According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘hikeable’ isn’t a recognised word. Now, I tend to disagree. Many of life’s most likable things usually ends on ‘able’, like drinkable, shrinkable (especially used in the context of my desired waistline post-Mexico) and danceable.
The most desirable thing about something hikeable (to us non-Everest hikers) is the promise of an easy hike with enough time for a swim afterwards. And that was exactly what we did at Semuc Champey – the rock pool rockstar of Guatemala*.
An unavoidable paragraph
As most of you know by now, I am way way way behind with my blog. The Bearded Advice Giver said that I should waffle less and get down to the point sooner so I can catch up. But I really can’t – I like the unignorable details of every story. But I said I’ll try and see whether it’s doable. So I made a more condensable version of what happened between Xela and Lanquin (the teeny village next Semuc Champey where we stayed at):
1. I had the most legroom of my life on the bus from Xela to Guatemala City (see photo below). We had so much space that it was actually uncomfortable.
2. I accidentally left my Panama hat on the Legroom Bus. I was (and still am) unconsolable. We tried everything to get it back, incl. looking like complete idiots at a different bus station when we enquired (in Spanish) about the whereabouts of our rogue Panama hat. And then I had a fight with The Husband in front of all the bus station commuters because I said at the beginning that we’re going to look like complete idiots if we randomly ask them whether they’ve seen a hat. Then I ended up looking like a complete idiot because people who start foreign language fights in public generally are stared at. Oh the drama!
3. We stayed in Cobán for a night just to break the 14 hour bus trip into more digestible chunks. Cobán is a small town with enough coffee and cardamom farms to keep the town smelling like a freshly brewed cup of something enjoyable, and the only mentionable experience was our dinner at Xkape Koba’n – a small Guatemalan eatery with loads of German tourists. We shared a boiled turkey soup called Kaq-ik, and oh my, it was yummy. Loads of flavour and different tastes that our South African palates couldn’t place. It was pleasantly spicy, tomatoey sweet and the turkey was rich and hearty. Yum.
4. My birthday was coming up, so the Husband bought a smackable piñata to add to the excitement of having a foreign-country-birthday. Ten minutes into our (supposedly) 3-hour minivan trip down the Guatemalan highlands to Lanquin, the van stopped and unloaded its very comfortable passengers into another minivan that was already full. We took on the unthinkable slopes of the countryside in a minivan packed with 21 adults, a baby and one piñata.
5. When we got to Lanquin we miraculously regained feeling in both our legs.
Getting our Lanquin on
Lanquin is really tiny. Our hostel was located just outside this mini town, and a 20 minute uphill stroll took us to the heart of it all (i.e. the ice cream shop, the town square and the gazillion local churches). So on my birthday the Husband said we can do anything that I want. So we went for ice cream (big fat scoops of vanilla choc-chip, dipped in proper chocolate and buried alive in peanuts), did some people-watching in the town square and took photos of all the churches. We then shared a draught next the river and I read Harry Potter until the draught gave me lazy birthday bones.
But I was a bit sad. I missed my family, my friends and even though I was smack bang in the middle of beautiful Guatemala, I missed home. And I was really sad about turning 31 as well.
But the day was far from over, and we took a very likable hike to the Lanquin caves to look for bats. I like bats, I don’t mind caves and my piñata** was still intact, so I was excited about the second half of my Foreign Country Birthday.
Why bats are so awesome
The Lanquin caves are quite extensive and slippery. Now we all know about the Bearded Hiker’s uncanny talent for slipping his way through a hike, so we decided to take it easy. And slow. Also, my torch has the shining power of an old glow-in-the-dark sticker, so our cave exploration was a far cry from being anything like in the movies. Nevertheless, we saw some amazing stalactites and stalagmites – big, overgrown cauliflowers and brain-like shapes made us gawk like 5-year olds.
And we saw a bat. So we decided to head back to the entrance to look for his little bat friends. For a moment it seemed like the little guy was the only inhabitant of the cave, but just as dusk flopped over into night, a colony of bats propelled out of the cave by the thousands. We decided to go back inside, while hundreds of bats were shooting past us – and I know their bio sonar skills are pretty spot on, but it was still amazing that they didn’t bump into us. Not even the bat cave idiot got his radars wrong. Watching (without gawking) a cloud of bats flying over your head is simply amazing.
Finally, the story of our Semuc Champey adventure
I love the name ‘Semuc Champey’. It’s one of the few place names I can actually remember from this trip. So contrary to popular belief, Semuc Champey is not a neighborhood in downtown Paris or an over-priced cocktail, but a series of rock pools on top of a 300m natural limestone bridge. The pools are right in the middle of a green valley, so we first hiked all the way up the mountain to work up a bit of a sweat, before cooling down like rock stars in the pools. You can also join big groups of backpackers swimming and exploring the (sometimes tight) spaces below the bridge, but our tight budget (and my tight paranoia regarding underwater cave adventures with 30 backpackers who all want to get their money’s worth) didn’t really allow for the first option. But we didn’t mind. The water was cool and our hearts were full. Oh yes, before I forget – I made a video of the river crossing from the public road to the valley. Now that was an adventure in itself:
Our trip to and from Semuc Champey was pretty crazy as well. We shared a ride on a truck with a Polish girl who lives in Barcelona and a Australian guy who lives out of his backpack. Bumping up and down rocky roads and cruising past little houses on hills while sharing travel stories with strangers is something we’ve done countless times, but it’s still one of my favourite things to do. Because at that very moment, there are so many new things knocking on your door: new stories, new travel ideas and new friends for about 40 minutes.
I tried to sneak in as many words ending on ‘able’ as I could in defense of the word ‘hikeable’. But I was unable to. I also tried to keep it short, but that didn’t work out as well. Oh well.
*Horrible tongue twister, but I couldn’t resist.
**My piñata was empty. I’m still trying to get over the disappointment.