Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Hot Waterfalls Adventure

What do you do for fun when you live in a steamy jungle environment? Go for a road trip to the HOT waterfalls of course!

A group of us cruisers summering over here on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala tumbled into the marina's van and rode through stunning green cattle grazing lands for about an hour to these falls. Because the falls are on a little river which is the private property of a large agricultural plantation/cattle ranch we paid our 10 Quetzales ($1.25) per person fee before jumping into the waters.  COOL, fresh water flowed through the ponds but it was HOT water that streamed down the waterfall. Heated by geothermal activity, the water was too hot to touch.

We swam underneath the waterfall to a small space behind the falls. This space was a steamy "spa" that we could fit at least 5 people into. So we stood on rocks on the bottom, with cool water up to our waists and enjoyed the bizarre contrast with the steamy air while looking through a hot water curtain out to the ponds.

While standing and chatting in one little pond, we realized that our feet were getting a special foot treatment! Occasionally, little bursts of steamy bubbles would spit out of the gravel on the bottom and toast our toes! Ouch, and yes, it did smell very strongly of sulfur - eeeew!

Next up...how about a waterfall inside a cave that you have to swim up the river in the cave to see? Sure! Just one caveat though, you have to hike through the jungle on a steep, slippery trail to get to this treasure of Guatemala. So we did of course. We started out wet from our swim in the hot waterfalls and stayed wet from the sweat rolling down every body part.

We had to hire a guide (Francisco) to lead us to the caves area and he sure earned his fee (another 10 Q or $1.25 per person). See him there in the photo carrying my basket? Yep, my knitting goes everywhere because, well, you just never know when you might have a few minutes to knit, and he earned himself a generous tip for lugging my basket. OK, not exactly a glamour shot of me (creeping downhill behind Francisco) but that was the view everyone else saw all day too.

At last, we arrived at the point where the river comes out from the cave! Within less than a minute we were all happily jumping into the water to cool off. Yikes! This water was really cold! Such a shock to the old body system to go from overheated hiker to icy cold water, but after a few minutes it was actually refreshing (that's what I kept telling myself).

What a treat it was to swim in fresh water after months of seawater swimming. It's so different! The sweet and woody smells of the nearby jungle filled our salty sailor nostrils.

So we all gathered our nerves and waterproof flashlights at the mouth of the cave. Here we go! The water was deep in some places along the way, but there were plenty of rocky ledges to stand on and rest or just enjoy the atmosphere. When somebody aimed their flashlight at the ceiling of the cave we disturbed the bats so that they flew around. But many of the bats just kept on hanging, moving about just enough so that we could determine that they were there huddled in small groups of about 20 bats in a recession in the ceiling.

And here is the water gusher we found after about a 200 yard swim up the cave river! Not really a waterfall, but really fun to see anyway. As we lounged about in the cave, we wondered just how high the water would be if there were to be a sudden thunderstorm. Our flashlights told us the answer....way up over our heads near the top of the cavern were several tree logs wedged in the crevices. And they were fresh logs from perhaps a recent storm that had found their way downstream and into this underground portion of the river. The heebie jeebies set in and we all decided that it was time to get out!

So we trudged back through through the jungle to our van. At one point our guide showed us a cave which has petroglyphs etched on the walls. He said the cave was used for Mayan ceremonies. We don't know how old the drawings are (hundreds of years or mere months?) but it was interesting just the same even if we suspected it was for us touristas' enjoyment.
Down stream from where we were playing all morning, several local women were hard at work doing their laundry. Their children played naked in the stream which I would assume doubled as their baths. We've often seen women doing laundry this way. They lay one piece of clothing at a time on a rock and scrub with laundry detergent that is sold as a bar or cylinder shaped block. Looks like hard work to me, especially in the sun.
Next stop was lunch! We went down the road a little bit to the town of El Estor which is right on Lake Izabal. Lake Izabal empties into the Rio Dulce just about a mile up from our marina, and it is the largest lake in Guatemala (about 35 miles along).

Lunch was at a new lakeside restaurant called Don Yulo and was fabulous. We each ordered a steak of some type or their specialty,longaniza, a local big pork sausage cooked on the grill. The meat was so tender - and we found out why. It was imported from the good ole USA as proved by the proprietor who showed us the big hunk of beef with the USDA stamps on it. No need for proof though as our steaks were delicious (see what you missed Jonesy?)

But wait, there's more! After lunch we headed back up the road to take a little trip up a nearby river gorge. Ahhh, this was to be a sedate tour with somebody else doing all the work - a good thing as we were all lethargic after our big lunch. After a little bargaining by Marco, our marina manager who is from this area, we settled on a good price and these boys paddled us in their cayuca canoe.This cayuca was once a solid piece of wood carved from a tree trunk, but it had been covered with fiberglass at some point in time to extend it's useful life. We also hired a second cayuca which was a fiberglass model.

So we loaded up, and the kids paddled us up the slow moving river. Soon we entered the amazingly steep walls of the gorge. It was so quiet, except for the sounds of the boys paddles in the water and the many birds and insects in the jungle. The walls towering above us were draped with vines, ferns, and tenacious plants hanging on for dear life on the sides.

So mellow, and cool in the shade from the cliffs. Water dripped down in many places making tiny waterfalls and a sweet dribbling sound. Again, the smells were incredible with subtle floral scents, wet rocks and simple earthiness.
Eventually the river widened and became too shallow to continue in the cayucas so we got out and explored on foot. We decided against doing the walk up the riverbed to a nearby village as we were all worn out from the morning trek. Maybe next time we'll just come here and then do the hike up river.

What a marvelous adventure made even more fun with the company of like-minded folks who are always ready to explore what this beautiful country has to offer. Oh, and who also kindly share their photos.

Final thought for the day: When you live in the tropics and use an open air restroom facility, remember to apply insect repellent on ALL parts of your exposed skin (including your bum) before attempting to use the toilet. Ask us how we know.

What an awesome day! More adventure than I've had in 5 years and you've done it all in 1 day! Great blog post. Thanks Terry.
I love all your post I have been so busy ...I miss visiting your blog .. you need to challenge me with another challenge like you did a few years ago :O) Miss talk to you Terry :O)
Wow! Terry, that sounds amazing.
What a Great day! Love your descriptions, Terry. Felt like I was there. Wishing I was there! - Stay well
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