3 december 1998

  (M) London Heathrow - the shakespeare pub.
Getting my last pint before the big trip. Packing went fine, and everything look a-okay. Left the boat this morning in gray cold weather - I hope Lancer, the Boat will be okay for the next two months without me.

4 december 1998 - Salama


(F) up at 5. arrive at airport at 5:45, United flight is more or less on time.

(M) flight was good. thanks. smooth landing with some bumps. hello fred, and through custom.

We are now together again with much rejoicing.

After fitting Mathias' stuff into the van, we go past a welding specialist shop in Guatemala City called FabriGas to pick up carbide for the caving lights.


We head straight north on a little road. Lunch in the middle of nowhere in a comidor. A comidor is just a normal house where people can come to eat in their kitchen and pay a little for whatever is brewing that day. No choice of meal as in a restaurant, no signs to show that there is a business going but we find it by asking someone where we can get a meal. This is Mathias' first meal in Central america, and very much out in the middle of nowhere. Very bad roads, very slow, turned out to be not the optimal road in that direction.

Teachers partying in Salama. Great little hotel with courtyard. Playing tunes on guitar and flute, and it gets a lot of interest to say the least.

5 december 1998 - Lanquin

Stephan and Annabel

Had lunch at Coban. Ran into Stephan and Annabel, a Beligan couple living there on a UN peace mission. They were both very keen to start kayaking, so when they saw our van arrive they rushed to ask us how they could get equipment. The closest place might be in Mexico - there is not many river shops here in Guatemala. They were also keen to get their rock climbing equipment exercised, and they told us they had seen some promising looking rock faces in Semuc Champey - a popular tourist place with some beautiful pools for swimming.

After lunch with the Beligans, we headed towards Lanquin - a place with a showcave, but apparently some more unexplored stuff further inside. The road was very bad! Dirt road, with lots of holes and vey narrow spots that had to be negotiated with huge trucks and buses coming in the opposite direction. Mathias sat on the top of the van some of the way - very beautiful views from up there, like riding a motorbike! Just before dark we arrive at Lanquin. We decide to camp next to the caves, a kilometer or so outside the village. It is a really cool spot - the huge river Canaban starts here. It spews out next to the cave, coming from somewhere inside. The cave has a locked door, but it is fairly easy to walk around it. We decide to wait until tomorrow, exploring it. We pop the top of the van, and go to bed very tired after a long days driving and Mathias still with a bit of jetlag in his system.

Mayan cave ceremony


Before we fall asleep, we hear voices and see the shines of some flashlights. Somewhat unexpected in this quiet place. And also a bit unnerving - we are very far from any bit of civilisation out here! We peek out of the van, and see more lights and hear more voices. We can also hear some drums and humming noices in the background. Very scary. Now we spot a huge crowd with candlelights, slowly moving down on the road - right towards our spot. YIKES! Lots of flashlights point inside the van, and then away. Most people are behind the van, but there are people all around us. Then a guy starts some ceremony right outside, with the people in front of him and right around our van. He speaks or sings in some Mayan language that we obviously don't understand a word of. We decide to take the bull by the horns, put on some clothing and head outside - still somewhat uneasy about the whole situation. Outside we are right in the middle of a crowd of about 600 people! All little Mayan indians, some with their huge working machettes by their sides. They don't pay much attention to us, except for a little boy who explains that it is a religious ceremony.

We spot a huge crowd with candlelights, slowly moving down on the road

Soon after, the crowd begins to line up and head down the path to the cave. It is very spectacular with all those people and all those candles. The generator to the cave lights has been started - they obviously plan on going inside and do some praying or something. We ask an old guy if we can follow, he says that there are a lot of people, but we can feel free if we want. We grab our two candles in their camping holders and mingle in with the crowd. Of course, we stand out a bit! Everybody is very friendly though, and *extremely* curious about our camping lights! They ask how much they cost etc. We are in the last part of the procession and inside the cave everyone is lined up along the path, holding their candles. The path winds up and down and around, and it is a brilliant sight! We can see through some holes in the top part of the walls, that the light continues a long way in. Everybody stop at this point, and a preacher starts his singing speech again and we all sit down in prayer. What a place to pray! Wow. Then a few minutes of complete silence, followed by everyone putting their candle onto a rock next to them. Then we head out. Outside we sit in front of the van while everybody gather again, waiting for the priest who is way inside. This was a bit unnerving again, because everybody was touching the car, shining their lights in the windows. They were now paying a little more attention to us! But they were just curious, of course, and too shy to go up and ask what on earth this vehicle with a raised roof was. When asked, someone said that they had this ceremony once a year. When the priest came out, they all left very suddenly and there was quiet again after only a few minutes... What an amazing experience!

