Saturday, 12 May 2012

Days 12 & 13: Lanquin and Semuc Champey

After seeing the Tikal ruins in northern Guatemala, we moved south to Lanquin in central Guatemala to see one of the most glorious sights in Central America, Semuc Champey. Unlucky for us, we arrived on the first day of the rainy season.

 We took a pre-arranged (pretty squashed) shuttle bus from our hotel at 9am, well actually 9.30am by the time it arrived (nothing here is on time). It cost Q200 for 7h, plus a 30min lunch stop in Coban. The bus ride was crammed but even more so after lunch when more people joined our bus. We sat at the front and tried to learn more Spanish with our bus driver, Tony, it is amazing how effective hand and arm gestures are. After many sharp bends on an extremely unpaved mountain road overlooking a sheer drop on the cliff edge, we arrived at Zephyr Lodge, which was our most disappointing accommodation we have stayed at yet. The hostel was in a fantastic location and the view (especially from the showers!) was unbeatable… but that was about it. The hostel is well known amongst other travelers but mainly for its late-night partying at the (expensive) bar. We slept on one of 6 mattresses on the floor, directly above the bar and underneath a straw roof which attracted a great selection of bugs when it rained. The food was okay but pretty expensive. The main problem with Zephyr was they expect you will not have enough cash to pay for everything and because there is no cash machine anywhere nearby (or so they say), the run a tab system (which you are allowed to check-up on if you ask nicely, mainly because they seem to charge you for stuff which you haven't had) and hold onto your passport as a security deposit. When you leave the lodge, you must take their shuttle out in order to go to an ATM to pay them back, but their shuttles were far more expensive than the local travel agency 300m down the road. They gave us limited information out with their own facilities and did try to charge us for stuff we hadn't had. However, they did provide us with an excellent tour guide, Carlos, who took us to Semuc Champey in the morning. The tour cost Q175 pp and they insisted we buy their extortionate Q25 sandwiches because there was “no food” at Semuc Champey (lies, there were food stalls at the entrance, selling barbecued chicken). If you are organised, bring plenty money and food so you don’t end up over budget.

We started our next day by taking a pick-up truck which we had to stand up in and hold on. It was a very fun and bumpy 30min ride down to the river with fantastic views and random indigenous people hoping on and off along the way. Our tour began at the river just before the entrance of Semuc Champey with an incredibly exciting 25 metre-long rope swing into the river. I got such an adrenaline rush that I had to do it twice! Apparently it cost Q15 to do independently. Afterwards, we went on an hour walk into the caves which were lit solely by the candles we were holding. At various points we were wading through the cave waters at chest height and other times we had to do a one-handed doggy paddle to keep our candles out of the water (though they did go out several times). When we reach our furthest point (1km deep of the potential 15km deep cave) there was a point to climb the cave walls and jump into a pool. We were told it was safe and deep enough…Harry says otherwise as he hit the bottom and hurt, well, his heirlooms… but apart from that, it was amazing! We both decided to skip the 25m high bridge jump into the river and went on an hour’s long walk up a small mountain to the lookout point (el mirador) to get an incredible view of the Semuc Champey pools before climbing down to the pools themselves.

In Mayan, Semuc Champey means the water that flows beneath which is apparent when we saw the river disappearing beneath the rock pools and re-appear at the river downstream. The whole area was breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately, I had a very clumsy moment (as usual) and fell over on my ankle on the slippery rocks (be careful!) and was also eaten alive by countless insects but all that didn’t matter as our guide took us on a small adventure down several pools and telling us where it was “safe” to dive, jump and slide down the rocks. To exit last thing we did was go beneath the rock pool rocks where we had barely enough head space to keep our heads above the surface, then we dove under the water to exit the narrow corridor we were in. No-one else we spoke to was shown this hidden gem on the last pool. That day was the most impressive and fun thing I have done yet. We highly recommend it to everyone.

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