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semuc champey

We head into some pretty remote territory. Isolated mountain aldeias of a couple of houses are punctuated by occasional larger settlements with bustling markets. The other traffic we encounter is most commonly women on foot, generally burdened by large bundles carried on their heads. Every now and then a heavily overloaded pickup truck or mini-bus passes by raising huge clouds of dust.

Road chaos in a market town.

Finally we make it to Lanquin, the village nearest to the legendary Semuc Champey.

A winning Guatemalan smile decorating a dentist surgery wall in Lanquin.

Watermelon is a life saver and readily available pre-cut almost everywhere.

There is only ten kilometres between Lanquin and Semuc Champey but they are not for the faint-hearted. I haven’t seen such ascents since leaving the Copper Canyon. I run into Vinko and Collette in Lanquin and they tell me the road to Semuc is unrideable. I did get off and push from time to time but I made it.

It's a rocky road...

...to Semuc Champey and if I was carrying as much gear as Silke I would lie down and cry. I admire her strength without reservation but doubt her common sense, just a little.

The going gets really rough when they feel the need to lay concrete. I have no idea of the gradient here but gnarly is the word for it.

The ten kilometres take us a couple of hours to achieve but the river when we arrive at it looks good. We set up camp at Tres Maria’s one of the three accommodation options available in the vicinity of Semuc Champey and without further ado make our way to explore in the company of Dave and Jana, a young couple from the US.

Camp by the river: the yellow tent is Silke's, mine in the middle and Dave and Jana's at the end.

Semuc Champey. This is it - the 'most beautiful' place in Guatemala. I'm not really one for superlatives but it is quite amazing.

The river rushes...

... and roars...

... plunging underground...

... below a series of tranquil turquoise pools where you can float away your cares...

... while sky gazing through the foliage.

It is quite gorgeous.

Jana chasing fish...

... in the quiet waters above...

... the roaring river below.

An extensive cave system with copious water running through it honey combs the limestone hills and the following day we opt to explore it. Dave is a keen caver and has lights and ropes but we discover that entry without a guide is not an option.

A map of the cave system. It winds for 11 kilometres through the limestone mountains - a river runs through the entire system and in many places you have to swim through deep water.

Exploring the darkness. Jorge, our guide, brooks no nonsense from his charges. He quickly takes Dave to task when he looks a little too independent and told our group, using me as a translator, that if we were good he would give us a good tour but if we were bad there would be consequences. He seems somewhat impressed by our seriousness when it become apparent that we have bought our own lights and tucks the candles that are provided for less well prepared tourist fetchingly behind his ears for safekeeping. He commandeers my head-torch because its batteries are stronger than the ones in his and leads us into the depths. We climb waterfalls and dive under rock walls into the mysterious bowels of the earth. I am not big on caves but this is quite an experience.

Jorge, in fact, was so cute and battered his eye lashes at me so charmingly and provocatively as we floated dreamily back to camp three kilometres down the green river - all the while murmuring enticing invitations to join him for a sunset stroll - that I almost broke my resolve not to kiss anyone less than half my age. (I will leave the precise figures discreetly veiled.)

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Vinko Grgic | February 16, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Awesome pictures Anna, it is quite difficult not to fall in love with Semuc Champey. Hands down it is the most beautiful site in Guatemala.

    I love the picture “the roaring river below” – wow, excellent!

    Good on ya for making it there with your bike, despite having to push some of the way. I really thought that some of those parts were unridably steep(especially where they had to pave two tracks to keep the road from slipping away due to the ridiculous grade).

    Vaya bien, Vinko

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