From San Cristobal we dropped down a good amount of elevation and arrived at the Guatemalan border feeling real lucky. We managed to hit a window where there were no busses funneling massive amounts of humans into the lines. So we got busy importing the bikes. Turns out the aduana folks here have next to zero regard for your time, (like most border crossings) and their computers have even less. After an incredible limbo, watching the official's hands move like he was trying to slow them down, we finally got over to the migration office to stamp the passports and continue to the Guatemalan side. Unfortunately, that beautiful window we caught had been slammed shut in the time at the aduana and we were now behind 40 australian 20 year olds to get the stamp. The Guatemalan side was very similar, in speed at least. One duo of fellas ahead of us had already been there for about 7 hours when we finally arrived trying to import a car. Luckily it didn't take us that long but it was pretty brutal. The guys importing the car turned out to be full of information and good stories. They had both come down in the nineties as photographers documenting the human rights struggle in Guatemala and one decided to stay and make his life there.
En route to Guatemala we had heard amazing things about a place called Semuc Champey, so once we were free of the border we pointed our bikes in that direction. I was completely taken with the country on our way. We managed to ride a really fun route that had a ton of poorly maintained dirt sections and beautiful vibrant towns with market places that swallowed the streets. You could feel something special in the air.
In many of the rough road areas you will find the towns people out with shovels and picks filling in the pot holes and trying to improve the area. With a ton of bus traffic on these roads the people seem to get some support for their efforts from the drivers. Really, the bus traffic in a lot of these areas is crazy. There were many destroyed road areas that were tough on the dirt bikes let alone a huge school bus.
On these roads we were also privileged to an amazing view of rural Guatemalan life. At one point we passed some kids filling the yard with split logs for the home fire while their folks were off working in the land. It was an awesome sight and James and I both immediately stopped our motorcycles. While I walked up to talk to them their sisters peaked out of a crack in the window covering. The young boys were super sweet and I loved how they put on their tough man faces for the photos. They had definitely earned them.
A little further down the road the treacherous pavement that sporadically appeared finally got the best of us. The roads here are mostly a pebble and tar kind of pavement that gets super slick in the wet climate. Even though we were taking it pretty easy, this down hill turn found James and I's front wheels evaporating out from under us and sending us sliding across the pavement. My bike got pretty banged up in the mix as did my camera that was hanging around my neck. As we pieced it all back together we drew quiet a crowd. Everyone was really sweet and concerned, even bringing out some water for James and I.
Sore and worked over, we made our way into the beautiful Semuc Champey Valley and into the town of Lanquin where we would find a hostel that had been suggested to us a few times over. Here's where another travel lesson came into play… All the young hip people that we met along the way kept talking about how amazing a certain hostel was, and I get it, if your travel plans include partying and hooking up, by all means take the advice of every twenty something school breaker tourist you meet. But, if you are in a great relationship and are more interested in tranquil nature expeditions and exploring new cultures…use their suggestions as flags on where not to go. Just sayin.
After we settled into what would hopefully be the last party orientated hostel of our trip we got some food and to the business of not feeling broken. My camera gave me a real good punch to the ribs in the fall that I could tell would be a while before it felt decent again. While chilling out we got educated on all the area had to offer and made plans to go into Semuc Champey the next day. James and I normally avoid tours at all costs, but there was a cave system in the park that followed an underground river that you could only enter with a guide. I was pretty set on seeing it so we sucked it up and signed up for the tour.
The morning came and we jumped in a truck for the 10 km ride into the park. Finally got to experience the sandwiched in, stand up truck ride that seams to be the standard transportation for most of Mexico and Guatemala. On the way out we stopped at a small tienda where our driver picked up the candles that we were to use for light in the cave.
The ride into the park is beautiful and arriving at the gate reveals another gem of the area. Turns out that there are some really beautiful and peaceful looking hostels right at the park entrance where you can just walk over to the springs at any time. Reinforcing our travel lesson of the moment. Next time I end up at Semuc Champey there is no doubt where I'll be laying my head.
Jumping out of the truck, we went to the cave straight away. And, even though I thought I was gonna strangle another guy on the tour, it was totally worth it to get to explore the underground river. The thing that catches your attention right off the bat is the lack of safety concern. A tour like this would never happen in the states. We were climbing underground water falls, swimming deep sections, and diving through underwater holes in the rock. Not to mention the cliff at the deepest section we got to that you could jump off of into a small deep pool. It was a good time and our guides comfort was almost comical through out it. No doubt he had done it hundreds of times.
Emerging from the cave we crossed a suspension bridge to get to the pools and some hiking. The river was a raging brown with turbulence but the guide was pretty set on prodding people to jump so I figured it was all good and gave a dive off of it. Still tender and with aching ribs from the day before the swimming effort in the swift river was sorely felt, but who knows when I'd be back! I just kept that in my mind and pushed through it for the day.
When we finally got to the hike James and I were pretty over the hot dog show in the group, so we picked up the pace and had a nice hike to ourselves up to an awesome overlook of the pristine pools. The view definitely gave speed to the hike down as the water looked amazing and we couldn't wait to get in.
Down at the pools we got to see the serious clash and hard line between the raging river and serene pools. There was a incredible amount of water coming down the river and right at the start of the pools it all just drops straight off into a cave below them. It was a crazy sight.
The pools were awesome and though they were a bit chilly to a lot of the folks there, the northwest had prepared us well and they felt very inviting for James and I. We spent time in each pool, and got a great show from some local youngsters who were going big off some of the jumps. They were super awesome and it was more evidence of how tough the people are down here. There is no hand holding and the kids learn everything first hand, from work, to fun, and to testing their limits.
The way back to the hostile found some tensions coming to a head for me with one of the personalities in the truck. James and I were stoked when a stuck truck blocked the road, giving us a second to jump out and walk the rest of the way back and laugh it off.
The next morning found us back on the road again and blazing south quick. My fiancé Tabitha was going to be in Panama City to visit me in a week with her daughter Beatrice and I couldn't wait to get there.