Flores, Tikal & Paradise (Semuc Champey)

Um…….. Get ready for another long post that has nothing to teach you and is only updating you on all the awesome things I got to do. I will have to do a double post week so I can go back and talk about all the things I’ve learned through my awesome experiences! All I can say is I AM SO BLESSED TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THIS AND I NEVER EVER EVER WANT TO STOP!

So the rest of Monday after I updated my last post, I went out and got some more sun and ate lunch at a cute little cafe. Again, I was not impressed with the food. I wasn’t impressed with almost any of the food in Belize except for what Moms homemade for us and the food we ate on the yacht. I got in a good amount of reading that day and Smooth invited me to get dinner with him my last night there. We still hadn’t climbed to the top of the building that was under construction to watch the sunset, which he had told me about the first night so we ate up on the roof and did just that that night. You really could see everything from up there! And then the stars were amazing again. Moments that make you never want to stop traveling are RAMPANT when you travel. I’ve never in my life woken up every day full of reason to be alive.

Sunset from the roof!

Sunset from the roof!

Tuesday was pretty much a traveling day. I got up early early and Smooth took me to the boat dock around 8:30. Hopped on my water taxi, waited for my shuttle, and off I went to Flores. I think we got to Flores around I don’t even remember what time. Mid afternoon. But I was so tired from being up really late and getting up really early so I ate and went to bed really early. I was chatting with the only other traveler that was staying there at the moment, Matt, and we had decided to do the Tikal sunrise tour together the next day. So I decided to go to bed around 7pm.

the view from the hostel in Flores

the view from the hostel in Flores 

Well when I woke up at 2:30 am, I found out he had trouble at the ATM that night so he couldn’t pull out money for the trip. I then had to decide to go alone or wait and the hostel owner said he had a group of 3 going later for the Sunset tour (I was afraid of doing this tour because of how hot it would be in the jungle midday) but I decided to go back to bed and go with the other group.

I was not a fan of the dogs and roosters that woke me up that day. My second hostel had such a nice view and a secluded feeling, but there were so many houses nearby with dogs and roosters, it was impossible to sleep. I did get my own room since there were so few people there, which was so nice, but the rooms only had screens for the windows and a tarp for a roof, so it was rather difficult to block out any noises, even with my earplugs!

At breakfast, I met the other group (Or maybe I’d met them for a brief moment the night before? I don’t remember) and joined them to go into Flores and buy some groceries. I couldn’t afford to eat everything at this hostel. Since it was secluded, you didn’t have much choice but to only eat at their restaurant. And how lucky did I get on this trip again? Lucky in Belize because I got to participate in so many things that normally cost money because Smooth invited me.

Lucky in Flores because Pavel was a sweetheart and helped me out with a lot of things as well. He carried over half my groceries and paid for my tuc-tuc and boatride that day. How nice! It’s like my couch surfing experience all over again. I got so blessed with amazing hosts so I fell for couch surfing from the start and in every hostel I’ve stayed at, I’ve been blessed with sweet new friends that treated me like a princess!

Anyways, after we got back, we got ready to head to our Tikal tour. And what luck we had again! It didn’t rain and it wasn’t horrendously hot like we were expecting either. I’m not sure what to tell you about the tour. I think after going on a few tours in my life and after experiencing this one, this is not my thing. It was so detailed that I couldn’t tell you a thing I learned about Tikal because my brain couldn’t retain all the information that our guide told us. In places, he rushed us along when I wanted to take pictures of animals or things and in other places he gave us way too much time to explore.

some ruins

some ruins

view from the top

view from the top

more ruins. can you find my friend, Pavel?

more ruins. can you find my friend, Pavel?

I do remember that he said Star Wars has a scene that was filmed from the top of the tallest tower. But that’s honestly about. The ruins were huge which was pretty cool, but I think I’ve discovered that this type of tour just isn’t my thing. I’m more interested in adventures. I much enjoyed my tour of Semuc Champey, but that will come later in my post.

the apparent Star Wars view

the apparent Star Wars view

me at the top (or bottom? MUAHAHHA) of the tallest tower

me at the top (or bottom? MUAHAHHA) of the tallest tower

Our tour guide did point out some animals along the way, including some termites that he let people eat. Um….. No thanks. I realize I’m here to try new things and conquer fears, but I really don’t feel that my life benefits from trying a termite so I had to pass on that new thing. Pavel went to town though. Says they taste like wood. Are we surprised?

gross.

gross.

