Volcanoes and hidden rivers...

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Guatemala... The world of crazy tours...

Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Thursday, August 13, 2009

Well we made the nightmare bus journey from Managua,Nicaruaga, we passed through Honduras and El Salvador, of course we have to pay for the privilege of passing through both countries, come on at least in South America you just have to flash your EU passport and leave the charges to the Americans behind you... but not in Central America.

We arrive in Guatemala city after staying the night in El Salvador... main aim... get the hell out of the capital city asap.. another argument with a Michael o Leary taxi driver and we get to the bus station to get the bus to Antigua which is thankfully only an hour away from Guatemala City.

Antigua was definitely the most picturesque town we have seen so far in Central America, full of Spanish colonised churches and Baroque architecture surrounded by 3 volcanoes, impressive to day the least. First stop was Mc Donalds due to a recommendation from a fellow traveller, now who recommends a Mc Donalds but this one was so impresive, landscaped gardens with views of the active volcano and cool leather chairs and benches to take it all in, one catch you have to buy Mc Donalds food....

Decided to hike the active volcano, Pacaya volcano, we were told that it was going to be a leisurely hour and a half walk with a tough climb at the end... now this is why the tours over here are crazy...could you imagine a European tour company offering tours of the most active volcano in Central America, so we have to hike up at dusk so that we can see the lava when we get to the top... torches and sticks in hand and we start to climb... a little tough but the last 30 minutes was hell... volcanic ash is so tough to climb on.. you take one step and it throws  you back two steps.... get to the top, Stephen has to wait for me this time as we are in a tour group and the tour guide has to lead due to the danger involved....

No this is going to be hard to potray how crazy this tour was... we get to the top and you can just feel the heat underneath you...it was something like 200 degree heat... absolutely nuts.. then we climb over rocks with lava underneath them... if you loose your footing you are one fried chicken leg.. then we get to the most amazing sight ever.... tons of lava just flowing down the mountain... we are all trying to breathe with the heat and the element of danger... some girls around me are freaking out and crying as it is scary as hell but wow the scenery of the lava against the darkness of the mountain... unbelievable.. 10 mins later we have to start the descend before we all turn into Kentucky Fried Chicken.... coming down the mountain was crazy... firstly it was pitch black and you cant get your footing on the ash so you just end up sliding down on your ass and hoping for the best... i just keep wondering does my insurance cover me climbing active volcanoes in the dark....

A well deserved beer when we get down and then back to our hostel to check out the volcanoes from our roof terrace and thanking every God out there that we are still alive.

Our tour guide from the volcano has convinced us to go on a three day/ 2 night trip to Semuc Champey, seemingly the most remote but beautiful place in Guatemala, for $60 including all accommodation, transport and entrance fees... how could we refuse... so we set off with 8 girls and 2 guys... Stephen and Belgian guy Rafael and the tour guide was happy...

First day just consisted of driving 9 hours with a quick stop in Mc Donalds... our tour guide promised us that the following day would be worth all the driving... and boy was it.... after a breakfast of steak, rice and beans and of course bananas... we were ready for our big day of adventure... a half hour drive down a bumpy road and we arrived at a bridge. This bridge was tall.... he was looking for volunteers to jump from the bridge into the river below.... No volunteers until i notice Stephen taking off his clothes... the guy that is afraid of heights and wont even go on the rollercoaster in Funderland... next thing too late to warn him that there may be rocks below,... hear a crash.... Stephen has jumped.... he finally emerges from the water and is the hero of the day... he was just being a pansy and trying to impress the 8 pretty young German girls on our tour....but hey he is still alive...

Then we arrive at Semuc Champey which means "hidden river", amazing sight, the river disappears under this natural limestone bridge of pools and ponds before reappearing 400 metes later... the colours ranged from light emerald green to dark blue sapphire... this is why it is called the jewel of Guatemala... now over enthuastic tour guides being over enthuastic guides, we had to climb up way too many steps in 35 degree heat to get the panoramic view... it was worth the climb but we all sweating like pigs and beginning to smell like skunks so we rush down to jump into the pools...

These pools were amazing... little pools overflowing into other pools... only problem was if you sat down in the same place little fish starting biting your toes... all the locals come here as this is their exfolitation treatment... some lunch and then onto the next crazy part of our adventure.

Part of this tour was an excursion to the Mona Caves.. we should have known how dangerous this was going to be after our active volcano tour... but this was beyond crazinesss.... never mind signing a disclaimer... we should have signed a suicide note..... we were told to wear our swimsuits and shoes... we were each given a candle and sent to our doom... firstly a family of bats fly alround us, then suddenly we are totally submerged in freezing cold water... climbing over rocks, then we come to a gushing waterfall with a rope which we are told we have to climb up... my upper body strength does not stretch that far... hello Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider would have struggled with this one... after crashing into rocks twice and nearly crying with pain they reveal the ladder that i could have climbed in the first place... i feel like burning this tour giides eyes out with my candle but of course mine has burnt out... finally we get to the finale of this treacherous tour... one final hurdle... a hole with a waterfall and we are told we have to climb into the hole and let the watefall carry us to the bottom... this is the scariest thing i have ever had to do... especially when you cant hear the people that have gone before you... so you think they have all died in the process... we manage to climb into this tiny hole... then we are thrown down a tunnel against rocks and then land in a pool of water... we just want to get out of this place.. finally we spot the light at the end of the cave.... amazing experience... would we do it again... no... we quite like our life...

Then an hour of "tubing"... which involved going down a river in a tyre... problem was everybody was moving ... i was stuck and not moving... i was trying to explain to Stephen that the current must have changed direction... then i fall out of my tyre and i am stuck in the middle of the river and cant get back in.. the locals are screaming at me that the water is not safe to swim in... i start freaking out that there is crocs or something... finally i get to the end of the river where the rest of my tour group are waiting patiently for me...

Then back to the local restaurant to eat more chicken and rice... then back to our hotel where we all have a few beers and cant believe we are still alive.... amazing scenery though and recommended to anybody else crazy enough to do it.....
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