Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gocta Waterfall and its sexy mermaid monster

Is this the most amazing swimming pool in the world?
Infinity pool at Gocta Lodge hotel, Peru
The infinity pool at Gocta Lodge hotel
This is the infinity pool at the Gocta Lodge hotel in Cocachimba, Peru. The pool looks out across the stunning mountains of Amazonas and the Gocta waterfall – which may, or may not, be the third highest waterfall in the world, depending on who you listen to.

Until 2005 the Gocta Cataracts were unknown to the outside world. Of course, the locals knew about it but were afraid to reveal the secret because they were afraid of a beautiful mermaid who haunted the plunge pool.

This corking, blonde siren could enchant locals with just a flutter of her eye-lashes. This was the fate of unlucky, local villager Juan Mendoza, from Cocachimba, who fell in love with the mermaid. As he strode lustfully into the icy water, unfastening his belt as he went, the mermaid turned him into stone.

An unlikely tale, perhaps? Well I thought so too, but I actually saw the petrified rock of Mendoza with my own eyes – which goes to show, sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction.

Sexy gold fish! The petrifying mermaid of Gocta (not, in fact, Daryl Hannah from Splash)
Petrification is not her only power... the watery tart is also guarded by a vicious serpent. I couldn't find out much information about her snakey sidekick which is a shame because I really warmed to him, a much more likeable character in my opinion.

Anyway, in 2005 a German explorer – with the wonderfully Teutonic name of Stefan Ziemendorff – called a press conference to announce the discovery of Gocta. Unfortunately for Stefan he enlisted the help of the Peruvian (rather than the German) government to help him measure the height and categorise the falls. They made a complete hash of it and poor Stefan was left with egg on his face after proclaiming it the third highest waterfall in the world.

It wasn't long before some eminent geographer performed a Wikipedia search and discovered the Gocta falls were actually way down in 18th place on the list of highest waterfalls in the world.

In fairness, the list is a bit of a con. In the top spot is a boring borehole the Russians drilled to find out how deep it was possible to penetrate the earth's crust (well, that's their story anyway). And in second place is an underwater waterfall in the Denmark Strait, caused by a change in ocean temperature. 

Gocta waterfall Peru
Gocta Cataracts
Wherever it sits on the chart, the Gocta Cataracts are 771 metres tall – which is not to be sniffed at.

You can walk to the Gocta falls from two villages. The route from Cocachimba takes you to the bottom of the waterfall. The route from San Pedro takes you to the midway point.

I walked both on consecutive days – each takes about six hours (providing for an hour or so to enjoy the views and drink a flask of tea). The route from Cocachimba is steeper and more challenging. The route from San Pedro probably has the most spectacular views, because of its elevation, and is also more level.

The mountains around Gocta look like the computer-generated planet in Avatar. They rise out of the clouds with sheer vertical sides and are crowned with dense jungle. The skies are filled with flocks of screeching, green parrots. Hummingbirds and llamas complete the picture. This part of the Andes is known as the ceja de montana – or the eyebrow of the mountains.

The altitude is around 2,000 metres, so the air is humid and the sun (in December) is merciless. The walk from Cocachimba passes through sugarcane fields, and traverses narrow rope bridges (to fulfill all your Indiana Jones fantasies).

Like with so many of the other stunning sites in this remote part of northeastern Peru, there are hardly any other tourists to spoil your day.

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