We were there til sunset, but unfortunately it was a cloudy day so we didn’t get much of a sunset view from the last tower, but oh well. Wow those stairs are killer. This place is not for the weak of knees.

Pavel took me out for dinner and icecream that night. Princess moment again!! How nice are the people I’ve met on my travels? I’m too blessed. Special treatment in 2 of 3 places! We were supposed to go with the rest of the group, but they all got too tired and went back to the hostel. I shouldn’t be eating burgers in a foreign country, but it’s a touristy area and we ended up at a place with only tourist food. But I have to say, it was about the best burger I think I’ve EVER had.

Surprisingly, we didn’t head to bed upon returning. I suppose the food provided another leg of energy, but since Pavel was leaving the next day, we ended up staying late and talking til about 3 AM. At 3 we decided we should try to make it til sunrise, but I couldn’t make it past 4:30. But it was still enjoyable to get to know another person. One of my favorite parts of traveling is being free to do whatever I want and stay up as late as I want or get up as early as I want knowing it wont affect the rest of my day and getting to know other cool people. Pavel has been to quite a lot of places! And may later be on his way to Antigua, just like the 3 I met in Belize! How cool is that?

The next day I was going to go Kayaking, but I was exhausted so I just lazed at the pool all day with Matt. He was fun to get to know as well. We exchanged our reasons for traveling and I found out he is a control freak and planner like I am and that he’s learning to let go of that and learning that things still go rather well even if you don’t plan them out to the last detail.

After it started raining, I spent the rest of my day like a good ol’ American on my phone. I just couldn’t get myself to read my Spanish books like a good little student. Too tired and brain dead. Matt left on the night bus that night to go to Antigua and I left the next morning to head to Paradise.

I suppose that would be Friday. Yep. Left Flores around 8 am and got to my hostel by 6 pm. Definitely a full day of traveling there. But I met a girl named Maika the night before who was traveling the same route as me so we were travel buddies all day and had quite a blast getting to our hostel. Utopia it was called and it’s the farthest out and most secluded of all the hostels in Lanquin. Utopia is a good hour back-of-a-pick-up ride from Lanquin and that was a blast.

The ride from Flores was absolutely gorgeous. I always wish my camera could do it justice, but it never does. The last leg of our trip was over unpaved windy and hilly roads. We passed a guy on the side who we thought was dead, but apparently was just drunk and decided to pass out in the road. Classy!

part of the view from the ride from Flores

part of the view from the ride from Flores

When we got to Lanquin, we transferred into the back of a pick-up truck and began our adventure down to our hostel. It was so much fun riding back there, despite the ridiculous bumps but since there were only 2 of us, we got to sit down in the back instead of being packed like sardines. At some point, some random guy just ran up and jumped on the back after dark and scared me. I was glad we were in the back with our stuff. But he was just hitchin a ride. I don’t blame him. To have to walk there would be a pain in the butt!

This hostel was similar to my second one on Flores, Chaltunhah. There was no choice if you didn’t bring snacks with you but to eat their food. I felt that it was better priced here and definitely well worth the money. The portions for dinner were huge! And the food was AMAZING. I ended up eating more meals there than I planned on (I had brought snacks) because it was just so dang good. The first night upon arrival, we had some kind of stir fry and spring rolls and a brownie of sorts for dessert. I couldn’t finish it all and I tried so hard because it was YUMMY! I loved the way it was set up too. Dinner is served at one time so we all sit together kind of like a family. It definitely helped for making friends quickly there. I already had Maica with me and then we met some other awesome people as well. Two couples and Megan.

Utopia’s set up was really interesting. We did have bunk beds like any other hostel might, but they were in the open air. We didn’t have a room anywhere, just upstairs with a roof over our head. It was pretty cool. I was thankful for there not being too many roosters nearby for sure. But the sounds of the river and birds didn’t keep me awake here. It was so peaceful. And NO BUGS! (err.. biting bugs anyways..we did see some butterflys and moths and a TARANTULA) It was like luxury camping!

the dorm bunks

the dorm bunks

view from the bunk bed area

view from the bunk bed area

And I got hit on by the guy that took us in on the truck. I think his name was Carlos. Something about getting married. Or a foot massage after my hike the next day. Whatever. These Guatemalans and their baboshebas (bullshits). Why do they like me so much?? I can’t escape them anywhere! Well.. I mean.. I suppose I would be lying if I said I didn’t like the attention (Ok, I wouldn’t be lying about the attention when it’s from a gross guy, but Carlos was cute) but still.. I don’t get it. It’s so different from the states. Or maybe it’s the same and I just accept it more here because Spanish makes things sound 150% more interesting. I thought he was going to be our tour guide the next day and I was thinking “oh boy. here goes another day of a guy flirting with me all day (my life is so difficult right?)” but it ended up being a different guy. That also hit on me. Go figure.

