Thursday, November 15, 2012

Semuc Champey

I think one of the coolest trips I have ever taken was to Semuc Champey. It was completely worth the half a day travel from Antigua to Lanquin and then the other bumpy hour or so it took to get from Lanquin to this natural beauty.

It was not easy getting to Lanquin; it was long, hot and towards the end quite bumpy. I took a shuttle bus from Antigua to Lanquin with several other tourists. There was a family from Spain as well as other Europeans and North Americans, including some Guatemalans. The driver spoke only Spanish, and everyone there seemed to be pretty competent in the language so I was a little lost and didn't speak up when I was not understanding. Most of it was during breaks and how much time we had and so on.

One was accommodation. They were sorting out who to drop off where and which people needed to find a place to stay. I needed a place to stay, but that was not very clear to anyone because of the language barrier. Luckily the man from Spain helped me out and I was soon set to stay in a resort area right on the Lanquin river. I only had time to stay there for 2 nights. I got there late the first night and had to catch my ride early after the second night so that really left me only one day there.

There were several things you could do there. but you could only really do one of them in a day. I had the option of tubing or exploring caves on a night walk, but if I chose to do one of them I would not have been able to see the under ground river. That was why I spent so much time in a van, so I was up early the next morning to do just that.

The tour had us climb on the back of a pick up truck that had bars all around it. We stood, holding on to dear life to these bars as we took the 11km drive down the mountainside to Semuc. The ride was bumpy, the roads were twisty and narrow. In fact, 2 vehicles couldn't drive side by side so if we met another coming up one had to pull over to the side while the other passed by.

Our first stop was a cave with water that ran through it. I had never experienced a cave before and while I can swim, I am not a strong swimmer. This did not phase me as I thrive on a little adventure. For some reason I was never given a candle like everyone else. I didn't speak up either and demand one because it is not in my nature and I wasn't sure I could handle swimming while holding a candle and trying to keep it lit.

I brought my camera with me but the caves were quite dark and I did not get a good picture opportunity. I took a couple pictures anyways. I really enjoyed the tour itself. Like I said, I had never been through a cave before and I enjoyed swimming in this dark cave dimly lit by small candles that moved as people tried to stay a float. 

 There were rocks that were quite slippery and there were different areas where we had to climb up rock ladders or ropes. We even had to walk through a small water fall.

To add to the fun, at times our tour guides stopped us to do something crazy. Do you think I was adventurous enough to climb up the cliff about 10 feet and jump--blindly--into a small part of the cave with deep water all around?

Believe it or not I was not that adventurous. I think part of the reason is because I didn't know anyone on the tour. I was not with friends and thus did not care if I didn't look so adventurous. I am pretty sure if I was with a good friend I would have attempted the seemingly dangerous feat. Had my friend gone first, I would have been left with no choice but to do it. I guess that saying "if your friend jumped off the bridge, would you?" applies. I'd ask a question first. Did my friend survive, with little to no injuries? Then why not, if he can do it I can too!

No friend here meant no risk.

After the adventure through the cave came the relaxing part of the day. Semuc Champey is a collection of limestone pools that sits on top of an underground river. The water is crystal clear and very refreshing to swim in.

There are several pools to choose from, all on different levels. Our guide started us on the higher level and we swam down through all the pools. We stopped occasionally to take turns jumping down into the next area, or to slide down the rocks into the water below. I once again did no jumping.
In the water when I sat on the rock in the shallow part of the limestone pool, small fish swam over to my feet and started nibbling them. It didn't hurt, they were just eating the dead skin off my feet. It actually reminded me of Dr. Fish in Korea. This of course was more natural.

I could not have chosen a better day to visit. It was warm and the sky was so blue. I was very fortunate. The weather made swimming in the limestone pools that much more refreshing!

Just beyond the beginning of the lime pools is the Cahabon river, which runs underneath where we were swimming. This picture is where the river starts to run under ground.

We ended the eventful day with a long hike up to a lookout point where we could get an aerial view of the limestone pools. It was a great way to end an awesome day. It leaves me wondering if I will ever make my way back to this remote, hard to get to paradise. If there is one place I would recommend going to, it would be Semuc Champey.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lago de Atitlan

One can't miss spot in Guatemala is the lake. It is beautiful and is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. It is in the highlands and it does not flow to the sea.

There are an abundance of small towns on the lake to stay on and I chose San Pedro at the foot of a volcano by the same name. It was recommended by friends from the volunteer house. I am sure any town would have been beautiful as the surrounding scene was amazing.

One famous thing to do at the lake is learn Spanish. When I arrived I noticed an abundance of Spanish language schools. From what I understood, these schools gave daily instruction for a few hours combined with an immersion program that housed you with a family. Tuition was cheap and included room and board where you would be forced to speak Spanish regularly. If I were to go to Guatemala again, I would stay on the lake and take lessons to improve my Spanish.

San Pedro had a lot of tourists as well as English speaking residents. With all the Spanish schools that is not a surprise. I met a few retirees from the United States who now call Guatemala and Lake Atitlan home.

I took a chicken bus to the town of Panajachel where I caught a water taxi to San Pedro. I spent two nights there. The first day I walked around with my camera and snapped some pictures of the lake and then ate on a rooftop balcony with a view. The next day I climbed the volcano in the area and then I spent time relaxing and reading on a large rock I found right in the lake. I could not have chosen a better day to do this as the sky was so blue and absent of clouds.

Eventually a cloud did show up, but it was still a gorgeous day. I celebrated by getting a sun burn.