on the walk, and they are very high (as you would expect from the world’s 3rd highest waterfall I suppose). In dry season there isn’t a lot of water in them, and it is something more like heavy rain that reaches the pool. However looking at the shape of the pool and the form of the cliff face, you can tell that in rainy season it is much MUCH more torrential! The rock formations themselves are at least as impressive, of not more so, than the waterfall. In one part the strata swirl, looking just like a fingerprint. I chickened out of going for a swim as the pool was in shade, there were very strong, cold, winds (the guide told us that the wind formed because of the movement of the water) and the water was FREEZING. It was also a rocky bottom and although I had my towel with me I didn’t really feel like walking 2 and a half hours back, slightly damp.


We realised that the masses were beginning to arrive and so started on the return journey. Luckily the sun was hidden behind some helpful clouds for most of the walk back and so my lack of sun cream and hat was not a major problem (I have caught the sun a little bit on my face though and my eyes are telling me that the best place for my sunglasses would be here with me, and not in my locker at school!). The smell as we walked was nothing short of heavenly – there are a number of aromatic plants that grow up here and these combined with the fresh air, slightly woody smell of the trees and the flowers make something that should be bottled and sold to stressed people to inhale as they listen to the pre-recorded sounds of the birds singing in the trees. Although to be fair I think a large part of the lack of stress comes from being somewhere with no internet, no phone signal and doing some seriously sweaty exercise with a beautiful destination in mind, while the local flora, fauna and landscape assaults all of your senses at the same time! There’s also nothing quite like a massive landscape that has taken hundreds of thousands of years to form and dwarfs you completely to remind you of your rather insignificant place in the universe! I was surprised at how little effect the altitude had, we’re not that high here, around 2000 meters, but that is usually enough for me to feel a little breathless on climbs. Hopefully I’m acclimatising nicely so that when I get to Chachapoyas which is a little higher still, and especially Kuelap at 3000 meters, I’ll be fine!


Not surprisingly the girl in the pink converse trainers had a massive blister on each heel by the time we reached the falls. Give her her due, she walked slowly on the way back, but she did it, and didn’t complain or ask for a horse! Given that the horses were being led by either teenage boys or 60 year old women I think she’d have felt a little self conscious though. Locals of the town near the falls, if they have nothing better to do, often ride up towards the falls in the afternoon in the hope of being able to convince one of the woefully inappropriately dressed Limeñans that they would be better off riding back now that they know what’s coming. I imagine, as most of the Limeñans that I know outside of school think that my 15 minute walk to school is long and the fact that I sometimes walk into Miraflores and back (maybe 40 min each way) is nothing short of crazy, that they are fairly successful with their beasts of burden.


One little rant, that I feel fairly often in Peru; if I would support corporal punishment for anything it would be for people that drop litter. Seriously – how heavy is a plastic wrapper or empty bottle that it is too hard for you to carry it even one second more? How can anyone have such a low opinion of everyone else on the planet that, now they have been to the lovely place, it doesn’t matter if they mess it up for the next people? What kind of completely self-absorbed, spoiled, thoughtless, lazy and ignorant person can’t be bothered to carry their rubbish home with them and put it in the bin? The part that gets me the most is that to get here you have to fly from Lima, THEN drive for at least 8 hours, THEN walk for at least 3 hours. The kind of people who can afford and can be bothered to do this can also afford basic manners and a better education surely? They should have their feet cut off, that would stop them doing it again… maybe just a toe for the first offence…


On the way back we saw, across the other side of the valley, a MASSIVE forest fire – it made the mountain look a little bit like a volcano. I couldn’t take any pictures as both of my camera batteries had run out. I must have forgotten to charge the spare when I came back from Huacachina. Apparently they are fairly common this time of year, not because it’s dry season and droplets of water act like a magnifying glass and focus the sun onto dry undergrowth, but because people hunting deer set fires to flush them out and then loose control.


Tomorrow I don’t think I’ll do anything. Just relax, get up late (or maybe even get up for breakfast then go back to bed – the luxury!), wander into the town to look at handy-crafts they make to sell to the tourists, maybe (if I can find sun lotion) have a swim in the pool, do a bit of sun bathing, read my book and look for birds. It’s been a while since I had a day on my own when I did absolutely nothing. The lodge has a brand new espresso machine too… 


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