Semuc Champey and the Army at Darkness

Semuc Champey Travel Blog

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Perched upon a mattress between five wooden walls, one adorned with a few askew, adjutting nails for hanging, and a concrete floor, I'm coming to comprehend the origins of the term bedroom. The only sound -- besides Guatemala's national music: the incessant chorus of rooster crows, to which I'm finally growing deaf -- is millions of simultaneous gentle thumps, plump raindrops acquainting themselves with the canopy of oversized fauna below, leaves the size of kites.

In The Woods, Guatemala, or, if one must assign a mappable name, Semuc Champey (Kekchi for "Sacred Water"), consists if my basic accomodations (one night at Casa Sapote included in my Q$100 roundtrip shuttle from Cobán); random indigenous persons emerging from the jungle at random, or walking along the 20km dirt road to nowhere, baskets balanced headtop, who presumably take shelter somewhere in the vicinity; and a small army of shotgun-wielding guards protecting the crude and treacherous corridor to Semuc Champey's natural wonder: a 300m limestone bridge, lined with a series of stepped and swimmable pools and waterfalls, water of colors most people experience only through Photoshop, depth-dependent hues transparent turquoise to deep blue.

The serenity atop the bridge, placid pools and short stepping cascades, belies the torrent below. I was one of the few adventurers to follow our tour guide, Renee, toward the point where the raging Río Cahabón, which thrashes through an eons worn cave beneath the bridge, reemerges from its tunnel, rejoining the water flowing from the pools. Mimicking Renee and his small, agile sidekick, we swam, slid, and tiptoed the entire slick limestone bridge. At the end, a 20m high ledge overlooking violence below, sheets of white froth launching from the backs of boulders unflinching through ages of pounding.


Then I noticed the curled rope ladder Sidekick carried slung over his shoulder. Summarily unraveled, Renee secured it to a boulder in that lowest calm pool, and we descended one-by-one, the waterfall rushing into our faces, ladder hidden. From a rocky outcropping 10m below we crawled beneath the waterfall into the cave's mouth, crouching and shuffling beneath stalactites to another ledge, eroded by the river exploding from the darkness stretching back beneath which we'd recently traversed. Semuc Champey's bridgetop pool views are easily worth admission, but the prize is becoming acquainted with the beast snaking below.

Emerging unscathed from the tower climbs at Tikal and a rope ladder excursion through a waterfall with a rocky bed below, quiet death tonight -- gaps in the warped lengths of wood comprising my walls offering free admission to any creature that can compact or contract itself less the width of a human fist -- would be a cruel fate, an entire loaf of banana bread awaiting me at sunrise.

A few minutes after handwriting the above journal, a variation of my worst movie-come-true nightmare began. OK, Candyman materializing is actually first. But an arachnid invasion a al Arachnaphobia ranks a close second.

Intending to shower, I rose from the bed and walked toward the door, halting when I noticed the gray floor about the doorway transformed into a swirling black, blooming outward. My peripheral registered black swarms advancing up either wall, toward the ceiling, the door already conquered. Like my room was constructed atop a hill-sized nest of biting black ants that I had offended, stirred from some perfect slumber with my mere soundless presence.

I stretched long and jerked the door open with nervous, dancing fingers before retreating, stamping about like an enraged marching bandee, trying to stem the dark flood from engulfing my bed, my bags, and my body, my only escape blocked by the agitated black tornado already spread to far to consider hurdling. Shortly, nerves fraying as ants began divebombing into my hair from the ceiling, a scattered few landing softly on the bed, Santiago, who lives and works at Casa Zapote, stopped in the open doorway, oblivious to the fury at his feet. "Amigo," I warned, indicating something amiss at his feet with a shaky finger in between the slaps to my head and shoulders. Dancing and clawing spectacle as I was -- probably not particularly startling given the flow of drug-addled hippies traveling the Central American travel circuit -- he glanced at the floor before launching himself back with a yelp, smacking with both hands at his ankles.

He motioned to my bags and indicated for me to follow. I hastily collected my belongings, inhaled deeply, and propelled myself across millions of tinybiters, landing in a soft pit of collected rainwater. The squish of my soggy shoes didn't bother me a bit on the sprint to my comped honeymoon suite, nor did the giant jungle spiders lurking in the shadows outside the door, their presence as insect demolishers finally appreciated.
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Semuc Champey
photo by: jlchatham