Peering into the darkness ahead of us, our guide handed us a candle each and ushered us forwards. Kitted out in our swimming costumes, we had been told to expect darkness, various obstacles to climb and swimming…the latter intriguing us most considering we would be carrying a lit candle! It was a far cry from our previous week enjoying the Semana Santa celebrations in Antigua.
Inevitably the first into the caves, Laura and I faced total darkness as we made our way gingerly forwards. The candles we held illuminated the huge stalagmites and stalactites around us, giving us a fleeting glimpse of our path ahead.
To begin with it was easy, tiptoeing through ankle deep water as we negotiated the various obstacles en route. After a few minutes of tentative footsteps, the water quickly got deeper, first reaching our knees, then waists and finally we were up to our neck in water with our candles held high above us as we waded further into the darkness. This was brilliant!
And then the ledge came. One step further and suddenly there was no rock beneath us! Instantly my hand shot up to keep the candle out of the water, and I began treading water with the other. Ahead of me, perhaps 15 metres of so was a rocky outcrop. With no other option but to swim, we got going, finely achieving the balancing act of swimming with one hand in near darkness underground, whilst trying to keep a candle lit! Call this a holiday?
During our time in the caving system, we had to ascend rickety and slippy wooden rope ladders, crawl through narrow passageways whilst a torrent of water roared around our feet, and descend steep, slippy rock faces. All interspersed with aforementioned one handed, candle holding swimming! Some of it was too much for some, and they turned back.
After 45 minutes, we reached a dead end. In front of us, a deep pool of water surrounded by steep, slimy cavernous walls was illuminated in front of us by strategically placed candles. Our guide scaled one of the walls, until he was about 15 feet above us. And then he jumped.
Most of us didn’t see him jump, but heard the huge splash as he entered the pool in front of us. Popping up to the surface, he casually asked “who’s next?”. Having seen the difficulty he had in scaling the near vertical walls around the pool, I declared myself out straight away. So too was every other member of our group, save for one brave/foolhardy soul who decided to attempt the jump.
After watching him struggle to reach the ledge above us, I thought how crazy this was. We were 45 minutes from the entrance, with underground swimming to deal with and rope ladders to ascend and descend. What if he slipped? Gladly, after some difficulty, he made it to the ledge and jumped into the pool. Mission accomplished, we could make our way out of the caves now.
We followed the same route back, save for one minor change. Our final challenge was to drop ourselves through a small gap between two rocks where a waterfall poured down. This was unexpected, and caused consternation among many members of our group. When it came to my turn, I saw the challenge ahead. Essentially a small gap not much wider than my body was in front of me. A couple of metres below it I could see a pool of water, my (hopefully) final destination. Positioning myself over the gap, I lowered myself until I was hanging between the two rocks, my hands clinging to two outcrops protuding from them. And then I let go.
Before I knew it, I had slipped between the two sides of the gap, alongside the waterfall and was underwater in the pool below! Phew, I had made it. Laura followed after me without a fuss, nimbly slipping between the rocks and into the pool below as well!
All that was left was a short walk back to the entrance and the ceremonial blowing out of candles. In need of some relaxation after our adventure, we made our way along the river to the beautiful turquoise green pools of Semuc Champey!