The valley floor catches the cascade from Lower Gocta, a two-tiered waterfall that begins in Cocachimba.
The valley floor catches the cascade from Lower Gocta, a two-tiered waterfall that begins in Cocachimba.
For The Washington Post
Correction to This Article
An Oct. 15 Travel article incorrectly described the Gocta waterfall in Peru as being 25 stories tall. At more than 2,500 feet, Gocta would be about 250 stories tall.
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After the Falls

We sat for an hour, having lunch and getting our brains around Gocta. It took another hour to reach the upper base of the falls, where I picked my way over soaking rocks to look down at the thundering impact zone 50 yards away. The boulders within the falls were red with some mineral patina, or maybe just raw from centuries of flaying. I was soaked in seconds, looking up to bathe my face in an ecstasy of proximity.

Then, feeling oddly rushed, as if the promised tourist boom was about to appear on the trail, I stripped off my clothes and dove into the freezing pool. (Okay, I lowered myself gingerly into the freezing pool.)

In Its Mist

There are no safe trails connecting the upper and lower sections of Gocta, so we backtracked to the van. By dusk, we had reached the other side of the valley and the tiny village of Cocachimba, gateway to Lower Gocta. Dover asked around and arranged for us to camp in the yard of an Adventist church. He paid a neighbor woman to stir up her outdoor fire and boil us some fine chicken and rice. We ate, fended off stray dogs and played with our cook's two sweet and baffled children. We turned in, in utter silence under bright stars.

Of the 20 or so Adventist parishioners who showed up for the 5 a.m. singing service, about 15 of them tripped over my tent line.

It took us about three hours to reach the true bottom of the waterfall, a natural rock amphitheater where Gocta releases its final energy in an everlasting explosion of wet. When the falls are running at their max, the guide said, the entire end of the valley is consumed and unapproachable. But in September, we were able to scramble to the edge of the pool. I even put on my hardiest rain gear, thinking I might get close enough to touch Gocta's very hem. Bad idea. Within 20 yards, the shrieking blow of mist nearly tossed me off my feet.

I slunk away in a soggy crouch, about as happy as I'd ever been.

No doubt they will make this easier in coming years. But they will not make it better. Paved roads, nearby hotels, scenic overlooks will allow more people to see this place, which is good. And they will mean more money for local people, which is great. But I was glad to fight for it a bit, glad to have jumped bare into the thing and elbowed my way into the hurricane heart of its final plunge.

By the end, I didn't visit this waterfall. I had an affair with it. And that was more than I ever expected.

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