Hiking in socks is a thing.
The powers-that-be (really, the guides who do this multiple times a week and have a much better understanding of the trek conditions that I do) suggested shoeless as the way to go. I am paying good money (really, it is good money, as I paid in USD from my American account and not bolivars from my Venezuelan one) for their wisdom, so crazy as it may be, an adventure in socks seemed like the perfect way to kick off the weekend.
Have a little faith.
We defied death and made it to Canaima National Park in our mosquito of an airplane, bypassing the normal overnight stop needed to get to the wilderness. This extra bit of time afforded to us by taking the private plane let us go on an adventure almost as soon as we set (socked) foot in the small town that is the gateway to Angel Falls.
After dropping our bags in our hotel room and giving the hammock outside a quick try, we met up with Joe (you know, Jose from this blog entry) and headed out, uncertain of our destination. All we were told was to wear swimsuits and socks- we would be leaving out shoes behind.
Those are slightly odd instructions, but not ones that I gave a whole lot of extra thought to. We quickly changed, ate a fast meal, and hopped in our first boat of the weekend.
It was a short paddle across the river to a set of six waterfalls (less when the water is higher and they merge into one another) that were our destination for the afternoon. Pulling up to the base of one, we were told to ditch the shoes and come ashore, as we would be hiking in socks for the afternoon! (Man, I am glad I had on cheap $2 socks from Old Navy. Jumping ahead a few hours, those socks went directly into the trash bin back at the hotel. They were not made for the rocks and roots and rivers of Venezuela! It was a worthwhile tradeoff.)
We headed up a trail that while quite steep, was short and not too painful. (The next day, I would have given most anything to have that first trail back!) With a single pathway ahead of us, we followed it up and over a ridge, quickly finding ourselves BEHIND a waterfall! Standing there with massive amounts of water thundering down just mere feet away, our own stocking feet standing in puddles made from the heavy mist (it was more than a mist but less than the falls itself- like a steady, never-ending rain) was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (We had many of those over that quick three-day weekend.)
The word magical conjures up the idea of unicorns and rainbows and fairies, but that really was not far off from the feeling of standing behind the waterfall, removed from the world, transported to another, more enchanted place. It would not have been a huge surprise to see a unicorn grazing on the moss of the falls or a fairy flutter through the mist. There were definitely rainbows! Everywhere we turned, the light was bending into colorful arcs and swaths as the water-soaked air swirled around us.
While I could have stayed in that hypnotizing cavern forever, after a dip in the falls to “wash away the city” we headed up the path to the top of the falls. Because it is the start of the dry season in Canaima, we were able to get up over the ridge and look down on the waterfalls and river below, a panorama of the space that was incredible to take in. I stood on a rock with water flowing around me on both sides, over the edge into the waterfall we had just been standing behind, and down into the river where it foamed up into a roiling rage before settling in to be the calm river below.
Blinded by the sun heading towards the horizon, we had one last stop on our afternoon outing. After an easy climb back down the rocks, we made a tight turn away from the original waterfall and headed down a narrow, steep path. Once again, mostly rocks and roots, my socks took a beating. (It was at this point that I noticed the first hole and realized that my cute polka-dot socks were on their last adventure.) This last path emptied us into a tea-colored chest-high pool churning with the water from the falls above.
What is one to do but wade on in?
While the guide waited with his trusty companion (Ra, his Rottweiler, was with us much of the weekend), Thad and I headed on in, fighting against the current to stand beneath the thunder of the falls. (Joe insisted that there was no possible way for us to be washed over the edge of the falls, even though we were still al level up from the river. He promised that the boulders made a complete wall between the ledge and us. I believed this about 90%, but still kept a leery 10% skepticism and clung to rocks as much as possible.)
In general, I am a fan of a strong stream of water in the shower and this was a perfect massage of water beating down from above. (Don’t get me started on my dislike of those “rainfall” shower heads that have become popular in the last decade. I do not like them. Yes, it is a lovely and soft experience, but I want the dirt sandblasted off of me in the shower! And those gentle rainfall ones are terrible at getting the shampoo out of my hair. I need more power than that. Water pressure, please!)
Tired and ready to wrap up the day, I was happy to see our boat at the bottom of the last waterfall. Getting to where we were currently standing was quite a steep downward climb, so I wasn’t super thrilled at the prospect of doing that again, uphill, and still in socks, but alas, it is the way of hiking- wherever you go down, you must go back up. (Am I the only one who spends the entire downward hike thinking about how I’m going to have to come back up each and every step?) Today was my lucky (?) day though! Just as I was mentally gearing myself up for the return journey, Joe announced that we were going down instead- down the rock edge of the waterfall.
You know, that place that there is no trail and is not meant for humans (in socks!) to descend.
Following closely on Joe’s heels, trying to use his exact same path, over the edge of the rocks I went. It was mostly me skootching on my rear end, trying to stretch my legs as far as they would go to make connection with the next slightly-horizontal surface. With everything wet and mossy, it was just a matter of trying to make the slide from rock to rock as graceful and undramatic as possible. (I only cracked my knee once this time around, and no not-so-friendly words fell out of my mouth, although they did cross my mind a few times.) Finally, my socked feet hit solid (although pebbly) ground and into the boat I clambered, thankful to be in one piece, with nothing more serious that a few knee scrapes and a pounding heart.
I’ve done my fair share of hiking, but this was definitely a first for me. Leave the shoes behind. Venture out in socks. It’s the traveler’s version of dancing in the rain.
Photo credit: T. Ross