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 Señor” 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!

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I am an adventure-loving American man, with a severe case of wander-lust and a desire to experience as much of this wonderful world as humanly possible. Every place I have visited or lived has taught me something about life and helped me grow. For me, traveling opens my eyes to how similar the human race is, yet at the same time, how unique we all are. I hope this blog will motivate you to put down the TV remote, dust off your backpack and decide to take a chance on an adventure. It can be a walk in a new neighborhood 2 miles from home or a trip to a far off distant land. I have lived in or visited over 50 countries during my life and hope to see many more. I want to share my experiences. I hope you enjoy the blog. -WAND3R3R, Somewhere on the Globe, 2014.