Thursday, 19 June 2014

Ecuador – the Devil’s Cauldron

Tourists posing on the viewing platform
The Church of England has recently delisted the Devil – he (or she?) no longer exists. Worshippers who were once invited to “renounce the Devil and all his works” are now to be invited to “fight against the power of evil.”
It’s a shame; I’ve always been rather fond of the Devil and if this new, modernist policy is adopted more widely many of our great religious works of art, to say nothing of numerous geological features, will need to be adapted or renamed.
Take the Pailon Del Diablo for example. This violent waterfall, just outside Baños in Ecuador, translates into English as “The Devil’s Cauldron” and “Waterfall in the Deep Gorge” just wouldn’t sound as good.
It’s an impressive natural feature, but not easy to find, even though it’s just off the main road from Baños to Puyo. In a country where rules governing signs are non-existent, you’d expect there would be a massive hoarding with a picture of a blonde girl in a bikini pointing the way (blonde girls in bikinis are the standard image in Ecuador for advertising anything), but the operators are remarkably modest about this attraction.
The Pailon Del Diablo is off the old road, which is a tiny track (best suited for mule trains not HGVs) that winds in and out of the rock face on the steep valley. Where the new road tunnels through solid rock, sections of the old route are now cut off and stranded like an ox-bow lake. The entrance to Pailon Del Diablo stands on such a section.
Bottom of the falls
Getting to it requires a long walk through cloud forest down a steep track. When you get to the bottom, you discover that you have to pay to see it. The operators should really have made it clear that there was an entrance fee at the top of the track. Clearly, they think that having walked all that way, you’re not going back up without seeing it (and they’re right). However, the fee isn’t high, just a couple of dollars, and they have built numerous viewing platforms and bridges so you can get a good view. 
The waterfall plummets into a steep, narrow gorge and this isn’t a waterfall that you can stand and admire, you have to get involved in it. To enjoy a proper view, you have to  get wet, covered in spray, climb narrow paths to get higher up and appreciate the drop, then finally wriggle through a narrow, low passage to emerge at a platform near the top of the falls where the river plunges into the gorge. Standing at the top section means you will get very wet, but it’s worth it.

The walk back up the track to the road is quite a puff and the trudge was relieved by meeting a couple of local dogs, who were very friendly and trotted along with us for a while. I’d found one of Holly’s dog biscuits in the pocket of my cagoule and offered it to my new friends as a treat. These Ecuadorian dogs clearly had never seen a dog biscuit and had no idea what to do with it – they certainly didn’t recognise it as food and left it by the track.
Folded rock strata in the gorge.