Get up at 8 am and eat a good breakfast. The coffee here is good, not the nescaf that is prepared in abundance throughout Guatemala. My stomach is a bit touchy still from some meal or other dating back possibly to lunch in Chichi. A few trips to the eco-toilets, however, in addition to a cold splash of water on the face spur excitement for the wonders we anticipate at Semuc Champey. By nine o'clock the group is pretty well assembled. Lennie and Hannah from England, Jon from Canada, Amy (pissed-bird) also British, our three Dutch fieldhockey-playing friends that are girls, a nameless assortment of tight-knit Israelis, Dan from Atlanta, Megan from Vancouver, Aaron from Canada, and a few others who have escaped category and impression at this late date. Quite a crew and finally, at last, I feel like part of a legitimate gringo posse. Towels we carry, cameras (please), hung-over eyes, sport sandals, cheese sandwiches prepared by the hostel kitchen staff enclosed in a day pack, and a score of smiles that lead us up the hill to the waiting van. Poor Jon (not me, the other one) is forced to ride on the roof due to the excess of us. He does it with a grin, though, and off we go.
Confusion begins when the van makes its final approach to the pools. Some of the group have expressed interest in the cave adventure that is offered in conjunction with the drive to Semuc. Others, Mandy among them, are less than thrilled with the idea of another cave - this one involving water, swimming, candles, and rope ladders. But before we know it the whole group is trudging up the path towards the cave entrance. Is it included? Do you we need to pay extra? How long does this take? These are among the questions we deal with while the guides show us where we can stash our stuff. We are not allowed to bring anything into the cave and are warned that everything that goes in will get wet, very wet, and that includes ourselves. So off go the shirts, on go the bathing suits. Up the hill we go. I, for one, am excited and look forward to the slight adventure. Mandy, and not alone, is not convinced that this the best way to spend her morning. By the time we get to the cave entrance two brave souls have already smiled away the challenge in preference for a under-water-cave-trip free sunshine morning.
At the cave entrance we are each given a lit candle as we step down, thigh-deep, into a cool murky water. Not quite as cold as I suspected, but brisk. Ten steps in another is down. Thirty steps in, the entrance out of sight and the flickering candles showing the way despite the fact that your feet are blind underwater, one more goes. Up ahead the realization is passing down the line that the next leg is a full immersion fifty yard swim. To accomplish this feet it is necessary to swim with one hand and hold your candle with the other. The gig is up for Anamarte, one of our Dutch companions, and her surrender gives Mandy the inspiration she needs to bow out in graceful fashion. I kiss her and say farewell... as the darkness and waters envelope me.
After emerging about an hour later we meet up with the others and make our way to the tourquoise pools of Semuc Champey. Formed, I believe, by the same limestone that created the caves in this area the pools here have developed over the centuries to produce one of the most captivating series of falls we have ever seen. It is a hard place to capture by photograph without a helicopter (but we didn't didn't have a helicopter). The falls are not dramatic like Niagara but gentle and subtle. It is the pools that make the place and the swimming, as the sun emerged, was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
The return trip was remarkable only because, due to continued lack of space, Jon (Queally this time) and our associate Lennie were forced to ride atop the van. A couple photos and a hilarious short video clip (it'll be in the mail Lennie) documented the adventure.
Unfortunately we no longer have access to the photos from this part of the trip, but there are some good ones from the full moon party we enjoyed at El Retiro the next night as well as some stunning photos from this hostel itself. By far, the most enjoyable and relaxing place we had stayed so far with an amazingly kind staff and mellow owner/operator. Our time in Lanquin was a memorable affair and the friends we made there we hope to see again. Drop us a line, guys, if you get the message. Adios for now.