Tag: waterfall

:: cascada de peguche ::

It rains a fair bit in Ecuador.  Small streams are frequently torrents of water, thus leading to many waterfalls.  Most are hidden well out of site in the jungles and cloud forests, but some, like the Cascada de Peguche near Otavalo, are quite accessible.

The Cascada de Peguche is not a large waterfall, only a mere 20 metres or so, but there is an intensity to the water that is impressive.  And with usually only a handful of visitors it is quite a tranquil place amongst the trees.

We have been pleasantly impressed by the number of Ecuadorians who get out and enjoy the tourist sites, both natural and cultural, within their country.  On most of our visits to Peguche there were only a couple of dozen people around, enjoying leisurely walks and the falls.

During Carnival, however, we were among a thousand or more people – all of them spraying espuma (coloured shaving cream) and throwing water balloons at everyone else.  It was a very festive atmosphere but not at all conducive to quiet contemplation of nature or staying dry!

That aside, it is a lovely area with a nice easy hike through towering eucalyptus trees – at least one of which is 100 years old – along side a lovely stream.  It is very family and pet friendly, and you can find a few local vendors outside the entrance selling trinkets, souvenirs and local delicacies.

There are some small pools below the falls that are ritually important for the local Kichwa community.  Every year before the Inti Raymi Sun God Festival on June 21, people come and cleanse themselves in order to prepare spiritually for the celebrations.  I imagine that is quite a busy day as well, but more culturally significant and probably less chaotic than the espuma fights during Carnival!

All in all you can’t go wrong with a little side trip to Peguche if you are in Otavalo. The place really is beautiful and there are also some impressive traditional weaving workshops in the town itself that are well worth a stop.

:: cloud forest ::

Some places in the world on the tourist trail can seem off the beaten path despite how well known they are.  Mindo is such a place.  Settled into a valley surrounded by lush cloud forest and small rivers rushing off the Andes Mountains, this small little town is a place to slow down and enjoy whatever nature is willing to reveal.

The town center is home to a few blocks of dusty streets, little shops, wood houses and a half-neglected town square.  From every corner you can see the clouds rolling in and out over the lush green landscape that surrounds Mindo.  Within minutes of the town center you can find yourself a million miles away, on the banks of a rushing river or on a trail surrounded by enormous leaves, tropical flowers and cascading waterfalls.

The cloud forests of Ecuador are home to an amazing array of biodiversity and birds.  Hummingbirds are such a common occurrence here that you can become almost complacent about seeing them zipping around mere feet from you – always too fast for the camera unless you are dedicated to photographing them.  The natural beauty is extremely accessible and almost hypnotic.

One of the great natural highlights of Mindo is the chance to hike in the cloud forest of the Mindo-Nambillo Reserve.  A rough hewn path traces the edges of hillsides and takes you down sharp slopes to small secluded waterfalls.  It is a trail where you will see a few people, but you can still feel as if you have the entire expanse of nature to yourself.  To reach it, you ride the several hundred metre long tarabita over the river valley below.  The tarabita can best be described as a metal cart suspended off of a solid cable that holds about six people.  Think coal mining cart crossed with a zip line run by a diesel engine.  It is magnificently simple and beautiful to dart across the open vistas on something that undoubtedly would not pass a safety check in the States or Europe.

There are other hikes around town including down the quiet road along Rio Blanco with its waters that flow directly out of the crater of the Guagua Pichincha volcano.  Or head to the La Casa Amarilla and follow trails through the guava plantations and up to a rickety perch high above town.

Of course if hiking isn’t your thing, then you can go for a relaxing tubing ride down the river or check out the Mindo butterfly farm.

Then again, maybe you need more adventure, in which case the canyoning and zip-lining options await.  The latter was quite fun as I went with our friend Aarne one morning.  We had a great time flying from hillside to hillside, sometimes upside down in the mariposa (butterfly) position!  It might not be for everyone, but I enjoyed it!