Candlelit cave

We head for bed, but then it occur to us that the cave must be really cool with all the candles lit inside! We are not particularly tired anymore because of the experience, so we put on our caving helmets and head back to the cave. The locked door is easy to get around, and once inside we are glad we went! Wow. Holy Jesus. Now the place is completely silent, only with some strange water noices coming from the depths. The candles are everywhere. We had only been in the first chamber, but now we go into the second *huge* chamber with even more lights. It is filled with smoke from the offerings they made, and our lights cannot see the ceiling and even some of the walls. This place much be bloody enormous! We are pretty fired up because it is so eery in there and because of some strange sounds we keep hearing. In the huge chamber there are lights that appear to be really far up on the wall. We follow the path up there and this is where they must have had their offering session. There are some children cut to pieces, and.. no just kidding. There is a platform with huge candles and some smoking offerings. After some pictures, we head quietly out. That was just a unique experience, complete luck that we happened to be camping there at their yearly Mayan ceremony!

6 december, 1998 - Semuc Champey

Rough roads

After the caving expericence we head to bed tired and with an real closeness to the Gutamalan indians here from day 1. We sleep like two little rocks and the next morning we wake up to the sound of the waking jungle at a leisurely 8am. We met a Dutch guy the day before who asked us if he and two others could get a ride up to Semuc Champey and we'de told him to come around at 9am. Being camped just next to the river Mathias heads down to try and fish some breakfast with Fred's little fishing rod. While Mathias is trying his luck on the riverbed the party of Dutch guy and his two Swiss friends arrives at the van, and having failed on the breakfast duty we leave after a quick cup of mocca. The destination is Semuc Champey some 10 kilometers of serious dirt road - later we read in the Loney Planet that 4 wheel drive is recommended! But we know that Daisy is eager for some of the more hard stuff and half an hour later we are bumping along, Mathias in his usual seat on the roof and four passagers plus Fred (we picked a fourth German guy up on the road) and she (Daisy) loves it.

The Guatemalan people

On the way out of Lanquin we are held up by a religious procession with a hundred or so people walking slowly down the street singing and carrying a big wodden cross - made of two big logs in a very crude but honest fashion. "...with his plastic crucifix". As we see the procession approach we quickly park the car, jump out and sit in the road side and watch the happening. It is a very simple procession which we both find very moving - we spot one or two indians who we saw at the ceremony the previous evening and it is really nice to see these very friendly and very real people in this fascinating manner in an extreme contrast to all the stories and warnings about bandits and savage Guatemalans who shoot you and then drive away in your car. This is not the Guatemala we have experienced so far. The impression we have - as the end of the procession passes us - is one of a people who are trying their best to maintain their country despite hurricans, civil wars and perhaps increasing turism. The people - only after two days - stand out as an incredible strong and proud yet soft and vulnerable - tall and short yet wide and narrow. Nej okay - vi proever igen. The people - only after two days in the country - stand out as and incredible strong, not proud but just normal, minding their own business, and yet very helpful and easy to talk to. Nobody is trying to sell us things as one would experience in most other contries blessed by western turism (Egypt, Bali, Nepal etc)

It is a very simple procession which we both find very moving

Anyway - these Guatemalan dudes just seem pretty sympathetic, and they have all so far laughed when either of us makes a little classic "look like a complete idiot" scene... yes yes.

After an hour or so of beautiful driving we arrive at Semuc Champey where we might do the first bit of rock climbing on this part of the trip.

T-shirt party

Later that day... We have just finished our supper consisting of 10 tortillas which we preordered at noon at a little shed close to where we are (for 3 quetzales), spiced up with some frijoles boenos and some boiled rice. Very good and very filling and very much the same thing we had for lunch/breakfast :-). We have been accompanied by a local farmer and a crowd of kids for the whole evening and after we gave him one of the numerous t-shirts that Mathias brought from back home as gifts from the Danish People all the kids got one as well, and now they are all wearing Mathias' old t-shirts. Quite cool. Fred is doing all the talking with his impressive set of Spanish words that he learned last week. We are really have proper conversations with these local people which really is quite amazing. This guy - Martinus - is a farmer, and tomorrow he was going to harvest some corn for eating in March. Fascinating and a very similar concept to The Willerup Brothers. We work to get money to spend on extravangant trips later in the course of the year as well :-). No seriously - very fascinating to get to know these peoples simple way of living, and yet they seem very on top of things - he had for example rescued some French woman recently from the nearby waterfall (we saw it earlier today - pretty cool), and he got some reward for that, and he told us lots about varoius other incidents down the waterfall. It was like a Guatamalan version of good old Tim - this Martinus shared the same fascination for good war stories. :-)

How much is the lantern?

