Moca Waterfalls……

After a great hike to the volcanic lake last weekend, we decide to return to Moca and hike to the waterfalls.  Early Saturday morning, two colleagues and I load-up into the Hi-Lux and head south towards Moca.  The drive is typical for a Saturday morning.  Many of the roadside fruit and vegetable stands are full of papayas, pineapples, hot peppers and even a few antelopes.  We pass numerous women with large baskets on their backs, overflowing with bananas and yucca roots, machetes in hand and often bundled goods on their heads, with of course, children in tow.  They are delivering their goods to a local fruit stand in anticipation of the heavy vehicle traffic that will pass all day long.  An unofficial economy flourishes along the road between Malabo and Luba, buyers and sellers meet  all day long to make deals.  After the hour and a half drive, we arrive in Moca and stop first at the Moca Biodiversity Protection Program offices to visit our friends and pick up our guide for the hike.  It’s always a good idea to take a local guide along with you on hikes in Moca, just in case…..  Carlos is our guide for the day.   This time the first leg of our hike we will be going down a few thousand feet to a waterfall vista, then we will climb up on the way back to town.  The old saying “what goes up, must come down” working in reverse today. The hike begins in a pasture, complete with Brahma cattle and wild horses and ends at the beautiful view-point, overlooking a deep ravine.  On the far side of the ravine, two beautiful waterfalls bounce straight down the cliff-face for at least 500 feet, like two silver necklaces shimmering in the sunlight.  The majority of the hike is through thick tropical rainforest, Carlos leads the way.  He clears our narrow path of over-hanging vegetation with his machete as he slowly walks along.  I have learned a new saying here in Africa, where we would say someone is “up a creek without a paddle…”  I think here in Africa, one could appropriately say…”in the forest without a machete…”  Everyone always has a machete in the forest here in Equatorial Guinea!  A very useful tool indeed!  A few students from the Biodiversity center have joined us on the hike, they pause briefly to catch insects and place them into their alcohol filled test tubes, for further investigation back at the Center.  We cross a few small, crystal clear rivers during our descent.  We use the rocks, like a frog uses lilly pads, to hop our way across the rivers.  After about an hour of switchbacks and a few slippery steep sections of trail, we reach our vista-point!  Wow…what a beautiful view, it was well worth the sweat to reach this point.   The weather cooperated and the foggy mist that often obscures the waterfalls on the other side of the ravine lifted long enough for us to take a few pictures.  


The Moca Lake Monster……….

