Semuc Champey means “where the river hides under the earth” in Q’eqchi’, and is a natural limestone bridge about 300 meters wide under which passes the Cahabòn River. At the top of the bridge is a series of stepped natural infinity pools filled with turquoise water where locals and visitors can dip in for a relaxing swim. We got up early the next morning and hiked the fairly short steep path through the jungle to the mirador. From here we had our first glimpse of the Semuc pools and they were spectacular. We hiked down to the pools and got straight in as we were hot and sweaty from the heat of the jungle. The water was cool, crystal clear and very refreshing!
We spent about half a day in Semuc and then returned to our camp spot to escape the heat. The following day-we made the challenging, steep climb back to Coban where we were due to spend the night before moving on to Flores. The roads in Guatemala have been pretty poor-with numerous pot holes-some of them massive! 8 miles into the journey-we drove over a pothole and Ruby started to judder! We pulled over and Gav had a look underneath. We had cracked the radius arm axle bracket, so we turned around and slowly headed back towards Coban to look for a garage. We found a small place that did soldering and the young mechanic soldered a piece of metal onto the axle and bracket for a few dollars! There were a few giggly young mechanics there who were drinking beer and watching the work been done on Ruby. One of them soldered a piece of metal for the repair and the sparks were flying everywhere-we had to jump out of the way! No safety equipment here!
After another night in Coban, we headed to San Miguel, just across the Lake from Flores. Flores is an island on Lago Petén Itzá, and is a pretty colonial town. We had wonderful views of the island from our hostel on the shore of the lake, in San Miguel.
After a couple of nights here, we caught the car ferry across the lake and carried on to the Tikal national park. We camped in the jungle and what a treat that was. We heard all the wonderful noises of the birds and animals-particularly the howler monkeys, as the jungle awoke early in the morning.
Tikal is a large archeological site. During the Classic Period it was one of the largest and most important of the Mayan cities. Today it's one of the most fascinating and enjoyable of the Mayan sites to visit, largely due to its remoteness, but also its jungle setting. Some of the temples are still being uncovered, and you can watch archaeologists busy at work. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1971. Many beautiful buildings have been uncovered and many more wait to be discovered. Amongst the many Maya sites in Central America, Tikal is perhaps the most breathtaking because of the scattered impressive buildings which have been restored in an area with many more ruined buildings still enveloped by the jungle. The sight of the temples poking through the canopy is amazing. You can climb to the top of a few of the temples and get panoramic views from above the tree tops.
We got up early and spent a few hours at Tikal in the morning-beating a lot of the crowds. We loved walking through the jungle and hearing the trees rustling-looking up and spotting spider monkeys swinging through the trees. Later we heard the guttural roar of the howler monkeys and spotted them in the trees. As their name suggests, vocal communication forms an important part of their behaviour. Group males generally call at dawn and dusk, as well as interspersed times throughout the day. The main vocals consist of loud, deep guttural growls or "howls". Howler monkeys are widely considered to be the loudest land animal. According to Guinness Book of World Records, their vocalizations can be heard clearly for 3 mi (4.8 km). The function of howling is thought to relate to intergroup spacing and territory protection, as well as possibly to guarding their mates. We also heard their howls very early in the morning from our roof tent, an eerie but amazing sound!
We enjoyed seeing all of the temples-both the restored ones and those still covered by the growth of the jungle. We climbed many of them and by mid day-were exhausted particularly because it was so hot and humid. We returned to camp where we rested for a few hours-before returning to the park late afternoon. By this time-it had cooled a little and most of the crowds had left. This is the first of our Mayan ruins-and we have many more to come!
After one more night camping in the jungle-we headed the short journey to the Guatemala-Belize border (Melchor de Mencos). We have loved our time in Guatemala-it is a colourful, vibrant, incredibly friendly country-in spite of all its hardships and we loved the landscapes and the wonderful people. The crossing into Belize was very straightforward. We went to immigration and were stamped out of Guatemala and then to customs-where we handed in our temporary import sticker for Ruby. Stepping over the border into Belize was like stepping into the Caribbean. As a former British colony, English is the language spoken, and the Queen`s head adorns the money! We received our stamp at immigration and headed across the room to customs. We met a wonderful customs official who told us about Prince Harry`s visit in 2012 (and there is a painted union jack and sign saying "welcome Prince Harry" on the wall). We received our temporary import paperwork for Ruby and headed a few hundred metres away to buy car insurance.
Our first stop for a couple of nights was San Ignacio, on the banks of the Macal river. We were in time for the bustling farmer`s market, selling wonderful juicy produce and we took a wander through town, noticing the relaxed Caribbean vibe! We visited the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich-near the border, by catching a shared taxi, taking a hand cranked ferry across the river and walking about a mile uphill to the site. We really enjoyed a couple of hours here-it is a lot less touristy than Tikal and we shared the site with only a few groups of people.
Our next stop is Caye Caulker, a Caribbean island off the coast of Belize City. We will catch a boat there. Ruby, meanwhile, is booked in for some TLC at a land rover garage near San Ignacio!