It was pitch black at the entrance to the cave. We heard bats. There was also the sound of moving water a river.
Our guide handed us one candle each. They would shine our path for the rest of the trip. We were in the Samuc Champay caves, located under the breathtaking scenery of the central Guatemalan highlands.
My companions were a nomadic spiritualist from India, who claimed she could see energy fields emanating from people, who walked with her own personal guardian spirit, a black panther. There was the adventure seeker from England, who never went to university, but commanded dog sledding teams and conducted white water tours, who hand glided in his spare-time. Then there were the two Argentines, tour guides from the mountains of southern Patagonia who were seeking work in the states. They were traveling at a lightening speed pace to make it in time for ski season.
I felt the cool water of the river as soon as I stepped forward into the cave. A few steps later and I waist deep. Candles held high above our heads we had to swim to get to higher ground. I was enshrouded by darkness, with only the faint flickering of my candle to remind me of the unknown.
A trip such as this couldn’t possibility exist back home. There were no helmets, no protocals, no forms to sign – just the friendly voice of our guide, instructing us to swim slightly to the left as the invisible rocks on the right would be painful to cross.
I never knew what to expect. The trek through the Samuc Champay caves was constantly an adventure. At one point we arrived to a cascading waterfall where the guide held out a rope and simply gestured up. Fighting cold rushing water, I tried to find my gripping as I pulled myself up about 15 feet.
The real test came later when under the cover of darkness, the guide instructed each of us to jump off of a cliff into the river below. With fingers crossed, secretly hoping there were no rocks in the water, each of us took the plunge, one after another.
Our faith in the guide did not end there. On the way back, he took us to a gapping hole in the ground. I went first. Squeezing my body through the hole, I hung on tight with my hands. Then on the count of three, I was told to let go, absolutely uncertain of what lay below.
What followed was something of a natural water slide, made so from thousands of years of erosion. The drop led me deep into water. I felt a hand, it was my guide’s. He stood ready to pull each of us out of the water. Just 18 years old and barely 150 pounds, he’d been doing this all of his life and knew the cafe like the back of his hand.
On our way out, we had been secretly hoping for sunshine. It had been raining all morning and a thin ominous fog hovered around in the air. The truth is, the rain only added to the sense of adventure. Samuc Champay lies relatively off of the grid. Eight hours of precarious mountain road deters many a tourist. The rain that morning deterred even more.
With practically the entire landscape to ourselves, our guide took us to a turquoise tinted river running beside the cave. We were off to go tubing for 3km along its tumulus rapids. On the way, we passed by a rope swing about twenty feet high. Taking turns, the guide sent us flying into the river. I took a few less than graceful head first splashes into the river.
The turquoise river actually began from a waterfall upstream and that is where we headed next. We were walking on a bridge to get there when all of a sudden the guide stopped. He told us we can jump into the river if we wanted to. Without thinking, the Englishman leaped straight from the bridge. One of the Argentines quickly followed.
Seeing that I had no other choice, I trpidly climbed the banister and stood barefoot on the edge, clutching what I could behind me. Pines and needles in my feet, I knew I had no way to go but down. We were about thirty feet high and without thinking about it any further, I took a step forward.
Silence. I couldn’t hear anything while I fell, just the view of the upcoming wall of water.
Wow. What a relief when I finally came up for air. I had hurt my thumb with the impact but I had done it, and the feeling was incredible.
Onwards we went until we reached the idyllic pools that fed water into the river. Each turquoise colored pool fed into the next, a waterfall composed of calm swimming pools. These pools are what really attract visitors to this far flung destination. It was one of the greatest natural wonders I had ever seen. Hidden, empty, it felt like we were on the verge of a special secret.