SCHMETALINK: From Rio Dulce to Semuc Champey
May 12 2016
“Some people zink it’s funny zat our language is so harsch.” One of the German guys was saying to my husband, Nate, “Like even ze butterfly. Effery language it is so beautiful, Englisch: bu-tterfly, French: pa-pillon, but German SCHMETALINK!”
“Yeah, I knew that one from Australia!” Nate laughed referring to the German friend he’d met on a previous adventure.
I was lying down across the seat, my stomach queasy, as the bus we were in lurched from side to side. The saving grace was that there were only four of us in the vehicle, it would have been miserable if it was packed. I pushed myself up and sagged against the back of the seat. “I don’t know if lying down is better or not,” I complained to Nate.
“Ow,” he said as his head smacked off of the roof of the bus, he was tall, and had to keep a hand between his skull and the ceiling, “I know what you mean.”
“I don’t know how you can sleep like zat,” one of our traveling companions, a German man named Hans said.
“Well, I’m trying,” I replied.
“Beer?” I head Nate ask the two German guys as I closed my eyes again.
“Careful, it might be ein little shook up.” The one German guy said.
“Prost- ow,” Nate said as he cracked open his beer, but quickly regretted moving his hand from above his head.
The day had started off promisingly enough as we had started our long journey from Livingston to Semuc Champey with a boat ride down the Rio Dulce. Livingston had a vibe I was not quite sure about, but as soon as I was out on the Rio Dulce gazing at the lush hills, I longed to join the locals in their handmade wooden canoes. The trees lining the river were thick with birds, particularly pelicans, which swarmed the mesh nets of the fishermen keen to steal the catch of the day.
The boat made several stops to pick up or drop of mail, often to individuals who paddled up in canoes. One lone canoe, half of its bow rotted away, approached out boat. It was propelled forward by a boy in his teens, who pulled at the water with his paddle. The boy hopped out of the canoe to join our tour, and simply gave his boat a shove towards shore.
Once we arrived in Rio Dulce we were faced with the task of finding transportation to Semuc Champey. It became apparent that our options were either to pay for the expensive 5 hour “express shuttle” directly through the mountains, or to take the meandering 12 hour local bus through every small town along the way. The earliest bus we could catch was at two, so we opted for the fast tour bus, waiting in anticipation for the fancy air conditioned buses that were available in other parts of Central America.
The express bus vs. the local bus.
The bus was anything but fancy, and I was quickly jarred back to our reality from my memories of our morning, as we hit another bump, and I heard Nate’s head bounce of the ceiling once more “Maybe this is just a rough patch and it will get better?” I suggested.
When we had to stop so that our driver could move a boulder off of the middle of the road, I should have gotten the hint; the drive was not going to improve. All four of us stumbled out of the car. It was a relief to be out for a moment, and the guys all had to relieve themselves. I looked at my watch, we had been going for 2 ½ hours, “Halfway there!” I announced, “We can do this!”
“SCHMETALINK!” Nate yelled pointing to a butterfly, and everyone laughed.
Several more beers were cracked open, Nate’s head was cracked against the roof several more times, and I kept assuring the guys “We should be there any time now, it’s already been five hours. Five and a half, any time. Six hours, we’ve got to be there soon.” Until I finally gave up counting.
The “express shuttle” really did cut directly through the mountains, sometimes sounding as if the engine might give up halfway up a mountain, or the breaks might give out halfway down. The small outcroppings of houses were desolate, and when we passed villagers they stared at our vehicle, straight faced. As the sun went down the mountains took on a red glow. There were fires burning all around us! It took seven hours to finally reach our destination.
It wasn’t over. When we got out of our shuttle bus we had one last leg of the journey. We directed to a waiting truck, it had bars around the bed to hold onto, because we were packed inside and stood while the truck drove us to our hostel. We said goodbye to our German friends, who were staying in a different place, and checked into our room. Even though the buffet was closed by the time we arrived, the kitchen managed to put together some leftovers for us and we sat next to the river eating.
All around us the hills continued their eerie red glow, but straight above us the sky was clear and flooded with stars. There was no sound of cars, just the river. Apparently there is a pretty big town only a few hours away, from Semuc Champey, but I felt as far away from civilization as seven hours could take me.
*Please note the German traveler’s name was changed to protect privacy.