Days: 279 (31 March 2015)
Total distance travelled: 53,744.5 kilometres (33,381.68 miles)
One of the goals of our trip, perhaps you could say it was something of a ‘Bucket List’ item was to visit Venezuela’s Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall.
Plans however, they do change, and with the plummet in global oil prices (on which Venezuela’s volatile economy is built), suddenly it didn’t seem the wisest place to visit.
After all, who wants to visit a place that has an economy so screwed up, the country had run out of toilet paper!
Whilst wistfully reading up on the Angel Falls online I stumbled upon a list of the world’s tallest waterfalls, which somewhat surprisingly listed two of the top five in Peru, a country very much a part of our itinerary.
If we couldn’t visit the highest, why not the third (or fifth) best thing?
That waterfall excursion (to the Yumbilla Falls, accessible from Chachapoyas or Pedro Ruiz), was in fact the reason we found ourselves in Chachapoyas in the first place.
Whilst there, we also discovered that even closer and a little more accessible for independent travellers sat the Gocta Falls, admittedly ‘only’ the fifteenth highest on earth, but by all accounts an impressive sight.
After grabbing some admittedly vague directions from our hostel host (the directions themselves I’m sure were fine, it was me who didn’t clarify things fully), we piled on board a colectivo towards a location we only knew as Cruce (again those vague bits that I neglected to clarify, but we assumed it may be a crossroad…)
However, as soon as we mentioned Gocta to the driver and fellow passengers, they seemed to know where we needed to go, so we figured all would be fine.
So when we were advised to alight our transportation somewhere in between Pedro Ruiz and Chachapoyas, we figured this was probably Cruce.
Turns out we weren’t quite correct, as we were in fact at the turnoff to Cocachimba!
The sign did also point towards Gocta as well, so it wasn’t diabolical, so we began what promised to be about a 13 kilometre walk to the falls.
It quickly became apparent that we were both wearing far too many layers, but once we’d shed a couple of those, it became a pretty lovely morning walk, despite the first half essentially being uphill.
Eventually we got to the town (it sat about halfway along the journey) and it was here we both stopped for a breather, as well as purchased our entrance tickets to the falls (where we were the first people to sign into the park for the day).
We continued on, the road now giving way to a path that at times rolled up and down, was at times paved and was just as often not.
The occasional local on horseback overtook us, but we continued on, eventually getting some closer views of the still somewhat distant falls (we’d earlier spied them from near the start of our trek).
We climbed more hills, we followed more curves in the path, the odd glimpse of the falls our only true indicator of the progress we’d already made.
At one point, either cloud or mist from the falls (or possibly a combination of both) filtered across the path and surrounding woods, giving us another one of those mystical moments that took our minds back to the cloud forests of Costa Rica. All too soon, it gave way as a steady rumble that had been present for some minutes began to get slowly louder.
There before us, in all (or at least most of)its glory stood the falls, a total height of 771 metres, but that lower, single drop over half a kilometre alone at 541 metres!
By now we also began to feel a strong wind (and much spray), although it’s very likely it wasn’t a wind at all, but rather the sheer force of the falls themselves trying to blow us back.
We decided a closer inspection was in order, so as such we crept slowly forward.
The closer we ventured however, the wetter we became, a combination of rain, the falls plunging down from above and the spray launched from the sheer power as it pummelled the river before us.
It was a truly awesome, albeit rather damp place to be.
Having had our fill and armed with the knowledge that there was a higher point, closer to the first tier from which we could also view the falls, we took our leave, wandering back to where we’d early found a branch in the path.
After a brief descent down to the river and across the river thanks to a suspension bridge that was in far superior condition to the path that lead to it, we began our ascent.
The path was an often wet, muddy affair that saw us slip our way upwards with no true idea of how long we may need to be making this climb.
Eventually, we found a huge rocky platform that served as a perfect location from which to view the falls.
It was also a lovely place (and time) for us to lunch!
About the time we decided we’d had enough and it was time to descend, it began to drizzle, and this drizzle quickly became light, but steady rain.
This made an already slippery slope, a rather treacherous path to navigate and we felt it would only be a matter of time before the both of us slipped (incredibly it only happened once and even more incredibly, when Sarah did slip she somehow managed to avoid landing arse first in the mud)!
But given the views we’d been privy to, the cold, the wet feet, it all seemed worth it.
Having survived the path back down to the bottom, we were now at the mercy of ever heavier rain which made the return walk, initially more a frigid trudge, with us dodging puddles aplenty, but by the time we’d made our way back near the town of Cocachimba, we were content to simply plow on through, our feet by now already wet (well, mine were in any case).
The sun did eventually return, and by the time we were sat back along the verge of the highway waiting for a colectivo to pass by and collect us, we’d walked something like 28 kilometres over what had been an amazing 8 hours.
And to think, this was only the world’s fifteenth highest…
* A colectivo from Chachapoyas to the Cocachimba turnoff cost $5.00 Soles per person (and the same to return).
* Entrance into the falls cost $10.00 Soles per person.