There is a beautiful volcanic lake on Bioko Island near the town of Moca in the southern half of the island.  Located about a 90 minute drive south east of Malabo, Moca is a picturesque town of a few hundred inhabitants, high in the mountains.  I guess everything is relative.  In Switzerland, 2200 meters elevation is not very “high,” but here on Bioko, where most of the people live in the costal cities at sea level, 2200 is a significant increase in elevation. With the increase in elevation, come cooler temperatures.  Moca is usually 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the cities of Malabo or Luba and is a great place to spend the day hiking.  I have hiked to Lake Moca twice before, so this trip will be my third expedition in search of the illusive-creature.  The locals talk of a horse-headed, long necked “monster” that inhabits the lake.  Maybe this time I will see him with my own eyes as he lifts his head out of the chocolatey, misty depths of Lake Moca.  Now that would be a great picture.  I can imagine sitting in the grass, high above the lake on the rim of the dormant volcano, as I look through the mist…. the horse headed beast appears out of the water,  flaring his nostrils as he quickly snorts a breath of fresh air before disappearing from sight.  Ok…. back to reality… I have never seen a “monster” with my own eyes but I do love stories about expeditions in search of creatures long thought extinct.  I have watched numerous episodes of the History Channel’s program “Monster Quest.”  Often in amazement of how much time and energy some adventurers spend looking for “monsters.”  My “expedition” today is more like an afternoon hike than anything else.  My goal is to hike up the mountain trail for about an hour and a half and reach the volcanic lake with my friends in tow, everybody in one piece!  Then pause long enough to take some pictures and re-hydrate before starting our descent back to town.
I park my Hi-Lux next to the old church in Moca that now severs as a classroom for the local elementary school. Adolfo our guide for the hike is waiting for us on the road.  With a big smile, my orange jump suit wearing, machete wielding Equatoguinean friend extends his hand to greet me.  “Estas listo SeƱor” he asks… (am I ready?)  As ready as I will ever be today, I think to myself…. My friends and I adjust our gear and take a last few swigs from our water bottles.  We step off through the patchwork of houses on the way to the mountain trail.  It’s 10:30 AM and still cool, the clouds block the full force of the African sun.  The first few kilometers is on hard-packed dirt and gravel roads through town.  Saturday morning chores are in full swing.  Children fetch water from a pump, filling plastic containers until they spill over.  Others carry heavy cases of sodas or beers, stocking up for the weekend before the stores close.  “Hello Miiiister” shouts a young girl in her best English as she runs by…. I lead the group of 8 hikers and our guide Adolfo brings up the rear.  I know the “guide” usually leads the way, but since I have done this hike a few times before I take the lead.  Adolfo seems very content at the back of the pack, explaining the flora and fauna to one of the inquisitive hikers.  After about 15 mins we reach the trailhead, it’s a foot-wide, hard packed clay trail.  The dry season has treated us well, the trail looks great!  The only downside to the hike will be that it is a steady up-hill climb the entire way, only a few short stretches of “flat-land” where we can find some shade and take a break.  Along the trail there are numerous small gardens, full of carrots, tomatoes and pole beans.  The rich volcanic soil of Moca make it an ideal place to grow just about anything all year long.  after about 20 mins on the trail, I pick a nice shady spot to have a drink and let the rest of the group catch-up.  I am not hiking too fast, it’s just that a few of the hikers are a bit out of shape and move slowly.  That’s fine, no rush today!  After about 10 mins, the group is re-united.  Adolfo’s once nicely zipped-up jumpsuit now un-zipped to the waist and the arms tied around his waist, it’s getting hotter, the full sun is out now.  With everyone re-hydrated, we step off again, heading toward our goal of reaching lake Moca.  Adolfo explains that there will be a fork in the trail and wants to make sure we take the right fork!  Roger, got it…. Right fork!  About 15 mins later, as we slow to re-group again, Adolfo comes forward to tell me that one of the members of the group cannot continue and he will lead him back to town and then join us again at the top.  He hands me the machete and tells me to trim back the vegetation where necessary.  Now I am on a real African expedition…haha… a white guy, with a machete in hand… leading a group of other white guys up an African mountain trail towards a lake with a reported “monster” in it…. man, does it get any better than this?  Haha…. ok back to reality again.  The group continues the slow climb to the top, everyone at their own pace.  The trail is very easy to follow but I do my best to cut back the new growth starting to hang over the trail.  It’s easy to see how after a few months of non-use, the trail would quickly become overgrown!  I am always amazed at the wide variety of vegetation found at different elevations, yellow, blue and purple flowers spring up along the way…. one great photographic opportunity after another!  After about 90 mins of continuos hiking, I am the first to reach Lake Moca.  I pick a spot along the trail to take a drink and wait for the rest of the group.  After about another 25 mins, everyone, including Adolfo has made it…. except our one hiker who cut-out early, everyone is on top, looking down at the beautiful volcanic lake!  Adolfo explains the history of the area and about other groups that have visited the lake.  Like the one group that paid the locals to drag a cayuco (wooden canoe) to the top so they could record the depth of the lake… but as soon as they dropped their sounding device, a measured rope with a rock tied to the end, the rope broke and they lost it into the depths of the lake!  Haha…  He also mentions a group of South Africans who tried their hands at raising cattle and horses in the area in the late 1980s only to leave after a few years…. I love hearing the stories… I always wonder what motivates people…. Interesting!  The lake sits a few hundred feet below the rim of the volcano.  The thick vegetation around the entire rim leave only a few spots where we can take half-way decent photographs.  We all take turns shooting a few pictures, someone always on the look-out for the Horse-Headed Lake Monster.  It’s easy to see how a legend like this has continued for centuries… the lake looks like the perfect spot for a “Loch Ness Monster” type creature to live.  It looks really deep, it’s dark and its misty waters just scream danger!  There is thick green vegetation right up to waters-edge.  Unfortunately, none of us saw the beast during this trip but we will be back, maybe next time!… After about 30 mins on top we all decide to start our slow walk back to town!  Days like these make me grateful for the opportunities I have had to see the world!  Never stop exploring!  
Thanks Adolfo for a wonderful day!   
Below are a few pictures from our “expedition.”   

Above and below, I pause briefly to take a few picture, as you can see it was pretty thick vegetation in some spots.

