Love this place and these people

Monday, September 21, 2009

One of the best things about being in a third world country...

...is that they let you do things that you would never be allowed to do in the US of A. From the first weekend I got to Antigua I had been hearing about this place called Semuc Champey and how I needed to do one of the weekend trips there. We finally found a weekend when we could all go so Clark, Drew, Julie and I all booked with our favorite little underground travel agency to do a Friday through Sunday expedition. Julie, if I haven't told about her yet, moved into the house where I was staying after Simon and Zoe left to go back to England. She is also from England and just absolutely adorable. We were friends within the first 5 minutes of meeting. So all 4 of us planned to go together. Clark and Drew arrived from Patzicia late as usual. But we met a new friend while we were waiting. Her name is Lizzie and she made up the 5th member of our weekend party of 5.
The drive to Lanquin, where we would be spending the night, took about 8 hours. It was not the funnest drive of my life, but we bonded with the other people in our group. There were two vans full of people. Our driver's name was Jose who I had become friends with from booking other trips and shuttles. His little friend Chris was also riding with us and we had a good time becoming friends with him. He was quite the ladies man. He told us one of the girls in our van was his girlfriend which was funny because she was at least 10 years older than his 12 years :) And every time I saw him around Antigua after that he usually had his arm around at least one girl. Anyway, the point is that our guides were really great. They were all originally from that area so they had grown up in the places they were taking us.

Saturday morning started early with a delicious breakfast and then we all loaded into the back of pickup trucks to drive the 45 minutes on a slightly bumpy dirt road down to the river/falls/caves. This was very reminiscent of a drive we took at a family reunion many years ago in the back of a cattle truck. We were on our way to Pacheco where my grandfather was born, but instead of 45 minutes it was 3 or 4 hours. Now that was an adventure. We were all sore for the rest of the family reunion.

When we arrived at the river our first stop was actually on the bridge that crossed the river. Jose stopped the truck, got out and told us this was our chance to jump. And so we all got out and most of the group jumped off the 30' bridge into the beautiful blue-green water. This was just the beginning of our adventures that day. After we all got back into the trucks we rode a little further to the trailhead of the lookout point for Semuc Champey which is a chain of natural pools that reminded me a lot of Havasupai. When we hiked down to the pools, our whole group followed our guides like little lemmings as they told us where to walk and when to jump off the waterfalls. We worked our way down the right side of the falls jumping, swimming and falling on the slippery rocks and finally arrived at the big waterfall where our guides tied a rope to this stake and then we all climbed down the waterfall. No we did not have harnesses, nor any sort of safety gear, yes there was water rushing down over my head preventing me from seeing anything, no we did not have any idea where we were going so when the guide told me to go down I was a little nervous about where I was going to come out. Turns out that there was a cave underneath the pools where the underground river comes out. So great!! After hanging out there for a bit, we jumped off the next little section of the waterfall, swam across the river which had quite a bit of a current (no they did not ask us beforehand about our level of swimming skills) and then climbed up the other side of the waterfall using another rope, no safety gear, with water pouring down over our heads. WONDERFUL!!!
We didn't have as much time to swim in the pools as we would have liked, but it was because we had to get on our way to our next adventure. And sadly I don't have any photos of this because we had to leave our cameras at the bottom. After walking back to the trailhead we walked back across the river and over to what is called Lanquin Caves. Here we left all of our stuff and then we hiked up a little trail to where a stream/river was coming out of a cave. As we entered the cave, our guide lit our candles that each of us had been given before hiking up. We walked into the cave and at first we were just walking through water, but then we came to a part where we had to climb up a ladder. And then we came to a part where we had to swim, well dog paddle while trying to keep our hand with our candle above the water. But the two best parts were where we arrived at a rushing waterfall and there was a ladder on one side and a rope on the other. I just assumed that even though our guide climbed up the rope that he was going to make us climb up the ladder, but he gave us the choice! And when you're given a choice between climbing a ladder or a rope up a waterfall, inside a cave, by candlelight in Guatemala, there is really only one option...the rope!!! It was exhilirating. We didn't actually hold our candles while we were climbing. We handed it to the guide before we went up, and we got it again once we got up. There were several times when everyone's candles went out and we had to get them relit. Just before we turned around to head back out, we got to a point in the caves where we could climb up on a ledge and jump down into a pool. At first when we stopped, we had no idea what we were doing and the guide was just kind of pointing and motioning with his flashlight. Then after the first guy did it, we understood what we were doing. And once again, cliff jumping inside a cave, by candlelight is not something you can say no to. It was hilarious because the guide would just point with his flashlight to the spot in the water where he wanted us to jump. AMAZING!! Once again, this whole description doesn't really do this experience justice. We all kept looking at eachother the whole time as if to ask, "Is this real? Are we really hiking/climbing/swimming/jumping in a cave by candlelight?". It was very much a combination of Pirates of the Caribbean/Goonies/Indiana Jones.
When we returned to daylight, the last adventure of the day was tubing down the river to where the truck would pick us up. And after all the exercise we'd had that day, I was more than happy to plop down in a tube in a beautiful blue-green river, surrounded by jungle and just relax for a little while. Sigh. It was magical.
The rest of the trip was just full of bonding with the others in the group, eating good food and spending more time in the van on the ride back. There were once again SO many great people in this group. We would run into them all the time for the rest of my time in Guatemala. Mary Claire from Scotland, Suzy from Canada, Lizzie from England and the list goes on.
It was one of the best weekends EVER!

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