A secluded paradise
Even though Rachael and I´s journey to Semuc Champey didn't get off to the best start, and when I say it didn't get off to the best start, it certainly doesn't mean anything other than it was a very early start Saturday morning (our bus left at 5am...yuck!) and it was almost twelve hours cramped in a full van. Goodbye legroom! But despite the journey being thoroughly uncomfortable, visiting Semuc Champey was well worth the sacrifice.
On the recommendation of my friend Dana, we decided to book at an ecolodge hostel called Utopia. And yet again, this reconfirms the notion that it is far better to plan your trip through word of mouth. I don't have enough great things to say about Utopia! It is an absolutely gorgeous riverside property that is very secluded but still is conveniently very close to Semuc (about 3km). We arrived just as the sun was setting but still could appreciate the amazing views. The staff (and fellow travellers) at Utopia were all fantastic as well. And funnily enough, we ran into our friend Alessandro again, who was also, very randomly, staying there too! Clearly the tourist trail is an incredibly lucrative path for a wandering rolling paper salesman! And yet another confirmation that it's a very small world on the backpackers route through Central America...thankfully in most instances, the goodbyes are usually just see-ya laters!
For those of you who don't have a clue what Semuc Champey is (don't worry, I didn't either until I got to Guatemala and kept hearing my fellow tourist mates raving about it), it is a natural limestone bridge that is 300m long. On top of the bridge is a series of stepped pools with cool, flowing river water for swimming. It certainly isn't the easiest place to get to (and involves a series of very windy dirt roads), but was well worth the trek! Not only is Semuc Champey itself absolutely breathtaking, so is the surrounding terrain. I could imagine that it would be very easy to lose yourself there. You would certainly consider yourself to be very fortunate to call this part of the world home.
We began our first (and to be honest all of our days...perils of basically sleeping outside in nature), very early for the full day tour of Semuc. The tour kicked off with a bang and before we knew it, we were swimming in caves with candles. You certainly wouldn't want to be claustrophobic! We scaled walls, jumped off cave cliffs and even got to swing through a waterfall (and all in the dark by candlelight!). Of course, being the clutz that I am, I lost my candle in the waterfall pretty early in on our tour. Fortunately, our tour guide Darwin (actually his name was Darwin-Miguel...classic! Especially because traditionally there is no ¨w¨in the Spanish alphabet) had a spare for me so I didn't have to go on for too long without light. After our cave adventures, we did some bridge jumping into the local river. Rachael, the dare devil that she is, was the only one of us that was brave enough to jump! As you can imagine, the bridge was well over my 5m limit as it was coming in at 12m. I, very politely, declined the offer.
Following the unleashing of Rachael's adrenaline, we ventured into the main park to see Semuc. Our park guide, Pepe, was a local young Guatemalteco that originally hailed from Flores (my next destination) but had been working as a guide at Semuc for the past three years. Despite his size (he was pint sized), he was an absolute bloody character, very cheeky and witty (I think this is quite a theme here in Guatemala), and he had Rachael and I in fits of laughter all afternoon as we were joking around in mixes of English, Spanish and of course, my personal favourite, Spanglish. Pepe took us up to the Mirador (view point) where we were able to take some fabulous snaps of the pools. We then spent the next few hours swimming and diving into the seven different pools. The water was so crisp and clear; it was unbelievably refreshing after a steep hike in the humidity.
We closed out our action packed afternoon by tubing down the river to our hostel with two more young Guatemalan lads, brothers, Arturo & Roberto. These two, were newer at the "guide game" so were much shyer and didn't have quite the same level of English so our joking could only go so far. And to be honest, I think I frightened young Roberto slightly (or maybe confused him) because I kept telling him "mas blanco agua"...maybe that doesn't exactly translate to more white water! Perils of being in the limbo stage of learning a language...
That evening was pretty low key. After such an action packed day, a couple of sips of beer and a full belly later, and I was ready to roll into bed at the ridiculously early time of 9.30! But I loved it. I revel in getting into bed early while travelling (well, sometimes).
The next day was another action packed day. We had planned on going for a local hike, which included a riverside trek, walking over two of the drawbridges (one of the scariest things I have ever done...those things look like they are going to break at any point in time!) and then a climb up to the local cliff face for a fabulous view of the area. Later that afternoon, Esteban (one of the volunteers at the hostel) took Rachael and I on a chocolate tour, where we got to make our own chocolate from scratch. It was a great experience (and so easy, I'm going to have to start making it in future!) and you got to eat so much chocolate as you went (WINNING!)! As a dark chocolate lover (the darker the better), I really enjoyed eating the 100% chocolate, so bitter...delicious! A couple of glasses of red later, with a full belly of chocolate, and I found myself in a pleasant self-induced coma.
That evening, we had a bit more of a rowdier night (well, within context, let´s just say that the 9.30pm bedtime was surpassed!). Quite a few other people from the hostel were also checking out so we all found ourselves to be quite happy to be sent off with a bit of a bang. We had a bonfire down by the river, and happily spent the next few hours by the river with beers and listening to people trying their best to attempt playing ukulele's and a harmonica.
Next up on the adventure was Flores and fortunately, for me, Felix and Alessandro (a couple of the guests at Utopia) were also making their way there too. It's always nice to have a few travel buddies in transit.
Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!
The waterfall on the climb up to the caves...
Swimming in the caves. Obviously my camera isn't waterproof so I don't have any good shots of the darkness by candlelight but it was amazing! I should've bought a GoPro!!!
And this is how we get around in Semuc...in the back of a tray of a ute...you best hold on tight, the roads are bumpy!
Look at those pristine pools! And swimming in them are just as amazing!
Rachael & I at Semuc (courtesy of Pepe...he's not just a pretty face!)
Doing our standard jump shot at the cliff lookout. This was slightly dangerous as the cliff face was right behind us...hence why Raquel is looking down...making sure she is jumping forward and not backwards, ha!
Look at that view!!!
Some of the gorgeous countryside on our hike with Oscar.
The local ladies posing for me while they cross one of the cable bridges. Crossing these things are not for the faint of heart! It's quite scary...lots of missing planks...yikes!
Roasting those beans!
A slightly disturbing photo of me but I think it accurately describes how I was feeling about the making and tasting of our chocolates! Absolutely delicious...I definitely ate my body weight in cacao that day!!! Nom nom...
We got really fancy with our chocs...all different kinds of flavours; honey, peanut butter, coconut, cinnamon, ginger, and walnut. Maybe we should get into the chocolate biz...
Rachael show casing her final product...
Contemplating life...on a swing...the only place to do it!
The best sign of all time...bhahahahaaaa