The journey from San Pedro to Semuc Champey goes down as one of the most royally messed up journeys of my life.
Like most negotiations in Guatemala, my friends and I could only be partially sure of what kind of transportation service we’d be getting. We knew the journey would be about 12-13 hours, and we were assured it would be a direct bus route in a “luxury” bus.
Mother. Of. God.
We had to catch our shuttle at 3:45AM. It was pitch dark. There were two or three other people waiting—one guy, clearly inebriated. Our friend Kevin suddenly came along from out of nowhere, also drunk.
“Are you guys just leaving the bar?” he asked us.
“Um, we’re waiting for our bus.”
Ah, San Pedro.
Our shuttle rattled up to the meeting point and we clamoured in, jostling for “comfortable” seats.
Then we picked up two loud Aussie girls who couldn’t climb over drunk dude, who was completely passed out in the front seat and would NOT budge.
Drunk dude is now known as Dead Guy.
Not long after, Dead Guy told the driver he needs to piss. And thus began a string of insanity.
Our bus driver was SO mad about this. And then somehow a discussion got started about going to Semuc Champey. None of us spoke very good Spanish, but we eventually discern that he driver is saying we’d make a stop in Antigua for a few hours.
We all started arguing because we paid extra to go direct to Semuc. Two other travellers hadn’t done this, but they were also going to Semuc and so they forked over some extra money. Our driver was not happy with this arrangement but he took it in stride. Sort of.
The man hated us. For no reason whatsoever, he stopped at a gas station and began hosing down the car with a pressure washer—all while our luggage was strapped to the top, exposed.
Then we stopped at a McDonald’s for a 30-minute break. Our driver was very insistent about being on time. Of course, we end up waiting an extra 30 minutes for him while he fed his daughter.
Hours and hours later, we drove into the countryside…through roads so steep and winding that I became convinced we were all going to die.
FOR TWELVE HOURS.
I know I shouldn’t complain too much. The trip was cheap and the country is poor. I didn’t expect a leather interior or anything. But we were crammed in SO TIGHT it was impossible to sleep. And nothing about it could be safe.
Anyway. So we got to Languin, the access point to Semuc Champey.
As soon as we climbed out of the bus, we found ourselves standing in mud that was over our ankles. And we were all wearing flip-flops, and people were yelling at us asking if we needed accommodations.
We told them that we were looking for El Retiro, and they pointed us in the right direction. It was a good 15-minute walk and we were WADING THROUGH MUD.
At last, we arrived! I was delirious with fatigue, and all I wanted was a shower. The shower was cold. Ok, no bigs.
Like most hostels and accommodations in this area, El Retiro offers day tours to Semuc Champey, arguably the prettiest part of Guatemala. There are a series of waterfalls cascading into turquoise pools, and yeah it’s just as incredible as you’d think.
El Retiro is not bad. There were five of us in my party—so we opted for a room altogether. It was pretty lacklustre, and my pillow was basically made of stone. But whatever. I was cheap, and there were buffet dinners for $5.
But if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I suffer extreme insomnia and sleep anxiety most of the time. For some reason, I just couldn’t shake the shadiness of my hostel room. It didn’t help when I pulled back a blanket to find a cockroach.
There were some good moments—delicious local plates of food shared with new friends around a candlelight table. The rushing river. Playing drunk Jenga with a group of Brits, which eventually led to me wearing my pants on my head.
But I was so freaked out by my room, I couldn’t sleep. I took TWO sleeping pills…and didn’t sleep. Instead, my head felt stuffed with cotton. The morning of our Semuc Champey tour, I was a mess.
I don’t even know how I did that hike. That’s the start of it all, a 45-minute steep climb to a viewpoint. I had been so looking forward to all that. The views from the top really were incredible, but my insides were collapsing. It didn’t help that most of us by that point were suffering from insane dysentery. Thanks Obama.
After we all took a dip in the pools, I stayed behind with Erisa to wait for Kate to get changed into dry clothing. But somehow we all got separated, and Erisa and I realized too late that the group had left without us. Cue us miserably walking around Semuc Champey alone for an hour trying to figure out what the fuck happened to our tour group.
I couldn’t go through with the rest of it. When we finally caught up with the others, I told a guide I was sick and he and another driver took me back to El Retiro.
The others? They covered their face in paint and went swimming through caves, and then went tubing down the river while kids threw cans of beer at them. I could cry.
I decided to leave early and head back to Antigua where I could find comfy accommodations and maybe get some rest. I got up the next morning bright and early to wait for my bus and then…Dead Guy took a seat beside me.