Sunday, December 18, 2011

Candlelight Cave Tours, Massive Bruises, Vertical Climbs to Amazing Views - Semuc Champey and Lanquin Caves

We woke up early and ate breakfast at the restaurant at El Retiro before getting ready to join the group going to the caves and Semuc Champey. As was becoming the norm, given the vagueness of our Bamba tickets, there was a bit of confusion regarding what our included tour actually included. It was determined that we could go to both the caves and the crystalline pools. Fantastic!

The bus arrived and picked us up. And when I say "bus" I should specify that it was actually a pick up truck with a caged back not unlike what you would find to haul livestock around. And into the back like livestock we went.

We arrived at the entrance to the caves and walked a bit to get to a spot to leave our stuff. We were told to wear proper footwear, since flip flops weren't enough. Those that did only have flip flops had the option to have them tied on their feet so they could walk through the caves semi-protected. Thankfully, we'd purchased those Croc-off shoes a couple days before and they came in handy!

Before venturing through the caves we had the opportunity to swing from the rope swing into the rushing water. Not about to turn down a mildly dangerous event, I got in line and waited. Meg, given the fact that she can't hear, opted to hang back a bit and observe before making her decision to swing. The idea was the guy minding the swing would yell "JUMP" as the person on it reached the correct spot... however, when unable to hear Meg just had to somewhat count off until it was time to launch herself into the air. 

I went first - and survived. The current in the water was extremely fast and the minute I hit the water I was being swept away. Off to the side I swam, climbed out and took my camera from Meg so that she could go. She lined up, got to the swing and went for it... did a pretty good job of leaving the swing at an appropriate time, but landed slightly off kilter and broke the surface of the water with her thigh. She made it out of the water (thank goodness!) despite the minor injury (which would turn into one of the most horrible looking bruises I've ever seen as the week went on.) 

After the whole group had had a chance to swing (if they wanted) we trekked up the hill a little bit to the entrance of the cave. We were all given candles to light the way. The caves were full of water, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow. We had a few guides leading the way. 

Highlights of the cave were climbing UP a waterfall, while getting pounded by water, being at the front of the group (I always end up there.. I hate getting stuck behind people) and the guide asking me if I was afraid of jumping (Of course not) and him directing me to scale a wall in the caves and jump into the darkness (there was a deep pool below) and on the way back shooting through a rushing water hole into the darkness below. 

We made our way back out of the cave after about an hour and a bit of adventuring. Not ready to end the adventure we were given tubes and shown the path to the spot to climb aboard before floating downstream. 

Meg and I floated downstream, getting completely different views from the water than from on the shore.

After we got off the tubes the group gathered again and walked to the entrance to Semuc Champey. We had lunch (hosted to us by a tiny park-side stall) and then headed into the park. The walk to the crystalline pools wasn't too long and soon we were greeted with a gorgeous view.

The water was warm and absolutely gorgeous. Limestone pools like stairs along the river, there were little waterfalls and islands to explore. Not long after we'd been in the water I discovered something that was somewhat familiar to me - the nibbly little teeth of Dr. Fish!

We swam around, enjoyed the water and generally just relaxed for a while. Then it was time for our hike. What!? Hike!? Again?

The guide lead the group up the side of the mountain, about a kilometer straight up along a pathway (with stairs etc built in, thank god) that was far more exhausting than even the hardest parts of the trek through the jungle in Thailand or up the volcano two days prior. As always, I walked too fast and wore myself out. Each time we thought we were there we turned a corner to see even more vertical climb to go. It only took about half an hour but it was the most excruciating half hour I've experienced in a long time.

The end result, however, was completely worth it:

We all took turns staring over the platform that had been built to allow us to get a look at the pools from above. Snapped some photos (which really don't accurately show the heights to which we'd climbed) and then started our descent. 

Which required us to go UP first. What!? Why more up!? 

I was tired of up. 

However, eventually the path started to go in a downward fashion. Back to my billy-goat tendencies, I was making my way down the hill at a fast pace while Meg was left behind. Granted, her leg was pretty sore from the swing incident earlier. 

We made it down, injury free, and back onto the bus, er truck, and back to the hostel. Showers all around, warm and dry clothes and a massive dinner (this time Meg and I shared a buffet dinner) and a few drinks before bed. 

Off to Flores in the morning!

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