Wednesday, January 23, 2013

CA Trek 2013 - Semuc Champey

Our next stop after Antiqua was Semuc Champey, known as one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala. It certainly lived up to its billing.

A late departure combined with a longer than expected travel time meant our we ended up spending pretty much the entire day in transit. The road had us winding up and down mountains all day which offered up some spectacular views of the surrounding valleys. The last stretch of the trip was down some of the narrowest and bumpiest roads I have ever encountered. Surrounded by dense jungle, in the dark and with a light rain starting to come down, it was a bit of a harrowing experience.

We finally arrived at our hostel in a nearby village, ready to unwind. After a warm meal, we commenced with the standard drinking and dancing. Though we were all pretty tired and didn't last for long, we managed to go hard enough to get our biggest and smallest members up on the bar.

The next morning, we set off for Semuc Champey in truly local style. Our mode of transport: a single pickup truck with shoulder-height steel support bars surrounding the bed. The nineteen of us crowded into the back and took on the bumpy jungle roads. A couple local boys hitched a ride along the way, standing on the back bumper until they got near their destination and hopped off.

We finally arrived and were lead by our guide up a steep mountain trail. Drenched in sweat, we reached the top and were rewarded with an eagle's-eye view of the natural pools below. Caught up taking pictures, I actually found myself separated from the group at one point and headed down the wrong path, which lead to some frantic jungle running to reunite with them.
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Having made our way back down the mountain, we dropped off our luggage and went for a swim in the crystal-clear pools formed by a river winding through the mountains. The water was cool but not cold and felt great after our hike. A couple people had waterproof cameras, so we had a great time jumping in and out of the pools. With huge forested mountains surrounding us, it was a gorgeous setting to have some fun.
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A short walk from the pools took us to the caves of Lanquin. This was to become a crazy adventure that would never be allowed in the US, but will live long in memory. There is an underground river flowing through the caves. It ranged in depth from just a couple feet to over my head, but was barely moving and easy to swim in. The cave was completely unlit - we were each given a single long white candle for light. Our guide was nothing short of a madman, and he took us to some crazy spots. First there was the waterfall we could climb up a rope through, then the 10+ ft high ledge we could jump into a pool from, and finally a small hole with water running through it that we could shoot through from one room into the next. In hindsight, any one of the three could have lead to a serious injury, but everyone who tried them come out safe in the end. A few scrapes and bruises was a small price to pay for such an adventure.

Ready for something a bit more relaxing, we grabbed a bunch of inner tubes to go tubing down the river in. But before we could put in, we were presented with another option: a giant swing placed to launch ourselves into the river with. Mike Lebow, being a lover of all things daring and outdoorsy, went first, doing a graceful backflip off the swing. I lead the charge after him with a bruising side-smacker and was followed by several others' wince-inducing belly-flops. Battered but still in high spirits, we picked up our tubes and let ourselves float soothingly downstream.

There was still one challenge left available: the opportunity to cast ourselves from a 12m high bridge spanning the river. I am afraid of heights, especially when there is a risk of falling, and normally would never have even considered this. But something about the day's activities had me feeling brave and adventurous, so I decided to give it a go. Directions to jump from a very specific location and admonishment for deviating even by a step raised eyebrows and questions regarding safety, hardly helping calm the nerves. As I stood in to the edge, grasping the steel garters behind me, I had a moment of fear. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath to clear my mind. After a quick look up at the sky, I leapt. Elegant I was not, but I landed safely. The brief seconds underwater, surrounded by cold and silence, gave me a feeling of incredible calm. It all made me feel a little bit more alive. Four of us made the jump in total, all without incident, all glad we had taken the plunge.

We loaded back into the truck for the ride home. I stood on the lower rails instead of the truck bed, letting the wind whip through my hair as we bounced down the road. Feeling a little invincible, I tried to get the group singing, though it mostly just lead to me belting out lyrics to songs others didn't know the words to.

Dinner back at the hostel was delicious and we warmed ourselves with plenty of beer and rum. The standard dance party was followed by small group conversations late into the night. It was a truly memorable day full of countless great experiences and moments shared between friends. IMG_8383

After a short night full of lots of drink and little sleep, we packed up and left at dawn to cross over into Honduras and head to our next destination: the ruins of Copan.

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