My sleep that night was disturbed by dreams of various scary serpents and spiders in the bathroom of our cabin. When I awoke that morning I was a little weary entering the bathroom. Was that just a dream, I wondered. Still unsure, I asked Steve to clarify if what I thought were dream events, were in fact real life. I often have very vivid dreams, but I think the malaria medication was helping this one! Eventually I was able to walk to the washroom with confidence that an anaconda was not going to jump out at me.
I was eager to check out the grounds of Utopia eco Hotel, so I opened the back door of our private cabin to find a hammock, a private outdoor shower and lots and lots and lots of trees overlooking the rushing river. So peaceful.
Within a matter of minutes we were up and headed to the main lodge with grumbling bellies. The lodge was incredible and truly a hidden gem tucked far away in the bush. The main floor is what we first discovered when we arrived the night prior, but now that it was daylight we could really appreciate the structure and its beautiful surroundings. The bar was staffed with a few young, sleepy staff members and the owner, who were all having their morning coffee.
We decided on one of the many picnic tables that sat on the large deck overlooking the massive expanse of the Alta Verapez region and the Río Cahabón. Behind the open deck of the restaurant area there were sofa loungers and a tv set up with a box FULL of movies to watch. When you stay at Utopia, once the evening hits and darkness falls you are literally in the Middle Of Nowhere, Guatemala. The nearest shop is about a 40 minute drive, which means there really is nothing to do other than hanging out with your fellow travellers by either having a pint or two, playing cards or watching movies.
After gazing at the beauty that surrounded me I noticed that the sky quickly became dark and a bit dreary.
This was a HUGE disappointment because this was one of the only days that I wanted to weather to be perfect - I desperately wanted to see Semuc Champey in all of its postcard picture glory. Because of our unexpected delayed arrival to the lodge the day before, it left this day as the ONLY day to visit.
Utopia is a very unique place, because of it's location the restaurant offers "family style" meals that are served as a group, three times daily. All meals are vegetarian and kosher friendly and 100% yummy! They exclusively use locally sourced ingredients, which is why they do not serve meat. Breakfast was served fast and it was delightful and so was the coffee! One of my favourite perks of Utopia was that they had dogs, a few of them in fact! In case you didn't know, I love dogs. Jon (the owner of the lodge) took in these very lucky stray dogs who wandered onto the grounds starving and desperate. The moment he decided to give these emaciated mutts some food, they of course decided this was their new home. The pack were all decent weights now, and all loved getting as much attention (and food) as they could beg from the travellers. This truly made my heart swell. One grey dog in particular took a bit of a shine to me and decided to park himself by my side for awhile. We learned his name was Shadow.
Jon came over to our table and we chatted a bit about our hometown and about the lodge and how it came to be. He also tried to convince us to go on a tour of Semuc Champey that the lodge conducts daily which includes a guided tour of the famous pools themselves but also an adventure walk/climb/swim through pitch black caves. Holding a candle as you travel through caves, sometimes having to swim through dark, possibly bottomless holes did not sound like something that I wanted to do. Ever. In fact, the thought was starting to make my heart pound just thinking about it. We decided to head to Semuc Champey on our own, besides the walk there was only suppose to be about 40 minutes if we take the "short cut" along the river. Considering all we knew about Guatemala, that seemed reasonable. (I promise, we eventually learned our lesson and doubled any time estimate ever given to us)
The river "short-cut" was definitely not travelled frequently. The trail along the river was pretty much just a clearing of mud which separated the river from the bush. Since there was no way to avoid the mud, I just accepted and embraced the fact that I was going to get covered in it. It was so thick that my feet no longer looked as if I was wearing any shoes, instead that I had pods of mud for feet! My eyes were intensely scanning the path as we walked - I was certain a snake would slither by.. I was ready for it!
