At last, off the dusty road we came to the unmarked two lane paved road CA14 at Tactic. We were in green lush country meadows, reminiscent of Germany. The mountains were smaller here and shaped like small emerald-colored cones as we drove north. Coban was ahead of us, where only HBT had been once upon a time. The end destination was the ‘turquoise pools’ of Semuc Champey, 67 kilometers further. The last two legs were the 16 kilometers to the village of Lanquin and another 9 kilometers to Semuc Champey. We’d been warned verbally and also by the written word in various guide books that the last two roads were ‘bad’...up to that point, the roads were paved and HBT made good time (meaning full speed ahead). We stopped for duct tape outside of Coban and made repairs to the right side mirror, now in place again.
The turnoff for Lanquin was a sharp right and downhill where the road went from bad to worse. It was mostly rocks, gravel, dirt and mud. The scenery was spectacular, with fields of the most intense green ever seen by man. The road was hard on the spine and kidneys but how much worse could it get?
Lanquin? A muddy skanky village, existing only to part money from the tourists going to Semuc Champey. The road into there was, as noted, ‘bad’...there was one gas station and a stop for more fuel for the voracious Ford and we found the road to Semuc Champey. It had rained earlier in the day and what was dirt was now mud. Up the hills were the occasional two strips of poured concrete to center the trucks wheels on but everywhere else it was mud and shallow puddles. It’s not a road to take your personal car or truck on, unless you have four wheel drive. HBT powered through the mud holes, up and down the hills but he was clearly worried.
At last, the final bridge, an old yellow suspension type with wooden planks that rattled and one last muddy hill. The tires spun and he had to back up to a flat space and gun it again. We slithered into the driveway of El Portal, our hotel for the night, at about 4pm, just as the shadows began to fall over the trees and nearby canyons. The river below was high and running brown, with the silt from upstream runoff.
The check in was simple and professional. Cash and no credit cards, as the power is only on from 6pm to 10pm and no...No ice for the evening adult sports beverage. They call it an ‘eco-lodge’ but I didn’t understand the ‘no ice’ concept.’ Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that our traveling crew was double the age of the other guests, who probably weren’t concerned about the lack of such.
The food was good, the wine I had with dinner was obviously at ‘room temperature’ and there were at least twenty for the meal. The hotel has ten units, some with upper attic ‘bedrooms’ reached by stairs outside. Our two room, one bed bungalow had a thatched roof, and the others had red metal corrugated roofs. The beds were comfortable and the showers were cold and dark in the morning, and briefly used, shall we say. Shaving was out of the question.
My three companions ate breakfast and I had coffee. The desk clerk said that the road was worse, there were no more shuttles and the rain that started at dawn would continue all day. We were stuck, stranded and low on cash: some of us had phone service but who to call, other than to cancel our hotel reservations in Coban that night?
No one brought rain ponchos or umbrellas: this was the ‘dry season’, supposedly. The staff didn’t recognize the one small quartz crystal I had brought as a sample as anything that came from around there. It was just another minor disappointment in this road trip of fallacious information and hell.
The drizzle began to slacken lightly so we decided to hike the mile or so upriver to see the famous ‘turquoise pools’ of Semuc Champey. The ticket office was closed, per the rain and the entrance was free. A group of disappointed guides were huddled by the gated entrance, probably praying for a cease-fire with the weather.
The path was rocky and slippery but the pools were worth it: not exactly turquoise but a vivid green, even in the cloudy and foggy morning light. The trees dripped and the epiphytes drank well that morning.
Once back at the lodge and regrouped by our various bungalows, HBT noted that the rain had stopped. With an hour or so to wait for the road to dry out and if we had extra ballast in the back of the truck, he was ready to try it. The first two passengers for the rear were the two ‘Caitlynns’...one from Australia, the other from Canada. They were ‘exotic’ and happy to get a free ride back to Coban.
Next: getting out, one way or the other plus the parade in Coban