On my first trip to Guatemala we heard about an amazing place. There was a 1/4 mile long limestone bridge that was over on top a big river. The way the bridge formed it created natural tiered pools with turquoise blue water. It sounded amazing but we could never remember the name – Semuc Champey. Champagne Falls? Now that just rolls off the tongue. Champagne Falls it is.
We had such a good time in Antigua and at the Earth Lodge that we didn’t really want to leave. But, we were excited to head to Champagne Falls and stay at our next ecolodge, El Retiro. The journey there kinda sucked. We were in a giant crowded bus and a hungover kid kept puked out the window. Gross. At first we felt bad for him but then we realized he was the same idiot that chugged two beers before getting on the bus at 8am. When we finally arrive at the destination we were met by people from our lodge who would take us the rest of the way.
Everyone was told to climb in the back of the pickup and stand for the 20 minute ride. That would have been fine except my continued sciatica issues and the added detail that we were all wearing our (slightly too large) botas. Not great for standing. I asked the driver if I could ride in the front with him because my leg hurt and he said sure. I went to climb in but two other people had beat me to the front. I explained to the backpacker couple that I needed to sit because I was hurt. The girl simply said NO! I was totally caught off guard and assumed she didn’t understand me. I explained again in very slow English that I was hurt it was really hard to stand still. Her response? I said NO! At that point I was super pissed and just pushed past them to climb in. The girl looked me straight in the face and said I wish you a bad journey and stalked away. I had no idea how to react to that. I got to sit and that was the most important part but I also felt like I was on the wrong end of a gypsy curse or something!
We arrive at our lodge and I go to get my bag out of the back. At this point we are all regretting wearing our new botas because wet dirt and stone roads already make it a challenge to balance much less in new boots! I tell Megan and Rachel about the mean girl with the gypsy curse and they both go into mama bear mode. Totally ready, willing and able to either punch her in the face or spit in her food. Sisterhood at it’s finest. We decided to let it go but there was lots of talks about karma. So anyway.. we had arrived! Our cabin was about basic as can be but we could hear the river down below and we had a hammock out front so we were happy. That first night we took part in the family style dinner, continued to embrace the happy hour specials and took turns using the two swings that were part of the bar. So fun.
We decided to have a somewhat low key next day. We went swimming in the river. There was a pool that had formed which was perfect for swimming but still had a really strong current. We decided a human chain – first person holds a big rock, second person holds on to the first person, third person holds on to the second person – was our best bet. That afternoon we went tubing which was nice. Another pickup truck, this time with a bench in the back. We met some cute local kids, had a good float and managed to frantically paddle out of the main current so as not to be sucked down river at the end. Another fun night, this time with a solid dance party at the bar.
Next day was the big day! Champagne Falls! The first part of the day you have the chance to explore a cave by candlelight. I decided that I just couldn’t do with my crazy leg but Meg and Rach got to explore. They climbed, slid and jumped there way through a large subterranean cave. Once they came back we had a chance to jump off a GIANT swing. You climbed a rock to get on, then the river guide screamed at you when it was time to jump off – you could not come back, you would hit rocks coming back up. We were kinda nervous but def wanted to do it. Rachel went first. So brave! She managed to fall the wrong way though and kinda knocked wind out of herself. Meg was next (obvi I made them both go first). She fared a bit better but def hit the water hard. Ah! My turn! I had quite successful drop – hit the water pencil dive and popped back up just outside of the current stream. Perks of making the other people go first.
Next up was some more river tubing. The local little kids have quite a system going. The little boys run along the river shouting Cerveza – Beer, Cerveza – Beer and carrying tiny inner tubes and coolers. Show even the slightest bit of interest and a small boy will throw himself into the river and paddle over to you as fast as he can. Each of their beers are marked with a letter and when you get out of the river you are swarmed with little girls asking to take your cans. The girls recycle cans and take your money for their brothers. We found it both impressive and kind of sad. These children clearly don’t go to school because they are working. That said, they are entrepreneurial and know how to make a quick buck on the tourists that come to Champagne Falls. We did each buy a beer or two. I managed to take one sip and before filling my can with river water. Tube drinking fail.
After the tubing we were brought to area where we could eat our lunch. The little girls really liked our hats and sunglasses. They were very excited we were sisters just like them. We chatted and played silly games with them. They really wanted their pictures taken and we were happy to pose right along side them.
After lunch we crossed the bridge in the photo on foot. It was the sketchiest bridge ever. Lots of planks missing and the boards were all lose. Now that I am back working in an Education Abroad Office I realize just how many health and safety concerns there were… oh well, we made it! Our guide gave us the chance to jump off the bridge. Rachel our resident dare devil went for it. Another tough landing – Rachel ended up a dinner plate sized bruise on her thigh but it makes for a good story!
We were finally in sight of the actually Semuc Champey! We did some hiking and somehow ended up with our own personal guide. It apparently became obvious to our river guide that three of us needed some additional supervising. Carlos was probably about 17 and completely overwhelmed/entertained by our combine antics. You get in the water at the highest pool and then jump from one to the next until you reach the bottom. Each pool is really big but each one is different. Some are really deep, some have caves you can swim into. It was all gorgeous and the water was a great temperature.
Some of the transitions are small and you can just jump from one pool to the next. Other significant and you have to slide on your butt to get down. One of the “slides” had a sharp turn and so Carlos made himself a bumper rail for us. Somehow tiny Carlos managed to hang over as each one of us flew down the slide and hip checked him at full force. Good on you Carlos – we honestly don’t know how you did it!
Most of the time you are able to swim but sometimes you have to get up and walk over the wet limestone. By the end all three of us had fallen countless times. There were cuts, scrapes and bruises galore. Megan turned her bathing suit into a Mary Poppins bag. By the time we got to the end Megan had her swim shirt, a bottle of sunblock and her hat all tucked into her bathing suit. Girl likes to be prepared and is also a creative problem solver. It was honestly one of the most fun experiences of my adult life. We swam, jumped, laughed and screamed all day long.
One last big stop our on Guatemala adventure for the third and final installment in #518inGuate!