28.04.2011 - 07.05.2011
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Just letting everyone know that we are still alive but updates to the blog have fallen well behind schedule. This entry finishes off Guatemala and I will go into more detail on Belize and Mexico in the next.
Our destination after Atitlan was a series of natural limestone pools in Semuc Champey near the town of Lanquin. To get there we took a 13 hour tourist shuttle from Lake Atilan, a form of transport we have only really encountered in Guatemala. Instead of battling with 3 or 4 chicken buses to get from place to place, you can almost always find a tourist shuttle running the same route. They are not expensive, but the downside is that they pack about 14 people into a toyota hi-ace van and drive at breakneck pace through some pretty atrocious roads.
On the shuttle to Lanquin we had an absolute arse-hole of a driver who put everyone's lives at risk with his stupid manoeuvres, which mostly involved overtaking everything in site, including ambulances, almost always around blind corners or directly in front of oncoming semi trailers.
Halfway to Lanquin a massive electrical storm broke out, the rain was torrential and the other shuttle in our convoy of two ran into a fallen tree. Luckily no one was hurt, and after that occurred it was decided that the remaining shuttle could not continue safely and we would need to spend the night in Coban – a decent sized city near to Lanquin.
The next day, after seeing that the weather forecast was for rain, rain and more rain we decided to temporary abandon Lanquin and head another 9 hours further north to the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, where the weather was supposed to be a little better.
Tikal is known as perhaps the greatest of the excavated Mayan cities and it certainly lived up to its reputation. The city is set deep in the jungle and wild life abounds. We saw a whole host of different birds, including toucans, howler & spider monkeys and funny raccoon like creatures everywhere.
The ruined temples rise out of the jungle canopy and you can climb up to the top for an amazing view. We arrived when the park opened at 6am and spent the morning roaming jungle paths, feeling very much like intrepid explorers. The city is huge and there is a lot to see but by lunchtime we had covered everything and the every increasing heat of the jungle meant that we were ready to call it quits and head back to town.
The next day we decided to try our luck again with Semuc Champey and boarded another tourist shuttle for the 9 hour journey back. Although sick of travelling we arrived in Lanquin to perfect weather and all the trouble ended up being worth it.
The first morning we headed straight to Semuc Champey to take advantage of the good weather while it lasted. In the morning we explored a series of limestone caves, swimming and climbing our way through the system, while constantly trying to keep a small candle dry and alight above your head. Amazing fun and certainly not something that you would ever be allowed to do back home.
In the afternoon we went to the Semuc Champey pools which we had come so far to see, they were amazing, with crystal clear water cascading down a valley from limestone pool to limestone pool. It was almost impossible to believe that such a perfect swimming hole had been created naturally by sheer chance.
We stayed in Lanquin for several days. The hostel, Zephyr Lodge, was an amazing place and we didn't want to leave - especially after the hostel cat had kittens while we were there.
However, the beaches in Belize were calling and we headed for Rio Dulce, our final stop in Guatemala. Rio Dulce is inland but connected to the sea via a pretty sizeable river. It's a favourite place for sail boats in the Carribean to escape big storms and the river was filled with marinas holding pretty sizeable boats, owned by either foreigners or wealthy Guatemalans.
We spent a couple of nights in a place set right on the river that one could only access by water. It was very relaxed, except for when a massive snake fell out of a tree onto the thatch roof of our cabin and stayed up there sunning itself for quite some time. While in Rio Dulce we also visited Finca Paraiso, where a hot spring has created a natural hot waterfall which cascades into a river below. You can swim around under the waterfall and even cake yourself in mud from the spring, a very cheap treatment.
The next day we took a boat down the river to Livingston on the Guatemalan coast where we found a water taxi to take us across the bay to Belize. Next update from there.