The people here at Zepherlodge really have it figured out. Charge dirt for rent, pour drinks down everyone’s throats until 3:00am every night, and serve them food all day while they recover. It’s a brilliant self-fulfilling ‘organic liquidity’. The place has only been around a year and a half and it’s packed every night without any help from guide books or major marketing. The guys in charge have carved out a lifestyle of leisure up here with a very captive audience.
This is the onset of my fifth night. The way it works is the fourth night here is free and the fifth is all day happy hour. I’m excited but also worn out. I never drank in Alaska and when I came back I couldn’t imagine how I pushed through my days in college. Four nights at Zepherlodge has me feeling like I’m 21 again. We’ve been having some very long nights and slow mornings. Our first night here Charlie racked up the second highest tab they have ever seen.
The reason for the madness is genius. You start a tab when you walk in and hand over your passport as collateral. Then they charge $5/night for a bed. The food is cheap too and the drinks standard prices. Around 6:00pm the happy hour starts, they turn the funky music up, and the bar atmosphere sets in. Fill it all with a bunch of people wandering through Central America full of tales of adventure and clear your schedule. It’s been six days and we still don’t have a plan to leave figured out.
We have been doing other things though. Yesterday and the second day we tubed the local river in the afternoon. Two hour of icing yourself and dodging fallen trees. Today was the real treat, though: Semuc Champe.
Semuc Champe is a geologic attraction that brings a lot of tourism through this little mountain village. It is most known for a series of lapping pools at the bottom of a deep valley. If you google it, that’s what comes up. We took off for the area at 8:30am with the Zepherlodge Guatemalan tour guides and 25 other guests. How do Guatemalans tackle mass transit? Grab the Kia version of a Unimog, mount some waist-high bars in the bed, and pile in. Twenty-five people sweating on each other holding on for dear life for nine agonizing kilometers.
Everyone got dropped off outside the site for our first attraction. Our guide walked us down a little river trail to a massive rope swing (two ropes with a wooden dowel between them as a seat. I knew we had a good tour group together when every single person took a turn hurling themselves into the river. Alex gave the crowd a sneak preview with a couple flips.
Next we walked up the hill behind us for a Guatemalan cave tour. I say Guatemalan because we walked up to the entrance and our guides started handing out candles, the only light we would have. We lit up and followed them in. It’s difficult keeping a candle lit while rock climbing and swimming. Some parts were over slick rock, some were in water deeper than my height. There was no path or guidance, just crawl through the darkness in a bathing suit and avoid the rocks and the ceiling.
I was a little hung over, but adrenaline had me absolutely loving every moment. The guides led us all back probably about a quarter mile climbing ladders, ropes, and rock. The entire time they were screaming in Spanish and bouncing around the caves like they’re there every day. It was incredible climbing a slick hanging ladder with a river pouring down on me from the top. I managed never to let my candle go out.
At the end was a large cavern where we all took turns climbing up a side to jump into a pool in the limited candle light. I saw one kid tear his swim suit he came so close to hitting the rocks on his jump. There must not be much liability law in Guatemala. After a while of this the guides told us to head back and took up the rear. With the group spread out, we felt the darkness the entire way back in the eerie tunnels.
Out in the light we walked over to the next leg: a bridge jump. Alex really opened up here with some huge backflips. He was talking about a double but eventually decided the conditions weren’t right. I had a great time pencil diving.
Finally we walked over to Semuc Champe to check out the pools. A quick blistering hike took us to the top of a mountain where we got the view that google will bring up. Then we walked down and toured the pools with the guides. At home a site like this would be blocked off with a tourist boardwalk on the side to preserve the environment. In Guatemala, they find all the best jumps, slides, and pools for us to trample. We took a meandering path through the pools half swimming and half walking. The rocks were often so smooth we took turns sliding down them into the pools like a waterslide.
At the end was a huge waterfall dropping into a regular looking river at the bottom. The guard mentioned that it could be jumped. Within minutes Alex and a Dutch guy named Juice were leaping off the forty foot cliff right next to the waterfall. I didn’t see it, but it must have been pretty good.
Now I’m back at Zepherlodge lying in a hammock watching lightning strike in the distance with a party booming all around me. Gotta go!