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Travel Adventure - Backpacking Latin America's Gringo Trail Backpacking Latin America starting in Cuba, then travelling from East to the west coast of Mexico before making our through Central and finishing in South America.

Semuc Champey - underground caves and river tubing / El Tunco, El Salvador - detour to a small surf town

GUATEMALA | Wednesday, 15 July 2015 | Views [1141]

Matt and I were getting the 8am shuttle the next morning to Semuc Champey, still not feeling the best. It ended up being a 10 hour ride and our shuttle was jam packed with people and seats were so uncomfortable. We were right behind the driver and he did not shut up the whole way, talking to his mate opposite us. Plus there was a group of Israli girls turning up Pitbull on the CD player and just being annoying in general when the rest of the shuttle just wanted to sleep or relax. One plus side was that I got my appetite back and I ate a whole packet of doritos! Woo hoo! 
Arriving in Lanquin we got picked up in a pick up truck and it was another 45 min to our hostel. Surprisingly the bumpy road in a pick up truck was much better than the shuttle ride. The open air, the jungle and fireflies dancing around the trees felt like we were driving through a fairy land and going down a roller coaster on the hills. 
We were staying in an Eco lodge hostel called Utopia. The wooden lodge was built on stilts with jungle surrounding and it was family dinner time when we arrived. They cook a big vegetarian feast and everyone was eating with candles lit and the staff were dressed very hippy, I felt like we had stepped in to the pages of Harry Potter - particularly one skinny guy with long hair wore round glasses, an open vest with no shirt underneath, jeanie pants and a hat... he definitely looked like a wizard. 
We had breakfast and then did the tour to Semuc Champey. There was a large group organised from our hostel. We all crammed on the back of a pick up truck and arrived at the caves. We were each given a candle stick and it was lit as our only light source. Before we entered, the local guide painted warrior paint designs from mud on all our faces. You walked and swam through the  caves, climbed upladders, and under waterfalls to get to the end where you could jump off a rock in to the rock pools. All while keeping the candle flame alight and out of the water. This definitely would be illegal with OHS issues in Australia, some parts being kind of dangerous with falling off rocks etc, but it was so much fun.
Next we swung off a big swing in to the river and you could also jump off a bridge - the bridge had OHS issues in itself with huge gaps someone could easily fall through. A couple of boys jumped off the bridge. We then climbed for about 30min through the jungle up stone steps to view the natural pools below. A good view, before climbing back down and going swimming in the pools. They were so beautiful, a turquoise blue colour and so fresh to swim in. Apparently you could drink this water but better to be safe than sorry. The pools dropped down in levels to the next pool so had small waterfalls/ moss covered rocks which were like natural water slides you could slide in to each pool. We then could hire a tube and go tubing along the river back to our hostel. This was such a fun way to finish the day, cruising with the current along the river and going through small Rapids. It did get cold towards the end when it started raining. Such a fun day and that night had another vegetarian feast at the hostel with the group we did the tour with. 
Matt and I decided to stay another night. We felt like we had been doing so much travelling and moving about on shuttles and after being sick just wanted a day to rest. Felt slightly homesick here. Just missing familiarity and creature comforts of home. Probably amplified that I was sick and a new nephew being born and Nates 1st bday etc feels like I'm missing out a little with what's happening back home. Nothing major but good to have a day to relax. They ran a chocolate tour at the hostel where we could make our own chocolate. The wizard guy took the tour and he was interested in chocolate, it made it so much more interesting. They grew cacao trees on the property at Utopia. And he opened up one of the pods for us to see the cacao beans inside, we tasted the fruit and it was so yummy and sweet, like lychee! Inside that was the cacao bean. We went to the kitchen and there were all cacao beans ready to be roasted on the pan. It smelt sooo good once it started cooking. When it was ready the shell would pop and the cacao would easily come out so we all got our hands in and started splitting the shells. The beans were then put in a food processor and ground up. We added a little bit of sugar to make it about 80% cocoa and sweet enough for us to eat and it was amazing to see the cocoa go softer and softer and finally turn to liquid - chocolate after about 30min in the food processor! And that's all chocolate is - ground up cocoa beans! As the guy mentioned, that what the majority of the world loves and eats is not really chocolate. He said that in all US chocolate there is only 1% chocolate and the rest is all additives and preservatives. He said its funny how they say chocolate is bad for your health and can only eat in moderation coz it contributes to heart disease and obesity but real chocolate actually is so healthy with so many health benefits, nutrients, antioxidants etc and fights against all the bad things. We were then given moulds and a few ingredients such as coconut, hazelnuts, chilli, peanut butter, honey and cinnamon we could add to our chocolate to make different flavours. Then popped in the fridge to set and we tried all the chocolate we made. It was good! It definitely tasted like raw chocolate which because it's more bitter etc you naturally eat less of it anyway. Very interesting to find out how to make chocolate and how easy the process is! Inspired to make my own chocolate when I get home!
We literally chilled and did nothing for the rest of the day and ran in to Bridgette who came to do Semuc for the day. We were stoked the next day to see our shuttle had comfy, reclining seats and wifi! Plus they didn't cram us in and there were only 9 of us on there. We returned to Antigua to stay the night to continue our travels South. Bridgette is going to follow us through to Nicaragua since she is heading in the same path. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant/bar which was quite nice and found a cheap/quiet hostel with only us staying there. We decided to head to a surf/beach spot in El Salvador next on our way through to Leon in Nicaragua to chill for a day and break up the travel. Lucas is going to meet us there too.
El Tunco, El Salvador
Poor Bridgette was sick with a tummy bug on our shuttle to El Salvador. We checked in to a private room in Papaya Lodge and when Lukas got there we joined us too. It was very humid and sticky in El Tunco. A very small town consisting of pretty much two streets and major surfer drawcard. We were gonna spend one day here to break up the trip to Nicaragua but found out shuttles leave every second day so we were stuck another day. There wasn't a lot to do in El Tunco, unless you surfed. The sand was black and not really a lay on the beach and sunbake/swim kind of beach. So we just hung around (there was a pool in the hostel) and by the end of our stay almost tried every single restaurant/cafe in El Tunco. We went out on the Saturday night which there was a good night life but didn't realise everything shut at 1 but no one went out until 12pm, which was a bit weird. On the last day we rented surf boards and had a go at learning to surf. The waves were pretty big so we just rode the whitewash which was fun and it was Lukas first time and he was standing up first go. It was kind of good to relax and do nothing for a couple of days and not have to worry about packing and getting on to another shuttle after all the travelling we've been doing. It felt like we had a little holiday/weekend away from our travels. It's just put us back a little on our schedule so we may have to rush a little bit (or miss out on something) through Nicaragua.  We said goodbye to Lukas and Bridgette, Matt and I are on our way to Leon, Nicaragua now. 

Tags: candlelight, caving, eco lodge, natural rock pools, river, tubing, underground, war paint, water slides



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