A funny thing which all the Guatemalans seem to have in common is a curiousity for what all our stuff cost. They asked how much the candles from Las Vegas was, how much the Van is, how much the caving helmets are etc etc. One item in particular has caught the eyes of our Indian friends. The little candle lantern that we had one of each. We gave one of them to the friendly kid yesterday at the cave ceremony - he deserved it explaining us that we needn't be affraid and stuff. We have one lantern left and they all want to know how much it costs, if it runs on gas (when we tell them that it is a normal candle inside it creates a lots of acknoledging nods). Again it's quite fascinating - these indian dudes all speak in an Indian language as well as Spanish. They speak this dialect amongst themselves and speak Spanish with us turistas. But we already learned ourselves a few words like Na-tchek (hello - female), Da-tchek (hello - Male), and Bu-schikok (thanks - any gender). Anyway - it's very interesting to listen to this truly savage tung, and quite nice from a historical perspective that these old Maya-dudes still keep their heritage very much alive through their language.

Qua-Chin (hombre)
Na-chin (mujer)
Ban-diosh (gracias)
Chan sha quil (como estas?)

I saw some fireflys in the dusk - fascinating creatures Shackleton.

Any rock?

Rock? We did a recce down the canyon and the place might turn out disappointing from a rock climbing perspective. We had heard rumours from Stephan and Anabel that the rock was a somewhat vegetated, but we where confident that our excursions on Cheddar rock in England would make us well equiped for the more unclean of rock. We might be proved wrong. This rock looks like Shorn Cliff the local crag near Bristol but with the tree-rock ratio somewhat different. There was a heck of a lot of vegation on the stuff we saw. And not only might the rock be well occupied by little green plants but the approach might prove to be a great challenge as well. The jungle stuff looks seriously impassable and even with our huge newly purchased machete we might be in over our heads. But anyway - let's see how it goes, if we can't establish some new routes we will just have to move on on the Ruta Hermanos.

7 december 1998 - Lanquin


We woke up fairly late, and had a bit of muesli with dried milk (and some water!). Very quickly all the boys and men from around were back to look at our stuff again, and ask us how much it costs! This got a bit out of hand when we started laying out our climbing equipment to sort everything out. We had decided to attempt to put up a route on the rock faces that were barely visible to the East of the pools. We brought a lot of gear a lot of water, but no food which we regretted later! We set off a bit after noon with high spirits.

Bungle in the jungle

We followed a farmer's path up the side of the hill for a few hundred meters, and then headed left into the jungle to find the base of the rock. The machette was absolutely necessary to chop through the dense vegetation - it was fun to feel like a couple of oldfashioned explorers. We fairly quickly arived at some rock - of course very vegetated and unfortunately without many features for climbing or protection. Optimistic we follow the somewhat undefined base of the rock. Perhaps 100 meter further chopping leads us to a promising looking spot: first about 50 meters of steep broken ledges completely filled with plants and trees but then some clean looking rock above it. The first second seems doable because we can silng one of the many trees for protection, but we really have no idea what the top section will be like. Luckily, the sun is still not shining on the face so the temperature hot but bearable.

Fred starts the climbing. Mathias is in much better climbing shape, so Fred can contribute on this section by leading up using roots, twigs, trees, loose rocks, mud etc for holds and protection. The machette is still needed occationally and we are happy that we bought one with a sheath that we can simply clip into our harness. It is great to be climbing again! We haven't climbed on the same rope together since Coronation Street three years ago! How fitting - the type of climbing here is very similar to "The Cheddar Experience" which typicaly involves loose rock, and lots of vegetation. At least here, the line is not polished! Fred sets up a stance in a tree, standing on some loosely attached roots and Mathias joins. We swap leads, and Mathias traverses right over a technical little section, switches back left and belays in another tree. Fred joins and leads on a little further to the base of a *great* looking little corner. Yes! (If anyone should be stupid enough to repeat this route, the first section can be done in two pitches with little problem.) About 25 meters of the corner is visible and it looks promising: near vertical, holds here and there, and probably some places for pro.

Lucky for Fred, it is Mathias turn to take the sharp end. He sets off with a determination only equalled by Cortez' conquista of the Americas...

(Mathias) Rock was finally on the agenda full time. Fred had with usual enthusiasm stormed through the first fifty meters or so of serious scrambling up to the bottom of this our first encounter with Guatamalan limestone. The crag look climable, steep, but with a continous corner all the way so it looked like a bridging escape would be possbile at all times. In what appeared to be the top the rock seemed to steepen and it looked like the crux of the line.

