Again, the drive through Guatemala was insane. For some reason this country has a very unhealthy obsession with speed bumps. It could be the worst road ever, way out in the most remote part of the country and for some unknown reason there are speed bumps every 300 yards. It totally slowed down our journey, but what can you do. The last 15 miles took nearly an hour because we were on the craziest, dirt road and it was a slow, steep, climb through the mountains to get to Lanquin town, but it was totally worth it.
This place was amazing and totally took my breath away. The pictures do it no justice; you have to see it in person to really appreciate how beautiful it is here. I stayed at the Zephyr Lodge and I think that was half the reason I loved this place so much. Zephyr was a really chilled out and laid back place during the day and a totally party at night. They work on a tab system as there are no ATM machines in the area and there isn't enough hard currency around to do cash sales (we are talking way out in the boonies here people!). Tab systems are dangerous!!
As soon as I arrived I saw Albert, who I last saw in Caye Caulker. Turns out he and Alfonso had both been staying a Zephyr for a few days, so it was nice to see some familiar faces. That night we had some drinks, some laughs, played some giant Jenga drinking game and basically just had a good time. I was in a 12 person mixed dorm and was rudely awaken at 5am by the drunkest guy ever. He was completely wasted and didn't realise he wasn't in the bathroom and proceeded to pee on his friend who was sleeping in the bunk below him. It was really disgusting, but then funny when the friend woke up and went ballistic on his ass! The drunk guy was then later found vomiting in the shower. No one got any sleep that night! I'd like to say this was a one off and you don't see a lot of this kind of stuff while travelling, but you do and people are disgusting. Stuff like this happens all the time in hostels, no matter where you are.
The next day a bunch of us went tubing and it was awesome! Basically you order beer, they drive you to the top of the river and you float for 2 hrs. down river while drinking beer in the sunshine. At the end they the truck comes and we all pile into the back with our tubes and they drive us back to the lodge. This is totally my kind of outdoor activity! When you need another beer the "beer guy" just throws you another and since the cans float you just paddle over to it. The scenery along the river was amazing as well. Plus all the local kids will swim over and play with you or chase you for your empty cans (they collect them for recycling money). It was an all-round fun filled day. However, afternoon drinking in the heat really takes it out of you because I had to take myself off to bed pretty early that night and I slept right through.
The following day I had an early start as I was going to Sumac Champey National Park. Getting to the park is insane; we were all packed into the back of a pick-up truck and driven down the most dangerous, dirt road I have ever been on in my life! "Ice Road Truckers" has nothing on this place. It was seriously steep and we seemed to always be an inch away from plummeting over the cliff edge to our deaths. The road was also very narrow, so when faced with an oncoming vehicle it was always a very slow and scary process to try and pass each other. The park is only about 11K away from the town, but it took almost an hour to get there due to the insane road conditions.
On arrival I met my group, which just happened to include Jonas, a Swedish guy that I met in Belize and he was there with Kim, an Australian guy. We basically stuck together for most of the day, as the rest of our tour group included a bunch of really annoying and loud Argentinian girly-girls. The tour started with a climb up to the lookout point. This was a serious climb and on many occasions I thought I might pass out. The altitude makes it difficult to breath and the heat and humidity just kills you. It was pretty tough going, but we eventually made it to the top and we were rewarded for our efforts because the view from the top was beautiful. You could see mountains for miles and below was the natural, deep blue, water pools all cascading into one another. It was exceptional and I am so glad I got to see it.
Unfortunately, our tour guide did not speak English very well, so we couldn't understand what he was telling us to do, so Jonas, Kim and I ended up going back down the wrong way and we lost our group for a few hours. We didn't really mind though and had a good time swimming in the pools on our own. What we didn't know was that the pools are filled with the little fish they use for the fish pedicures and they were constantly nibbling on us. The pools have a bunch of water falls and natural slides to play around on, but it was so hot I was happy just to be in the cool water.
