After a four hour trip back from El Salvador, I went to a nice dinner with the other volunteers, went to sleep, and got up to get on a seven hour bus ride to Lanquin, a small town in the part of Guatemala called Alta Verapaz. Since all the other volunteers were going back to school on Monday, and I had taken the week off for travel, I went by myself, but confident I would meet some people on my way.
After the long journey, I arrived at the hostel called El Retiro. My guidebook describes this as a backpackers dream place and it was right. Every person there was traveling through Guatemala or other surrounding countries. Everyone was really friendly and eager to share their travel adventures. It made for a fun atmosphere. Plus, the place was gorgeous! It was a bunch of cabins and small buildings surrounded by green mountains and the Rio (river) Cahabon.
I splurged and got my own huge room with private bath for a whopping $20. The best part was the hammocks which I spent a lot of time in. They win for most comfortable hammocks I’ve been in on this trip. There were also some other visitors on the property keeping me company.
The first night I had the delicious buffet dinner at the hostel restaurant and chatted with some other travelers. Dining there is a communal experience for sure. Then it was to bed to get up for my tour of Semuc Champey the next morning.
I woke up to pouring rain and was disappointed, thinking the trip might be canceled. But by the time we left the sun was doing its best to show its face and we traveled on a crazy scary, but beautiful, road to Semuc Champy. There were about 20 people on the tour.
The first part of the tour was exploring the caves of K’anba. These caves are in water so swimming is required. It is also pitch black in there. To light the way, each of us was given a candle. Holding a candle while swimming makes for a difficult task, but also a fun one. In the caves we were required to climb a series of ladders made of medal and rope. When you are in a wet underground cave and have water from mini waterfalls flowing in your face while trying to climb a steep ladder in addition to holding a candle and not running into rocks, it is just a tad scary. This cave most definitely falls under the category of things that would never be legal in the US. Not to mention we had one tour guide and 20 people. People were scared, one girl lost her shoes, and everyone banged into a few unseen rocks, but we all made it out alive.
Next adventure was jumping off a huge bridge and tubing. About half the group, me included, decided to skip the jumping part. I was worried my glasses would fall off, but mostly, it just looked terrifying! The people who didn’t jump walked down toward the river on very slippery rocks to get in their tubes. At the bottom, one girl slipped and fell. I tried to go over to her to see if she was okay, but before I could get there, I tripped and fell too…right on my face. My glasses broke my fall, and one of the lenses popped right out. Luckily, I was not hurt at all, but I could not say the same for my glasses and the one lense I assumed was in the bottom of the river. I would have been better jumping off the bridge!
With one eye open, I went tubing anyways and by this point the sun was shining brightly. It was a short ride down the river, but definitely fun. I could have done that all day.
When walking our tubes back to the place they had come from, two friends I had met on the shuttle went looking for my lense and actually found it laying on a rock! The guy tried to fix my glasses and put the lense back in place, but unfortunately he ended up popping out a screw and my chances were hopeless. I was to be a Cyclops for the rest of the trip.
I didn’t let it get to me, and instead trekked on to the pools of Semuc Champey. Semuc Champey is a 300 meter limestone bridge with turquoise pools and small waterfalls flowing over it. It’s not so easy to describe, except to say that it was absolutely stunning, so here are a few pictures.
Many people chose to do a really difficult hike up to a lookout point to see the pools from above, but do to my glasses incident, I chose to just relax and swim in the pools. The pools were really cool because you could swim a little, then relax on the limestone in the middle. It was wonderful. We spent a few more hours relaxing there and exploring the pools before heading back to El Retiro. The tour, despite my broken glasses, was amazing.
A few people I had met and I then decided to head to the Lanquin Caves to see the infamous exodus of the bats. At around dusk each night, thousands of bats fly out of the caves right above the people’s heads. Look out Gotham City, the bats have relocated to Guatemala.
The four other people and I jumped on the back of a pickup truck and were taken to the caves. I have never seen anything like it in my life. There were literally thousands of bats flying out of the caves and they were so close to us! I thought some of them would hit us for sure, but they just went along and flew right over our heads. I did my best to capture the experience in photos.
Next, it was back on the pickup to the hostel for a traditional Guatemalan dinner and drinks with some friends I had made, before I turned in for the night. Here I am with my new friend Maitae from Spain.
I was planning on staying in Lanquin for one more day and night to explore further, but I didn’t think I could go much longer only seeing with one eye. The next morning, I was back on the 7 hour shuttle, with one guy who had literally not showered in months (I did say this was a true backpacker crowd), and back to Antigua I went to spend my last few days in Guatemala. Luckily, I had an extra pair of glasses waiting for me there in my luggage.
This was the last big excursion of my time here, but it was a great one and yet another beautiful place I am privileged to have seen.
“Word Falls” -Indigo Girls