Cave Diving in Semuc Champey, Guatemala

You don’t stay the same person you used to be once you dive from a rock, in the river, inside un-mapped caves, without any harness. Especially if this happens to be your first dive without wearing a life jacket.

The fleeting moments between after you are on top of the rocks and before you jump feel DNA altering. Your feet are not ready to leave the rocks, superglued. But your jittery soul has jumped ahead of you. You can sense these are life changing moments. All you can hear is the Romanesque, gladiator arena like cheering of the people standing at the bottom of the rock. “Jump – Jump – Jump”, the echo amplifies the war-cry, making it difficult to even listen to the deafening heartbeats of yours. You are unsure as to what should take precedence, discretion or valour. You choose to go ahead.

You take in lungful of air, not knowing weather this will be your last breath. And then you just plunge because you know if you think for a few more seconds, intelligence will take over bravery. Probably then you might never be even able to climb the rocks again. You don’t want that. You want this. Now. It feels alive, more than ever.

Next you realise you are mid-air. The bitter cold piercing your skin like a thousand needles searing through. Your whole body feels weightless and lifeless. This is how death might feel. The heartbeats have muted. No sensations on the skin anymore. You go deaf to the roar of “Jump – Jump – Jump”. Everything becomes a vacuum. The only thought now – head first or knee first. Doesn’t matter anymore, the life-giving splash of chilled water . Then the violent jolt resurrects all your senses. You are going down, down and further down. It’s actually hardly a few meters. But the time from when you took the last breath on top the rocks, to the moment your head buoyantly springs your head up from water to gasp for air – it feels forever. And then you start ascending. All you want to feel is air on your crown. You hear something again. People cheering, whistling, clapping. War cry.

You know you are not the same anymore. You are a warrior. You are alive.

The best trips ever are, when you don’t know where exactly you are going. The probability of weather it will be a disaster or a trip of a lifetime is 50-50. There is not much available to research if you google Semuc Champey. These are very little visual and verbal reference. When I was planning this trip, I hadn’t met anyone who had been here before. There were hardly any do’s and don’ts available. The natural limestone water rapids at Semuc Champey in Atla Verapaz, Guatemala have water going from turquoise to sky blue to crystal green. It make you rub your eyes in disbelief. It is undiscovered paradise nestled between thick fauna. Here are one of the most beautiful limestone rapids of the world. It is difficult to reach here. Just the sight makes all the pain of the journey to here vanish.

When someone refers to caves, hailing from Bhopal, India where one of the most ancient caves of the world exists (Bhimbetka), all you can imagine is archaeological sites with incomprehensible script on rocks with heliographic. However, when one steps in the caves of Lanquin it keeps getting darker, colder, narrower and scarier. The 11kms of undiscovered caves till 2006 are still being mapped. Swimming, walking, climbing up, diving down, crawling, holding on to the rocks as the force of water gets stronger and getting through narrow tunnels you reach a huge pool of water and then its “jump-jump-jump”. The exhilaration of it all, although you have bruised knees, broken toes, scratched hands and feet from the limestone stalagmites and stalactites, the body is sore with pain and cold, the calf muscles have become like the exterior around you – rock solid and heavy. You keep moving ahead giving in to these rock formations
Tired, tanned, bruised, exhausted, with a smile ear to ear that I know will last for a very long time, the sweet sleep perched on a wooden shack atop trees, this is a real tree house with no lights past sunset. Sunrise wakes you up at 05:30 in the morning with fog covered forest and musical river flowing 100 steps away. Back home to the urban bitch when you look in the mirror you know, you will never be the same again!

[This memoir has also been published as a travelogue in the bilingual magazine Que Pasa. Read the published article here.]

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