We’re up early and excited for our day to come and we know things are happening as they should when we have perfect blue sky for the first time in over a week. We team up with some other backpackers and climb into the back of a pickup truck that has a makeshift roll cage welded in. We proceed to drive 7km on an extremely steep, narrow, windy road, hanging on to the roll cage and loving every minute.
Our first stop for the day is the Kan’Ba Cave system, which quite literally goes straight into the side of a mountain. Our guide ties our flip-flops to our feet with string(!), hands us a candle each, and leads the way into the cave.
Note the lack of hard hats, lights or safety harnesses.
Only twenty steps in the Goonies jokes are flying, with Ben letting out a huge “Hey, you guys!” that has us all in hysterics distracting us from the increasing darkness and shin deep water we are walking through. I can’t believe how quickly the light disappears until we are completely enveloped in inky blackness, the only light coming from out flickering candles. We continue in this fashion for a hundred meters or so, passing cool cave formations and walking through a few places where the cave is only two meters wide and the water is up to my waist.
In these early stages we use a series of ladders to navigate around a tunnel where water is ripping through, and I climb a few vertical meters up a waterfall using a rope (most people go around). We get to a spot where our guide climbs up the wall and jumps a couple of meters down into a deep pool, and a few of us copy suit. He shows us a place where you can swim down about a meter and a half, slide between some very tight, sharp rocks and come up on the other side of a rock formation, staying underwater for at least 15 or 20 seconds. I wedge myself in the space with my head above water to see what it feels like and immediately feel uncomfortable and scared.
We continue further and further and come to a series of sections that are too deep to walk. One at a time we plunge in, half swimming and half treading water with one hand while trying to keep our candles out of the water with the other. The stakes go up a little when out guide loses his lighter, meaning we’ll be in the dark if all our candles go out. We go in about 450 meters, which is as far as tourists are allowed – the cave system continues for 11 kilometers. For the finale we get to a section where the stalactites are literally touching the water and we have to go under for just a second to get through. It’s pretty funny two minutes later when we find out we could have just walked around that section
The highlight on the way out is going down the tunnel with rushing water we avoided on the way in. I go first and the guide carefully shows me where to sit and put my hands and feet. When I pop out at the bottom I’m in complete darkness, my candle having been underwater during the trip. It feels really strange to be in a room with no idea what is around me, and I blindly feel around and guess where to sit to help the next person down.
Everyone is pretty happy when we see daylight and step out into the warm sun.
Next up is a huge rope swing into the fast flowing Rio Cahabón. It’s a little different than what I’m used to because it has two ropes with a plank of wood in between forming a seat. Getting out of the seat when you are about five meters about the river is a little strange and one of our group lands on her side, making a huge red welt.
We walk upstream a few hundred meters to a raging waterfall, and the guide and I swim over to check it out. The very vast majority of the river water is flowing underground, under the waterfall and the guide and I walk into the massive caverns with seriously raging water down below. We climb around to the top of the waterfall and I have such a great time jumping off the 8 meters (25 ft.) I climb up and do it again
We float back downstream on inner-tubes through some rapids, trying to have a water fight the entire time. We load back into the truck and drive around to Semuc Champy itself for the main attraction. A 35 minute hike gives us an amazing view of the pools below, which we swim in for about an hour. These pools are on the top of the waterfall I jumped off earlier – the pool water goes over the falls and we go and have a look upstream where the majority of water goes underground. Wow.
Hanging out of the truck on the way back is immensely fun again, this time everyone is laughing and enjoying themselves, not just me. Again I put in a strong showing at the buffet dinner after such a huge day.
Guatemala is awesome.