The next day was the best day of my whole trip. Saturday. We took the big tour, which starts in the caves and then lets us do a rope swing or jump off a bridge and then takes up an infinite amount of stairs (I think this definitely topped the stairs at Tikal) to view the pools at Semuc Champey. Then takes us down to swim in the pools. Then we added a tubing trip onto the end. We were gone from probably 8 am to 6 pm again like my travel day!

We started out in the back of a truck to take us to Semuc. Packed like Sardines. I’m not complaining! It’s an adventure. I loved riding in the back of the trucks.

this is what we do in Guatemala (ours wasn't QUITE this full, but close)

this is what we do in Guatemala (ours wasn’t QUITE this full, but close)

Then we walked to welcome center and dropped off our stuff before heading to the caves with our candles. Oh how I wish I had pictures of this. But my not waterproof camera had to be left behind. I then realized that a Go Pro is DEFINITELY going on my Christmas list this year haha. A friend in our group had a Go Pro so hopefully I’ll be able to grab some pictures from her when she uploads them to facebook.

The caves were AMAZING. We were all given a candle and had to walk, wade, swim, climb, and jump with our candles. Our tour guide was awesome actually. I like this kind of tour. There’s not much to say, just lots to do and he is just there to guide us so we don’t hurt ourselves. The water was so cold, but it was so worth it. We had spots where it was only ankle deep and spots where it was deep enough to swim and we had to do it all. We climbed slippery ladders and knotted ropes that were behind waterfalls. (Well, we had a choice at one point to try the rope or climb the side of the waterfall with the safer option. I of course, after some encouraging “Tu puedes, mi amor” words from our guide, opted for the rope!)

We also had a chance to jump off cliffs in the cave. Probably a 15 foot jump I’d say, but had to climb the rocks with no equipment to help us. I was one of 3 people to do it. I felt pretty awesome. Surprisingly, a lot more people did the rope swing and bridge jumps! I guess they were afraid of hitting the rocks in the cave because it’s not very light in there with just some candles!

We also had a place where we had to climb through a hole where water was pouring down and jump into a pool below. It was a little worrisome to everyone because we couldn’t see where we’d end up due to the waterfall! But it was a piece of cake. It was only like a 2 foot drop.

I was ready to get out of the cave when we did. I was shivering at that point from how cold it was. Next, we headed to the rope swing. A giant rope swing. One you sit on. One that probably gives you a good 20 foot drop. I didn’t really want to do it because I remembered my trip in NY where I jumped off of 40 feet and hit the water poorly and hurt my arm and butt which was very unpleasant. But I figured, it should be done again so I can learn to land better. My guide told me how to land right and encouraged me once again, but I failed my landing once again.

And I failed good. Belly flopping from that high up is not a fun experience. I knocked the wind out of me good and hard and couldn’t speak for a good 45 seconds after I came up. I whacked my face as well and had a nice headache and stomachache for the rest of the day. I ended up being grateful that I messed up on the rope swing because the jumps as we walked along the rest of the day ended up being higher and higher. The rope swing failure stopped me from attempting any more jumps the rest of the day. Could you imagine if I had jumped from 40 feet and belly flopped? I’d probably be dead. One day I’ll learn to keep my eyes open and stop landing improperly.

After the rope swing, we had the opportunity to jump off a 40 foot bridge. I passed. Then we headed up the infinite stairs to the look out point of semuc champey. These stairs were worse than Tikal. I never thought it would end!! But again, I got the princess treatment and my guide took my backpack from me early on in the hike when I was struggling to take out my camera lenses and carried it for me the whole rest of the day. What luck I had in EVER place on this trip! The hike was still rough, even backpackless. But, it was so worth the view though. Semuc really is paradise. I’m amazed it’s not swarming with tourism. I hope it stays that way. Tourism would ruin it.

Some of the many.... many stairs.

Some of the many…. many stairs.

me at the top of the look-out! Semuc Pools below!

me at the top of the look-out! Semuc Pools below!

