August 31, 2007
The article I read yesterday about Gokta Falls made it sound like an adventure only suitable for Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, or possibly Craig Martin. It talked about Gokta being the "third highest" in the world, and only having been "discovered" a year ago. In reality, it has been known about for centuries, but the local people didn't view it as being particularly important, and by some measurements, it doesn't even make it in the top ten list of highest waterfalls in the world. Still, some local people I talked to in Chachapoyas thought I'd be crazy not to visit it, considering that I was already in the area.
Normally I don't like to go on tours, especially when I just want to go to a waterfall, which needs no explanation from a guide. However, in this case the only way to go to the waterfall on my own would have been to get up at 3:30 AM to take the bus, then walk four extra hours along a road that the public buses don't traverse. For all that extra effort, I would only save about $6,e so I figured I'd rather just get up at 8:00 and look for a tour.
After a bit of asking at the tour agencies spread around the main plaza of Chachapoyas, I was hooked up with some other people who were already going to Gokta. Coming along with me were Jeff and Lycia, an American couple who were still crazy enough to call New Orleans home, even two years after Katrina. Jeff spent his younger years riding trains around the US, and I don't mean Amtrak. Now he's abandoned that carefree lifestyle and gotten himself a respectable job as an online professional poker player. Lycia, clearly the responsible half of the couple, used to manage a construction company, but quit to go on this trip.
After taking a taxi for one hour through some more amazing terrain that was a mixture of Ands and Amazon, we arrived in the little village of San Pablo where we were hooked up with a guide. Most of the road wasn't paved, but on the other hand, it also wasn't "chiropractic," as the article claimed. In fact, Jeff and I were so busy talking about poker that we barely even noticed the occasional pothole in the road.
When we got to San Pablo, we were given a local guide, a nice lady who had lived there her whole life. We found out that the town has a rotating guide system, so everyone gets a fair chance at earning some money from the tourists. When I first saw our guide's rubber goulash boots, I was a bit nervous about the trail being impossibly muddy. My worries turned out to be unfounded; it was dry season, after all.
The trail was a pleasant, steady uphill climb. We made the "steep scramble" to the viewpoint and got an impressive first look at Gokta Falls. I barely clung to life climbing that horrible side trail back to the main one. Within a couple hours, we made it to the waterfall. It was amazing to look at, but the "shrieking blow of mist" only got me a little bit wet. The article may have been ridiculous, but the waterfall still was definitely worth a visit.
I did grow to love the Chachapoyas region in my few short days there. There were world-class ruins, ancient artifacts, and natural wonders within a day's trip of the main town, and almost no tourists to cramp my style. Now I can say with confidence that I've seen the "third highest" waterfall in the world. The only problem is that I'll have to use a lot of air quotes whenever describing it to someone.
The photo album for this entry is here.