When you need an escape from all the nature, you can check out one of the local chocolate businesses in town.  El Quetzal, now famous for its chocolate tours and treats, started as an internet cafe.  The owner’s brownies were so good, and the supply of sufficiently good chocolate so spotty, that the owners decided to start producing their own chocolate.  Now you can tour the small production site and have an interesting overview of the process, and most importantly get a custom tasting of them all!  The chocolate is very good, and it is only available in Mindo, Ecuador and in Michigan – the home state of the American owner.

With a laid back feel and nature at every turn, Mindo is a lovely little getaway.  Spend a day or a week and you will surely recharge your batteries and feel like you escaped the big city for a while.

Thanks to all of our family and friends who have explored this area with us so far – it’s been a great adventure discovering and rediscovering different parts each time!

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Amongst the many places to stay, we highly recommend the little unknown airbnb ‘wooden cottage’ set amongst gorgeous gardens and hosted by the fabulous Clemencia and Jaime Beron.  Stay tuned for more about their expansive botanical garden, pitahaya plantation, haven for the local birds, homemade breakfasts and their very own frog concert – an amazing experience overall!

:: baños ::

There is something in the water in Baños, a small town in the middle of Ecuador.  Some people will tell you it is holy.  Others say that it has minerals that lead to better health.  Others don’t care about the water because they are too busy throwing themselves off bridges, swinging over cliff edges, and ziplining across river gorges, and quite frankly the water wouldn’t help them even if it did have magic properties!

Nestled in a peaceful river valley and guarded by the 5,000 metre high, and rather active, Tungurahua Volcano, Baños is a destination with a little bit of everything.  It is a common stopping point on the backpackers circuit, but it also attracts lots of local Ecuadorians for the spa baths and laid-back attitude.  It is a place that can tempt someone to visit for three days and then never leave – as evidenced by many of the hostel and restaurant owners!

With our 14 month old Piper in tow, thereby limiting the amount of white water rafting and mountain biking we could do, we opted to go for a lovely hike along the fields and hillsides overlooking Rio Pastaza.  We were hoping that Tungurahua would show itself, but it remained mysterious and shrouded in the clouds.

We wandered along a winding path up into the small fields and rampant plant life of the area.  The moisture that comes up out of the Amazon region and the lower altitudes makes the whole region from Ambato to Baños a prime fruit and vegetable growing territory.  We saw lots of tomate de arbol trees, also known as tomarillo (a fruit commonly made into juice here), maracuyas,  or passionfruit in English, (another fruit that makes an even better juice), and normal tomatoes as well.

In fact, we had a lovely little exchange with a family harvesting their tomatoes as they stood on the other side of the small river valley from their greenhouses.  They were using a tarabita – a small metal cart that hangs off of a metal cable operated by a pulley system.  Using this simple mechanised transportation system saved this family hours of hauling wooden crates of tomatoes down and then back up the steep slopes of the river gorge.  Cora helped to unload a few crates, gaining bemused looks from the family which was clearly not used to gringas moving their tomato harvest!  We exchanged a couple of cereal bars for fresh tomatoes – so good we enjoyed them right there as we hiked!

Back in Baños we wandered into churches and past cafes.  We saw a small local festival, admired the local graffiti and watched people at the ubiquitous candy shops pulling the equivalent of taffy in the doorways.  It was odd to see so many of these shops all offering their version of the same thing and literally standing mere feet from each other as they pulled long strings of the light brown sticky substances off of pegs.  Wrap and pull, wrap and pull, and at some point determine it is ready!

An unexpected find was a classic Italian trattoria, owned by a native Italian!  Carpe Diem had fantastic handmade pastas and a casual setting away from the main area of town that made it perfect for us.  We are not huge connoisseurs of Italian cuisine, but this was truly wonderful home style cooking.

