Monday, 22 February 2010

El Voodoo Climbs a Waterfall

This morning I breakfasted on three pints of water, one of coffee and a native version of Walls’s classic ‘Feast’ choc ice. Then, equipping myself with camera, towel, two packets of peanuts and a large bottle of mineral water I struck out at half past nine for the famous Montezuma waterfalls, feet stowed in the trusty Merrell walking shoes.

Located a short walk from the town, the waterfall trail opens out from a secluded, tree shrouded car park. I crossed the car park, pausing only to note an extremely obese man and couple of unremarkable middle aged men half his size shepherding a trio of rather obviously, um, enhanced, females toward the start of the trail. Putting testosterone to one side for the moment I got stuck into the trail.

As I began following the stream through the forest, hopping goat-like from rock to rock, one thing became immediately clear: the Merrells had not been a waste of money or weight allowance. Whilst others gingerly picked their way along the right hand bank of the stream, I was scrambling from side to side, pursuing the shifting patterns of light and shade as I attempted to capture the alien environment with the Nokia. Simultaneously, I was recapturing a sensation of exploration and physical fluidity that was very much a part of my childhood and has been so very lacking in my urban, warehouse dwelling twenties.

I rounded a corner and beheld the first waterfall. This is the smallest of the three and the most accessible. I hung around for a while, taking a gratuitous number of photographs in the hope that I might espy the lovelies from the car park again. In the end I decided that they were obviously incapable of independent movement and once more resumed my hike.

As I bounced, hopped and slithered across the sometimes damp rocks, steadying myself with a judiciously grabbed creeper from time to time, I saw tiny little fish, more iguana (one quite large and close, though it ran before I could get its photo) and the most amazing butterflies, all sunshine yellow and electric blue. Sadly my patience and equipment were not up to the task of recording them so you’ll have to take my word for it.

The second waterfall, which is where most people stop, is really quite special. As you might imagine the noise rather gave it away as I advanced along the stream bed and then it emerged from the thick foliage, everything I had hoped for and more. Descending majestically over 30m of rocky escarpment it empties into a deep and cool pool where conveniently located rock formations provide natural diving boards at height of roughly two, four and ten metres. There were already a few bathers wallowing in its soothing green waters or diving, whilst others sat at the side, taking in the glorious environment and resting before returning. Or, as was my plan, attempting the next stage. I ate the first packet of nuts.

Before long a bunch of Californian language students (all female) I’d been blathering on in my self-aggrandising way to the night before arrived; as they seemed more inclined to jump in the pool and scream at each other than allow me to continue conducting my personal brass band in their general direction I reasoned it was time to see waterfall three.

Now, whilst the first two waterfalls are for the majority of people eminently reachable, the third, highest waterfall is an entirely different proposition. At first I looked at the near vertical ascent and reasoned I must be looking in the wrong place. A quick word with a fellow explorer (tourist) confirmed that this fifteen metre free climb was, in fact, my destiny. Consoling myself with thoughts of my climbing days at the Mile End wall, and putting thoughts of ropes and crash mats (and their absence) from my mind, I put boot to rock and started to climb.

It wasn’t particularly hard going, the slope was a good few degrees from vertical and handy tree roots and vines provided solid, manageable hand- and footholds. My mind did briefly conjure images of the old ‘hero grabs snake masquerading as vine’ routine, but I deemed these thoughts ridiculous and ploughed on. Looking down was a mistake though, thrusting as it inevitably did my heart firmly against my not-so-pearly-whites.

View from near the top of my climb down onto the 2nd waterfall's pool

It’s a long way up to waterfall three, involving inching along precipices, paths that terminate in breathtaking views over falls of certain death, and, basically, proper rock climbing. By the time I slithered down to the shady ledge overlooking the drop pool I was sore and shaking. But immensely proud of myself for not wussing out or dying.

The top of waterfall 3

Rejecting the calls of some more muscle-bound locals to make a frankly ridiculous dive into the pool from yet another brain-buggering height, I ate the second packet of nuts, drank most of the water and set off back down before my muscles seized up and rendered me immobile. Despite the exhaustion, I was riding high on adrenaline. A more experienced climber pointed out the ideal descent route – before doing it at triple my speed despite being around fifty years of age.

Having made it back to the swimming pool I figured I should have a bit of a dive. I’ve never swum in a natural pool before. Hot and sweaty as I was from the climbing it was about as revitalising as that adrenaline shot into the heart was for Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. I will confess to only tackling the baby dive though: I’ve got a video of a couple of guys doing the top ledge and it’s no joke.

After letting the fearsome Central American noon-time sun scorch the water from my body I practically ran back along the path I’d cautiously picked at on the way there, pausing only for a quick chortle at yet more American girls who’d decided to do the trail barefoot. Arriving back at the first waterfall, I discovered what the obese man and his gaggle of beauties had been up to all this while: an all-nude photoshoot in the plunge pool of the first ‘fall. Acting on the principle of 'pictures or it didn't happen', I grabbed an obligatory voyeur shot and skipped back to Shitezuma. An altogether pleasant morning.

Voodoo out.

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