Canoes, Cascades, and Cameras…Huasteca Potosina, Part Two

Huasteca Potosina is often referred to as a “water wonderland,” or place of “aquatic adventures.”    For the next two days, we will be spending time canoeing and floating down rivers, swimming in caves, and jumping off waterfalls.    A photography enthusiasts dream!  So one would think what a great opportunity to use those four snazzy new dry bags I bought myself for Christmas, right?  Or the GoPro knock-off waterproof camera. If only they weren’t 1,000 miles away, back in the Winnie!

As I mentioned before, the entrepreneurial Mexican people always seem to have what you need, when you need it.   And wouldn’t you know, at each of these aquatic adventure locations, they have vendors selling waterproof cases….only they are for phones. None large enough to fit my Canon G7X.    For someone who is used to shooting at least a dozen photos on any average day, imagine the agonizing decision whether to take my only camera along in a Ziploc bag hoping it stays dry, or leave it behind locked in the van, far far away from the scenic beauty that in all likelihood, I will not pass again.

Crossing over the Tampaon River

Crossing over the Tampoan River

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That’s a long way of saying that for all activities occurring ON the water or IN the water in this post, I had no camera.   My thanks to friends Karen Yee and Vivian Little for sharing their photos taken with their smart phones….I weighed this risk, and in the end decided I was too addicted to connectivity to brave risking the loss of my only link to my life back in the US.   Without their willingness to share, I would have had to rely on words alone to describe the beauty of these two destinations.

Wooden boats await passengers.

Wooden boats await passengers.

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The Tampaon River is turquoise blue due to heavy calcium deposit in the water. (Photo by Karen Yee)

The Tampaon River is turquoise blue due to heavy calcium deposit in the water. (Photo by K. Yee)

As we paddle up the river, there are a lot of small waterfalls and fern-covered grottoes. (Photo by K. Yee)

As we paddle up the river, there are a lot of small waterfalls and fern-covered grottoes. (Photo by K. Yee)

On our first day, we travel down a long, dirt road to reach the Tampaon River, where to my surprise, dozens of brightly colored boats await alongside a river the color of liquid turquoise.  High calcium deposits make the water an artificial theme park blue. We will be paddling upstream for about three miles to reach the Tamul waterfall, the state of San Luis Potosi’s tallest at over 300 feet.

Trip to the waterfalls is upriver against a fairly strong current. No slacking at the oars! (Photo by our guide.)

Trip to the waterfalls is upriver against a fairly strong current. No slacking at the oars! (Photo by K. Yee)

We have to disembark, so the guides can portage the boats upstream over the rapids. (Photo by K. Yee)

We have to disembark, so the guides can portage the boats upstream over the shallow sections. (Photo by K. Yee)

We walk parallel to the river for the shallowest section. (Photo by K. Yee)

We walk parallel to the river for the shallowest section. (Photo by K. Yee)

Finally, the big pay-off. Tamul Waterfall, at over 300 ft.

Finally, the big pay-off. Tamul Waterfall, at over 300 ft. (Photo by K. Yee)

One of the benefits of traveling with a group of our size (seven) is getting our own, albeit smaller, canoe rather than having to cram into a boat with other tourists.  Most everyone in our group has some basic concept of rowing etiquette.  We will need it, as our trip upriver will require constant, sweat-inducing paddling.  We take turns with what is often a surprise dousing of cold water from the bailing bucket down the backs of our lifejackets to cool off.

Soon, we reach a series of shallow rapids, too difficult for rowing. We must get out of the boat and hike up alongside a parallel trail, while our two guides portage the boat further upriver.

Climbing the staircase and over the swinging bridge leads to the entrance of a cave. (Photo by K. Yee)

Climbing the staircase and over the swinging bridge leads to the entrance of a cave. (Photo by K. Yee)

Views from the bridge of cascades below are beautiful. In the upper right, you can see the turquoise river. (Photo by K. Yee)

Looking down from the bridge, cascades below are beautiful. In the upper right, you can see the turquoise river. (Photo by K. Yee)

There is a spring-fed cenote in the cave. (Photo by K. Yee)

There is a spring-fed cenote in the cave. (Photo by K. Yee)

The water is colder than that of the river. (Photo by K. Yee)

The water is colder than that of the river. (Photo by K. Yee)

After a brief stop near the base of the falls for photos, we hop out of the boat and float the shallow rapids on return.  It’s a thrill navigating and steering my body, feet first over the low level white water as if I am my own personal watercraft.    After about a mile of drifting with the current, we swim over to a beach and climb a series of switchback stairs, crossing a swinging bridge to reach a cave in the side of the mountain, La Cueva del Agua.  We enjoy a bracing swim in the spring-fed cave pool before boarding our canoes and paddling back to our put-in point, reluctantly leaving the refreshing aquamarine water behind…at least for today.

One of the more interesting snack food offerings....this hollowed-out cucumber is filled with peanuts and tamarind sauce. (Photo by K. Yee)

One of the more interesting snack food offerings….this hollowed-out cucumber is filled with peanuts and tamarind sauce. (Photo by K. Yee)

The following day, we load up and head down a different dirt road, this time to the Micos Waterfalls.  I haven’t done much research on this trip at all, as for once it is nice to just show up and go with the flow, and not have to make all my own plans.   So I just figure I’ll take whatever comes along, as long as I don’t have to plan it, book it, or drive to it for once!

We are told not to bring anything with us once we leave the van except our swimsuits and dry bags and anything we can easily carry (water, sunscreen) that won’t hurt getting wet.   All I know is that we are going to hike up a big hill and float down some waterfalls.   The first sign I see says “Lifejackets mandatory!”   Okay, well, that’s understandable.  But when I see a stack of helmets, I start to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.  This is, I believe, the first place in Mexico where I’ve ever been required to sign a release form. (GULP!)

