El Cora Waterfall

Our first stop out of San Blas, was the El Cora waterfall. We had been told about it in the youth hostel and I had then found a walking route to it. We got up early that morning, in order to try and avoid the hotter part of the day. By the time we parked up at the trailhead and left the cars, it was still 9am and getting hot. The hike was 16km with a 500m elevation gain, there’s nothing like dropping yourself in the deep end after not hiking for months. I can barely remember what it’s like to wear shoes. Still, the promise of a good waterfall, whose pool you swim in sounded good. 

We had parked right by the road under the shade of a tree for the benefit of the cats. It became apparent as we walked further that we could have driven more and parked at the river, a really nice spot. We decided that if we ran out of time to find a place to stay later, we could just drive the campers down here and park at the river. 

After carefully crossing the river, the cobbled stone track gets rougher, and turns into a completely unmade road that ascends through plantations of jackfruit trees.

Jackfruit tree

Although we had started a little later than planned, we were fortunate that the majority of the walk so far was in the shade. A local farmer clattered past us up the track on his horse. 

My feet remembered what shoes were like and protested, after half an hour I had blisters on both feet. At least we had brought plasters, but they were terrible ones. The walking is an easy to follow track, with a few sections that are flooded and require navigation. I was doing quite well keeping my feet dry, until Lee threw a rock in the water for me to stand on in an attempt to be helpful. Unfortunately, it had the effect of splashing water on the smooth clay bank I was trying to cross making it ridiculously slippery. I got two muddy wet feet at that point. 

After a while, the walk came out into an area of small hills and the sunshine. It was beautiful scenery, but very hot to be hiking in the sun. I was glad we had brought so much water, we had already drunk one big bottle. 

Around an hour or so in, we got to a long tunnel through the mountain.

this would have been fairly nondescript, if it hadn’t been full of bats. The roof wasn’t particularly high, so as you walk through in the darkness, guided only by the light of the opposite end, bats swarmed around you. Although I’m not scared of them, I don’t think I would have been too happy if one of them had got it wrong and hit me in the face. Fortunately, they didn’t, and we watched from the other end as Kikki and Hanno walked through the swarm.

Continuing onwards and upwards, we were occasionally rewarded with views of the lush mountain surroundings. Creepers hung from the trees and tropical butterflies flitted between flowering plants. It was a picturesque hike, to be sure.

We kept steadily climbing, the sun burning down on us in the gaps between the trees. It was a good few hours before we reached the village at the top of the path. This was the access where it is possible to drive the majority of the way to the waterfall, it does however mean a massive detour on hairpin mountain roads and therefore saves no time compared to walking up. Plus, we would have missed all of this.

Once at the highest point, the path continues past the end of the village and continues onwards for a kilometre or so. We were overtaken by around twenty very enthusiastic mountain bikers on the way. The waterfall access became apparent by the heap of bikes at the bottom of the path. Looking over the ridge of the small peak we were perched on, we got a view of the waterfall for the first time.

The trail we were following said it was a circular route, which looked like a good idea seeing how steep the descent to the pool was. we walked down the long grasses taller than us, picking our way on some higgeldy piggeldy steps that zigzag steeply down the side.

We passed a few very sweaty and out of breath bikers making their way back up, and hoped we wouldn’t have to do the same. We were also lucky that by the time we arrived at the bottom, the pool was deserted and we had the whole place to ourselves. Time for a swim.

We cooled off in the water for a while. It was slightly disconcerting to swim in the pool which was a slightly milky colour, as it places it was incredibly deep, while in others it had massive boulders, unseen, just a few feet below the surface. It gives you an idea of the daytime temperature, when swimming in a mountain stream is simply cool and refreshing as supposed to cold. We also used this opportunity to use our lifestraws to fill up our water bottles. Carry enough water for the hike was pretty heavy, so it was nice to be able to get some fresh water at the top. My straw optimistically suggested that it would ‘help prevent diarrhoea in the wild’, sounds good to me.

Sufficiently cool and rested, we decided to try and find the path that continued on. We had a GPS route from Alltrails, and a vague description by someone’s review on the app. It said the path was indistinct, and to follow the river. We started off doing this, crossing it a few times as the ‘path’ ended. Here and there it looked a little bit like a trail, but not really. Lee decided to trail blaze, we didn’t want to climb all the way down the large waterfall we had come to and then have to go up it again. He assured us we could keep going, so we gingerly climbed down and crossed the river again.

Now, I am fully aware of Lee in hiking mode. There is no such thing as ‘turn around’ or ‘no path’. He will continue to go until it is physically impossible. This does’t bother me, we’re much the same. We’d pretty much scale a sheer cliff face that’s twice as hard as the way back to avoid turning around. I’m not sure Hanno and Kikki share in this however, and i don’t think they would have been impressed to find the way impassable and turn back. It looked like a bit of gamble, despite this happy smiling face, the rock face drops steeply down another waterfall and who knows what’s at the bottom.

We made it down the next waterfall, climing on all fours down large boulders and round trees. As Lee was in front he took the majority of spiders cobwebs out of the way for us and gave vague directions around some of the worst parts. We crossed the river another few times. I sensed Kikki wasn’t impressed, but at least we got some views of some other nice waterfalls that are probably seldom seen.

We carried on for a while, picking our way through the jungle. According to the GPS we would rejoin the path soon, but it never seemed to come despite being only a few metres above us. Eventually we made it to a bend in the river and some fencing, here at last we picked up a path. It looked to be more of a cow path, but it headed in the right direction. We began to climb up and away from the river, I was getting rather tired by this point and I can tell you now, that just shy of a month later, my blisters still haven’t healed completely. We didn’t have much choice of path to follow, but at least there was a path going in roughly the right direction. It hand recently been maintained too which was lucky for us. After a while, we emerged back into jackfruit plantations and onto a track that rejoined our original route up. It had been some detour, and definitely no easier than returning back up all those steps, I was glad to at least now have a gauge of how long I had to keep my shoes on for.

The small uphill sections seemed steeper than they were as I hobbled along behind everyone at a snail’s pace. Large sections of the path had improbably large ruts in them which I have no idea how any four wheeled vehicle would get through, it seemed that one had managed however. The once dry sides around the massive puddles were now slick with wet mud, making crossing a risky business. It was only after we crossed this last one, that we realised there was a small path around the back all along.

The end was now in sight, but it felt like an age before we got to the river which marked the end of the trail. At the beginning we all carefully picked our way across wanting to avoid wet feet, now we waded straight through it, cleaning off our muddy trainers and enjoy the cool water on our aching feet.

With the afternoon coming to an end, we walked the last short distance to the campers and brought them back down to camp by the river. Then, despite the interest of the passing locals, I sat on a rock in the middle of the stream in my underwear and had a jolly good shower. I wasn’t the only one, we were all hot and dusty from a long hike and being camped by the river was a deserved treat and also surprisingly bug free. A lovely peaceful night followed, once I had managed to haul myself up into bed that is .

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