A highlight of the trip

Trip Start Apr 29, 2008
Trip End Jul 02, 2008

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Flag of Guatemala  , Alta Verapaz,
Saturday, June 14, 2008

This place was awesome! After staying at Chichi for a couple of days, we headed for Coban, the jump-off point to get to Lanquin, which is the area that is home to both the Grutas de Lanquin (Lanquin Caves) and Semuc Champey (the awesome underground river/swimming hole spot). The limestone rock in this area makes for some absolutely stunning landforms. The drive to Lanquin itself is quite beautiful as well apart from the dead dogs. I can't remember now if it was on the way here, or on the way from here to Flores that the views along the highway are amazing, but either way one of those two trips had great views over the country side. All of the hills kind of remind me now of Southern China....similar to those egg trays with all the little dimples for the eggs to sit in. Very cool.
In Lanquin, we stayed at a little resort/Lodge just outside of the little town. It was called El Retiro Finca & Lodge, and it was a really mellow hangout. I liked it there. You could take a jeep up river and tube back down to the lodge (situated along the river). We also were a 5 minute drive to the caves which were very cool. And the whole grounds were spacious, grassy, and plenty of mellow travelers hanging around the restaurant...and also massive communal dinners. Great way to meet people!
The caves were very extensive, and I seem to remember our guide being about 10 years old. He led us into the massive mouth of the cave, which is also beside the exit of the river (the river comes out from underground here). You climb up a number of stairs into a massive opening cavern, and it is very slippery due to all of the bat guano. The first stretch of the cave has light bulbs strung above the path, but after a while the light-bulbs stop and we use torches....or nothing at all. We came across several crazy looking critters in the cave, including another whiptail scorpion/spider type thing (which I bravely held), and of course, bats. Many, many bats. We were ultimately led into a smaller "room" far back in the cave, and our guide had us all keep our lights off here. You could feel (and hear) the buzz of many small things moving around. With the room in complete darkness, the guide clapped his hands a few times, and soon we could feel hundreds of bats flying around our heads. Spooky. After the commotion died down, the guide turned on his flashlight and shined it up to the roof of the cavern. Thousands of bats were hanging from it! Eventually we were led back to the mouth of the cave,  had a few minutes to clean all of the guano from ourselves (covered in it!), and went back to the mouth of the cave for dusk. At dusk, all of the bats exit the cave at the same time...thousands of bats flying out of the cave. It was amazing, I could hold my camera out, press the trigger at any given time and get a photo of at least 25-30 bats at a time. Really neat experience. Not for those who hate bats though!
As neat as the caves were, the real gem here is Semuc Champey. This place, at least at the time, was kind of off the radar. The lonely planet guide really just has a tiny little article about it, and we almost didn't notice it at all....but every traveler we met told us to go there. Trying to explain the intricacy of this place with words is an effort in futility but I'll make a brief attempt. Imagine a very narrow, steep walled, tropical river valley completely covered in lush, green vegetation. As you walk up the river valley, you come across a cave that the river is puring out of. Cascading down in front of the cave are several waterfalls dripping down from above the cave. The cave is really a tunnel beneath a bridge like section of rock that itself is submerged beneath several emerald green swimming holes, each one separated from the next by a small waterfall. At the top end of the swimming holes is where the river submerges beneath the ground with a roar. So basically, a series of swimming holes that have an underground river flowing beneath them. The pictures are much better for explaining this! I would highly recommend to anybody that comes here to make the trek up to the viewpoint to see the entire area from above. It is an amazing view, and really helps you wrap your head around what is happening with all of the water here! A great place to spend a few hot days cooling off. You gotta go. Look at some pictures. 
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