Our first stop was a 6 hour drive into the mountains. We were schedule to meet a tour guide who was then going to drive us to where we would begin our hike to explore a unique river. On the website it explains that a 4wd vehicle is needed to get to the trailhead and that a safe 4wd would be provided. Our hotel was two hours away from the town that we had to meet our guide so we woke up early and made the drive before the sunrise. The meeting place was a small (three tables and mostly outdoors) restaurant in a very small town on the steep side of a mountain. The streets were designed more for tuk-tuks and motorcycles than for a modern minivan, but we managed to squeeze through the streets and traffic and found the restaurant. When a man pulled up and asked if we were the family headed to Semuc Champey we looked around at the other customers in the restaurant (there were none) , smiled and said, si. He led us over to a vehicle than looks like a small van but with the back cargo area’s roof taken off. In place of a roof it has a tarp over arced metal bands to keep rain off of cargo. In this instance we were the cargo. Ashley looked at me and said this better not be how we are getting to Semuc for the next hour. I smiled and said “it’s OK no problem, I don’t think they would drive us down offroad trails in this, besides this is not 4wd, I am sure we are just meeting the rest of our group somewhere else.” Well I was half right. Actually 2/3 right it wasn’t 4wd, more on that later. So we loaded our two children into the back of this “truck” and headed off on our first Guatemalan adventure. First we stopped for gas, then, we made two stops to deliver some of the sodas and fuel that was in the back of this “truck” with us. (And our two children, in the back of this “truck”, without seatbelts, you probably get the picture. Ashley and I were beginning to stress) At this point though we agreed that this must just be how they are getting us to the rest of our group. We were scheduled to make the hike with 5 other people. So while I was not comfortable with my kids riding around in this vehicle I was convinced we were on our way to the “safe 4wd” that we would ride up the 1 hour long off road trail. We pulled up to the parking lot of a hostel and sure enough there was a group of 5 people waiting. In the parking lot was a nice Toyota 4wd truck. Both Ashley and I had a momentary sigh of relief. That is until the guide told the other 5 people to squeeze into the back of our “truck” with us. Ashley and I both looked at each other with expression of disbelief, fear, anger and what the heck are we doing here. But then we both smiled, shrugged our shoulders and said, “it’s OK, no problem”. And up the trail we went bouncing and rolling and sliding around in the back of this death trap “safe 4wd” the whole time Alexander and Victoria thinking this is AWESOME!
On the “hold on for dear life” ride up to the trailhead we got to know our fellow hikers. There was a man and wife from France, a woman from France and a woman from Columbia and we think her boyfriend from Guatemala. They were all really great people and we could not have asked for a better group to explore with. As we picked up our group it began to rain. Not too heavy but rain none the less. Near the end of our off road journey the trail began a steep climb and our “4wd” could not make it up the slippery route. So one of the guides came back and had us jump up and down in the back of the bed of the “truck” to try and give it more traction. Ashley and I are rolling our eyes, the rest of the group are jumping up and down and this vehicle is sliding and slipping across the trail. Oh and Victoria and Alexander are having a blast! They have never seen anything like this. Finally after nearly rolling the vehicle into the ditch we all just got out and walked the final ¼ mile.
Semuc Champey is an amazing natural wonder. It is a series of spring water pools with a large river running beneath them. By time we began our hike the rain and stopped but it had sufficiently soaked the trail and created lots of mud and slippery rocks. The trail was 3km but it was over very rough terrain up a hill side with large slippery rocks, roots and stairways. Before we began you could see a little doubt in the guide’s and our group’s eyes about Victoria and Alexander being able to keep up on the hike. However, after Alexander and Victoria let loose with a blisteringly fast pace up the hillside the group soon began to wonder if they would be able to keep pace with the kids. Twice the guide had to run to catch them and ask them to wait for everyone to catch up. Each one of our group came up to me and some point and asked how kids can be so excited and so great at hiking in such conditions. Before long we reached the pools and each of us were at a loss for words. The river is a large raging river within a tight canyon. Just above the pools it dives underground for about 300 meters. Just below where the rivers goes under ground is a large area where water pouring from natural springs along the hillside flows onto rocks that form stair stepping pools. At the down-river end of the rocks the spring water flows over the edge and meets the river emerging from underground. The spring water is crystal clear. There are many different sized pools some of them 3 meters deep. We swam in the pools, slid down rock water slides and jumped from small rock ledges for hours. The place was magical. We were swimming in warmish spring water, deep in the rainforests of Guatemala surrounded by steep lush hillsides with the roar of the river all around. On the hike back to the trailhead we all agreed that the pools were an experience we will never forget. Little did we all know that the day was not over yet and our next adventure was going to test us like never before.