Semuc ChampeyOctober 24, 2016 in Guatemala
Utopia! The name says it all!
We left Fronteras, Guatemala in a minivan at around 1 pm. We were traveling with our good friends, Jen & John from Aeeshah, to see Semuc Champey. In the van we were joined by two young ladies. One was named Helen and she was taking a break from her volunteer work at Casa Guatemala. She was a nurse from England who specialized in jungle nursing. The other young lady was an 18 year old from Germany who was backpacking around Central America. Wither just the 6 of us there was plenty of room for everyone to relax and spread out. The trip to Lanquin was definitely part of the adventure. The majority was on very bumpy dirt roads and near the end these were mountain roads that twisted, turned, and road along the edge of some intense drop-offs. After about 6 hours we were in Lanquin. Here we were loaded in to the back of a pickup truck with big rails much like a mini version of Guatemalan cattle trucks. As we headed out of town the road turned back in to a dirt road and again we started heading up and down very steep roads back in to the jungle in the pitch dark. It was a very fun and not a little scary!
When we arrived at Utopia we were very warmly greeted by Pia and the staff in the magnificent main room of the main hotel area. There were huge wooden tables, padded chair swings, hammocks, and a great bar in this huge open-air room. The other guests were just finishing up dinner and we were famished. No problem; Pia served us up this amazing black bean soup, salad, yummy bread with a spicy spread, and a delicious desert. Along with our meal we all had some great, cold, much needed cocktails. After a long day of travel and good food and booze, we were all ready for our beds!
We were lead through the dark, down some dirt stars, toward the river and our cabins. We could smell the wonderful lush surroundings and we could hear the rushing river but it was way too dark to see anything. The room was perfect. It had two double beds and private toilet and sink. The shower was outdoor but it was literally just outside our door and it too was private. We slept like logs with our full bellies and the soothing sounds of the river.
The morning brought us the wonder of our gorgeous surroundings. We dressed and headed up to the main area to meet up with our friends. After a great breakfast we loaded into the truck and headed out to Semuc Champey. At the park we were taken to a place where we could leave any belongings that were not waterproof. At this point we headed up a beautiful path to a cave entrance. Here we were given candles as we tentatively headed in to the cold, chest deep water of the cave. It quickly got dark and the lights from the candles made it a magical experience as we continued our trek. It was a long hike that included climbing up and down ladders, rope climbing up a waterfall (yes, a waterfall in the cave), jumping off rocks, and sliding down through narrow tubes that splash us into the water of a lower cave. As the cave was pitch black, much of this was done with total trust and confidence in our guides. It was very beautiful, quite exhilarating, and tons of fun.
Heading to our lunch meant having some fun along the way. The park had rigged a huge swing that went out over the river. They demonstrated the proper way to position yourself and told us that we had to let go and jump into the river at the highest point in the swings arch because often the return would slam you into one of the two metal support poles. Several of the young people went on this swing but the closest I got was the taking of videos.
We started our walk to the place where we were to have lunch and soon came up to the single lane bridge. (I use the term lightly as there were big boards on boards and there were gaps big enough for your foot to fall through.) We were told that there was one spot where we could jump into the river if we wanted. The bridge was about 8 meters high but it looked a lot higher. Again it was the brave young people that partook as I filmed.
Time for lunch! We had boxed lunches from Utopia that were very good but there were plenty of locals cooking up various food on site. I didn’t have any of the local food but it smelled quite yummy.
After lunch we were guided up a steep mountain for about a 30 minute hike so that we could get an overview of the beautiful step pools of Semuc Champey. The view from the top was breathtaking! (Although admittedly the hike had done a good job of taking my breath already!) We climbed back down where we were left to explore the pools on our own. The first pool was at the top of the land bridge under which the main river flowed. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. The river squeezed down to less than half its normal size and so it was blasting under this huge land bridge. As we stood in the completely calm, serine pool it was hard to fathom such a turmoil going on under us. We made our way down the pools, jumping and sliding from one to the other. The water was cool and clear and full of little fish pecking at our skin. At the last pool we peered over to see the river escaping the bonds of the cave and opening back out with amazing force.
After the cool, clear water of the pools we were ready to head back to Utopia. We were given the option of going back on the truck or grabbing a tube and jumping into the river and letting it take us back. Of course we opted for the tubes! We bought some cold beer from the local kids and plopped in to our tubes for a nice relaxing ride home. Not! We were enjoying our beer when the word was passed down that the coming rapids would splash us and wet down our beers so drink up. Whatever, I thought as I gripped my beer tightly between my knees and grabbed hold of my GoPro. Well, both went flying while I was doing everything I could not to tip over or hit the rocks as I tumbled through the rapids! Wow! I was so glad I had tied my GoPro on! It took some interesting video of the river bottom as it bounced off of the rocks! After that I readjusted my gear and my attitude as we continued to hit several places with rapids. We were in the river for about 45 minutes and despite my best efforts, I still ended up with lots of big black bruises on my bum! No worries, I was not hurt badly and I loved every minute of it!
Back at Utopia we had a nice hot shower and met up with our friends at the main building for another wonderful, family style, vegetarian dinner. It was filling and delicious. We spent the evening enjoying some cocktails, our friends, and the company of the other guest of the hotel with whom we had spent such a wonderful day!
The next morning Lane and I decided to take the Chocolate class. It was just the two of us so we had the instructor all to ourselves. As it turned out, his name was John and he owned the place. We loved spending a few hours learning about him, Utopia, and mostly about Chocolate/Cocoa. It is amazing that we have been eating chocolate our whole lives that actually has very little of the original bean still in it. We learned how to make our own chocolate through the roasting, peeling, and grinding process as we sampled along the way, drank red wine, and enjoyed the company of a most interesting man. We took our chocolate back the dining area where we had lunch and put our chocolate into molds and into the fridge to harden.
After lunch we decided to go for a walk around the area. Pia told us about a hike to a foot, suspension bridge. We set out with our walking stick in tow (mostly to scare off stray dogs). It ended up being quite a long hike. We passed farms, people and kids walking, homes, chickens, ducks, and dogs. At the bridge we had to nudge a fat pig out of the path. He protested with a grunt but did let us by. We were shocked at the suspension bridge. It was barley as wide as a sidewalk and there were several boards missing. Some boards that were still there were loose and other had been replace by big sticks that rolled under foot. We only went half way across, took some photos, and tip toed back to the safety of Tera firma.
After a good shower, Lane and I met our friends back at the dining room. We had a big spaghetti dinner after which Lane and I shared our chocolate with everyone. We all just relaxed as we enjoyed each other’s company in this beautiful place with these amazing people on our last night in Utopia!Read more