A common outing from town is to hire bikes and ride the road down the river valley heading towards the jungle.  Along this road are a series of waterfalls, the most famous of which is El Pailon del Diablo or Devil’s Cauldron.  This thunderous waterfall carves its way through a narrow gorge to dramatic effect.  To truly experience it, you can walk down into the river gorge on a fairly well built path and then slink your way under and around rocks to stand virtually under the flow (bring a change of clothes).  It is loud, wet, and intense but well worth the effort to get so close to a true spectacle of nature.

A trip to Baños wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the baños, the thermal baths.  The main baths were in the centre of town at the base of a waterfall.  We opted to go as night fell to experience these magical waters under the stars.  Every afternoon they empty the pools and refill them from the source so we were treated to a lovely clean and hot thermal bath. Though we arrived early, soon the baths were full of people enjoying their warmth and healing.  It was a great experience seeing people of all walks of life relaxing and enjoying the waters.

Our home away from home for the couple of nights was La Casa Verde.  Set a couple of kilometres outside the city centre and right along the river, it is a quiet oasis with a very eco-friendly approach.  The hospitality from Sharon and Steven, the temporary managers, was phenomenal.  These two took a hiatus from teaching in international schools to slow down a bit and try their hand at running an eco hostel.  They did a fantastic job and had great insights on the area.  Strangely the actual owners intended to hold a lottery to ‘auction’ off the place.  For one dollar you could enter and they would pull out a winner, who would soon become the new owners.  Tempting as it was to pack it all in and move to Baños – we decided to skip the opportunity.  The world is just too big to settle down in one place quite yet, but Baños was a lovely place to experience!

:: nest of the condor ::

Sometimes you don’t have to go far to find beauty and seclusion.  A mere hour or so from our house into the Rio Pita Valley, and heading directly for Cotopaxi Volcano, we found Condor Machay waterfall.

The path to this 80 metre high waterfall takes you along the rushing river, through a green lush paradise with moss clinging to every tree and rock, tree branches overhanging the trail, waterfalls trickling down rocks and roots claiming ownership over the path.

Tucked into a deep sided gorge, you can see why the waterfall was named Condor Machay, which means ‘nest of the condor’ in the area’s indigenous language Quechua.  Here you feel as if you are a million miles away from humanity, when really you are mere miles from the outskirts of Quito.  It is intoxicating.

The path snakes across several bridges, some rather rickety, crossing the river as it cuts its way through the landscape.  After a wonderfully leisurely, and yet full, hike, you get a quick glimpse of the surprise at the end, before diving back into the trees.  Finally, the path opens into an expansive space full of mist from the water crashing down.  The scale is hard to believe without a subject in front.  With its ever changing light, the gorge feels like a completely different place.

Sitting here watching the water running off the rock face above, it is easy to feel a connection with the landscape and to ponder the monumental forces that nature can affect.  It is almost enough to wander off into the wild and just stay out there!

 

 

DIRECTIONS:

Search for ‘Rumipamba Waterfalls Trailhead’on Google Maps (and open if Waze if you want).  Be sure to go to this point and not where it is marked Condor Machay as you may end up on the other side of the gorge, or where there is no road/access.  Park at the bottom of the hill and pay the parking attendant a few dollars.  It’s fairly safe but make sure you don’t leave anything in sight in your vehicle as usual and lock everything up.  There are two trails starting at this point – to the right is Condor Machay. To the left is also meant to be beautiful but about 20 minutes in requires a wet and sometimes deep river crossing so be prepared.  It takes us an hour or so from Cumbaya to arrive, and about 1h40 minutes to 2 hours to get to the waterfall itself.  Enjoy!

:: papkuilsfontein ::

Suddenly we were back in England. The grey skies threatening rain. Driving winds and rolling moorland dotted with flocks of sheep. Yet, we were in the Western Cape. We were unprepared for the scenes around Nieuwoudtville and our camping spot for two nights on Papkuilsfontein Farm.

