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São Miguel Island – Part 2 – Azores – Portugal

Continuing on from my first 3 days of exploring São Miguel Island…

On Day 4 it was time to explore one of the two tea plantations on the island.  We were going to visit the Porto Formoso tea factory for a change of scenery for Pedro (he’d visited the other one previously), but it was closed on Sundays.   So we went to the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana (the oldest tea plantation in Europe) instead.

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

They started growing tea in the Azores after the orange orchards were decimated by a disease in the late 1800’s.  The tea industry was of great commercial importance in the Azores up until WWI, when many of the tea factories closed.  Then, with the emergence of African teas, all the remaining factories – with the exception of the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana – folded.

We started out by walking through the display of machinery they have (unfortunately not a lot of explanation)

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

and discovered the difference between the 3 types of black tea they produce here.  Turns out that Orange Pekoe has the strongest flavour and is made with only the first leaf of the plant, Pekoe is made with the second leaf, and Broken Leaf (mildest flavour) is made with the third leaf.

Buying tea at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

I bought the green tea and the Orange Pekoe. Photo: Pedro Torres

There is free tea tasting at the factory (you can also try the green tea they produce) and they made the best queijada I ate during my whole visit.  If you are there – do try the orange queijada – it is incredible!

After our little snack (and trying to avoid buying more of the orange queijadas “to go”), we went for a stroll through the tea plantation itself.  You really could be in Asia right?  Would have been great to have a tour actually – to learn more about the how the leaves are processed into tea.

Tea plantation at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

From there we continued our drive around the Eastern side of the island, which had some beautiful towns with very typical architecture – black volcanic rock used as decoration on whitewashed buildings,

Typical architecture - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

amazing views

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego viewpoint - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

More hydrangeas! They are everywhere on São Miguel

and delicious food!

Chicharros - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

My favourite dish of the whole trip – Chicharros at Restaurante Costaneira in Ribeira Quente. Photo: Pedro Torres

We ended the day again at another swimming spot – this time the Ponta da Ferraria.  The fascinating thing about this spot is that the water is actually geothermally heated!  On hearing this, I have to admit I was expecting temperatures akin to those found in the hot springs, so you can imagine my shock when it turned out to be only slightly warmer than the temperature of the ocean normally.  OK, admittedly it was high tide so the warm water was being overwhelmed by the cold ocean water (they tell me that at low tide it is so hot that sometimes you can’t enter at all).  And I did manage to find some “mostly warm spots” to hang out in.  Interesting experience!

Ponta da Ferraria - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 5 we headed out again into the classic vistas of São Miguel – happy cows, hydrangeas delineating fields and lining the side of the road, and verdant green hills. 

Typical vistas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We got a more moody vista this time of Lagoa do Fogo on our way to the Caldeira Velha hot springs.

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Lagoa do Fogo in the fog

We didn’t actually go in for a dip at the hot springs here, but just checked out the nature surrounding them.   Essentially – Australian Tree Ferns, Australian Blackwood and Australian Cheesewood trees!  I felt right at home 🙂

Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And I have to put this photo in because I love it so much.  Me trying to take a decent selfie of myself (I still don’t have the knack!)

Selfie time at Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Our plan was to do the 7.5km Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito hike, but we ended up not finding the start point and just ending up at Salto do Cabrito itself.   Oh well.

We walked down an enormously steep hill to arrive at the river below the falls and followed the sign to a mineral water spring.  It was a beautiful spot.

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We refilled our bottles from what I assumed was a still-water spring, so imagine my surprise when I took the first sip and realised that it was sparkling water!   Yes – fizzy water straight out of the ground!  How does that even happen naturally?   And it was different to the normal carbonated water that you buy, somehow it was “softer” – kind of like the sensation you get with sherbet on your tongue.  It was strange but awesome!

Mineral Water Spring at Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We checked out the “Little Goat Waterfall”, which was in itself quite pretty, but unfortunately located right beside a rather noisy hydroelectric plant … “Ah the serenity”!

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And then hiked to the top of the waterfall up a lot of stairs and along a metal walkway which would definitely not meet OH&S requirements in Australia.  Note in the picture below that there is no handrail on the right hand side of the walkway.  While this is fine in this part where it is pretty much flush against a rock wall, there were other (quite elevated) parts where it was just a sheer drop into the abyss!

