Who knew that this wouldn’t be so bad compared to the next shuttle I had to take!
Can you spot the little green bag?
Glad I bought an orange rain cover at REI that I used after my bag arrived covered in dirt.
View from the room near Semuc Champey
Jumped from that bridge!
Our little cabin in the jungle
Semuc Champey– absolutely gorgeous!
Steep steep stairs
Love my hat but it doesn’t always do so great for pics 🙂
My friend Kaika and I
Time to go swimming!
Yep- that bridge
Swimming through a cave with only this candle!
Kaika (my new found friend from Poland- lives in London)
Other friends from the backpacking trail…silly hat
Tubing and beer!
And so begins part 1 of my 12 day adventure on the road. Remember the schedule that posted last time…things are about to change!
It took me 12 hours to get from Pana to Lanquin. The bus that I met in Antigua was packed to the gills with people from Israel who had just finished their mandatory military service. Without a translator it was apparent that they were loud, ill-prepared for Guate traveling, demanding and unwilling to compromise. They fought with the poor bus driver every step of the way and were only concerned with themselves. I do not speak Hebrew but it was apparent to more than just me. Sitting in the back between 3 people I realized it was going to be a long ride. After we reached Coban the roads got worse until we were just driving on gravel. Once in Lanquin I dashed off the bus and started walking toward the pickup truck that would take me to Semuc. While I was walking a local asked me if that was my sister to my left. The two of looked at each other and smiled and I explained that we had never met. After introducing ourselves we realized that we were following the same travel path and decided to be buddies. Kaika is originally from Poland yet you would never know that English is her 3rd language because she has worked in London for 10 years.
With everyone and their luggage piled into the back of a pickup truck we set off on the wild jungle roads headed to Semuc. 40 minutes later we arrived at our hostel along the river. Upon a quick inspection we realized that the top bunk of the dorm rooms was to sketchy for us to risk so we paid for an upgrade to a private cabin with bathroom. We were both thankful to have had the other person to help defray the costs.
The wonderful part about traveling by yourself and getting on the backpacking trail is that you find many people just like yourself. While on the truck we quickly made friends with two guys from Spain (one now lives in Chicago), a woman from Argentina now living in Switzerlands, a woman from Alaska off on a quest to “find herself” and a couple nurses from Italy. At dinner we continued to swap stories and backgrounds over dinner until the humidity and travel time forced me to go to sleep.
In the morning we set off on our day tour of Semuc Champey, Kamba caves and river tubing. We began by climbing the steep trail to the Mirador to get a birds eye view of the limestone pools that cascade into each other. With our legs shaking we descended until we reached the pools where we quickly jumped in. Our guide then led us from the little waterfalls, to natural slides and cliffs to jump off. The water is warm, clear and deep in some parts and is a popular place for locals to swim as well. After lunch we hiked up to the opening of the Kamba cave where we lit our handmade candles and began to wade through the water filled passages. I was very thankful for my Keen hiking/water sandals because everyone else had flip flops which were useless when it came to swimming through the cave, climbing ladders, waterfalls or rock faces. All of this was done with zero outside lighting minus the candles that everyone carried. It was an incredible experience that would never be found in the states. To be able to see the formations with just the light of a candle was fascinating and to have to swim to see them even more amazing. After exiting long after my candle burned out we grabbed our tubes and floated slowly back towards the hostal. To our surprise, there were young boys selling beers from coolers that they had in their tubes. For Q5 we sipped on beer while floating along (it was terrible beer but it seemed to fit the occasson).
After hiking back towards the hostal the guide suggested that we could take one final jump from the bridge. The locals had been doing it all day and after seeing a few of the guys do it I decided that one woman had to do it. My friend Kaika had been recording the day with her go pro (definitely getting one for my next adveture) so she agreed to record it. It was definitely a thrill and something that made me a bit famous because I was the only girl to do it.
After raining all night it quickly became apparent that the dirt roads had turned to mud. After the pickup ride into town I was picked up by the shuttle at 8 to leave for Flores. However due to a terrible confluence of events (the same group of kids from Israel and washed out roads), I didn’t leave for Flores (9 hour drive) until 4 pm. In fairness to the Israelis the situation was dangerous. The company tried to put 20 people in a shuttle plus all of their luggage on top. While this might be common for local transport it’s not right for safe long distance travel. However, the place to step up and stop everything would have been at the beginning or at the place the driver said would be safe to unload everyone. But no, they decided to get off and complain on an incline while backed up in traffic due to an accident. Even when the road cleared they refused to move or listen so I was forced to look behind me as one vehicle went off the road after another. Some would slide towards us and all I could do was hope that it stopped. My patience had gone out the window but as the only spanish and english speaker I was in charge of translating everything. It took uus 4 hours to get off that dreaded road and after everything that had happened the driver refused to continue. Instead he dropped us off at a hotel and drove off saying that there would be another bus to come pick us up.
4 hours later a bus arrived and with 10 people packed in we left. The driver had already driven from Flores that day so he was tired and just as ticked as everyone in the shuttle. Once again I was in charge of translating so I knew it was going to be a long night. One of the windshield wipers broke and despite having all of the windows opened it was still fogging up because of the rain and humidity. The roads were filled with potholes and speed bumps so it was rough going and I tried not to think about the incidences of robbery on dark roads in Guate. I did have a lovely conversation with a guy from the Netherlands about travel and fair trade in Latin America but it was in between moments of tension. At one point around 11pm we stopped at a gas station for food. As I was stretching my poor body who arrives in their own private large bus but the group of Israelis. My nightmare continued as they got out, acknowledged my presence and said “look what we got.”We ended up following them all the way to Flores.
After arriving at 1 am I helped the two younger Israeli girls find their hostel and then the older couple, also from israel, that I had spent the entire day with. The four of them helped me understand Israeli culture and also prevented me from making a large stereotype of Israeli travelers. After everyone had left the tired bus driver said I could sleep on a bench in the travel agency’s office until I needed to be at the station at 4 am for my 5am bus. I slept for a couple hours and then he kindly drove me to the station (mostly thankful that I didn’t have to encounter the prostitutes we passed along the way).
At 5 am we left and made one stop to pick up guess who…the Israelis and even more Israelis. I tried to sleep as much as I could but my horrible transport experiences were not over. We crossed the border and waited a good while for the bus and the Israelis to cross over. Meanwhile I went to the bathroom. Upon receiving the soap and towels from a Guatemalan woman who was working there politely said thank you in Spanish to which she responded “We’re in Belize. We speak English. There’s no need to show off.” Welcome to Belize!
Pictures and stories from island life to come!