The atmosphere setting up our camp in the gathering gloom of twilight surrounded by acres of nothing but grouse like shrubs was fantastic. It wasn’t like our previous nights on the trip had been in the middle of Times Square, but here was a feeling of true seclusion. There was just one other couple at the camp site, but they left the next morning, so night two was just us and our small circle of light from our camp fire. This was the epitome of what we were looking for.

The flowers were different up on the plateau, much more of the yellow bulbs protruding up on stalks. Around the campsite were spotty patches, but elsewhere on the farm grounds were whole fields of them.  We were told this area is known as ”the Bulb Capital of the World” because it has the highest speciation of indigenous bulbous flowers on Earth, and that certainly didn’t disappoint.  We wandered past the ruins of an old farmstead, built when the land was shared amongst three families, and marvelled at the beauty of so many yellow flowers reaching into the air.

Papkuilsfontein is a working farm, but it is also has a restaurant and guest cottages, as well as the camp site. This is a family affair, with the current owners being one of the three original families.  Now in their sixth generation the husband still runs the farm, whilst his wife runs the guest side of things. Her mother is the chef! She came to visit six years ago and hasn’t left! The food is fantastic and we were lucky to be able to take ours to go and sit by the camp fire each night and enjoy truly wonderful offerings. We can’t recommend it highly enough and they do lunches, for those not interested in battling the moorland roads at nighttime.

The name comes from the Afrikaans names for bulrush and spring, so it is the spring covered by bulrush. A meandering stream flows through the property, before plummeting 60 or 70 meters off the edge of the plateau. It had little rain in it, but the falls were lovely to see nestled within a horseshoe of cliffs. A short hike brought us along the edge of the cliff face, but we did not attempt the extreme trail down into the ravine. We instead found our way a little upstream to enjoy the peace and tranquility that comes from the sound of only flowing water on a sunny afternoon.

:: to the blooms ::

Driving a two lane strip of tar due west and dead straight for twenty kilometres can be seen as monotonous. A slight curve and then another fifteen or twenty more kilometres of straight road, this is more or less what you face from Bloemfontein to Springbok, South Africa.  There we found ourselves, covering a thousand kilometres of arid, windswept landscape, on our way to see some flowers.

We are not known to be great botanists, yet the idea of seeing regularly arid desert landscapes covered in vibrant oranges, pinks and yellows seemed too unique an opportunity to pass up. During August and September each year, the early spring rains bring hundreds of different types of flowers out from Southern Namibia to the Cape of Good Hope. Some are so specialised they only grow in fields or hillsides around specific towns or nature reserves. Even without a botany degree, the small variations in petals, stems and other floral accoutrement are known to be stunning.

Though there are stretches of the road so straight that you need not have to steer for fifteen minutes with a good wheel alignment, the drive across from Lesotho isn’t as boring as some would have you believe.  Along the way you come across some real surprises, especially the Green Kalahari. This thin strip of land that straddles the Orange River produces enough water that large scale grape production is possible.

The grape vines are impressive to behold as they cling to the rocky soil with just a thin hose providing the irrigation lifeline necessary for their survival. These vines produce wonderful harvests of grapes each year, some which are transformed into a lovely Orange River wine, while others are sold straight off the vine as fruit, or dried and packaged as raisins.

Another surprise awaits along the way at Augrabies Falls. The Orange River gets squeezed through a narrow fissure in sheer cliffs before tumbling 56 metres into the gorge below. From there, the river that starts its journey in the far north of Lesotho as the Senqu, then forms the border between South Africa and Namibia as it makes the last couple of hundred kilometres trek across the southern reaches of the Kalahari Desert. Besides the falls themselves, which are breathtaking, this little undiscovered National Park has great hiking and game watching opportunities. We didn’t have the time to properly explore, but something tells us a couple of days would be needed to do this little gem justice.

As night closed in around us, a thunderstorm chased us down the last desolate stretch of road. The phrase ‘pitch black’ surely must have been created to explain what the night is like out in this unpopulated corner of South Africa. There were no lights. None. In any direction for the one hundred kilometres from the park to Pofadder, our stop for the night. Even when we reached town there were barely any lights.

