BootsnAll Travel Network

The Story of Semuc Champey (aka “I’m an awful swimmer” and here’s my tale)

You know the story, I lose my glasses, and I’m stuck wearing my swim goggles.  The same swim goggles with the 5 year old prescription, the goggles that fog up every 2 minutes, the goggles the hurt my head and the goggles that whacks everything out of perspective.  Like I said, there is a reason why swim goggles are made to be worn IN the water, not out of it.

After the morning of waiting around to see if the guide can recover my glasses in the waterfall pool within the cave, I walk back to the hostel empty handed.  My lunch is a ham sandwich (with mayo and lettuce and onions and Ketchup–why must they put ketchup on everything down here?) and a small plate of nacho chips with black beans.  I have the afternoon to kill, so I decide to walk up to Semuc Champey and enjoy the natural beauty as best I can.

It is maybe a 20 minute walk up the road until it ends at the entrance gate.  Semuc Champey is a series of natural pools created as the river flows underground.  Many say this is the most beautiful place in Guatemala.  And with beauty, there always comes danger.

I pay my entrance fee, and the guards are amused at my appearance.  I try to explain how I lost my glasses; next thing I know, one of the guards is handing me a pair of glasses that someone else lost a while ago.  I try them out, hoping the prescription will be similar.  Nice try, but no.  I thank him for the effort, and continue on my way.

I walk down to the river, and then to the pools…


The Rio.



Self timer on my camera, the goggles are that noticeable, are they?



Just above the small waterfalls, are the series of pools that make up the Semuc Champey.



Here’s how the natural pools look just above the waterfalls.



A closer look at one of the many swimming pools.



Further along the path, a wide expanse of water surrounded by the trees and framed by the mountains.


I take the 25 minute hike up the steep steep path to the Mirador, the lookout for the pools below.  It is a hard hike for me, as I continually have to stop to wipe off the steam within my goggles, and I have to step carefully because my depth perception is still a little out of whack.  The view though, is entirely worth it.  Here you go!



From high above….



Another bird’s eye view…



Zooming in….if you look really close, you might be able to make out the 3 swimmers in the upper pool. 


I make the slow hike back down to the pools, where Amy, Stephanie and Renee have arrived a short while earlier.  I have come all this way, I have my swim goggles, of course I must take a dip to enjoy the waters!



This is the pool that we entered and swam in.  Or at least I tried to swim in…


They entered the pool first, and I followed.  Slippery and slimey bottom, I have my sandals on and wade slowly into the water.  It is a little cold, and I know I will need to just get right in.  I secure my goggles with a tight suction seal around my eyes, and make the lunge forward, into the water with a nice SPLASH!  Yes, the water is cool, and yes, it is refreshing.  The girls go up ahead close to a series of waterfalls.  I attempt to follow.  But it is still awkward for me “swimming” with these sandals.  At least I have both hands free though, as opposed to only have one because I’m holding a candle above my head.

I notice that Stephanie can stand.  I want to stand.  I get tired quite easily when swimming.  I’ve heard the adage that good runners do not make good swimmers, and good swimmers do not make good runners.  Where do all these competitors for triathalons figure into this, I wonder?  All I know is that I am a decent runner, and can be a decent swimmer as long as I know where my escape route is when I get too tired — in other words, as long as I know where the edges of the pool are, I am fine.  And being close to shore, or having an area of shallow water where I can actually stand to catch my breath, are my ideals.

And so I try to swim over to Stephanie.  I’m still fresh.  No problems.  I make it to the ledge, and can stand.  The water is maybe up to my chest.  The rock I am standing on is slippery though, and not smooth and flat.  It has ridges, and I need to balance myself, which is a little hard because there is some water flow and I sway as I try to readjust my goggles and do the spit-method of trying to clear out the fog or steam in my goggles.

And then I feel the first nibble.  On a scratch on my knee.  It is a little stinging sensation, a bite.  A bite from one little fish.  Make that more than one little fish.  The biting opens up my scratch, and I know that I now have a little blood that will attract more fish.  They are not pirannahs, though for this story I suppose I could call them that.  So let’s just call them that — PIRANNAHS!  Blood sucking, killer pirannahs.  Like in those classic B Horror movies hosted by Elvira, Vampress of the Night.

So here I was, trying to fix my goggles, trying to get my breathing back to normal, and now having to contend with little critters biting at me.  Well, I can’t just stand here in place as a free meal for them.  I need to get back in the water and swim.  But where to?  Oh yeah, towards the waterfall area.  So I get back in the water, swim/wade around a bit, and try to have steady and controlled breathing.  I get to the waterfall area, but the 3 are already starting to move to a different waterfall area, one where they want to try and climb.  So I follow.  Cause that’s what I do, I follow.  I follow to where the people are, so that if I get in trouble, I know that I can call out for help and hopefully someone will bail me out.  Yeah, I follow.