Walkway above the falls Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We finished the day at my favourite of all the beaches we visited – Praia do Moinhos (it is also Pedro’s favourite).  This beach had waves, wasn’t too crowded and, I don’t know, just was very relaxing and nice.

Praia do Moinhos - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

Day 6 was our to return to Porto.  We had just enough time for a short walk in front of Conceição’s amazing home

Conceição's house - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição’s amazing home where we stayed. Middle image is the view from my bedroom window!

before boarding our Ryanair flight at lunchtime.

Flying over São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Million thanks to Conceição and Laguita (her gorgeous puppy)!  I had a fantastic time and it was wonderful to get to know you both 🙂

Conceição, me, Pedro - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição, me, Pedro and Laguita. Photo: Pedro Torres

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greenland-igaliku-waterfall-hike-tunulliarfik-fjord.jpg

Hiking Greenland – Igaliku Waterfall

The other main day-hike from Igaliku, is the Waterfall Hike (marked in yellow on the map below), which heads off in the opposite direction to the Lakes and Plateau Hike I did yesterday. 

Map and descriptions of each of the hikes out of Igaliku, South Greenland

Every hostel I stayed at in South Greenland had hiking maps on the wall, as well as short descriptions of each hike. Brilliant idea!

I have to admit, I was less excited by this one, because after almost a year and a half of travel, it has to be a truly spectacular waterfall to make an impression.  But once the fog looked like it was clearing, I headed off again.

Tunulliarfik Fjord as seen from the Waterfall Hike near Igaliku in South Greenland

The Tunulliarfik Fjord as seen from the Waterfall Hike

The first part of this hike was mostly along a gravel road that cut through yet more sheep farms.

The dirt farm road that the Waterfall Hike near Igaliku in South Greenland follows initially

And while it was pleasant enough hiking, it wasn’t anything to write home about.  The road ended at the top of a steep hill, and after following the red dots for a while, I ended up at this small lake.

The lake where the Waterfall Hike turns towards the fjord on its way back to Igaliku in South Greenland

Checking out Maps.Me (seriously awesome App), it looked like I’d already stumbled off the trail (even though the red dots led me there), and again, anticipating disappointment with the waterfalls, I decided that the string of lakes heading in the opposite direction on the map looked much more interesting.   So off I set.

Maps.Me screenshot of the mystery lakes I thought looked more interesting than the waterfalls near Igaliku, South Greenland

This is what Maps.Me showed me. Not a lot of detail, but enough to pique my interest. I was at the top right marker and decided to follow the string of lakes to the bottom left marker – a lookout over the large lake

Very quickly, there was no trail, even though there seemed to be the occasional red dot. So, I ended up negotiating bogs (only got 1 shoe in the mud), following sheep trails that seemed to be heading in the right direction until they stopped suddenly (seriously!  How does a sheep trail suddenly stop?  I figure the aliens must like Greenlandic lamb and just beam them up), and bush-bashing through calf-deep vegetation – which turns out to be pretty hard going when also climbing a hill!

A small lake and arctic vegetation, looking up at the rise I was hiking to in my excursion off the Waterfall Hike near Igaliku in South Greenland

OK – so you can see the sheep trail here that I followed for a short way, as well as what looks to be a path going over the hill (it’s not, it’s the river).

Oh – and after 7 days in Greenland during the summer – I finally found the flies I’d read so much about!  Yes, you need to take a head net with you!  Because when you find them (or rather, they find you), they very quickly become unbearable!   Much worse than Aussie flies!   The trick is to remember you have the net on when you go to eat or drink 🙂

Me with my head net on, protecting me from the flies on Waterfall Hike near Igaliku in South Greenland

Doesn’t matter how daggy it looks – you need a head net if the flies find you in Greenland!

Still, it was worth the effort as the third (large) lake I was aiming for was absolutely stunning – especially with the backdrop of storm clouds!    Really, the image doesn’t do it justice!

The beautiful lake I hiked to in my detour off the Waterfall Hike near Igaliku in South Greenland

Seriously – this view was truly amazing. The image doesn’t capture it at all!

I back-tracked to the initial lake to find the main hiking trail again and, although the “unmarked route” on the map called to me, I decided I would go check out the waterfalls.   I quite literally almost stepped on this little guy and his brother who had decided to “hide” right on the walking track (mum was scurrying around nearby being all concerned). 

