Disney has nothing over Guatemala. Talk about reality, in Guatemala reality exists. We choose to take a Spring Break. Heck, we’re in
Ready 2 Rock & Roll
school, Spanish School, and everyone else in school gets a break so why not us? Becca and Wendy took it upon themselves to organize a trip for a week in Guatemala and was I in for a surprise. Generally, I’m the one to stick my neck out but with two women running the show I wasn’t about to. I just sat back and did my best to keep quiet while they figured a way for us to see some sights and then with (Becca and IB ) make one last stop at their boat to prep sv Passport for summer.
Not even a day after our last class we were up at 7 am awaiting the arrival of our “tourist” van to Semuc Champey. When we boarded the van we thought “This won’t be too bad”. A van with 12 seats had only 8 people. Sweet. We left Antigua in great spirits. A Holiday.
In Guatemala City we stopped and picked up 3 more gringos. Damn! We were all squished a bit now. I was chewing on my knees. IB was sandwiched on the other side of Becca and 3 students from a volunteer Spanish School / medical program joined us. Fortunately the mix was congenial and we shared stories most of the way to Semuc. Unfortunately the road rose and fell, turned right and left often enough that W/ was beginning to turn pale. However, she made it without incident. Late afternoon we were dropped at our primitive accommodations. We had a room; clean, with two beds , 2 pillows , a door lock and an easy pass ceiling. The commode, shower and sink were out the door and down the walk. Disney can top this for comfort but not for reality.
We stowed our stuff, plugged our phone into the only electrical outlet in the room and went looking for something cold to drink, place to sit, and people to watch. We found some of what we were looking for but food wasn’t to be till 7 ish and we were all tired and hungry. Becca located the Zephyr Lodge on line (we had 3g cell service here) and we strolled towards the other gringos, food, and cold beer. There we found a place we could settle into, signed up for dinner and planted our tooshes on a picnic bench. The food was exceptionally good as were were exceedingly hungry. As darkness was now upon us we stumbled our way back to the luxuries (not) lodging. But then again, at least we weren’t sleeping in bags on a rock with a tent around us. After the day stuffed into a van for 8 hours we found sheep nearby and lost track of the count moving into the world of dreams quickly.
Morning arrived without much ado and all of us gathered for the walk to town for breakfast. In typical Guatemala fashion IB, Becca, and W/ had what seems like the standard fare; refried beans, two scrambled eggs, plantonos, corn tortillas, and coffee. I chickened out and had the fruit plate. Satiated we returned to our luxurious accommodations and waited for the ride to Semuc.
Against the odds in Latin America our guide and the vehicle arrived on time. Closer to a moving cattle pen then a van, we boarded over the tailgate and held on. We proceeded to pick up more tourists (50 / 50 gringos to Guatemalans) and finally headed towards Semuc only to end up behind a Semana Santa procession. There we waited with another cattle van escorting more tourists. After what seemed a month and a day we motored back to the center of town; picked up two more tourists and eventually made it around the procession and began the trek through the mountains to Semuc. The ride is more Disney then anything Disney could come up with. A 1,000 feet up the mountain pass and then down the other side. We covered what the sign said was 10 km but signs often lie. It was close to an hour in the cattle van before we arrived at the park. There thankfully we climbed down from our cattle van and followed our guide on a walkabout while he gathered more tourists. While the guide was only partially needed he was still comforting to have around. We made it into the park with little problems, our bags were checked; for what I don’t really know, soap, alcohol, weapons - what would we shoot?, etc. We passed without incident and began the walk to the lookout for the natural swimming holes.
SeMuc Pools, Guatemala
Quite a hike and always a wonder how anyone could build steps up the side of the mountain. We walked the trails or should I say
Stairway to Heaven
dragged our tooshes up the trail and then climbed higher with steps to heaven. Alternating steps, trails, break, steps, break, trail, break, break; after what seemed like reaching a location somewhere above the cruising altitude of commercial jet liners we crossed the ridge and were within minutes, awestruck by the vista. There I came upon some bad news. The battery in my camera died in the middle of my photo shoot from an altitude close to requiring Oxygen mask. As they often say, leave only footprints and take only memories. Hope my memories hold. Fortunately IB and Becca both have cameras and I can slip some of the pics onto our computer. And too I left the iPhone back at the ranch because today was going to be a water day and I didn’t want to trust that I could keep the iPhone dry. Although one can purchase an iPhone here in Guatemala I’m not sure if they’re unlocked and they are still expensive.
