Making the world´s greatest u-turn

Every now and then when you are on the road, you have to make a decision that will change the shape of your experiences going forward – and it can feel quite daunting! Both options had equal merit, and spending all my time deliberating over the decision was making me turn into some sort of a nervous wreck.
Would I go to Canada as I had planned, to work in a hostel in the mountains and spend my time mountain biking and hiking? Or would I do a u-turn from where I was in Miami, Florida, and head back down to experience more latin culture in South America?
Crazy as it sounds, but exciting and liberating at the same time, I had a friend of mine toss a coin on my behalf – that way I couldn’t cheat and go back on my word.
“Heads for Canada amd tails for South America,” I said confidently as the outcome lay waiting on the table.
“Well you are going to South America then, aren’t you.”
The first emotion I felt on hearing those words was relief. Relief that I no longer had to think about what  the consequences of the outcome were. There is was, done deal, and all there was to do now was to start putting plans into action. It was awesome!
So here I am sitting in Lima Peru, about to embark on the next leg of my journey – South America.
That wasn’t so hard, after all…. Canada can wait!

Semuc Champay – a jungle paradise!

At least the drivers get shade!

At least the drivers get shade!

It took a bumpy, eight hour journey with twelve of us cramped in a small van to reach the peaceful paradise of Lanquin – this was for the most part due to the large number of seriously massive speed bumps and even a four Yamaha-powered car ferry!

No wonder it takes eight hours to get anywhere in Guatemala

No wonder it takes eight hours to get anywhere in Guatemala







Arriving into town we were greeted by the Zephyr lodge 4wd buggy, and as we climbed in eagerly, we saw a group of our backpacker friends cruise by smiling and laughing after completing their full day Semuc Champay tour – making it a priority to book this in straight away!

The lodge itself was more of a hotel than a hostel, perched on a steep hill a short walk outside of town – on first sight we wondered how the buggy would even get up there. The promise of a pool to relax in all day, facilities overlooking the valley, and a stunning view to wake up to each morning. I can get used to this.

That pool!

That pool!

Climbing in the back of the buggy for the 10km drive to Semuc Champay, we jostled for our positions and settled in for the next hour’s shake rattle and roll over the steep graded narrow hillside streets, Ben exclaiming and ducking every so often after a low hanging branch came hurtling towards his head. Yes, it took an hour to go ten kilometres!

Each of us was given a candle to light as we entered into the cave system. Safety Sam has clearly not made it to Guatemala yet, with no proper lighting, rickety ladders, and only the guides instruction of where not to step to help us navigate safely. At one point I was asked if I wanted to climb the waterfall, sure did. My candle was extingused and placed into my mouth as I held my weight back on the rope and climbed upwards over the vertical rock.

Heading down into the cave by candlelight

Heading down into the cave by candlelight

Reaching the turnaround point, a few of us opted to jump a few metres off the rocks into the darkness of pool below, with only a vague instruction from the guide as to where we needed to jump – great fun! However, my near death experience came when we had to squeeze ourselves between rocks and drop down behind the waterfall on the way back. Full of confidence, I stepped up and positioned myself, and was told to go when ready. Not quite sure what that meant, I didnt realise the water was literally just below my feet and I did an awkward half step down thingy which resulted in me gasping for air with my head stuck in an air pocket behind the waterfall. Luckily, I’m a confident swimmer and didn’t panic!

Exiting the cave, on the way back down to the river to go tubing, we were afforded the opportunity to try the aptly named “car crash” swing and of course so we of us were not smart enough to refuse. Keeping the swing underneath myself, I drew my legs up close and launched towards the river, however as the seat was not so slippery it took a fair amount of force to push myself forwards off the seat when we reached our destination – only to end up crashing face first into the water and regretting the whole incident for days afterwards.  Ben, too, had a similar dilemma as did everyone else who was game enough to try it!

Me vs the car crash swing! You know who won

Each one of us armed with a tube we headed for the river, followed by some enterprising Guatemalan boys holding small eskies selling beers. Who am I to refuse?

Of course it was Ben’s luck to get the tube with a hole in it, which had completely deflated by the end of the ride!

Arriving at the bridge it was time to take the 12m plunge down into the water below. I stepped up the the railing, climbed over one foot then the other, and launched myself off the ledge.

Leaping into the crystal clear water

Leaping into the crystal clear water

Ben however, liked to stand on the edge and talk about it for ten minutes, by which time I’d made it back up. Bets were made and beers promised if he didn’t jump but still no action. “For Engaaaland!” was the cry but still no action and those beers were looking tasty. Finally he managed to talk himself into it – but only after the rest of us were about to go eat our lunch!

For Engalaaaand!

Following a good feed, we began a short but steep hike up to the viewpoint and we were afforded a great view of the rockpools and their turqoise coloured water, which would be our next adventure.

Semuc Champay rockpools from above

Following a guide through the maze of natural rock slides, we made our way down to the bottom – moving more quickly after we discovered the resident fish woud nibble on your feet if you stood in one place just slightly too long.

Sliding down the rocks

Happily heading back to the hostel, the daily Zephyr happy “hour” took its toll, along with the tequila dice game which no sober person would ever bet on as it was heavily favoured towards the house.

While if you stay three nights at Zephyr you get the fourth night for free, we thought the better of it as we knew we would spend the savings and then some over the bar. We booked our shuttle for Antigua for 8am the following day, and after another killer happy hour, we all managed to make it on somehow! (after a little frenzied bag packing and tab clearing going on, what’s a little help amongst friends!)

Ten hours later after our first tour of the infamous Guatemala city traffic, we would arrive in Antigua, a charming old colonial city that would be my home for the next four weeks.