Lanquin/Semuc Champey, Guatemala
The trip from Livingston, back down the Rio Dulce and on to Lanquin was long and largely uneventful, and involved travelling along possibly the worst road in the entire world. Made of dirt and with potholes and size of small planets, it wasn't exactly enjoyable. At least the scenery was nice, climbing up into the mountains, with views around every corner. On the bus we met a young European woman who was backpacking for a year with her dog. The dog didn't seem to mind.
It was dark by the time we arrived in Lanquin. Getting off the bus we found a staff member from the hotel we were thinking of staying at, and he gave us a lift back to the hotel. We were given a basic wooden hut, with a handful of cockroaches thrown in for free. In the darkness we couldn't see much but it appeared to be a huge place and stacks of other tourists were also staying here, so we figured we made a good choice.
We didn't realise how cool this place was until daylight.
The only reason to stay in Lanquin is to experience Semuc Champey. In short, this was probably the best day trip we did on our whole holiday. It started with a ride in the back of a truck. Not sitting down on seats, but crammed in and standing up, holding on to the metal bars that acted as walls. Must be how cattle feel, but on a much shorter time scale and with access to food and water. On arrival, the first thing we did was undertake a 30 minute steep hike up to a viewpoint, showing us fantastic views over the pools that we would soon be swimming in. It was already extremely hot, so this trek was more of a tease than anything else. We did see a monkey with her babies in a tree, so this sort of justified the sweaty workout.
From the summit the path led straight down to the natural limestone bridge that contained these unbelievably gorgeous turquoise pools. The water was the perfect temperature, crystal clear and surprisingly deep in parts. Our guide took us on a bit of an adventure, resulting in us jumping off rocks into various pools, sliding down natural waterfalls, and showing us a cave where there was only enough room for our heads to surface. If we stopped moving while we were in the water, miniscule fish would charge at us and start eating our flesh. It sort of tickled at first, but if you didn't shake them off they would dig right in and cause far too much pain for something so small.
Lunch was a huge buffet spread of hot and cold food set up under a wooden shelter. I loaded up on rice, pasta, salad, beans, tortillas, guacamole and local fruit, replenishing all the energy I had burnt during the morning's activities (and storing some extra). From there it was on to the next part of the tour: the cave. This was a cave we mostly swam through, with an occasional climb up and down slippery rocks or ladders. Everyone was required to carry a candle to see where we were going, and we attempted to keep it dry while swimming with one hand. We weren't just mindlessly swimming/walking along though, there was also some excitement involved. I rock climbed up an internal waterfall using a rope, blindly jumped several metres down into a pitch black pool of water, rapidly slid down natural slides where the final destination was unseen and generally had a ball. We weren't very successful at keeping our candles alight.
Outside the cave we walked up river to a giant rope swing, where we could take a running leap from the ground and sail high over the water. Then the idea was to release the rope and fall straight down into the water far below, preferably feet first. Not too many people in our group were keen to try this but I couldn't wait. I loved it.
Lastly it was a relaxing float down the river in rubber tubes, with a few minor rapids thrown in for good measure. Little kids would swim up to us in their own tubes, selling drinks (including beer) and chocolates. I was pretty disappointed that the only alcoholic drink was beer. Danny took full advantage of it.
A relaxing end to the day.
The hostel organised an Italian buffet for dinner, which we felt we deserved after such an adventurous day. Pizza, veggie lasagne, pesto pasta, salad bar - I went nuts. I am undoubtedly a thrill-seeker at heart and today lived up to all my expectations. If you ever visit Guatemala, I highly recommend you go to Semuc Champey.