Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Coban, Lanquin, Semuc Champey

We left the school at 1pm on Friday. There were 9 of us and luggage, plus we were picking up 3 more at the crossroads. Hmmm... could be a little tight in that van!

They had promised us an itinerary, but we never got one (and forgot to ask until we were underway). Maybe it was a plot to make us have to talk Spanish with our driver!

The driver, Carlos, seemed to only speak Spanish (but later I found out that he speaks English pretty well). I was worried that the fact that we were supposed to be picking Dave, Ron, and Dorothy up at El Rancho hadn't been properly communicated. So I worried the whole way until we actually had them in the bus that something wouldn't work out right. But it was no problem.

We didn't pick them up in El Rancho until about 4:30pm, and we still had about 2 hours to go to get to Coban. To fit all 12 people in, with luggage, we had to put Sue on the jump seat next to the driver, and Dorothy on the back jump seat next to the luggage. They swapped places on the way back and both ended up with sore bums.

It was a dark and rainy night and we were all glad that someone else was driving us. Carlos turned out to be a very good and careful driver. Most of the roads in Guatemala are still only 2 lanes. And they have no trains and no ports to speak of, so ALL the goods in the country move via truck. AND the roads are very mountainous, so one heavily laden truck going up a hill will essentially stall traffic to a crawl. So the other drivers just pass them anywhere, any way they can... on hills, on blind curves, etc. It is not uncommon to have 3 abreast on a 2 lane road. They are all crazy. It's nervewracking to just be in the passenger seat. But Carlos refused to pass unless he could do so safely.

The sleeping arrangements for our 2 nights in the hotel had been a little fuzzy. The normal student population (the backpackers) are used to dormitory style accommodations. But I wanted to spend at least the first night alone with Dave, so I asked for a private room for us and another for Ron and Dorothy. There were 2 other couples in the group and 4 single people. Once all the keys had been given out, it turned out that my friend Sue (who is married) ended up being paired with Kim, an older gentleman from Korea. He wasn't too keen about that and neither was Sue.

There were no more rooms to be had. So they shuffled things a little bit and they ended up putting her in with 2 other students (in a 3-bed room). I think the name of the hotel was Pasado Don Antonio, but it was somewhat unremarkable. We got there late, it was pouring rain and it continued to rain until we left in the morning.

The next morning we had breakfast in a Pollo Campero, which is a McDonalds-style fast food restaurant that specializes in chicken.

They are all over Guatemala, but so far we had refused to eat in one. But our driver, Carlos, picked this place because it was easy and relatively fast. It was not bad. Dave and I both got 'Plato Super Tipico' which included refried beans and fried plantains (and eggs, bacon, etc).

Once we left Coban for Lanquin, the paved road ended and we went the rest of the way on dirt roads. However, we saw regular mile markers (in kilometers, actually). We wondered whether someone would really go 265 Km on this road!!! I think it was only about 40 Km to our final destination, but it took us 2 hrs of driving to cover that distance. It had rained the night before and the roads were muddy and slippery, and we were going up and down hills on very rutted roads.

With the van so heavily loaded, Carlos had to get a running start before going up a hill. Once, we met another car coming our way, and we had to stop to let him pass, and then Carlos had to back down the road a quarter of a mile to get our running start again. We also had to shift a few people to the back, to put some more weight on the back wheels. We eventually made it.

The first stop on Saturday morning were the caves of Lanquin (lan-keen)... Las Cuevitas de Lanquin. This was a big series of caves with lights, etc. Our guide spoke only Spanish and took us through the cave pointing out formations that look like something else. (ie one rock looked like a monkey face, El Mono).

It was kind of uninspiring after our cave trip in Belize. Everyone was excited when Dave pointed out the bats hanging from the ceiling. The cave was lit, but they had told us to bring flashlights in case the lights go out. They say there are miles of caves that have not been explored.

After the caves, we piled back in the van for another 10 Km to get to our final destination, Semuc Champey and Hotel Las Marias. It was more bumpy slithery road, though small villages and at least one coffee plantation.

Las Marias is situated on the Rio Lanquin, right near Semuc Champey.

Semuc Champey is a series of waterfalls and pools, where the river goes (mostly) for awhile. The sight of the river falling into this big hole was an amazing site.

We got a chance to swim and climb around on the rocks in the pools.

Then Dave and I and Sue opted to walk back via the 'mirador' (overlook). It was a half hour climb up steep steps (both rock and wooden) to get there. But the view was worth it and we saw 3 toucans in the tree nearby. The picture at the beginning was taken from the mirador.

We met some of our friends from the La Union school who had also gone to Semuc Champey on a trip they organized themselves. They got to do the tubing trip in addition to the waterfalls trip.

At dinner the owner of the hotel and his buddies hauled out their Marimba and played some authentic Guatemalan music for us.

The trip back on Sunday was long. The only fun thing was our stop at Biotopo Quetzal, where we did an hour nature walk through the 'cloud forest'. There are supposed to be Quetzals (the Gaute national bird) there, but we didn't see any.

More pics here:
Coban, Lanquin, and Semuc Champey

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