It took me ages to get my mouth around that one but I did it with the help of my empathic Guatemalan friends. One week before I left Vancouver I had never even heard of the place. I had just sold my computer desk to a woman on craigslist and she asked me why I was selling everything and I told her I was going travelling full time for a while, starting in Guatemala. She told me she had been many years ago and I had to go see “mumble mumble … pools of water, most beautiful sight in the world… remote… etc etc etc”. Yeah, I’ll get right on that. And promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward to when I had been in Guatemala for a few weeks and thinking it might be time to figure out where I was going next. I had a loose plan of heading for Tikal and Flores and then Belize so I went on-line to figure out my transportation options and started seeing shuttles to all these different places and then I saw a picture of Semuc Champey and I remembered her words. That would be the place. I will be forever grateful to that un-named woman for sharing.
You have to work hard to get to it, I tell you no lie. Booking the shuttle is easy, anyone of a thousand tour companies will happily sell you a ticket and you don’t have to do the chicken bus. But the endurance challenge of being cooped up in a mini-bus for 8+ hours over roads at best are pavement with crater sized potholes and speed bumps that slow even the most dedicated speed demons from 80kph to 30 in a nano second and at worse, gravel with crater sized potholes. We hit rush hour traffic in Guatemala City – which I think runs from midnight to 11:59pm every freaking day. Our driver decided he was not going to stop from Guat. City till we got to Coban, some 6 hours away and we weren’t sure of that until one of us leaned over and saw the gas gauge getting low. That news created quite an excited buzz in the bus from people who until then were lethargic and mostly non-verbal from hours of crushing boredom and sitting on mean seats.
And of course I couldn’t just stay in Lanquin with everyone else, oh no I wanted to stay right at Semuc Champey so I didn’t have to book a ‘tour’. What that meant was dragging my sorry ass to a pick up truck and sit in the back on a board for a 45 minute dash over even worse roads, in the dark, in the jungle… with an almost-full moon sparkling through the foliage…. ok you know me well enough to know that last part was a kick for me though it did stretch me physically, I must say.
So I left my casa at 8am and didn’t get to my new one until 8pm. But I still managed to celebrate happy hour with my new friends from Chile in fine form! We decided to meet up at 9am to hike up to the viewpoint.
The thing about this part of Guatemala is that all things are either up or down… there is no level. The view-point was a challenging 40 minutes ‘up’ though gorgeous forest and tranquil clearings and over rocks and roots and stairs and paths till you come out to the edge and look down on the majestic Semuc Champey. The turquoise colour of the water alone is stunning but then to see these pools of it layered one after the other, ringed with lush green foliage and dappled with sunshine… it created one of those moments where you send a silent prayer of thanks to the Goddess for her handiwork.
Overheated and sweaty, we beat a hasty decent and waded into the warm silky water with the rest of the intrepid souls who have found their way to this oasis of bliss. We all seemed to wear the same awe-struck expression on our faces, like we just couldn’t believe we were here in this place and it is everything and more that was promised.
Eventually I meandered back to my room for a nap on the hammock and gaze down at the same teal water rushing by.
The next day, refreshed I decided to explore the Grutas Las Marias caves. I love caves, there is something primal and so very Goddess about them, I always feel so grounded when I am in them.
What an experience! There are no fancy pance strung lights, in fact there was only candles (!!) and our guide had the only head lamp. It is too bad we all didn’t have them because we missed out on all the lovely formations that were just on the other side of the candlelight. It only took about 10 steps before we were up to our chests in water… chilly water at that. But it wasn’t long before it felt really pleasant after the heat outside. I was so happy that I had spent the money on a pair of these ugly strap on amphibian sandals, otherwise my feet would have been shredded on the stones we had to clamber over.
Often the water was over my head and sometimes the walls were too close for comfort and the metal ladders were rusty – it was just marvellous! I even managed to get a stellar bruise on my arm when the big guy in front of me decided to lose his balance and grab the guide rope thus tossing me up against the rock wall. 😦 But what is an adventure without a bruise or suture? Am I right?
On the way out our little monkey guide dared us to slip down a tight chute to the pool below and we were all game. When I bobbed up from the drop I noticed my head came perilously close to the overhanging rocks. But, no blood, no foul, right?
I was so loathe to leave, it was such a marvellous adventure! I wish I could show you photos but… my iPhone is not an amphibian. So I ‘borrowed’ a couple from good ol’ google. Don’t tell anyone.