Thursday, September 1, 2011

Semuc say what?

On the way out of Xela, we went straight up towards Chichicastenango, a place known for its market.  It definitely had a market.  The whole town was a market.  Which was good for us, since Mike needed some tall socks to ride in... soccer socks.  Only 1 pair of socks in those tall leather boots just doesn't cut it.  Jill decided to get some too, which turned out to be great, because the ones that Mike picked out were somehow only big enough for a 6 year old.  So Mike stole the ones that Jill picked out, justifying it by the grand benefit that she will receive of not having to smell his single pair of riding socks over and over again.

(average height of tarps in the market: 5'6")

(where we parked for lunch, not where we ate it)

Our next stop was Uspantan, making it there just as the rains unleashed that evening. There are a few hotels in town, we ended up staying in one for Q60, and pretty much laying low.  A pizza dinner and some soccer watching pulled us through the evening.

One of the highlights for many traveling through Guatemala is Semuc Champuey, a natural area that is a perfect place to go relax, swim, and play outside.  We happen to agree with them.  Semuc Champuey is amazing!  The trip towards Lanquín is smooth sailing, save a few minor detours for the Sunday markets going on in all the towns along the way...

(clearest path through San Pedro Carcha)

(overview of San Pedro Carcha)

...also there were a few other minor detours around landslides, starting small...

...and turning into multiple kilometer stretches.

(the community in the area had set up a fence before and after this section, asking for a few quetzales from all vehicles passing. Which if they did all the work to make this stretch look like a road again, they certainly deserve the toll. They seemed to like us, though. They just gave us huge smiles, thumbs up, and let us right on through.)

The last stretch into Lanquin takes about 10 km of big bike friendly dual sporting, and about 10 km on the way past town to Semuc Champuey itself.

(random road-side band)

(relatively steep, rocky downhill section, turning out to be our nemesis on the way back up...)

(around the corner from our hostel and park entrance)

Thankfully, we didn’t have to pass any vehicles on the narrowest stretches (at least on the way there…), and the trail adjustment made to the forks during the service in Xela seemed to make the dirt riding an easier task than before.

We passed a few really nice hotels on the way (like El Recreo), there are lodging options in Lanquin itself, but we kept on to El Portal – a hotel/hostel/camping set up right at the entrance to the park.  Clean bathrooms, good food at reasonable prices, and super easy access to the park made this place a hit.  Camping was Q15 a person (less than US$2).  There were no dorm beds available the night we were there, private room with private bath was available for Q200.

(riverside camping)

We met a couple from Guatemala City who were leaving that evening, but super friendly, and he happens to own a motorcycle shop in Guatemala.  Juan Olyslager is his name - he offered any assistance needed, and was a really nice guy. But we stuck with our plan of avoiding Guatemala City. If you need something on your way through, you can reach him at jpolyslager - AT - gmail - DOT - com, or check out his website at

That night we signed up for a tour of Semuc Champuey through the lodge.  The all day tour included the park, then tubing down the river, then a cave walk.  Since we were leaving the next day, we just signed up for the tour through the park, not the afternoon activities.  Man, we kind of wished we didn’t.  The guide was nice, but we were with a group of around 15 people, which is not how Jill or I would normally choose to visit a natural area.  First stop was a good vantage point of the waters of Semuc Champuey.

There are actually 2 distinct rivers – the one flowing from above has nothing to do with the pools, which are formed by groundwater runoff from the surrounding mountains.  The upper river goes rushing into an underground tunnel, exiting a few hundred meters downstream, and joining the 2nd river.

A benefit of the guide was that he showed us good places to jump into the pools, which are beautiful shades (or "hues" if you prefer the Lonely Planet description) of blue-green water.

He also showed us some natural rock slides, which were fun for us, but much less so for some members of our traveling circus.  Apparently bikini bottoms and rock slides are not very compatible.  But some of the faces and reactions we saw where absolutely hysterical.  That may have made the tour worth it.

We had a blast playing in the water!  The tour lasted from 10am to 2pm, so we did not join the masses for the tubing expedition (even though Mike absolutely loves tubing), but rather had a snack and hit the road.

We also passed a delivery truck on a steep section of road, one where concrete had been poured on the 2 tracks to maintain traction even during wet times.  Thankfully, the truck didn’t mind jumping off the concrete to pass us, cause it would have been a real hassle on the fully loaded TA.

(2 track with no drop off on each side, sometimes it looked much hairier)

(Mike starting over again on the uphill stretch. Coming to a stop on this stretch was not smart. With 2 feet down, the front brake was not enough to hold us on the hill. Sliding backwards we set the bike down sideways. Picking it up again, the right mirror took a hit. Once again. We eventually got the bike back down to a good point for traction and made it up no problem. I've still gotta learn. More throttle. Less brake.)

Back in Lanquin we passed another rider from Canada on a BMW F800GS, looking for lodging there, but we were only able to shake hands in passing.  Maybe a beer down the road...

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