This is part of continuing series of my travel experiences in Guatemala. You can read the prior blog post here. I'm currently typing this from Frank & Fre Hostel at a candlelight table in Antigua while it's pouring down rain on the glass ceiling above me. I just got back from a delicious, albeit overpriced, BBQ restaurant called Pappy's which is coincidentally owned by a guy in Austin, Texas. Antigua is definitely my favorite in Guatemala so far! I was going to take photos around the city at night, but I honestly can't think of anyplace I'd rather be right now. I'll have plenty of time to explore Antigua tomorrow before doing an epic overnight volcano hike the morning after!
Before I get into the epic adventure to Semuc Champey, let's rewind to a few days ago. After spending one night at Quetzalroo Hostel in Guatemala City, I woke up in the morning, ate a quick breakfast, talked to a few hostel guests, went to the ATM at a nearby hospital (1000 Quetzals = $140 = bankrupt), licensed another photo to Save Our Springs Alliance (extra spending money!), and flew my drone from the rooftop. Shortly after posting the photo on social media, the owner approached me with compliments and an opportunity to take a private shuttle to Semuc Champey for a special DJ pool party at this place called Zephyr Lodge. Within an hour, the shuttle was waiting in the courtyard with a crew of people standing outside, including a few of the DJ's for the party. This is only my first day in Guatemala and I'm already living the sweet life! So, we pack everyone's belongings on the roof rack and hit the road. It's a 10-hour drive from here to Semuc Champey, and it's such a beautiful journey along winding roads through green countryside and "shantytowns". There's no denying the poverty in Guatemala; it's still a third-world country after all. It was a similar experience in Costa Rica and Peru. I often find myself wondering what the inhabitants do to survive. I would love to use my photography skills and personable character to do something for a humanitarian cause. I will need to learn Spanish at some point in the near future, or find someone to travel with me who already speaks the language. I'm already in touch with Whole Planet Foundation, which does a lot to alleviate global poverty. In the meantime, I'm going to continue combining my passion for photography with travel. Here's a photo of the tour bus crew on our way to Cobán.
After traveling into the evening with a few breaks along the way, we finally reach the town of Cobán. It was a treacherous bumpy ride at night into the mountain valley below. We unload our stuff and I catch a ride with my friend Matt to Hostel Oasis. It's $8 per night with few modern luxuries aside from electricity. I was sweating through the night sleeping in this straw hot box, but it was better than sleeping in a hammock outside with the large annoying chirping beatles.
I woke up early the next morning for the epic tour to Semuc Champey, a majestic multi-tiered waterfall roughly 9km from town. The most incredible places on Earth are usually reached by going far off the beaten path. I hopped on the back of a lorry with my two German guy friends, a lady from Barcelona, and a few other waterfall chasers. The ride through town quite a culture shock, to say the least. I'm lucky to have a privileged life in the States. We continued onward on bumpy dirt roads through beautiful green mountains. I captured plenty of video footage on my iPhone 7. Once we arrive at the entrance to Semuc Champey, it's a 45-minute steady uphill hike to the waterfall viewpoint. It proves to be an incredible sight to behold. Words can't do it justice; only a photo or video can demonstrate the true beauty without actually being there. I captured the following photos in a few minutes with my Mavic Pro.
Afterward, we proceeded to jump into the the rejuvenating water and work our way down each consecutive pool until reaching the last cascading waterfall. I discovered that the iPhone 7 is waterproof after seeing a lady using it in the water. Game-changer. From here, we went back to the hostel to eat lunch, then explored dark underwater caves. Each person was provided a candle before entering. It reminded me of an episode of Survivor, Guatemala-style. We had to wade our way through water of varying height levels with a safety rope. At the end, we took turns jumping from a cliff into the water. This was an experience I will not forget anytime soon. If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Afterward, we tubed down the river for about 45 minutes as little kids followed along coaxing us to buy cheap beer. The beautiful little girl was selling homemade Guatemalan chocolate, and I couldn't resist taking a photo of her.
We board the shuttle back to town. I immediately begin editing the aerial photos from Semuc Champey, post them on social media, and submit a few to NatGeoYourShot for approval. It has been my dream for many years to be an official photographer for National Geographic. This will be a difficult goal but virtually nothing is impossible if you have enough persistence and motivation. Afterward, I make my way up the hill for the pool party at Zephyr Lodge. I got the ticket at a reduced price at the hostel in Guatemala City. One of the DJ's from the tour bus is playing on a balcony and about 100 people are hanging out in the pool and dancing into the night. There's quite a few beautiful women that I would normally assume are out of my league. However, after a few beers, conversation, and showing off my photo of Semuc Champey to anyone who will listen, I quickly discover that this is all mindset. Everyone is super friendly! At one point, I have a conversation with this wealthy entrepreneur from Antigua who flew to the party on a helicopter. He's wearing a really cool cowboy hat, which I politely ask if I can keep, but after wearing it for awhile, he eventually asks for it back to avoid losing a bet. Bummer!
The next day, I catch a shuttle ride to Antigua with my new friends. I listen to meditation music and sleep in the blistering heat, taking in the sights and sounds along the way. We leave at 9am and reach Antigua at sunset. My friends are on their way to Lake Atitlan further down the road. I will be arriving in San Marcos on May 6th just in time for the retreat, but first I must follow my inner vision and do the overnight hike of Volcan Acatenango and capture photos of the erupting volcano at night. I'm going to find some groovy Guatemalan clothes after eating breakfast at the cafe where I'm typing this blog right now and then explore the city for a few hours!
Thanks for reading this blog post about my adventure to Semuc Champey. If you're a fan of my work, I'd appreciate donations. I'm a man of modest means when necessary, and everything is cheaper over here, but every little bit counts. Do what you love and the money will follow!