Images of camouflaged baby birds and their mother on the trail of the Waterfall Hike near Igaliku in South Greenland

Can you spot him in the top left image?

As predicted, the waterfalls were a little underwhelming (not hard when your maximum altitude is ~300m above sea level)

The most impressive of the waterfalls along the Waterfall Hike near Igaliku in South Greenland

So, I followed my first desire and headed back up the cliff to return to Igaliku via the “unmarked route” that skirted around Lake 380 and over the pass heading up to the top of Nuuluk.  This is where I brushed off my orienteering skills (ie map reading skills) from 20 years ago to determine via contours where I should be heading.

The views back over Lake 380 and the Tunulliarfik Fjord were totally worth the effort to climb to the pass!

View of Lake 380 after hiking up to the Nuuluk pass near Igaliku in South Greenland

Spectacular view of Lake 380 and the Tunulliarfik Fjord from the pass heading up to Nuuluk

And once at the top, I could see Igaliku and where I needed to head.

The settlement of Igaliku as seen from the pass heading down from Nuuluk on the Waterfall Hike in South Greenland

I can see it! Now how do I get to it?

The question was getting down there!  Another choose-your-own-adventure ensued, but I made it down eventually, having seen some really awesome landscapes and despite the extremely strong wind that had picked up in advance of bad weather.

Nuuluk mountain as seen from Igaliku at the end of the Waterfall Hike in South Greenland

 

Distance: ~23km via the route I took

Time: ~7 hours

Notes:  Do not attempt the “unmarked route” via Lake 380 and Nuuluk if you are not confident in navigating, and want to walk on a sheep track at least.   I didn’t follow any tracks at all from Lake 380 up and over and down to Igaliku.   I didn’t see anyone else the entire journey.

Discover more about Greenland

If this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland, learn more about this amazing country at Visit Greenland, and check out the wide range of tours of all kinds (not just hiking and trekking) at Guide to Greenland.

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Siete Cascadas – Juayúa

My trip through El Salvador was timed to ensure that I would be in Juayúa (one of the towns along the Ruta de Flores) on the weekend so I could explore the Food Festival that they hold there every week.    The other key attraction of Juayúa is a 5 hour hike called the “Siete Cascadas” or the “7 waterfalls”, and given the amount of food we would be eating, Susan and I decided we’d better get some exercise in as well!

We arranged the trip through the place we were staying – the Hotel Anáhuac – and our guide was there to pick us up at 8am – we were the only 2 on the tour.  We walked out of town (it’s not very big) and picked up another couple of guides along the way – one with 2 legs, one with 4.   Actually the 4-legged one, aptly named Chase, kept testing to see how good our stability was.  He was a young dog and kept falling behind and then racing forward between our legs, often bumping into our calves and/or stepping on our shoes as he raced past.  Here he is gearing up for another charge.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador

The first part of the Siete Cascadas hike was up through steep coffee fields where we got a little explanation of how coffee grows – our guides worked in the coffee fields when they weren’t doing the waterfalls tour.  The trees had already flowered and the green coffee beans were everywhere.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador - coffee growing

At a different time of year, there would be some wonderful views from the top of the ridge, where you can see one of the key volcanic complexes in El Salvador.  However, as is common at the end of the dry season, we mostly got clouds and haze (and bugs!).

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador

The waterfalls are really amazing, and still plenty of water in them despite us visiting at the end of the dry season.  One of the most interesting things is that the water isn’t surface water that flows over a lip of rock to form the waterfall.  It actually emerges from between the rocks.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador

One of the coolest aspects of this trip is that you get to semi-rappel down one of the waterfalls.  It’s not a true rappel, given that it was not a vertical or overhang, you are not strapped in, and you don’t jump and release.   If anything it was slightly more frightening given that you had to rely on your own grip and arm strength to avoid falling.  You would never be allowed to do this in Australia!   This is part of the reason I love travelling in developing countries 🙂

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador - rappelling

It was also very wet business – here’s me looking a tad unco as I make my way down the last part of the waterfall.

 

These are not small waterfalls and I couldn’t imagine doing this tour in the wet season, though our guides told me that they did!

