The Finding of the Lost Cataract, by David Dusster

The Finding of the Lost Cataract, by David Dusster

In a world as mapped as the one that appears on screens thanks to Google, there are still natural phenomena to discover, although perhaps it would be more appropriate to refer to exploring or visiting, because some satellite, GPS, drone or other device surely already has located any virgin place that remains on the planet. This introduction comes to the story that an unknown waterfall has recently been found in the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, in Bolivia, and that should be a stimulus for all those who see the trip as a way of dreaming.

We are not talking about Niagara or Iguazú type falls, imposing and thunderous waterfalls that attract thousands or millions of tourists every year, but neither about a trickle that dries up in the dry season. According to the national park authorities, who sent an expedition of rangers to verify the discovery, the fall is between 12 and 18 meters high and about 70-80 meters wide, generating a natural pool of about 70 meters at the bottom. meters wide by 120 long, with an island that divides the pool of water in two.

The Lost Waterfall Discovered in Bolivia’s Noel Kempff National Park


The place has been named the Lost Waterfall in allusion to the Lost City of Z, which is supposed to be hidden somewhere in the Amazon jungle. The remains of that ancient civilization were what the English explorer Percy Fawcett was looking for, one of the references on which the Indiana Jones film character was inspired. Fawcett believed that Z was the mythical Eldorado and that was when he left Cuiaba, in present-day Brazil, in 1925 to find it. He was never heard from again, as a 2016 film starring Charlie Hunna recounts.

Noel Kempff Mercado also had a tragic fate, the Bolivian naturalist who gives his name to the national park where the waterfall was found, on the Verde River, which forms the border between Bolivia and Brazil. It was in 1986 when the plane that was transporting the researcher and the rest of the members of a scientific expedition landed on a dirt track in the middle of the jungle with the bad luck that it was a place of drug trafficking operations, which riddled the well-meaning newcomers. . It was the time of Pablo Escobar’s heyday, when the drug spread throughout South America like a mantle of easy wealth with an expiration date.

Noel Kempff, the naturalist who gave his name to the park where the waterfall was found, had a tragic end, like the explorer Percy Fawcett

In Bolivia there are still drug trafficking operations on clandestine tracks in the jungle, but the area where Noel Kempff died was transformed into a national park declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its exceptional landscape values. And despite this recognition, it remains one of the most remote places in Bolivia and South America. There are no paved roads that lead to its interior and there are pitiful dirt tracks that get muddy with the rains. The forest rangers had to walk seven kilometers to find the waterfall. The few curious people who dare to go to the park every year need a lot of will and time and logistics, but the reward is being able to see a unique place, far removed from the tourist hustle and bustle and overcrowding, without human settlements, in the Amazon basin.

It is one of the remote experiences – less and less – that can be enjoyed. The remote has always been a great motivation for travelers. Trying to go where few have gone before, embarking on an adventure to achieve it, or simply having to give up the usual comforts. Not so many decades ago, remote came to be synonymous with distant, and to a lesser extent, with exotic. But the rules have changed in this globalized world, because of planes and Wi-Fi.

Not so long ago, remote was synonymous with distant, but the rules have changed in this globalized world, thanks to airplanes and Wi-Fi.

The furthest thing I’ve ever been to, on paper, is the Marquesas Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. To get there I had to fly to Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, via Paris and Los Angeles. In total about 18 hours of flight, and then four more hours in a propeller plane to Nuku Hiva airport, in the Marquesas.

This archipelago was the home of the painter Paul Gauguin and the singer Jacques Brel and in fact their graves can still be visited in Nuku Hiva. But if Gauguin had to wait months and months before being repatriated – he later recovered financially and decided to return to the Marquesas until he died there – today, in Taiohae Bay, the island’s main port, you can hook up with the rest of the world via Wi-Fi… for a more than reasonable price, as is the case throughout French Polynesia.

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Nuku Hiva is remote, there is only one road that winds like a poorly stitched scar along the ridge that bisects the island and leads from the airport to Taioahe. To go to the great waterfall, Vaipo, you have to rent a boat, walk and wade through a large river. But everything is correctly placed on the map, even the tikis, ritual stone totems. Luckily, in another bay on the island, Anaho, the only restaurant was closed and I was left wondering if Wi-Fi had also reached the sparse area immortalized by Robert Louis Stevenson in his book In the South Seas. It would have been a bath of too cruel realism in one of the most beautiful beaches in the Pacific, which can only be accessed by sea or on foot.

The best of all is that although it is increasingly difficult to walk or even imagine remote places, as has been seen now in Bolivia, there is always a waterfall to discover and a little communicated place that most of the time never goes beyond being a point on the map we can never reach but that makes us dream of the worlds that were and that we imagine.

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Raymond Portell

Church of the Presentation of the Virgin, in Barsana, prototype of the traditional temples of Maramures


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