This small town named with the Afrikaans word for Puff Adder, the venomous snake, sits in its own world. We didn’t spend long enough there to know if it is a happy or sad place, but it is a place that offered us a comfortable sanctuary from the long road. It was a place to park up, have a meal and sleep before heading back into the great empty corner once more towards the land of the desert flowers.

:: 1500 hashes ::

How many Sundays do you wake up early to go for a hike? Once a month? Once a year? Never?! For thirty years people in Maseru have gotten up, driven out to the countryside and then walked around following clumps of shredded paper. Why? Who knows, but to celebrate the 1500th run of the Maseru Hash House Harriers, we organised a Hash to Qiloane Falls.

We visited Qiloane with a group back in November, but this time it was an 80 strong group that traipsed over the hills and into the river to reach the falls. The water was lower this time, which was good for the collected masses, and we brought beer, also good for the collected masses! It wasn’t a normal hash as the route was not dotted and there were no false trails, but it was a challenging hike. The true blue hashers were decked out in the special 1500th edition t-shirt, designed by Cora herself! They feature a lovely representation of the Hash, with adults, kids and dogs all walking amongst mountains to the falls.

The reward at the end of the hike down was sun-drenched rocks, swimming under the falls and lots of hashers enjoying the special day out. People hung about, swam, slept, drank, ate and generally enjoyed a place not regularly visited. The return journey is always harder, but the whole day out was a wonderful celebration of the essence of the Hash in Maseru – getting out into the beautiful Lesotho countryside and exploring what nature has to offer!

 

:: spectacular semonkong ::

“Ntate, can you drive us to pick up the keys for the digger?” These are not the words you want to hear as the weather closes in around you while stuck on a single track road running down the side of a mountain. A truck was stuck in the mud ahead of us and the only solution involved using the digger on the construction site. We never found out why the keys were at a construction office more than 10 kilometres back up the road, but we provided a ride to fetch them and eventually we got through past the stranded truck using an alternate path they created.

Semonkong is solidly in the middle of Lesotho. A small market town surrounded by mountains, it only very recently became more accessible via a 65 kilometre dirt road. The first half of this mountainous road has been tarred, but the second half is still a work in progress, hence the diggers, trucks and mud tracks. In a country of ever improving infrastructure, this was a nice reminder of our surroundings and the power that nature has to turn somewhat challenging roads into a proper test of automotive capacity.

With our temporary tenure as a taxi service and a slightly nervous mud slide behind us, we arrived at Semonkong Lodge well after dark and set about erecting our tents.  Nestled down in a river valley, complete with large overhanging willows and rushing water, it felt more like England than the small mountainous southern African country of Lesotho.

The big draw of Semonkong is Maletsunyane Falls, a 192 meter single drop waterfall. Looking down into the gorge and watching spray lap up the cliff walls, it’s easy to understand how this area is also known as the Place of Smoke. The gorge itself is fantastically beautiful as it suddenly appears from within the rolling hillsides that surround it. A great gash into to the earth, it’s well over 200meters deep in some places and stretches far into the more rugged mountains to the south.

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The best way to get to the falls is on foot or horseback. We hiked it, which took us right into ‘rush hour’ traffic as we navigated past cows, sheep, donkeys, horses, school children and adults – all either heading to town or back from it.  Though we passed through one small scattered village, the majority of people were actually coming from villages unseen behind mountains that even fit people would struggle to walk up.

The views along the way to the falls are immense – enormous green fields running into the base of mountains that reach into the sky.  Dotted along the horizon was the occasional donkey or groups of sheep and cows tended by herdboys cloaked in their traditional Basotho blankets.  The sheer scope of nature and the beauty that surrounded us took our breaths away.

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As we approached the gorge, we wandered along the opposite cliff edge, taking in the awesome scale of the gorge, falls and landscape behind.  From there we could see the small river, no more than twenty feet across, tumbling over the abyss and reforming two hundred meters below. It is truly a spectacle of nature at its finest and one not to be missed. 

