After a long, uncomfortable, cramped and somewhat unnerving bus ride I made it to the stunning Semuc Champey – well almost. All passengers were dropped off in the dark, in a tiny Gutamalan jungle village with a couple of shops and no hostel in sight. I was sold a package which included two long bus journeys in a supposedly comfortable bus to a hostel where I would get two nights stay. Where was this hostel then? Moments later people were saying hostel names and telling you to follow. I found mine and was led onto the back of a taxi truck. Somehow, they squeezed 20/25 people on the back, plus all our luggage. It was a pick up truck, with metal bars across so you could hold on. The taxi zoomed down very steep, unpaved, degraded jungle roads before speeding over inclines and whizzing around corners. It felt like a work out – standing up trying to keep my balance, attempting not fall into anyone and gripping onto the bars for dear life. The nights sky was beautiful and the shadows of the trees in the forest mysterious. I chatted to fellow passengers and found out that Semuc Champey had only been open to tourists for 10 years. Around forty minutes later four of us jumped off the truck outside our hostel. I braced myself for the worst. However, on entering I was pleasantly surprised. The jungle cabana was beautiful. It has a dinning area, hammock, swing and the room was pretty nice too – clean and there was a bed (all you need). There was no WiFi, hot water or phone service but these things are just a luxury and not too necessary in the hot, humid rainforest. There were no shops anywhere near so we were reliant on the hostel food, again I didn’t expect much but was delighted with my squash, rice, egg and salad dish – it was fabulous. I fell asleep to the sounds of the crickets and the calls of distant jungle animals.
I decided that the best way to see everything in one day was paying for a tour guide. Plus, I figured this would help the local economy. Our guide met four of us at the hostel and showed us the way to the entrance of the national park. On our hike, he pointed out many different trees – cocoa, coffee and various berries. I leant that in Gutamala 22 different native languages are spoken. Most people learn Spanish as their second language. Consequently, it may be slightly easier to understand Guatemalans. However, their Spanish may not be as correct as someone in Mexico who has Spanish as their mother tongue. The views of the mountainous, forested jungle were spectacular. It hosted various shades of green, lush vegetation and a turquoise river running through it.
As we walked small, adorable, local children asked us in English if we wanted to buy some chocolate or beer. It broke my heart, seeing these young kids selling goods for their families rather than going to school. They all had memorised the same line in English desperate for us to buy their chocolate. It seemed so unjust that they revived no education and were made to work from this young age.
A while later we entered the national park, where we climbed up many slippery, stone, stairs in the forested jungle to reach a mirador (viewpoint). From here we could see a magnificent series of pools and waterfalls along the river. The water was so crystal clear that I could see the rocks on the river bed. Looking closely at the fresh, blue, clam water I could see white water gushing down from from one large pool to the next. This magnificent water system was surrounded by the vast forested mountains which spanned on for what seemed an eternity. I glanced in the distance and saw evidence of deforestation, patches of forest had been cleared for farming. This saddened me and the situation with the Guatemalan citizens did not seem to have benefited from this farming – still people appeared to be suffering.
We hiked down to the river and had worked up a considerable sweat by the time we arrived. Jumping in was absolutely perfect. Our guide showed us the best spots to jump into the deep pools and we swam in each section. I lay in my back floating taking in the incredible surroundings. Guatemala is a truly beautiful country. I have only been here five days but everything I have seen so far has astounded me.
There was an underwater cave we briefly explored.we had to hold our breath on entering and could just about take in air inside. The rock structure was smooth, light grey and undulated.
Next it was time to explore an even bigger cave. We were given a candle each and entered the pitch black cliffs nearby. I waved my candle as high as I could discovering the crevasses, formations and cold, dark water we waded through. The further we entered the deeper the water got, we swam with one hand in the air holding the candle, through this extensive cave network. While it was incredible, part of me felt a little uneasy. We climbed up a rather dodgy constructed metal ladder ducking our heads and crouching from section to section. At one point we saw a waterfall gush down with tremendous force. From here we climbed up higher and reached another part of the cave. It was hard to grasp the enormity of it or how far we had come as it was so dark. On the way back I felt a little more relaxed and took a closer look with my candle at the walls. The water had carved the rock into all kinds of weird and wonderful shapes. We existed into daylight amazed at what we had seen.
I tried out a rope swing for the first time. I was so focused on making sure to get off the swing and not return and hit the wall that when I plunged off the swing I forgot I was meant to jump. I managed a huge belly flop into the fast flowing river giving myself quiet a shock. It was painful and swimming back against the current kind of tricky. I was not the only one that found the experience painful. I think I would really have enjoyed it if I landed correctly.
Next we tubed down the river. This sorted me right out. It was so relaxing tranquil and fun. The river hidden in the forest was majestic.
The final activity of the day was jumping off a 12 metre high bridge into the strong current. I was not one hundred percent convinced this was a good idea. Especially after realising my jumping skills were not up to much. However, I am not one to turn down a challenge. So, I climbed onto the railing sitting there thinking about what to do. The guide went first showing us how it was done. My goodness, it was extremely high, he dropped like a dead weight rushing down and smashing the water surface with tremendous force, power and speed. There was no way I could do it now. Then two of my friends went, the third opted out. If I was going to jump it had to be now. I thought about it too much, making it even harder. People say you regret the things you don’t do rather than the things that you do. On that note, I leapt with a huge scream and a racing heart. I hit the water with a great splash and revived the worst wedgie I have ever had. I was so pleased for doing it but am slightly suffering now sitting on another uncomfortable bus the next day was painful.
We took the taxi truck back to the hostel and chilled. The electricity in the entire region was down due to the pole being knocked over, so we ate by candle light and then used the generator to work the light bulbs. That evening we played some card games and had some drinks. My American friends had bought some fireworks and sparklers as they are illegal in California – so a novelty for them. We set them off and the local children played with the sparklers. It gave them so much joy it was so nice to see.
The bus ride the following day was a further adventure. It was even more uncomfortable than the first. Squeezed in the back, was not the best. To make matters worse, driving though Guatemala city was crazy, the traffic was intense, slums were followed by huge department stores – it was so surreal. We bumped into a car in front of us, everyone being thrown forwards. After two minutes of driving the bus was deemed broken. We all departed and took taxis to Antiga. I am very happy to be here in a lovely hostel with friendly people. It feels good to be back in civilisation.