A Peace Corps volunteer just completed a trail building project in the Semuc Champey Natural Monument. She invited Sherry, my director and friend, to represent the international donors, of which she was one, at the opening. It was a 5 hour drive, and Sarah promised the opening would wait until we arrived. We made good time, despite road work, and found our hotel in the nearby village of Lanquin. It was composed of a scattering of thatched roof huts up and down a very vertical hillside, at the top the road, at bottom a fast moving river. Quite the backpacker's haven, the four of us women were by far the oldest guests in residence.
A group of contributors, workers, and project leaders converged at the orange and yellow visitor center to start the hike. Before setting off on the trail, Sarah discussed the project in Spanish and Q'eqchi, the indigenous language commonly spoken in the province of Alta Verapaz. The new segment of trail led to a mirador, or overlook, with numbered stations and interpretive booklet describing plants, trees and environmental commentary, well written by Sarah. One can imagine the hours she must have spent investigating and wandering in this dense rainforest. One stop marked a little valley where the birds were always singing, another noted the pure, clean forest air.
In a long line, we climbed high, muddy steps of rock, with occasional wooden boardwalk, ladders or stairs over less passable paths for about an hour until we reached the mirador. My first breathtaking view of the pools - they shone like jewels of jade, ringed with gold, way below us. A series of round basins, pouring downhill into each other, in limestone cliffs and bowls. We continued down to connect to the main trail, and soon reached the pools. Always prepared (well, almost always), I had my swimsuit on under my clothes, and jumped in with a friend for a swim. The water was refreshingly cool, deep in spots, with limestone shelves to stand on by the edges. A perfect reward for a long strenuous hike!
Back at the hotel, we asked a worker about bringing the car inside the gate. His coworker, we were informed, would open the gate at 6:00pm. My watch said it was already 6:25pm. "Hora de dios", he clarified, God's time. Not everyone accepted the country's recent change to daylight savings time.
The next morning, the trees were wrapped in wispy clouds as we rose and headed down to breakfast by the river. A stop at the central plaza in Coban, the largest city in the area, and its artisan booths, and we made our long drive back to the capital.