The next morning saw us driving through small Mayan villages with Mayan women dressed in what seemed to be the local uniform. Carry bowls or bundles of maize on their heads they strolled along the highway, all dressed in traditional long indigo patterned skirts, a singlet and a brightly coloured lace overshirt. The only differences were the choice of colour but the outfit was always the same. Turning off at Playa Grande the road narrows as you head towards Chisec (nothing like London’s Chiswick!), where camping is available right as you hit town.
Deciding earlier on in the trip that we were not going to drive to Lanquin, let alone dream of pushing further onto Semuc Champey, we arrived in Coban at the Parque Nacional La Victorias. Set in a lush green forest is a large hall with showers, toilets and a night guard, though we thought it was a little cheeky that they charged us entry fees for what was left of the day, considering we only parked the car here for safety then left straight away. Still the showers were hot (Matt’s was anyway), thanks to our first encounter with the Central American shower head taser.
Often the wiring is questionable and only a suicidal maniac would dare reach above their heads to adjust the settings whilst the shower is running (Sarah can tell you all about that!). Finding the collectivo headed for Lanquin, the jumping off point for Semuc Champey, is easy – just head into town down the 3a towards the market and inevitably someone is bound to notice you’re tourist with no clue as to where the stupid buses are (it’s not like there’s four bus stations spread all over town…if you could call them that).
So lucky we decided NOT to drive up to Lanquin. We were over joyous with our decision not to take Porkchop, as the last 12km stretch from the Sebol turnoff was all down hill, windy, on a nasty dirt track little wider that a mini van. The decision became even more justified when twice the diver had to pull over to refill the radiator bottle. This and a later incident made certain the prudence in the choice we made. With the minbus dinging and clanging in disagreement and protest, the landscape suddenly changes to a conifer forest dotted with eucalyptus, with the stunning terrain reminiscent of a school kids egg carton project covered in green felt.
El Retiro was the place on our radar for accommodation, as many had talked about it’s beautiful location right on the banks of a river, with a riverside restaurant, spa, tubing and huge buffet dinners. Taking a semi private room (one of four in a little cabin dwelling) for Q20 more than a dorm bed, we signed up for the Thai buffet dinner then idled the rest of the day away relaxing on the banks of the river. Some clever rock placement has created a deep little swimming pool haven, right next to the fast flowing aquamarine river. Sitting here you can watch the tubers fly past trying not to get their cameras too wet.
Dinner is a social event here and welcomes those whom are non-guests to partake, and for Q50 it’s the best value in town. Taking our seats with a Dutch girl and a Canadian couple, the Thai buffet did not disappoint, and with everyone taking seconds, there was plenty to go around. We hadn’t seen this many vegetables since we can’t remember when! Licking the plates clean we cracked out the cards and taught our dinner companions the fine game of ‘Shithead’, a travelers classic.
Waking refreshed the next morning we thought it was a lovely idea to avoid the organised tour groups and transport walk the 11kms to Semuc Champey, as one guide book had described it as a ‘pleasurable’ walk. Yeah, if you’re a sadist and like a 2km slog straight up hill first off! If that sounds like you, you’re gonna love this one. Not in any way mildly pleasurable, the 11kms is up, down and tough, especially with crazy drivers on a narrow rocky road thrown into the mix. Our advice? Transport – everytime.
For the Q20 each one way you can thank us for this advice later. That way you can also zip past the overwhelmingly disgusting garbage tips so delightfully pouring down the otherwise beautiful jungle landscape. Finally making it to the entrance 2 ½ hours later, we were thrilled to find that there’s another up hill battle to the mirador, oh joy!!!
Nothing for it at this point but to put the head down and get up there as quick as possible. This is by far the best view over the natural limestone pools and is not to be passed over. Doing this first we finally rewarded ourselves with a refreshing swim in the pools to wash off the sweat of the last three hours, trying to dodge the fish that loved to try and take a chunk out of your leg. This only seemed to be happening to the tourists, maybe they were partial to a bit of Gringo.
Famished after our 12km trudge, the ladies out the front now had their BBQ coal fires fully ablaze and loaded with various cuts of meat. Here, ladies and gentleman, is the best BBQ chicken in the entire world. For Q50 for both of us we feasted on a plate of chicken, rice, salad and half an avocado with a wickedly hot smoked chilli topping.
Not wanting to walk the 12kms back, we waited in vain for a collectivo for half an hour, then gave up and reluctantly but determinedly started the trek out from Semuc, knowing that again the first stretch was mostly up hill. Three kilometers into the return journey, after we’d stopped to watch some rope swinging tourists at one of the nearby hotels, a passenger truck finally passed by and we were glad to be bouncing around in the back tray with the other tourists (even if Sarah had a death grip on the bar which was the perfect height to potentially render her concussed or unconscious with every bounce).