The top of the falls is just to the left of the big mountain. (Photo by K. Yee)

The top of the falls is just to the left of the big mountain. (Photo by K. Yee)

We are going to be jumping off seven different waterfalls, the tallest of which is 30 ft. (Photo by K. Yee)

We are going to be jumping off seven different waterfalls, the tallest of which is 30 ft. (Photo by K. Yee)

What, me worry?

What, me worry?? (Photo by K. Yee)

We hike in single file up a long staircase to reach the entrance to the first waterfall.  It is here that I learn we will actually be jumping off a total of seven different waterfalls!   The first waterfall is the second to tallest.   I inch out to the edge, water rushing around my shivering lower legs. I peer over, at which time I freeze.  My knees are visibly shaking. I can’t do it.  It’s not the water that scares me, it’s the less than 90 degree angle…having to catapult myself off the rounded edge to clear the rock face without slipping on the limestone and busting my butt!  I turn around and start back, telling Erik I am going to go back and wait at the entrance.

The scary part is not hitting the water. The scary part is not jumping out far enough to clear the cliff! (Photo by K. Yee)

The scary part is not hitting the water. The scary part is not jumping out far enough to clear the cliff! (Photo by K. Yee)

At this point, I've really gotta hand it to Karen. She just jumped off this waterfall with her iphone intact! Thanks for all the great photos, Karen!

At this point, I’ve really gotta hand it to Karen. She just jumped off this waterfall with her iphone in a waterproof bag…still intact! Thanks for all the great photos, Karen!

But all six of my travel mates have already gone off the edge, and are now waiting patiently for me in the pool below.  If I don’t do it, I’ll be the only one who misses out.  I begin to realize how much I will regret it when the others are basking in the afterglow, while I have sat out the dance.   The wave of regret and disappointment which fills my stomach feels worse than the fear stuck in the back of my throat.  So I go back and interrupt the line to ask the guide if I can try one more time.

Near the end of the falls, our guide leads us through a tunnel which comes out behind one of the largest waterfalls. (Photo by K. Yee)

Near the end of the falls, our guide leads us through a tunnel which comes out behind one of the largest waterfalls. (Photo by K. Yee)

The sound of the falls is thunderous.

The sound of the falls is thunderous. (Photo by K. Yee)

Lots of lush vegetation beneath the falls. (Photo by K. Yee)

Lots of lush vegetation beneath the falls. (Photo by K. Yee)

By now, the people in line behind me start to cheer me on.  No way can I turn back now!   The guide counts off my steps, “One.  Two.  THREEEEEE!” at which time I shove off and go flying over the edge!  After that, the next six falls are a walk in the park, even the tallest one at over 30 feet drop.   One by one, we cheer each other on as we go running off the edge, then regroup and swim to the next waterfall.

Such an incredibly fun experience in a beautiful water wonderland!  And thanks to Karen and Vivian, I’ve got the photos to remember it by…

Vivian also snapped a couple of photos through the plastic shield of a waterproof case. They are a little blurry because of being taken through a plastic cover. But at least it gives an idea of the height of the falls.

Vivian also snapped a couple of photos through the plastic shield of a waterproof case. They are a little blurry because of being taken through a plastic cover. But at least it gives an idea of the height of the falls.

Our fearless leader, Erik, halfway down the falls. (Photo by V. Little)

Our fearless leader, Erik, halfway down the falls. (Photo by V. Little)

What great fun this was, following the river down the cascades! (Photo by V. Little)

What great fun this was, following the river down the cascades! (Photo by V. Little)

13 thoughts on “Canoes, Cascades, and Cameras…Huasteca Potosina, Part Two

  1. I knew you could do it! I, on the other hand, would have only gone (kicking and screaming) if someone pushed me!
    I’m sure you hated not having a camera, but it gave you a chance to just enjoy your surroundings without thinking about everything as a photo op.
    What a gorgeous place!

  2. Wish I could have been there, although I would have required some coaxing too! I have a Nikon DSLR and lenses, but find I take most photos with my LG G3, using the (free!) Open Camera app. All it lacks is a telephoto lens! I can take photos up to 12MP, and with the app I can adjust focus settings, ISO, white balance, flash, and use “scene modes” . The app also has a timer and can take “bursts” of photos to stop action. After reading your post, I’ll definitely look for a good waterproof case for it!

  3. Found myself giggling as I read your posting, just thinking “oh, the adventures that Suzanne gets herself into”! What a wonderful experience!

  4. I love this adventure, thru your narrative and photos of course. Good for you for jumping in and going for the full effect. So glad that you found something extraordinary that the average person in Mexico does not experience.

  5. That is amazing!!! Beautiful photos and what an experience!!! I’m so jealous! So glad for your adventure!!!

  6. Oh! What amazing fun this looks to be!!! From the “liquid turquoise” river to the swinging bridge (the pics looking up to and down from it are gorgeous), jumping the falls and floating the La Cueva del Agua…*this* is the water park of my dreams! I laughed out loud at “…I start to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into…” and then the YIKES moment came at the notion of having to sign a release form in MEXICO! But, oh, my goodness…the funniest thing in this post is your priceless Alfred E. Newman look in front of the waterfall! Hahahaha…:-) I am at once so very happy you are able to live this life of great exploration yet so very envious that I sit at home in my comfy Lazy Girl only dreaming of such grand possibilities! I want to be a vagabond, Suzanne…and I get to be one, if only vicariously, through your amazing adventures. I so enjoyed this post! :-)

  7. I’m glad you took that leap of faith. I can understand the trepidation given that angle. But what a blast it must have been and not having to worry about a camera must have been a bit liberating.

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