After a bit of time at altitude we were beginning to feel light headed and our guide suggested we descend. The descent to the pools was a bit easier and finally we were able to keep up with Becca and IB. They love looooong strides and hiking with them is like trying to stroll beside a train leaving the station. Ever so slowly they keep pulling away. But now; Becca had slept a little off and awakened with a back ache, descending was a pain for her; pun intended and for the most part we were their shadow. However all too soon she discovered that if she moved at a slow trot / run she was pain free. Bye, Bye Becca!
The pools were not all that far. We arrived to ooooh’s and ahhhh’s, then moved to one of the middle pools for a swim and snack. The
water was clear and cool. I chose to enter slowly remembering my training as a lifeguard but there were those taking a risk and plunging head first into water, luckily the bottom appeared much closer then it was. I’ve not heard of people getting injured by swimming / diving in the pools but the park had an area roped off that was dangerous. The river rapids dive prior to the pools and traverses 300 meters underground exiting on the down stream side. In the last year or so the park ranger indicated that 5 people had fallen into the rapids never to exit the other side. Depending on ones beliefs; you could now infer they’re swimming in Paradise.
As I lounged in the pools, sitting on a ledge I discovered the fish were hungry. In mass they began to
nibble on my legs, feet and toes. Had I stayed in one place longer the fish could have given me a complete body scrub nibbling off any flaking / old skin. However, every once in awhile they bit hard enough that I winced. Time to move on.
Becca Swimming at SeMuc
in the early afternoon we had a poor lunch at the park entrance. Poor in terms of quality yet it did meet our caloric needs. We were going caving. W/ abstained from this adventure as we would first wade into the cave, then need to swim some while holding a lit candle to light our way and finally retreat the same route. While the description was technically correct we also climbed up a wall with running water and a rope secured further up with knots for aiding in our ascent. That and two poorly constructed ladders, squeezing between rocks all the while trying to keep the candles dry and lit made for an exciting, cool if not cold, caving adventure.
Caving in SeMuc
An hour later Becca, IB and I exited the cave close to shivering while W/ was comfortably warm lounging in the Sun. There we dried off, warmed up only to find another surprise for the days end. A swing had been constructed where one sits only for the descent, we are launched to the middle of the river where those wishing to survive drop the swing and fall / leap / dive into the water. Society say’s that people become wiser with age. That is not always true. After watching a couple of other gringos and the two guides partake of this mini adventure I figured I had it nailed. Besides, the two gringos were college kids and girls to boot, there was no way I could stand by and watch. I had observed a couple of bad water entrances so I figured to travel with the swing to the end of the arc, drop the swing and drop straight into the water. My descent didn’t work as I had planned. All was fine till I let go the swing and began to drop. Somehow I figure I held on to one side of the swing just a micro second longer than I should have. As I dropped from the swing I entered more on my side then with my feet. I had the wind knocked out of me and that experience gave me a few moments of wonder. Wondering if maybe I didn’t really break a rib. Wondering if I would catch my breath before taking one last dive. Wondering how inelegant I really looked. Wondering if I could swim out of the way of the next subject on the swing. Those on the shore indeed had a great box seat. of my world classless water entry. IB didn’t fare much better but he seemed to recover sooner. Then Becca made us all look bad. She said her thoughts were about rememberong her porch swings and jumping off. She tried to repeat her experience here and made a near perfect water entry.
By the time the three of us had swum to shore W/ was preparing for tubing down the river. The only thing we were missing was some refreshments! Finally, a part of the day we could all relax. We tubed for a hour then made a 15 minute trek back to start as the river ran around a large horseshoe bend. Now exhausted we climbed aboard the cattle van to transit over the mountain and back to our primitive, but clean room. A shower, a beer, and a walk to town for an evening meal was the exclamation point to a grand day. Night, Night.