|Semuc Champey. How could you not want to jump right in?|
After the bustle of Semana Santa in Antigua, it was time for more of the beautiful outdoors and what better place than Lanquin. The small town of Lanquin serves as the perfect base for exploring Semuc Champey national park, renowned for its spectacular loveliness. If you are an adventurer, move Semuc Champey to the top of your to-do list NOW.
Sometimes fun hits exactly when you really need it to. I stayed at the Zephyr Lodge, a place I had been hearing about from other travelers since literally day one in Merida. It is perched on a high ridge with breathtaking 360 degree views all around you. You could not imagine a more picturesque spot. It is a super popular hostel and was completely booked; I snagged a reservation as a thank you for delivering a passport a friend left behind in Antigua. After a rough eight-hour shuttle ride, I was welcomed with a beer, bbq, and excellent company. Couldn’t think of a better way to start the next three days.
|Another gorgeous Central American breakfast view, looking down from Zephyr Lodge to the river on morning number one.|
|Perched on the edge.|
|My favorite spot off-the-beaten-track at the hostel. Who can resist a secret hammock?|
On the first full day, our group from the hostel piled into the back of a blue flatbed pickup truck at 8:30am and headed for Semuc Champey. We road 11km through the jungle, jostling up and down on the crap road into the valley. I kicked off my flip flips and loved every bump and bounce in my bare feet, occasionally going mini-airborne with glee. After an hour, we arrived and took a short and steep hike up for a breathtaking view of our next stop.
|Panoramic of the beautiful Semuc Champey. Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.|
|Can’t wait to go swimming!|
We spent two hours frolicking below in the shallow pools. The water was a clear blue-green, which became my favorite color of the day. I particularly liked crawling on my belly over the smooth rocks covered in brown slime. Short waterfalls link the pools; all are excellent and refreshing to play in and a few make for a bumpy slide down. Tiny fish nibbled my feet as I watched everyone make their way down one large slide with a mad sharp dogleg; no one succeeded gracefully and there were many awkward dismounts, which made it that much more awesome.
|So many kick ass swimming holes on this trip–unbelievable! Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.|
From the pools, we moved on to phase two of the day: caving. It is hard to believe that the day could get better, but it does. We discarded our shoes, sarongs, and backpacks, entering the Grutas K’anba caves in swimsuits and bare feet each carrying a taper candle. As we waded into the first tunnel and the water started coming up around my legs, it was impossible not to recall Indiana Jones down in the catacombs of Venice (sans the rats).
Going deeper into the cave, we swam holding the candles alight and aloft with one hand and paddling with the other. We climbed waterfalls and ladders, felt the way carefully with our feet, and scrambled up wet ledges. Our guide leaped from the front of our group to the back with ease, taking candles from his hat to light our way. At the end of the tunnel, the men were goaded into jumping off a tall ledge into a small pit of water, supposedly free of snakes. Me and two other girls scuttled over to the opposite ledge to watch, but quickly became the target of cannonballs. On the return trip, we finished with a final blind plunge. What can you do but just have fun when the guide sticks you in a hole barely big enough to squeeze through with darkness below, points your feet directly down, takes your candle, puts your hand on a hold, says “don’t let go!” and pushes you through? Exhilarating finish. I landed with my face under another waterfall and was thrilled not to lose a contact.
I have discovered on this trip that I adore caving. Leaving the caves, I was in a state of excited bliss and knew it was a day I would remember for however long forever is to me.
|Cave women, splashed by cannonballs within an inch of our lives and loving it. Photo courtesy of Amanda Dwyer.|
After an intense day one exploring, chilling was in order on day two. Luckily, there was the perfect option: tubing down the river. We hopped in the water with nothing but our tubes, selves, and two big mesh bags filled with beer. It was HOT, and the water felt fantastic. We drifted down, hooking together to slow the ride, chatting, and making our way through the bags ‘o beer. With so much Aussie slang being thrown around, it was this American’s strategy to laugh and enjoy, even if I only understood half!
|Ah, floating. What better way to see the river? Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.|
|Me and two of the Aussie boys. Wheeee!! Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.|
|More fun, towards the end of our beer stash. 😉 Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.|
We got home early in the afternoon and kept the chilling going. During an afternoon siesta at the secret hammock a few drops began to fall from the sky and I prayed for it to really rain. Within an hour, the heat broke and the sky opened up. Thunder and lightening cut out the power and threatened us in the open air, wind wrecked our card game, spraying cards all over the table. And when cards isn’t working, what’s to be done? For the rest of the night, the answer was tequila shots. In the ensuing aftermath, I poorly defended the sanity of women in gender debates, danced atop broken glass, laughed hard, remained exceedingly hydrated, accidentally kicked a dog in the face (discúlpame!) while playing giant Jenga, asked inappropriate questions, and assured multiple people that everything was going to be okay and they did likewise for me. We all need a little comfort sometimes. And where the hell did that hat come from? I think you just got Gautemalaed.
Awesome crew, hell of a lot of fun. It was sad to see everyone ship out in their separate ways in the morning. But that is the way of life on the road. Embracing the impermanence and accepting another beautiful experience into my life.
BEWARE: Many a traveler looses their heart in Lanquin. It is a special and odd paradise that sucks people in, as can be seen by the number of travelers that return to work for extended periods of time at the hostel for just room and board. I wasn’t bit that bad, but it was tough to leave. If I could do it all over again from the beginning, I would in a heartbeat, 100%, any day of the week. Most definitely a highlight.