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador

The last couple of waterfalls on the hike form the Chorros de la Calera, where swimming pools have been created at the base of the falls.   These can be reached directly from Juayúa, and the majority of people actually drive most of the way to these falls to enjoy them on the weekend.   When Susan and I arrived, they were very crowded with locals!  Fortunately I had visited earlier in the week on my day trip with Ian and Erika. On that occasion, we were the only ones there and it was beautiful and tranquil.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador - Chorros de la Calera

When we arrived at the first pool, our guides set about unpacking a lunch of baguettes, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, capsicum and tomato.   After a quick meal, we headed into the pools for a swim.   Word of warning – brace yourself for cold water!   Nice and refreshing after a hike, but not water you can stay in for a long time.

The final adventure on this trip was to brave the dark tunnel that links the two waterfalls of the Chorros de la Calera.  This freaked both Susan and I out, but we followed our guide into the dark abyss with hearts racing.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador - tunnels

The first part, walking from the light into the darkness neck deep in water, was the scariest part. Entering completely into the unknown! Fortunately, just as we completely lost the light from the tunnel entrance, the tunnel turned a 90 degree corner and we could see the light from the exit ahead of us.  This put us much more at ease and the added advantage was that rocks protruding from the roof were silhouetted for us to see so we didn’t gonk our heads as we kept nose and mouth (but not much else) above the waterline.  Definitely an experience!  Really glad we didn’t chicken out 🙂

Thanks to Susan, my wonderful travelling companion for the past several days for the video and being my model in the pictures!

 

Recommendation:  It is definitely worth doing the Siete Cascadas tour if you are in Juayúa, or at least visiting the Chorros de la Calera.  Would recommend spending a couple of days in Juayúa actually – it is a lovely little town with some of the best pupusas I’ve had in El Salvador.

Booking:  Arrange through Hotel Anáhuac or Hostel Casa Meseta the day before (or earlier).

Time Required:  About 5-6 hours which includes the hike, lunch and swimming time.

Cost:  US$20 each for the full Siete Cascadas tour (US$2 to just visit the Chorros de la Calera).

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Joya de Cerén Archaeological Ruins

If you’ve spent any time at all in Guatemala or Honduras, you will have seen at least one (and probably several) Mayan ruins.   Tikal in particular is incredible (at least that’s what my memory from 16 years ago tells me), but I have also visited Copán in Honduras, as well as several other lesser-known sites.   All of them are important ceremonial sites that show the elite side of life, rather than how your average, run-of-the-mill Mayan lived.

El Salvador also has quite a few Mayan sites, but they tend not to be as impressive as the more famous locations.   And lets face it, you do get a bit ruin-ed out after a while – just like you get a bit church-ed out or museum-ed out in other parts of the world.

So I had been planning to skip all ruins on this trip through Central America, but was invited by Ian and Erika (a couple who were also staying at the Casa Verde and going overland for a bit as part of their most recent sailing adventure) to accompany them and the driver they’d hired for a day trip to some of the key sights around Santa Ana.   How could I say no?  Our first stop – the ruins of Joya de Cerén.

The good thing is that these ruins are not like all the others!  Joya de Cerén is sometimes known as the “Pompei of the Americas” because it is a pristine site that was suddenly buried under 4-8 metres of volcanic ash when the nearby Volcán Caldera erupted in about the year 590.  Its other unique feature is that it is not a ceremonial site, but rather a simple farming village that shows how ordinary Mayan people lived.  It seems as if the people of the village had time to escape the eruption as no bodies have ever been found, but the items left behind show that they left in a big hurry.

After looking through the museum, we joined one of the free tours of the ruins and I got to practice my Spanish interpretation skills.   Our first stop was “Structure 4” – the building that the tractor sliced through leading to the discovery of the ruins in 1976.  The holes in the wall are actually nests for the Guardabarranco – and there are heaps of them flying around in this area!

Joya de Cerén archaeological site

The next building, “Structure 3” (yes, they are imaginatively named), is thought to be a communal place where the village leaders gathered.  In the doorway you can clearly see some of the 14 layers of ash that fell on the village when the volcano erupted.

Joya de Cerén archaeological site

Then there was the sauna!  The domed roof is partially collapsed but you can clearly see the thermostat above the entrance (the round thing).  This was a wooden plug that was kept suspended by the steam within the sauna.  When the wooden plug dropped, they knew they needed more steam and would have to put more hot rocks into the sauna.