Loaded with most of our equipment plus the bolt kit and the machete I headed up the corner trying out the jamming qualities of the corner crag. This quickly proved unusable as it was just full of munge and the rock was a bit damp and loose. Out on the right face though the rock was immaculate and and I quickly realized that this was where the majority of the focus was going to be had. I was still in a bridging start trying to figure out how to get on to the main right face. The bridge turned out to be really strenous on my right leg as I was pretty heavy due to the load of equipment. A few commiting pull and foot changes I was on the face. Yoist! This was good stuff! I had to really be carefull everytime I tried a new hold as it might be one big loose block and Fred was directly underneath me. But on this right face the holds were very much in-situ being pockets and small ledges. Perfect. I had put in a no 1 friend in the section below me and I became aware that friends was the business in this Guatamalan medium as I seated a bombproof no 2 camalot in a clean rock solid pocket.

I reached up for what turned out to be a mantleshelf to a small ledge some 30 feet of the ground. I got up to the ledge for a welcomed rest and had a look down at Fred. I had been shuffing a lot of stuff down on my poor old brother the whole of this first part of the climb - a few loose rocks, plenty of chopped of vegetation and truck loads of spider web. He looked fine, and I could focus on what lay in front of me. It looked like I was about to enter the crux of this so far glorious pitch and I had two options. Either bridge the whole way up to the left or try and head for a big conglomarat feature on the right. This big feature looked quite promising and I perpared myself for heading up there to have a look. I placed a good number 10 rock and managed to get yet another bomber of a camalot in a perfect pocket slightly to the right. Perfect, ready to explore a bit further. I get my feet sorted out and try a blind reach as I can't quite reach the actual feature yet. I "crawl" around with my right hand a bit and suddenly -thugh- a hidden pocket! Yoist, this is what dreams are made of = I gain loads of confidence as the rock unvails its secrets more and more. Anyway - I pull on the little sharp and perfect pocket, bring my feet and vupti I am within reach of the big feature. My first visual encounter is positive but as I scrape of the tons of spider web my heart sinks - the stuff is less firm than it looked, and after a bit of contact I decide that this is not the way. If I used the feature full on and the stuff pulled of, it would be a minor catastrophey by obvious reasons. Disappointed I have to retreat to my ledge again, but not before I had a good look at the stuff on the left of the feature. From below it looked more or less bare without holds, but from this closer look it reveals an obious jug and a possbile traverse line which would bypass and take you over the feature. Wow. I need to use an undercling, which I so far have only used forthe placement of two friends, full on to reach the obvious and hopefully solid jug futher up. I remove one of the friends to release a bit of space for my hands and go down to the ledge to rest.

I shout to Fred that I might have found the weakness of the rock and we have some shouting conversation about rock which obviously boosts my confidence.

A couple of minuttes after I am up here again - now determined that I need to make full use of the undercling, reach a bit to the left for the jug and then see what happens. Plim, everything falls into place and I am suddenly in the middle of it. Full commitment, get a small wire in, waste time getting a monsterthread in, and then look around. I am well on the face - the rock has steppened and I need to move and think fast. Left no good - loose munge and I now know this crag well enough to know that the good stuff is to the right. I am in level with the feature and I need to get above it and if possbile get around it. Calm down, shake out, chalk up, look. There it is - I can't believe it. An absolutely perfect traverse line a little up from my jug. Whoa, can this really be happening? I move up relatively easily and seat my right hand in the horisontal crag. Fine! I can do this. This is serious commitment time, no time for pro, just f*cking go for it and enjoy it. And this is excactly what I do and a few moments later I am at a good tree above the feature, and I happily throw a sling around the tree and shout "Standplads" to Fred which is some Danish way of saying "safe" and it's over.

The rock has steppened and I need to move and think fast

Finishing the climb

Fred leads through the next bit of vegetables growing on a steep arete. It is fairly easy climbing, again with active use for the vegetation for holds and protection. "Ten meters up, however, I feel really light-headed. We haven't had anything to eat all day, and at this point we are getting really tired making our way up the rock face. I am really dizzy and try to lower my head a bit, but cannot perched here on the rock. I have been known to faint before (mainly when needles are involved) so it doesn't look good... We quickly decide to lower me down and take ten minutes rest. Feeling better, I take off again, and finish the pitch. The top is full of vegetation again and I stop when I cannot move any further because of rope drag. Mathias joins soon afterwards." There are a few small bits of rock above but we decide to traverse right to find a way down. We rope up alpine style with 15 meters between us, and finally we are at the top. There is a gully going down to where we think the path is.

And then we were lost in the jungle.

... we wonder around some hidden rice fields for quite a while before we finally find the path down to the pools. We soak in the pools completely drenched in sweat and generally exhausted and very very hungry. We agree that we need to be more cautious on bringing food as this climate in particular really tears on the salt and sugar supplies.

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