But it is a struggle.  I’m tired.  I see them ahead of me, and a minute or two later I see Stephanie is standing again.  Another rock ledge!  That’s where I need to be!  It is in the middle of the pool, and I’m not too far away from it.  I can make it.  And so I swim towards that ledge.  With my prescription goggles on, I can see underwater.  So I know where I need to go.  I see those stupid little fish.  As long as I’m moving, they will leave me alone.  Stroke, kick, up for a breath, stroke, kick, up for a breath.  I am closer to the girls, and I can make out the bottom for me to step on.  But vision in the water is distorted, and I realize that I am still a bit off.  So I readjust my direction, and still peering into the water, try to locate that place where Stephanie just was.  And I find it.  Good thing too, because I am huffing for air.  Just like the other spot, I am balancing myself on a little jagged edge, and I cannot completely stand with two feet.  But at least I can stop swimming and breathe normally and adjust my dumb goggles again.

Here come those dang fish.  Another nibble.  Bite.  They open up a second scratch on the same leg (I got those scratches the day before by doing that river cave tour…all participants got nicked and nacked in one form or another).  I really don’t like fish biting at my skin, it is very annoying and I am now getting mad.  I decide that I don’t want to be in the water anymore, I’ve had enough of my fair share of this paradise.  I look over to the girls, who are swimming further away to the other part of the pool, to those other cascading falls.  No more following.  I want to get back on the shore, back on the ground away from these hungry critters and where I can breathe breathe breathe to my heart’s content without having the fear of swallowing water.

A final adjustment of my goggles, and I’m back in the water swimming towards shore.  I really should have stayed at my little piece of underwater rock for just a minute longer, as I am breathing pretty hard, but those fish wouldn’t leave me alone.  I just have to make it to the other underwater rock, catch my breath, and then make the final segment back to shore.

Yeah, I suck at swimming.  It is so much easier for me in a pool, but get me out into the ocean or a lake or a pond or someplace like this, and I won’t be in the water for long.  Having my swim goggles helped, because I could actually see in the water and it is a kind of safety net for me, knowing exactly where I need to go.  However, at the same token, they are a false sense of security, and was a primary factor to my near demise.

Just swim to the next ledge.  Catch my breath.  It really wasn’t that far.  But like I said, I was already tired and I wasn’t used to swimming with my sandals on.  I am tired, but continuing with my strokes and kicks and turn my head up for air.  I see that I am closer to my halfway point.  I could see this “land” underwater just ahead of me.  All I need to do is get there, step up and I’ll be fine.  With my last withering reserve of energy, I aim for this spot, and when I think I am close enough to take a step, I stop and try to step up on this ledge that I can SEE.  Yes, I can see it.

But aha you fool, things in the water are DISTORTED.  “Objects may appear closer than they really are.”  Well, in this case, it was the opposite.  Where I thought I had a step close to my feet, was actually far below the water than I originally thought.  But it is too late.  Because I have already tried to make that step, and when I think I am about to make contact, I go up for air.  NO CONTACT, no step up, and thus it screws up my timing!  So instead of coming up for air, I get a nice gulp gulp of water!  Not fun, not fun at all. 

So at this point my eyes are freaking huge as I realize that I have misjudged my safety zone, and I need to get there ASAP because I am going into a panic.  My body takes over needing that air, and I try desperately to coordinate my breathing with my swim strokes and keep a cool head.  I flail and kick and hope that I can make it.  At this point, it is fruitless for me to try and locate that visible but elusive underwater rock ledge or whatever you call it, I just need to gun it to the shoreline.

I see the shore and the bank and know in my mind that I can make it, that I will make it.  I feel the lactic acid within my muscles, water is beginning to seep into my goggles, I am tired and the breathing is laborous and disjointed and all I want is to feel land under my feet.  Is that too much to ask for???

I continue to kick and flail, I don’t want to drown, I’m not going to drown, I’m going to make it to the shoreline.  But man oh man I want to breathe in a regular fashion, no more of this swallowing some water and expending energy where I feel the weight of my arms and legs and the tease of land under me through my swim goggles.

And then suddenly I feel it.  LAND!  I am freakin ecstatic, as soon as I touch it I try to stand up immediately and in my weakened and disoriented state of mind, I slip and come crashing onto my ass on the smooth surface.  Yes, the fish are still nearby as I can see them scatter when I fall, catching myself with my hands on the slime.  I try to get up as quickly as I can, and then stumble again, but do not fall.  I take a giant step towards the shore, trying to get better footing, ripping the goggles off my face and in my exhaustion I finally manage to traverse through the land in the water and up, up, up onto the bank, the shoreline, the earth, LAND LAND LAND.  Ground under my feet!  I basically collapse near some rocks next to our clothes, trembling because I am so tired and without energy, but happy, overjoyed and thankful to be safe again, with the ability to BREATHE deeply and feel my stomach rise and my lungs fill with good old oxygen, free and clear from that water in the pool.  I am spent.  No more going in the water for me.

In the distance, I can see the girls climb up the face of the waterfall, stand on top, and then jump back into the pool below.  I take a picture of them with Stephanie’s camera.  And then take a picture of myself and the area where I almost succumbed to panic and fear, but this is a story with a good ending, and thus I leave you with these final pics…



Those ledges in the water appear so dang close to the surface, don’t they?




A re-enactment coming out of the water.  You know that smile is real!


One response to “The Story of Semuc Champey (aka “I’m an awful swimmer” and here’s my tale)”

  1. Mike says:

    Get a haircut!

  2. Mon says:

    And you call yourself a Beaver (who sucks at swimming)!?!? Yeah and I agree w/Mike…get a haircut shaggy! OH SNAP!

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