Joya de Cerén archaeological site

They have created a replica sauna at the site and we crawled in to see what it was like.  The door is purposefully small and low to keep the heat in, and the steam is produced by pouring water over hot rocks that are placed in the domed pit in the centre.  It’s actually much bigger than it appears from outside and surprisingly comfortable even though you are sitting on stone benches.

Joya de Cerén archaeological site

The next building was that of the Shaman (medicine person), who may have actually been a woman.  It is one of the most decorated buildings in the complex and the stones slotted into the front of the building may have been benches used for people waiting to see the Shaman.

Joya de Cerén archaeological site

And finally, my favourite, a really interesting look at a typical home for a family featuring 3 distinct buildings.  The closest (round) one is the kitchen complete with a fireplace (the three stones), the one in the middle is the storeroom and the one over the back is the living area (the raised platform is the bed).   Over on the lower left you can even see part of the family’s cultivation area.  Each family home in the village was composed of these three parts, and each family looked after one of the important community buildings.  In this case, given the proximity to the place of the Shaman, the family probably looked after the Shaman’s building.

Joya de Cerén archaeological site

The tour was fascinating and lasted for about an hour – highly recommended if you can understand a bit of Spanish.   The ruins themselves are displayed really well, protected by very large structures that don’t impinge on what you are there to see and with basic information at each structure in English and Spanish.  The modern, on-site museum is air-conditioned (if you’ve spent any time in Central America during summer, you’ll know why this gets a special mention!) and houses artifacts found during the excavation with explanations in English and Spanish. And then there are the beautiful gardens in which the whole thing is set.   Really, really enjoyed this site!

 

Recommendation:  If you want to see how the other half lived in Mayan times, this is a must.  If you’ve visited one (or more) ceremonial Mayan sites, it is also definitely worth a visit and really very different.   Probably easier to visit from San Salvador than Santa Ana though.

Time Required:  About 1.5 hours, depending on how long you spend in the museum and enjoying the gardens/cafe.  The tour is about 45 minutes.

Cost:  Entrance is US$3 for foreigners.

 

 

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Los Tercios – Suchitoto

One of the most advertised things to do in Suchitoto is visit a local waterfall called Los Tercios, 2km from town.  I wasn’t going to bother (there wouldn’t be any water) but decided to join André when he said he was going to do it.

The tourist office organises a free, accompanied trip to Los Tercios at 3pm if there are people interested in going.  This is really just to ensure that tourists aren’t pick-pocketed on the way to the waterfall so we were quite surprised when we ended up being accompanied by a policeman (William) and 3 guys from the army!

Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

Seemed like overkill to us, but I chatted with William quite a bit throughout our hike and he was explaining that because there are not enough police, they always patrol with 3 guys from the army in this way.  He was also telling me about life as a policeman in El Salvador – it’s a tough gig to earn only about 1/3 more than the minimum wage.  Very long hours and the fact that he can be transferred with little notice, meant that he was one of very, very few people over the age of 25 I’ve met that isn’t married with a family.  I asked him why people do it – he replied that at least it was a steady income stream.  Fair enough!

The reason the waterfall attracts so much attention is because of the hexagonal, columna structure of its rocks.   It does look cool, but if you’ve been to Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, you may be disappointed if you go in with high expectations as it is much, much smaller.

Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

View from the top of Los Tercios waterfall in Suchitoto

Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

View from the bottom of Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

Still, we had fun scrabbling around the super-slippery rocks (we’d just had a torrential downpour) to the bottom of the waterfall and back up again, while joking with our protectors.    We also stopped off at the viewpoint overlooking Lake Suchitlan before heading back to Suchitoto (we actually managed to get a free lift in the back of a truck!)

Lago Suchitlan from Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

Two views of Lake Suchitlan

Los Tercios - Suchitoto

William, me, Andre and one of our army dude protectors at the lookout over Lake Suchitoto near Los Tercios waterfall

Recommendation:  Its a nice little trip that isn’t difficult if you have done a bit of rock scrambling in your time.  You could also catch a bus/get a lift to the waterfall which would cut out about 3km of walking, but it’s really not necessary.  Make sure you go with the protection just to be safe.

Booking:  Ask at the Amigos de las Turistas office and they will organise.

Time Required:  About 1.5 hours, but depends on how fast you walk and how long you stay at the waterfall.

Cost:  The trip and the protection are free, but it is customary to give a small tip to the guy who maintains the site.

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