Below, Lake Moca, as seen from the rim of the now dormant volcano.

Below, during the descent I shot a picture to show how thick the vegetation was on either side of the trail!  I can’t imagine being the first one to hack through the jungle to reach the top centuries ago!


Crab Soup for the Soul…….

Last weekend my African friend Francisco invited me to a party at his home.  He was keen to have me meet his family and enjoy the tastes of some Portuguese dishes from is native Sao Tome and Principe.  He told me to arrive anytime after 10:00 am Sunday morning and we would have lunch around noon.  Francisco lives in the Ela Nguema neighborhood, about a 10 minute drive to the east of downtown Malabo, along the north coast of Bioko Island.  Ela Nguema is a very interesting place, full of activity anytime of day or night.  On any typical day, the small corner grocery stores are busy until the early morning hours with teenagers buying candy, a soda-pop and a 6 pack of beer for their fathers.  The sidewalk bars, complete with plastic chairs and tables are a definite hub of activity, a place to get a cold San Miguel beer, a bowl of Pepe Soup and hear the latest gossip from the neighborhood!  Roadside mechanics, with nothing more than an air compressor and a few hand tools, patch car tires for waiting customers.  A group of children play a game of “futbol” in the street with an empty 2 liter water bottle as a family in their Sunday-best, navigate the potholes on their way to Church or a friend’s house.
I  arrived at about 11:00 am and parked in front of Francisco’s home, surprised I found it without assistance, having only been there one time before to drop him off.  As I exit the car, a young boy, no more than 4 or 5, says, “Oi chino…”  Basically “hey china-man…”  Haha…. there are so many chinese workers in Malabo that the term “Chino” or “China-man” has come to mean any non-black foreigner.  Well, I am a non-black foreigner, so I’ll be “chino” for the moment.  I responded “Oi amigo.”  Francisco’s home is off the street a bit, up a narrow hard-packed dirt walkway.  Sunday must be laundry day, a young girl helps her mother hang wet clothes on the line.  Must be a large family, the weight of all the clothes stretch the line to it’s limit, almost touching the ground in the middle.  A baby, in only a diaper, sits next to a mountain of laundry still waiting to be hung-out to dry, he is completely occupied with a set of skateboard wheels attached to a stick.  Francisco and his wife are in the small courtyard next to their front door, preparing the meal.  The first time I meet his wife she has on an apron and a large butcher-knife in her hand.  She wipes her hands on her apron and apologizes for her appearance.  We shake hands and she calls her daughters out of the house to meet me. After the obligatory 2-cheeked kisses, the girls return to their chores, preparing the Sunday meal.  Francisco’s wife continues to chop-up the crabs for our crab soup.  What can I get you to drink, asks Francisco?  A coke will be fine, I thought everyone has coke….right…?  Yes, as luck would have it, he quickly returns with an ice cold can of coke.  The other lunch guests begin to arrive, some in jeans, some in just shorts and no shirts and no shoes.  I feel better, realizing that I have not under dressed in my Levi and T- shirt combo!  By noon, the small courtyard of maybe 10 ft by 30 ft in size is full of friends and neighbors, maybe 30 people or more.  The meal consists of crab soup and a pork and bean stew, both very delicious!  Some of the guests brought their own bottles of wine and beer, San Miguel of course.  When the initial supply runs out,  teenage boys scramble to the corner store for another six pack or two!  African hip-hop music blasts from the small boom box in the corner of the courtyard, am I the only one who doesn’t understand the French lyrics?  There seems to be an endless supply of soup, stew and beer…. after more than one bowl of each, I am full!  “No mas,” Thank you!  After a few hours of eating, drinking and story-telling, the drunks decide it’s time to start to dance.  One over-weight guy in his mid-30s does his best African booty-shaking routine, knocking over a table in the process, causing everyone to laugh hysterically!  These people are alright!  By about 2:00 pm, the other guests start to depart.  Many have other commitments, other parties to attend later that afternoon.  Francisco and his family are wonderful hosts, I never felt like the foreigner, just one of the many friends at the party.  As I get ready to leave, I thank he and his wife for a wonderful lunch and I am reminded by Francisco that … “Mi Casa es tu casa”  My house is your house!  Thanks Francisco for a great day!

Above, the bean and pork stew, very tasty!

Below, the scene of the party, just before the other guests arrive!