Week 30 – Ruins and Caves and Ancient Cultures, Oh My

Having spent a week or so in Rio Dulce… checking out the different swimming pools and happy hours around all the marinas, and enjoying the excitement of the World Cup. We decided it was time to head out and explore some of this country.

So we got up early…
Sunrise Rio Dulce
Sunrise over the Rio Dulce

And jumped on a bus to Guatemala…. “Hey! Wait! I thought you said you were in Guatemala already??” I hear you say… well for some strange reason the locals refer to Guatemala City just as Guatemala… so you can travel from anywhere within the country of Guatemala to Guatemala ) or sometimes Guate… it was little hard to get used to at first… but we got with the program.

Although the country is pretty small, though incredibly densely populated, it seems to take ages to get anywhere as the roads are great and super windy, up and down through the mountains. It means some spectacular views of course, and sometimes you get to enjoy them even closer than you care to when the bus and truck drivers play a little chicken while passing on the curves… but they do seem to know what they’re doing.Six hours (well more like seven) later we arrived in Guate at the terminal of the Litegua bus, feeling rather sore , but glad to arrive (and this was on a semi-luxury bus). Luckily as we arrived rather later than scheduled we only had a few minutes to wait for the next bus out to Antigua… actually Antigua Guatemala (which means old Guatemala… how many Guatemalas can they live with in this country).We were headed to this lovely, colonial town to meet up with some friends, one of whom we’d met in the jungle in Belize… but my stupid local phone was not allowing me to text her… so we rolled into the beautiful old town of Antigua wondering how to find the girls… when Tadd suddenly points and shouts, “There’s Cassie!” … it wasn’t the first time that had happened with her… we had sent her an email once we arrived in Rio Dulce, and as she and Jill walked down to check their email and see if they had a message from us… they bumped into us at the bar!!

So we jumped out of the bus and yelled down the cobblestones as the girls disappeared around a corner… but only for a second, as Jill popped her head back around and spotted us. It turned out Jill was grateful that we found them at that moment, as she was saved from going to wander around some supposedly wonderful old convent or something and dragged off by us back to the hotel and on to Happy Hour!!

Antigua by night
Antigua by night
We had hoped to go hike up the nearby live volcano Pacaya but it had apparently spewed lava only the week before and so, most likely wisely so, they weren’t allowing silly tourists to climb all the way to the top. Instead we spent a couple of days chilling with the girls, shopping, wandering around, enjoying the night life, a little salsa dancing, and waiting to bump into a jewelry-making friend we’d met in Placencia (Just ask for Alan in the plaza he said… well no one knew him… but just when we had started to think it was a joke, we turned around and there was Alan!).We picked the girls’ brains about where to go and what to do in Guatemala and then Cassie headed for Mexico, Jill back to the UK and we squeezed into a minibus with a bunch of other gringos and another crazy driver and set off for the mountain town of Lanquin.

The drive wasn’t too bad, well, until we headed down the dirt road from Coban to Lanquin. It was worth it though! On Cassie & Jill’s advice we had called ahead to one of the popular and busy backpacker hostels – Zephyr, so arrived another 7 bus hours later in Lanquin and just grab our bags and wander off to our new temporary home on top of the hill.

The tiny town of Lanquin is dwarfed by the surrounding mountains.
Lanquin Town
El Zephyr was pleasant enough place, full of backpackers, dogs, kittens and run by an English bloke and a Belgian guy. Apart from not getting too much sleep the first night (it was Julie’s birthday apparently) and the water pump going out on the 2nd or 3rd day requiring bathing in the river… we had a lovely time.

There was some amazing food and drinks,

Pizza night Tadd

Fortunately we arrived for the infamous Pizza Night…. Yummmmy!!!

…tubing with the birthday girl, and then the essential trip to Semuc Chempey. A bunch of us climbed into a pick-up truck

On our way to Semuc
On our way to Semuc

But us oldies decided we’d be more comfortable inside the truck’s cab (you should have seen how many of them wanted to try to squeeze in the cab on the way back!)

And we headed up and out through Lanquin,

Hacia Coban 3

Semuc bridge
Semuc bridge
and then proceeded to drive straight up the side of a mountain and down the other side.The first place we arrived was at Las Grutas Marias (The Maria Caves?), but before we could venture in we were strong armed into playing on a rope swing over the river. Tadd went first and claimed it was no big deal…

Then we hiked up the hill, past the waterfall to mouth of the cave.
Semuc jungle trail
Semuc jungle trail
semuc cave waterfall
semuc cave waterfall
Where our guide began handing out candles!! One each… and then lit them… interesting!! The group of 10 or so of us then followed him into the cave… I’m sure this is the start of some stupid horror or vampire movie!! But it actually turned out to be pretty cool.
Grutas las marias
Grutas las marias
We walked through the waist-high water, scrambled over rocks, swam, climbed ladders, and clambered up small waterfalls… all while holding a candle… that amazingly stayed alight most of the journey!!
Grutas Las Marias 4
Grutas Las Marias 3
There were the occasional bats… but otherwise just us and the caves. We’re pretty sure that if they had really explained what we were going to do, we might have passed on it!!After emerging from the caves, we wandered across the river to Semuc Champey.
Semuc raging river
Semuc raging river

 

We checked out the map and decided that we didn’t need to walk up to the “mirador” (lookout) as that would undoubtedly mean a big climb. But when the guide came up and announced that was exactly where we were headed no one bothered to say no!
Semuc sign
The trail started off as a pleasant ramble through the rainforest, but we quickly came to our turnoff, which sent us pretty much straight up a sequence of steep wooden staircases… half an hour and much sweat later… we made it… and while we were mostly red in the face and still trying to catch our breath, the group decided it had been worth the trek… WOW!! What a view we had.
Semuc view 3
And it was even better than the crappy picture my blackberry could take… there is a big, gushing river flowing down through the forest, that suddenly disappears underground for about a quarter of a mile… while up above there a series of turquoise pools that look a lot like the terracing of a rice paddy from this high up.

After the picture taking, we hiked back down and went for a swim, slither, swim, jump, swim dive, swim down through the different pools, before finally heading back, exhausted to El Zephyr. Fun, Fun, Fun!!

Semuc view tadd

 

semuc rio 2

Semuc pools