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!