Once we were covered with mud we finally found where the short cut met up with the road. We would then just have to follow the road which would take us right to Semuc Champey. Sounded easy enough. Now that it was daylight, I could finally see why the trip to the lodge was so bumpy. Rocks, boulders, massive potholes, giant mud puddles, mud slides, very steep hills and sharp turns - a dirt bikers dream. Funny enough, dirt bikes are a very common transportation method throughout Guatemala! The walk was long, very, very long. The walk was so long that we thought we might have missed it, or taken a wrong path from the "short cut" we made earlier. Some of the hills were so steep that I would have to take a breather halfway through, once I finally got to the top it felt great- then noticed that we would just have to do it all over again.
There was a wide range of scenery along the way. Some of the way all you could see were trees and bush. Green hill tops were dusted with bright yellow flowers and gorgeous views of valleys. We passed a small church and some homes and a few groups of families and workers walking by. All eyes were on us, starring intently until we broke the gaze with "ola" and then the very serious Guatemalan face would brighten with a beautiful smile and a returned greeting. Eventually we could see the opening of the park along with a little hut for an information desk, suddenly a group of kids swarmed us, "Cardamom, choco-latte, want to buy?" they all shouted at us, waving their homemade products in the air. "No, Gracias" was a phrase we learned quick and used often. Eventually, they suckered us into buying some chocolate from them.
Inside the park we apparently started following the path backwards - as you do as a tourist of course. We went to the pools first, forget about saving the best for last!
We walked along the riverside, which had a series of very wet slippery wooden bridges escorting you to an opening in the jungle. In the Maya Q’eqchi language Semuc Champey means, "where the river hides", which references where the Cahabón River flows underground. This river formed a natural limestone bridge that runs more than 1000 feet long. Atop the bridge is a breathtaking series of cascading turquoise pools. You could probably see all the photos of Semuc Champey that were ever taken and still not be able to fully appreciate its beauty until you meet in person. Simply gorgeous!
There were patrols throughout the park ensuring no one wandered into dangerous areas, but if you ask me Semuc Champey in its entirety was a dangerous area, but a beautiful one. We stood and stared at the pools for awhile, soaking it in, I couldn't get over the rich turquoise colour. The path to the pools were treacherous, surrounded by massive and slippery entangled tree roots and limestone. Once in the shallow water you are instantly swarmed by hand-fulls of tiny fish whose favourite thing in the world is to bite off all your dead skin! The water was warm and the view breathtaking. To one side bunches of tiny waterfalls seeping into various pools and mountains to the other side. At one point we decided that we had been bit by a couple fish who weren't so tiny and decided to finally follow the trail to the lookout point.
Of course we began the trail backwards, which seemed fine at first but we learned that going up a trail that was meant for going down was really hard on the calves and the buttocks! It was like we just made it 10 times more difficult on ourselves without knowing - oops!
Huffing and puffing and sweaty and shaky we made it to the lookout point! (I hope you're cheering) At the very top there was a small rustic outhouse and a wooden overhang on the side of a mountain that looked out on to the pools and jungle of Semuc Champey. There was a small tour group being led by a young native who was showing off to his group by standing on the railings and swinging on the trees overlooking the several hundred foot drop. This kid was giving me several heart attacks all at once. Soon we had the wooden deck to ourselves, Steve was instantly at the edge taking it all in. It wasn't quite so easy for me, unfortunately. The heights in this particular spot was really getting to me, so I slowly approached Steve, but I couldn't make it right to the edge without holding onto a small branch for that extra support just in case the wood gave out. I did it! Even though my heart was racing and I was almost hyperventilating and on the verge of passing out.. I did it! ( I hope you're cheering)
Eventually we made it all the way down again, and it seemed just as difficult as we were going down the "up" trail. After the down hill trek all I wanted was to be at our lodge with a cold beer, I was dreading this long, long walk back. A couple of hours later, when I could no longer feel my legs we were back! We had an awesome "family" dinner and drinks, cuddled with dogs and played weird German drinking games that I vaguely remember. Life was good. :)