Semuc and Tikal

Trip Start Jan 11, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2012

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Flag of Guatemala  , Peten,
Sunday, July 22, 2012

If the first week of our Guatemalan adventure gave us a brief glimpse of some of the nation's cultural aspects, then the second week was definitely a sneak peak at some of the country's natural and historical highlights. Following our mammoth bus journey from Managua to Antigua, we thought that our long haul bussing had finally come to an end. Not so much. The distance between Antigua and our next stop, Semuc Champey, is a mere 248km. Chris Froome, St John's 2003, 2nd in the 2012 Tour de France, bronze medalist at London 2012 Olympics, would probably be able to cycle that distance in about 6 hours. Our bus decided to take 10 hours to cover that mileage and for the majority of those 10 hours we were thinking about whether this strangely named place that everyone raves about would actually be worth it. Hell's teeth, worth it turned out to be a serious understatement.

Even after an uncomfortable 10 hour slog we knew that we had claimed a big win after arriving at the sublime El Retiro Hostel situated on the banks of a picture perfect river somewhere in the middle of Guatemala's nowhere. Our first day at the hostel was spent doing little more than swimming in the river, enjoying some delicious Guatemalan cuisine and soaking up nature like true ambitionless hippies. We even witnessed one of the pet cats catch a bat, bring it to our feet and then proudly devour the entire thing in about 20 seconds. That's a proper pet, no need to feed the critter, he sorts himself out. The following day we found out that catching bats might not be as difficult as one would think, especially when you have a few hundred thousand of them bloodsucking cretins to choose from.

Bats. A serious phobia for some, a weird ally for Christian Bale. Bats are apparently the only mammal that can fly and they interestingly make up one fifth of all mammal species on the planet. Although the fear of a bat flying into one's hair is based on utter nonsense, Don is still one of those humans with that irrational bat fear, so it took quite a bit of arm twisting to get her to venture into a huge bat cave just before sunset in order to watch these critters head out on a hunting journey. We arrived at the cave well before sunset in order to explore the cave, watch some bats sleep and our guide managed to catch both a bat and a big scorpion spider which he made us all hold in the palms of our hands. The bat cave exploration lasted for just over an hour and the distinct sound of squeaking bats signaled the beginning of their evening hunt. We swiftly moved to the entrance of the cave and were left in complete awe, fear, agitation, mesmorisation, terror, you pick, it was crazy. Literally hundreds of thousands of bats rushed out of the cave over the space of a few minutes. We managed to capture a few photos of the spectacle, but none of them do justice to this otherworldly experience. Whenever the flash of somebody's camera went off, the whole cave lit up and you could easily see thousands of bats flying all around your head. It was phenomenal. A truly unique, albeit terrifying experience.

The next day provided one of the top highlights of our entire trip. It was time to visit this famous Semuc Champey place. Nobody had really been able to accurately describe to us what it is that makes this place so special, but we now understand that it is actually impossible to accurately describe the place in words, even pictures don't do it justice. It's one of those special places that need to be experienced first hand in order to fully comprehend it's unique beauty. Semuc Champey is basically a natural bridge over a river, containing several beautiful turquoise pools. There's no point in elaborating, just have a look at some of our photos and then hopefully you're a quarter of the way to understanding how incredible the place is. We spent a full day in and around the pools where we explored some caves, tubed down a river, slid down waterfalls, jumped off a bridge, hiked up a mountain, swam under waterfalls, behaved like children, tried to catch fish with our hands, jumped into rock pools, painted our faces and then tried to come to terms with the completely overwhelming experience. This may all sound like a serious exaggeration, but it was even better than this description. For real.

Those few days spent in and around Semuc Champey singlehandedly elevated Guatemala into our Latin American best country list. It was a sad day to say farewell to the place, but it was also time to keep moving, we needed to get to Cancun, Mexico before 7 August and there was a small country called Belize still to be visited. So off we hopped back onto our favourite form of transport and headed another 8 hours north to the tiny lake island town of Flores, our last stop in Guatemala. The town itself was as peaceful as any that we had previously experienced and we could have easily stayed there for longer, but our sole purpose for staying in the town was to visit the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal, where we planned to establish whether Kobie has been smoking a whole lot of hallucinogenic flora or if the world is really going to change significantly on 21 December 2012.

We arrived at Tikal early in the morning in an attempt to avoid the tour groups and also to witness Tikal's glory at sunrise. Unfortunately the old warmth bringer was blocked by a few selfish clouds, so we didn't see a Mayan sunrise, but nonetheless we still enjoyed a great few hours wandering around the Mayan pyramids and various other ancient buildings that aren't nearly as impressive as Burj Khalifa, but I suppose that you have to consider that some of these buildings were constructed a few hundred years before JC was born. Our tour guide was quite a whiz on everything Mayan and it seems that Koob will be delivering Ledders one times bottle of Johnny Blue in a few months time (Ledders wisely accepted Koob's bet that the world would basically collapse on the infamous Mayan 21/12/12 date). The 2012 Mayan prophecy is apparently a load of sensationalistic hogwash, but the ruins at Tikal are still seriously impressive, more than worth the visit.

Guatemala may have been a bit rushed but we still managed to see a beautiful colonial town, we shopped in a crazy market, learnt how to cook like a local, ate chocolate like a Mayan, soaked up some of Guatemalan's best natural assets and admired the engineering prowess of some of the nation's old timers. Belize certainly had quite a tough act to follow, but those laid-back Caribbean folk were sure to make our next experience just as special...
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