We met up with our group at lunchtime, and then went tubing down the river for 30 min. The tubing was fun, but you had to walk there and back carrying your tube and no beer was involved, so not as good as tubing with Zephyr, but still fun. The guide also encouraged us all to jump off this incredibly high bridge into the river. I didn't feel the need to jump off the bridge, but a few did. It made me think of all the long weekends at Chris's cottage in Canada and all the drunken bridge jumping we did back then. I was so much braver back then….or was it just stupidity? Either way it was a lot of fun!
After lunch it was time for caving and this was the most amazing, scary, unsafe, thrilling s*** I have done so far on my travels. If this was anywhere in the west it would be shut down in a heartbeat and you would not be allowed to do it. However, I am convinced that there is no such thing as "health and safety" in Guatemala because if there was, they would never let tourists near these caves because it's THAT dangerous! Basically, you enter into a cave, which is like a maze that is pitch black, filled with water, has tons of hazards, slippery as anything and you're swimming, crawling, jumping, climbing and stumbling all over the place while trying to hold onto a tiny thin candle, which is all you have for light. Everyone's candles were constantly going out due to the water and all the splashing about, but luckily our local guide (who had no problem at all getting around this place) had a head lamp which produced a bit of light. At one point I was actually climbing up a slippery waterfall with only a knotted rope to pull myself up, while water pounded down on me and made it impossible to see. The guide then had us squeezing ourselves down a black hole, only to find ourselves free falling into darkness and then plunging into freezing cold water. It was totally insane and I could have died a million different times during this little adventure, but it was so amazing and exhilarating at the same time. If you ever find yourselves in Guatemala you HAVE to do this.
We made our way out the caves a little later than expected, it was getting dark and the rain had started, so those of us headed back into town were rounded up and thrown into the back of the truck for the journey home. Usually, as the road is so dangerous and steep the driver takes his time when passing or going round bends, but as the rain was getting worse our driver wanted to get back fast in case the road washed out and we got stuck there (which happens regularly). The annoying Iranian girls jumped in the cab, so it was just myself and 3 friends from Holland in the back. Although, a few locals jumped in the back with us, for part of the ride. We thought our driver had lost his mind because he was driving like a maniac and it was getting difficult just to stay standing in the back, but then the rain started lashing down and the thunder and lightning hit.
When it rains in Guatemala, it really rains. It comes out of nowhere like a monsoon or a flash flood and just soaks you to the bone. After spending the afternoon in freezing cold cave water, I was starting to think Hypothermia might become a real issue. It was raining soo hard it felt like we were being pounded by hail stones and we were all holding on to the cage in the back for dear life. As we are flying through the pitch black, deadly roads, I'm thinking how funny it is that after actually surviving the crazy, dangerous caves I was most likely going to die on the truck ride home! The guys from Holland and I were laughing our asses off at the insanity of the whole situation, but it actually made the whole day even more fun.
By the time we got back to the town and I made it back to the Zephyr Lodge I was soaked through, shivering, starving and exhausted. After a hot shower and some dinner I was sitting telling Albert all about my day and how amazing it was. He said it sounded terrible to him, I think "A total nightmare" were his exact words, but he is a lazy traveller who only wants to sleep in, hang out in bars and lay on the beach (if it's not too hot for him), so he doesn't know what he's talking about. My day was absolutely brilliant and I loved Sumac Champey!
I had only planned to stay at Zephyr for a couple days, but they pull you in and make you want to stay longer. If you stay in the dorms you get your 3rd night of accommodation free and if you stay for a fourth night then you get your "Happy Day", where all drinks are happy hour prices, all day long. This is a very tempting, but dangerous system they have, especially since you are working on a tab system. Lots of people had a bit of a shock when they got their final bill and realised how much they actually spent. However, as there are no ATM machines they also have a system in place for those who can't pay their bills. Basically, they then have to organise their transport to Antigua or Guatemala City through Zephyr, which of course costs more than other tour companies. The driver will then stop at an ATM and he will only return their passports once they have paid their bill in full. If you ask me, Zephyr Lodge is a nice little money making machine that has a system in place that to cover every eventuality.
My last days were spent relaxing, doing some reading and just enjoying Lanquin. This place was definitely the highlight of my trip so far and it was just an amazing place. Who knew Guatemala would turn out to be such a cool place!