Then we climbed down to the ever-so-gorgeous pools and got to go for a swim, and a slide and had more jumping opportunities from trees. I only have a picture from the beginning where my “private photographer” (or so he called himself.. and actually my tour guide does want to be a photographer one day, how presh!) took a few snaps of me, but then we had to put up the camera to go for the swimming from pool to pool.

one of the pools up close

one of the pools up close

who's that bathing beauty? ;)

who’s that bathing beauty? ;)

At a few pools, we got to slide down the rocks. It hurts your bum a bit, but it’s so much fun! We ended in the last pool overlooking a crazy waterfall that ended at some rocks. This is when I overheard someone talking about jumping and our tourguide said yeah we could jump over there and pointed. I laughed because I thought it was a joke. The current below looked rather fast and the height was over 60 feet. But nope. It was not a joke. I watched in aww as the few brave men made the jump and swam out of sight. Wow. That one I don’t think I would have braved even if I had landed my rope swing perfectly! Apparently the climb back up is pretty insane as well (no ropes or ladders, just rock climbing, gear-free!). Things that would probably not be legal in the States. And things that make me fall more in love with Guatemala. There’s too many rules in the States.

In Guatemala, in most places, if you can pay for it or build it, you can do whatever you want basically. Utopia didn’t need a permit to be built or anything. It’s crazy! And that waterfall would have been so illegal in the states, I think. If the 40 foot jump where I jumped in NY last summer wasn’t supposed to be allowed, I definitely think Semuc would be illegal as well.

After that, we signed up for “extreme tubing”  (still no pictures, due to the water. I NEED A GO PRO!) and tubed our way back to the hostel instead of riding in a truck. I wouldn’t say it was as extreme as I thought it would be, but a few of the rapids were definitely bigger than any I’ve ever been tubing on (but I think I’ve white-water rafted on rapids bigger than that).

For dinner that night we had a potato bake, salad, quiche, lentil bread, a bread stick, and carrot cake. AMAZING and didn’t finish once again.

The next day I had planned to do one of the hiking tours, but I was way too sore from our full-day the day before and from smacking the water wrong. So I just relaxed in the river for a while, came back for lunch, and then went for a swim later in the river. It is too cold to enjoy out of the sun, though so that didn’t last too long. I had lots of fun conversations with the owners and Megan and enjoyed getting to know them better. Dinner was a pasta bake and salad and breadsticks with pineapple upside down cake. That was the first night I could finish everything, but I think it’s because I only had bread and honey for lunch. Or maybe it’s cuz I’m Italian. 😉

We went to bed pretty early that night because the whole group of us who did the hike together was leaving the next morning to go to our next spots. THAT was an adventure in itself. Yesterday morning we woke up and packed into a truck like usual.. But this time we had no bar to hang on to and no room to sit in the bed because there wasn’t enough space with us and all our stuff. So we sat on the SIDE of the truck bed for an hour drive up hilly, windy, bumpy, rocky, unpaved, MUDDY (it rained the night before) roads. It was hard to hang on at times, but such a blast! The worst part is that there’s not really always room for two cars and we came face to face with a few other trucks sometimes and got stuck on hills and spun out a little bit from the slippery rocks and mud. I thought we were going to make a 360 at one point, but our driver handled it and got us back on track. He also had a thing for going down hills very fast. But we all survived and all dreamed of the tshirts that Semuc should sell just for surviving the truck rides! HAHA

up early enough to catch the foggy sunrise at the top of the hill by our hostel.. like a painting!

up early enough to catch the foggy sunrise at the top of the hill by our hostel.. like a painting!

The rest of the day was all traveling, but I had Meggan and Maika in my van. And now, lucky me, I’ve brought a friend with me back to Antigua! Maika was on her way to Antigua next as well and wanted to stay with a family to practice her Spanish, so I recruited her to Isolina’s. She will be here a week. Meggan went off to Atitlan but I believe she’s coming back to Antigua in a week. Madison arrives for a week tomorrow! And my friends from Ireland that I met in Belize and Pavel may be coming later on as well! Virgilio (my tour guide from Semuc) may also be coming for a visit. So I have friends to look forward to! I’m so excited. I planned to change all my old traditions/habits from the last 3 months upon coming back and a lot has changed (My friend Kevin moved far away from Antigua! I wonder if I’ll even see him again! :( ) so we’ll see what this new chapter brings!

The pictures are also up from the Belize post and I’ve posted new photo albums, but am still having trouble with this website and albums so forgive me if it’s hard to navigate or they’re crooked! Good luck. There’s a lot! :)

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