Reluctantly leaving the splendor of the Falls behind, the payment to the piper begins. Up... way up. A step by step reversal of the relatively easy path in. Not so easy going up though.
With the promise of a hot lunch waiting, most of the younger and heartier souls are soon far ahead and out of sight. Keeping me company with a slower and more relaxed pace were a young Frenchman named Mitch and our guide, Hilton. Our conversation flows fairly easily thanks to Mitchs`english speaking abilities.
It is clear that the young and earnest Hilton was taking seriously his responsibility to get my "last little old lady" butt safely back to the pueblo. A complete departure from the Tarapoto jungle guide that was happy to never look back while I took my various tumbles.
Must say it pays to be the last one up, as Hilton regaled us with his extensive knowledge of the local jungle flora, and answered our many questions. All along the trail he would wander over and pluck leaves for us to taste or smell, while explaining their various uses, medicinal or otherwise.
The scents of lemon, orange, lime, mint, and licorice came from bushes and plants that were foreign to me, with uses for tummy, head, hair, altitude and breathing.
Or he would rush over to pick things for us to taste... a small yellow fruit, berries and coffee, all various Parrot foods. All sweet. Heeding warnings to spit out various seeds we enjoy our trials.
Hearkens me back to my time as a new vegetarian at 17, and my father complaining that all I would eat was, well, bird food. :)
Mitch brings out a bag of dried whole coco leaves and offers to share. This is a new way of me experiencing the famed local leaf. Chew, chew, chew... then tuck said masticated blob up in the cheek and let sit. Other than experiencing a tingling sensation where said blob lay, I don`t really notice a marked difference in my breathing or performance. This in marked contrast to last year when I made ample(and appreciative) use of coco tea and candy to get me over the high passes on the Inca trail.
I take photos of the intense moss on ancient looking rocks, thinking it will be a challenge to convey the visual reality in words... for another post I think.
Orange and avocado trees, nuts, seeds, berries, roots, greens... I remark to Hilton that living in the jungle, one certainly need not starve. (or resort to eating grubs?) He earnestly agrees.
At about the halfway mark on the trail there exists a farm offering limited accommodation and an assortment of drinks and crackers as a way to supplement their income. We stop for Gatorade and cookies. The owner is a friendly gentleman, who happily abandons his work shelling frioles (white beans) to welcome us and join us in conversation. Our guide relayed some of my questions about his side garden, and he beckons us through a gate and into a small slice of paradise.
Given the chance, this would be what my garden would look like. In this ideal climatic setting, orange, lemon, banana, plantain, and coffee trees join a variety of vegetable, squash, tuber, medicinal and floral plantings, just for starters. Mitch was impressed with the two healthy looking coco plants mixed in. This is a back yard garden, complete with pig in back pen and chickens clucking indolently at our feet.
MUST be what shangrila feels like. I so wanted to plant my butt down and stay awhile. No can do. With thanks to our host, reluctantly I depart and join the path upward once again.
Cue the afternoon rains. Wonderful, cool, heavy drops pouring from the sky and the smell as they contact the hot earth and rocks rises. Donning my raincoat I think of the two men working in the landslide area, and the some maternal instinct has me sending my hopes for their safety up into the heavens. I won`t presume to guess which form of higher power might be listening.
In no time at all I am soaked. Gloriously, seriously, drowned rat kind of wet.
The elevations of the path allow me to finally see the sideways drainage system at work. The rushing sheet of water heading downwards hits the canals and is sent shooting off the path and on to the hillside to disappear down and into the vegetation. Surprisingly effective.
The rains let up as we find ourselves back in the farm area surrounding the pueblo. We ask more crop related questions, see pineapple in various stages of growth. I learn it takes a year and a half to bring each plant, with its single pineapple, to harvest. I will never complain about the cost of pineapple in the supermarket again.
Hilton points out a series of caves partially visible on the sheer rock wall facing us, rising up from the riverbed far below. I see absolutely no way to reach them, but a couple of years ago somebody managed to get to one of them and found remains. Now they are on a list of sights to be properly excavated... they join a long, long list of sights already found, never mind those still secreted away in unknown nooks, crannies and jungle overgrowth.
All good trekking experiences must come to an end, and we eventually make it back to the pueblo. Soaked. Every piece of clothing plastered to me. My boots are once again wet as the rains simply followed their own path down my pants, under and through my gators, and down on in to keep my little toes company.
Having enjoyed their hot lunch while we dawdled, we are welcomed by the rest of our group. I wring out my hair and inspect the contents of my sopping backpack. The spanish dictionary is my only casualty. Fitting, no?
Thank you, thank you, thank you, and we all pile back into van to head out on our return trip. And enjoy a last look back at the falls in their entirety.
Has to be said... Gocta Falls is way up there on my best experiences ever meter.
Chatted with a nice young argentine couple on the way home, and we compared taxi horror stories... kept most people in the bus entertained judging by the laughter level.
All smiles I headed down the street towards supper and was pleased as punch when a man stopped dead in his tracks, smiled, and called me "Hermosa!" I´ll take it. Being called beautiful in any language feels good. :)
Sitting in the restaurant brought an adrenaline crash so I ordered coffee with dinner, (it was instant, yuck) figuring it would keep me awake long enough to eat and make it back to the hotel. I enjoyed the sight of the "restaurant kid skipping and whistling through the rooms... he must be at least 14. Totally different youth experience.
Bone tired, I weave my way back to my digs. Hot shower. Boot care. Crawl into bed. Soon I will need a vacation from my vacation... what day is it?
PS.. Valerie, nice to see your comment :)
It is good to hear from home.