20.09.2005 - 20.10.2005
One of the most beautiful places in the world my daughter said, and I had to agree. Accompanied by a 35 year old Brit, seemingly in the process of leaving her husband back home, and a young woman from Germany, both of whom we knew from our school, we arranged for a weekend tour. At the last minute a decidedly unfriendly Israeli, our age, signed on separately. After a long 6 hours, we arrived about 10PM in Coban. Our driver/tour leader had to scurry around looking for a hotel in the crowded town, having failed to make reservations earlier. We ended up in a very basic and noisy place near the market, apparently the only one cheap enough to meet his expectations as the others were full. We had paid an inclusive price of about $80 US, something I would not do again without being very specific.
After an uncomfortable night, we left the next morning on another two hour ride through lush mountain scenery, before descending to the valley of Semuc Champey.
Now a national park, there are a series of intensely turquoise pools, carved out of the limestone by the Rio Chabon as it cascades down the the narrow valley.
In places the river flows on top of the stone, but also underneath,around, and through it, creating the beautiful rock formations.
The vegetation is thick and tropical. We spent most of the day swimming in the pools, sliding or walking from one to the other. In places waterfalls splashed down on us as we sat beneath the cool water. On the day we were there, it was partially overcast, and we had the place to ourselves.
Later, we drove the few miles to Lanquin, to check out the grutas, (caves). Well worth a visit, they are illuminated with a primitive lighting system that felt as though it might go at any minute, and very slippery underfoot. We spent the night in El Retiro, a place I insisted upon after reading about it in our guidebook. Also inexpensive, it is a small eco-friendly resort of thatched roof and bamboo huts, on a hillside facing the river, a few miles upstream from the park.
We had a small, but comfortable hut to ourselves, though the bath was a communal one about 50 yards distant. There was an open air restaurant/bar overlooking the river, and we had a great meal while talking to some the other guests, several of whom had been hanging out there for a while. It lends itself to that. Somewhat remote, you can forget about time, and loose yourself in the daily activities of swimming or floating in the river, drinking shots of rum ,eating, and lazing about. Unfortunately we had to leave the next morning for the long drive back to Antigua, stopping for a couple of hours at the Biotopo del Quetzal. A great trip, but too rushed. Better to go on your own and stay a week, but be careful, you might not want to go anywhere else.