Monday, August 29, 2011

As I was Saying...

I’m not an adventure girl. This weekend I got talked into visiting Semuc Champey. It was billed as the “most beautiful spot in all of Guatemala.” Who doesn’t want to see that, right? But to get to this magical place would take a six hour car drive. Normally, 6 hours is nothing…but 6 hours in Guatemala is different. Not one road is straight, not one road is without trucks blowing exhaust (there are no laws to regulate such things here) and the roads are often bumpy. Just saying those things in a row like this is such an understatement for exactly what happened this weekend.

Juan Carlos (our driver and guide for the trip) picked the four of us up on Friday afternoon. He apologized because we had to take his old beat up hatchback to Guatemala City where we would pick up the rental car. I’m thinking, ok, it’s just 40 minutes then we’ll get a nice van and be able to spread out. I was so wrong. We traded in his old hatchback for a 1989 Nissan Sentra…there will be no spreading out on this trip. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into this little car for long weekend which would consist of hours of driving. One of my favorite moments of the trip was when Samantha, after searching through the radio stations, turned around and said, “Did anyone bring a CD?” Yeah, I also packed my walkman for my month long trip to Guatemala.

Now Juan Carlos is a special breed of people. He has many talents. One is, the guy knows absolutely everything about everything in Guatemala. He was a great guide. But the other main talent he has is for driving. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone multitask in the car better than this guy. He was pointing out several interesting things, talking on his 3 cell phones, texting on his 3 cell phones, snacking on cookies, extreme tail gaiting, and making the craziest passes on two lane roads with double yellow lines; all while driving a stick shift through windy mountain roads without a seatbelt. I will never be able to complain about anyone’s driving again. I feared for my life every second and I was in the center seat in the back without a seatbelt so I would’ve been the first one to die.

We arrived at the halfway point for the night (safely, thank goodness) at this beautiful place way up in the mountains. Our room was like a tree house in the jungle. It was pretty cool and I could not be happier to be out of the car. Little did I know, we’d just gone through the easy part of the trip. We stayed in this place because it was famous for being able to spot the Quetsal, the national bird of Guatemala. We did see one in the morning. It was pretty cool! Very small, with a long tail and a brightly colored chest.

After the bird sighting, we all loaded up in the car for the last three hours to Semuc Champey. After two more hours of crazy driving and windy roads, I knew we were close so I wasn’t too worried. But I remembered Juan Carlos saying, “It’s a good thing we got this rental car because it’s high up for the roads to Semuc Champey.” Remember we are in a 1989 Nissan Sentra…not a Jeep or even a Subaru. We turn the corner for the last 15 kilometers only to discover it was a dirt/rocky road. The whole car gasped! Is he for real? We’re going to take this car down that road? But we sure did and JC’s got some serious driving skills. There were a few times (ok, more than just a few) that I thought there’s no way we’re going to make it. But we did…not sure how, but we did.

After we made it ok, JC said to put on our bathing suits because we were going to go to see the caves. There was a fifteen minute walk to the caves, wearing only my bathing suit and a smile. I can tell you that not one person has seen me just in my bathing suit for longer than it takes me to take off my cover up and get in the water in years. I thought my body issues were going to be the biggest problem of the day…wrong again. The caves were very cool, but they were caves…with water and only lit via candle light. It was very beautiful, but it was like an obstacle course in the dark…up ladders, across waterfalls, hidden rocks under the water. I got pretty banged up. At the end (which was two hours later) I had a full-on panic attack. We were supposed to go into this hole with water gushing through it and I couldn’t see what was on the other side and I couldn’t understand the guide as to where I was supposed to put my feet and my hands because of his Spanish accent and the echo of the caves. I flipped out! I started screaming, “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU!! I CAN’T SEE THE BOTTOM!! I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!” Thank goodness Samantha was behind me to calm me down, and the guide calmed me down too and said we’d just go around a different way. He helped me go another way and I made it out of the caves alive…with a little less pride, but alive nonetheless.

That night it rained so hard all night. I didn’t think it was ever going to stop, but it finally did in the morning sometime. We got up and went for a hike to see the beautiful pools that Semuc Champey is famous for. The hike was brutal, plus, I’m way out of shape. But we all made it to the top anyhow. When we got to the top, JC (that's a picture of our esteemed leader there with the strong river in the this guy) told us it was the strongest he’d ever seen the river and the usually clear pools were not so clear at all (there's a picture of the pools from the lookout point). Great. I went on this crazy trip just to see these amazing pools and it turns out that today they aren’t so amazing after all. Just my luck. It was still pretty though, although not the best thing I’ve seen in Guatemala. That’s a picture of the four of us overlooking the not so clear pools. We were all so sweaty and tired that we’re saying, “don’t touch me.” After a little spill on the hike down (just another blow to the ego, nothing much else seriously injured) and a rock jammed into my back, I was done with this place. Perfect time to cram ourselves back into the Nissan and head back to Antigua. Here's a picture of Samantha, Cash and Austen and me at the lookout point in the hike.

Needless to say, everything hurts today and will hurt more tomorrow. So all you people who said I was more adventurous than I gave myself credit for…I was right and you were wrong. I tried it and discovered what I already knew, no, I’m not. And I can live with that.


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