IMG_0611001While admiring the views and watching birds of prey effortlessly glide on the up drafts, the clouds darkened and the distant rumbles of thunder echoed across the cavernous landscape. We made it halfway back to the lodge before the storm really closed in on us. Luckily we were able to find shelter under some trees to wait out the worst of it. 

Most of us are brought up learning that you should avoid trees in a storm, but this was by far the safest option we had at the time. Standing in an open field next to rocks whose mineral content attracts the very serious lightning of Lesotho was just not an option.  Watching the storm pass, cowering under its thunder and seeing huge lightning bolts arch across the sky and strike mountainsides was quite an experience. 

Eventually the storm let up and we made our way back through the muddy tracks back to camp and warmed ourselves inside the lodge drinking hot chocolate and playing games. The rain didn’t let up all night and it took the promise of a lovely cooked meal at the lodge to make us move from the cozy confines of our tent. It was well worth the short, wet walk as the food was rich, hearty and warming. We were even treated to some entertainment by some of the men of the village who displayed the gum boot dancing that many Basotho men have acquired from the mines in South Africa. 

The following day dawned bright and dry, so we hiked back to the falls for a second majestic view. Not surprisingly, the water was flowing even more strongly and the plume of smoke seemed to reach halfway across the gorge, lit by the gorgeous sunshine. Our return to Maseru later that day also proved far easier with no unexpected rides or mud slicked mountainsides. Instead we contented ourselves with the glorious landscapes of the Mountain Kingdom in the Sky wherever we looked.

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:: qiloane falls ::

Just before descending the small natural rock staircase, I turned back to look once more at our idyllic spot by the waterfall. The sun shone brightly on the enormous cascade of white water and a small breeze rustled the bushes that our dog Mosa had so unwillingly left moments earlier. It was a place of perfect peace on a sunny afternoon, returned to its natural state after twenty friends and seven dogs enjoyed several fun filled hours amidst its beauty.

Qiloane Falls is not on the tourist trail – if there is such a thing in Lesotho. It is an hour and a half drive up into the mountains east of Maseru and then a lengthy hike over somewhat difficult, and usually wet, terrain. There is a pony trekking centre for those who would prefer four legged transportation, though it would not be an ideal first trip for the complete novice horse rider.

The path to the falls is not marked, which is normal for Lesotho, but it’s easy enough to follow if you have some semblance of an idea of where you are going. The key is to find the river, which seems logical enough if you are looking for a waterfall, but it is especially important because the best way of reaching the waterfall is to walk up the riverbed.

There is a way to stay on dry land, but that is not as much fun as walking up a slippery, potholed river of freezing cold ankle deep water!  In the dry season you can walk all the way to the falls without getting your boots wet, but with the rain we have had lately, this was just not possible.

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The walk was amazingly beautiful with the soft sounds of water running over rocks nestled beneath soaring hillsides and the occasional bird overhead.  The last bend in the river takes you under a large cliff face striated with black rock where you can hear the roar of the main falls echoing above you. At the crest of a small ledge in the river the falls come into view, though still partially hidden by the mountainside.

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Only once you are practically right in front of them, can you see the full sweep of the last part of the falls which are roughly thirty meters across.  Above the largest section are a series of other falls even further up which you can see after hiking up the side – a bird’s eye view from across the way would be the only way to see the true extent of this waterfall.

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We stayed there for several hours and enjoyed the majestic beauty and nature of this special place.  Once the sun came out, almost everyone dared to take a dip in the dark and cold koeetseng, the place of a deep pool of water, to cool off and sit under the powerful roaring falls. Legend has it there is a large serpent living there at the base of the falls but luckily we were not privileged enough to witness such a creature or be impacted by its magical powers.

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As far as waterfalls go, Qiloane Falls aren’t the highest or widest or anything else, but the whole location is a truly special place of natural beauty worth experiencing.

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