Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Semuc Champey in 4 parts

Our two nights and one day in Lanquin/Semuc Champey were, to say the least, intense! Even if this is quite a touristic area it is a bit far away from everything and the closest larger city, Coban, is only accessible by a road where any speed above 30km per hour is probably not recommended (if you want to get to the other side with the vehicle in one piece)!

Things like hot water or wi-fi (we were supposed to have wi-fi on our hostel at certain hours but were told that a tree had fallen over the antenna so there was no signal) were non-existent. There were signs asking us to turn off the lights when not in use (which we all should do anyway) and at some point there was even no water in our shared bathroom! And we were in Lanquin, which is still a kind of a small town! Semuc Champey was 45min away (by van) or 10kms away, deep into the jungle.

As I've said, this was an intense experience so I'll write this post divided by chapters:

1. The stay
The name of the place we stayed was Oasis Hostel, most probably due to its location near the water and scenery around (green everywhere!) even though it was two steps from the small town of Lanquin as I mentioned before. Our "cabin" was on the top of the hill and on the first night, after 3h30 + 8h of travelling and (finally) with our backpacks, I confess I was wondering why, why did it have to be that one!! But the view next morning was worth it. We could see the different hills surrounding us in this amazing shade of green against the blue of the sky.

Our hut was the one up the hill on the left. At night leaving the light up was not recommended as the wild life loved to share the accommodation. We preferred a certain distance!

Los Banos
But the best thing of all was not the landscape, it was not the river that crossed the hostel premises and where we could bathe, it was not even the really nice people working there! It were the hammocks where we could lazily be watching the World go by. I am a hammock fan, I admit it. But who isn't, really? A piece of fabric where you can lay down and enjoy the scenery, see everyone go on their usual routine while you are there, semi hidden from them, semi hidden from the busy life outside, semi hidden from time itself. Yes, I do love a hammock :)

Life is good! :)

2. The ride
After the hammock, the open truck came and it was time to enjoy Semuc Champey so there we went. Recently reunited with my camera I was ready for everything, or so I thought! :p
As we reached the truck we understood that we would ride on the back that soon was loaded with people standing as there was no room for everyone to seat. I was actually one of the lucky ones that was able to enjoy the ride seated. The road, as expected, was full of bumps and the speed always seemed a bit excessive for the conditions in which it was being done. Along the way we crossed different very small villages (not even sure if I can call them that) where people live in wooden cabins. It is also quite common to see women and children seated by the side of the road just watching the traffic go by.

Piled up on the back of the truck
And another one just behind
A village hut
Forty five minutes later we were reaching the entrance of the Semuc Champey park. We could see the water and the bridge ahead. But this was not any other bridge. This is a wooden bridge held by big nails where you can see the river through the intervals of the boards. We later crossed that same bridge by foot and we were extremely careful as some boards were broken or about to brake. For me, it is an actual engineering miracle that so many trucks go through and that children can actually run across it; we couldn't even walk across it properly!

We actually asked and, apparently, no truck has ever fallen from the bridge, but they do sometimes get stuck on the holes of the bridge and stay stuck for several hours! Thankfully, that didn't happen to us!

3. The turquoise pools
Safely across the bridge we were ready to enjoy the wonders of Semuc Champey. We had over 800 steps in front of us to reach a viewpoint from where we could see all the pools. 800! Steps! In the woods! Up and down! After a few strategic stops along the way we finally reached the top and, indeed, the view was worth it!

A few more minutes of taking the whole atmosphere in and we were ready to go down and finally swim in the pools. The turquoise colour pools! :)

I have to confess that there, the photographer in me could not resist and even after being in my bikini only I took the camera for a few extra shots in the pools themselves. Sometimes I get kind of inebriated by the photographic potential of a place, due to its beauty, uniqueness or something else. This place was both gorgeous and unique!

I had to take a few more photos. I was not even stopped by the somewhat slippery rocks. There was one last photo I wanted to take with me and Andre in the water before I went and kept it away safely. And then it happened... One more step, the slippery rock betrays me and I am in the water. The water was shallow but for the camera that was enough. An unexpected swim in Semuc Champey that was a bit too much for it. One of my oldest travelling companions had just made its last trip, perhaps. This was the last photo of my sorely missed camera:

Despite the grief for the camera the pools were still there, jaw dropping gorgeous as they were before and the day was passing by. So there we were. From pool to pool, sometimes crawling, sometimes jumping, sometimes walking reaaallly slowly. The rocks were still too slipery for my taste. And when the sun came up, the water was so refreshing without being too cold for us to enjoy a long time in the pools. When the clouds would cover the sun it actually felt better to be in the water than out of it! If it had been for me, we had stayed there the whole day! :)

But the day still had a lot to come and there is when the 4th part of this post comes along.

4. The caves
After we stock up on energy (i.e, after lunch) we headed to the caves. Even if I still had a working camera it would have not been possible to take any photos. The caves were pitch dark and, most of the times, full of water. So each one of us (we went in a group) held a candle and were told to start walking into the cave. For the ones in front, usually Andre, me and a German couple, this was basically trying to guess where we were going to - if there would be water or not, if we had to swim with the candles in our hands or if we could stand. The guide was usually at the back to make sure no one was left behind. From time to time we would stop and ask what we were supposed to do. Most of the time the answer was "Go on, keep going!" And we did. 

But these caves were not just dark and full of water, there were wooden and metal ladders tied to each other in shady ways that we had to climb up and down, ropes to help us climb a wall, narrow passages and rocks below the water level that we could not see and that made every step extra careful. The caves were beautiful, no doubt about it, but most of the time I was actually concentrated on not stumping into a rock, not fall of a ladder or just keep my head afloat. It was intense! To top it all, by the end, some of us had either lost the candle, had ran them useless by wetting the string or had used most of it. My last stretch was done under the light that Andre was carrying a few meters away.

The balance of the day were a few bruises, a few scratches, a broken camera, an unforgettable experience and a truly inspiring images. The lake of course. But on the cave as well; at some point I looked back and saw a line of candle lights that were able to illuminate the cave. It was eerie and beautiful. What an experience!! I wouldn't repeat it the next day, but I'm really happy I've done it! :)

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