Waterfalls in the Jungle (part 1)

In the last week I’ve started to make my first real forays into the rainforest.  There are two young government lawyers, Charlie and Kevin, who spend their weekends scuba diving and hiking.  On Sunday afternoon they took me along on a hike to Nu’uuli Falls, although “hike” doesn’t fully describe what we did.

The waterfall pictured above is only about 200 yards from where we parked and the walk to it was on relatively flat ground.  It’s about 40 feet high with a nice swimming hole at the bottom.  It was barely the beginning.

We followed the stream uphill for about a mile.  Sections of the “trail” involved climbing 10-15 foot vertical rock faces, clawing up steep muddy slopes that felt like mudslides waiting to happen, swimming sections of the stream, hacking through vines and thick underbrush, and scrambling over very slippery river rock.  I lost count of how many 10-foot-plus waterfalls we encountered, every one of them a spectacle that would have warranted a state park in Minnesota or Wisconsin, and every one of them requiring a very steep and slippery climb to get past.  There were several where the rock was slick enough to use it as a waterslide and we had a lot of fun sliding as well as jumping off of cliffs into the deeper pools.

Most of the time I’ve spent in wilderness areas has been in the Upper Midwest, so it was very interesting to have no idea what any of the trees or birds were called, to not know how the forest changes as the seasons change, to hear sounds and have no mental picture of what made them.  If I had to use two words to describe the forests we have here, they would be “wet” and “alive”.  The dry season in American Samoa features more rain than any time of year back home.  The rain, the warm weather, and the fertile volcanic soil allow an incredible profusion of life.  There were plants growing out of other plants that were growing out of the trunk of a still-living tree.  Birds and fruit bats are everywhere and of course the insect life is indescribable.  Fortunately, Samoans are very protective of their rainforests.  Living on the delicate balance point between human needs and the health of the rainforest has been a part of their culture since long before Americans or Europeans set foot on these islands.

The trip back downstream was much faster- the slides became part of the trail!  I came home bruised, cut, and sore (I used half a bottle of hydrogen peroxide- tropical river mud can’t be a good thing to have in an open cut) and I could hardly move the next day, but it was an amazing experience and I’ll be going back soon.

Next time, I need to bring a waterproof camera.  Early in the hike Kevin and Charlie told me to take off my backpack and hide it in the bushes along with anything I didn’t want to have soaked.  It was good advice- the backpack would have been in the way and my camera would have been destroyed.  But it meant that I only got pictures of the first waterfall and the view from the top of it.  Those shots look nice but they’re nothing compared to some of the things I saw farther upstream.

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