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Semuc Champey Jan/2/2013

4 Jan

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Now officially top 5 destination is Guatemala. In my world anyway. Semuc Champey is 10km of a very rough ride of steep ups and downs. The only way for a tourist to get there is on the back of a pickup truck that occasionally run back and forth or renting a 4×4 in Antigua or Guatemala City.

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The pools of Champey are nothing like I have ever seen before. It consists of a wild river that turns off into a cave system just a few feet before the pools. The crystal white pools with beautiful clear water are the main attraction.
Millions of years ago, sea shells got crushed and pulverized and later hardened to form these pools with water flowing into them from way up in the jungle. I have tasted the water from the streams and it is so heavy on minerals it’s almost salty. Of course I don’t settle just for watching these from eye level so while Alex stays for a dip I go for the exhausting, 30 minute steep path way up on top of one of the mountains.

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Well worth it. I ran into our Croatian friends there that we met the night before in Languín. Way down was less exhausting but dangerous as very little light gets through the canopy and the path is very slippery. A dive into the crystal pools was so welcoming. Making way from one pool to another either over the natural dam or under, through a small cavern. The ponds are full of fish that just nibble on your skin. An exfoliation of kinds. Of course this wasn’t enough. From the Croatians I found out that there caves a few hundred meters from here. You don’t need to convince me. So this was probably one of the coolest things I have done in my life. One this about Guatemala is that the level of security in places like these is zero. One of the Croatian girls Maria, a couple from Cali, me and the guide are handed a candle each and set out for well over an hours exploration of the cave. My first thought is, will these candles last an hour? Endless number of stalagmites and stalactites in an endless cave. 11km to be exact. We only went in just under a mile but it was a mile of swimming crawling through tight spaces and up waterfalls to get into the other levels of the cave system. Most of the hike was done half submerged. All of this was done with the hopes to keep at least one candle going. Half way through we knew the candles were not gonna last so we started putting some out to save them for later. Because of a still swollen ankle from my bike spill back in August, I passed on a dive into a pond inside the cave but I was the first to slide my body down a sort of tunnel opening into the unknown.
We are now 3:1 as Alex gets dumped off his bike again. Well, not sure if #2 should count as he just forgot to kick out his side stand and thus leaned the bike into emptiness right in front of our hotel back a few days ago in Isla de Flores.

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My bike is short to follow. For whatever reason I did not wear ear plugs coming back from Champey. 99% of the riding I do. As we hit the pavement in Languín I hear a cling as if a piece of metal hit the ground. I try to stop but no front brake. Using the rear and gearing down I pull over. One of the screws holding the front caliper flew off and the other is hanging by a few threads. I walked back a few dozen feet and surely enough there is the bolt on the cobble stone pavement. What luck, I’m thinking. Not only that I heard it drop but especially that it didn’t happen anywhere else on the 120km stretch of steep hills and 500ft drops on either side. Remember when I was getting my front brakes fixed in Cancún? The bikes have really been getting a beating the past two days. I’m really surprised that more hasn’t happened but a drop of thread lock would have prevented this. All I had was crazy glue, so a few drops on the treads and back in they go. Easy fix at the side of the street.
We spent the night with the Croatians in this awesome hotel that consisted of a number if straw huts alongside the river. Consuming Gallos and Brahvas long into the night before a good bye to them as they were heading up to Tical and Cancún.

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Did I mention that we barely ever paid more than $20 for a hotel in Guatemala? Food is insanely cheap too. About $5 for two big breakfast and pure Guatemalan coffee.
We have a few more nights in Guatemala before taking on Honduras. We are both insanely pleased with it and I will definitely return to discover more of this beautiful country. Too bad about the well deserved bad rep. Guatemala a fairly small place with little population averages 500 murders a month. Yes, that’s almost 17 murders every night, not mentioning traffic and other accidents. December had a whopping 544 murders and 29 deaths over the New Year’s Eve we spent here. Overall we never felt threatened even in the remote places. On the contrary, people were very friendly everywhere we have tackled. I even got down a few more Mayan phrases from the lovely Mayan ladies back in Languín where we stayed for the past 2 nights. They don’t have words for “to buy” or “purchase”, but I got down phrases such as “mas natatin qua” for “I love you”, “mantita kek” for “ride me cowboy style” and “masli sam” for “thank you”.

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Guatemalan Jungle Jan/1/2013

2 Jan

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By far the hardest drive ever. I have done some similar to this type were I would venture off on a 250 XT or a CR but the rewarding destination had us pushing on. I have had a spill last summer on a road easier than this. This one dragged on for 100km deep in the Guatemalan jungle of the Cordilleras
Semuc Champey is supposed to be the 8th wonder of the world. I will be the judge after seeing the 7th only a few weeks back. We set off from Rio Dulce but choose not to take the easy 350km ride but opt for the hard, 130 kilometers.
Enthusiastically we hit the dirt mountain road. Results start showing shortly. The bimmer is the first. The bolt on the left side of the headlight happens to hold the left projector light has come loose and gone MIA. The headlight is now bouncing around loosely and in danger of breaking of completely. A bolt that happens to be the same size is taken off my crash bar for replacement. This bolt is too long so a few washers and a Canadian toonie where I knock the center out make for a perfect spacer.

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We are now way high with nothing but Indian villages every now and than. The scenery is absolutely stunning. We stop ever so often to take pictures.

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Second scare comes minuted later when I pass Alex as he thinks that he has a blown front shock. Hundreds of thoughts get processed instantly. Ok. Trip is on hold. Need to find a truck to put the bike on. Get the bike to Guatemala City. All and all, about 8 days to get back on the road. What a relief it was to find out that only the front fender got bent and jammed under the front wheel. What a relief.
Every time we ask for directions the ETA seems to be getting further. We never really knew the distance but the first time frame we got was 2 hours. After an hours driving, the couple of guys that walked out of the bush said three. Another hour goes by and we are getting really exhausted as this seem to be the reminiscent of a Dakar rally stage. The group of Mayan girls just turns around and runs when I ask them so I opt for the man walking this kids. “Dos horas”. C’mooon.
It took us about 5 hours to drive this technical course of 100km to get to Languín. The last stop with a restaurant and a hostel before Champey. Beat, we settle in one of two hostels awkwardly called Rabbi Itzam that happened to be full of Israeli backpackers. Never in my life would I have thought I would drive this far for a dip.

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