JD, Lago de Coatepeque, El Salvador
The clue should have been in the name. “Dondé es el parque nacional El Imposible?” we asked out the window for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. Never heard of it, it’s left, it’s right, it doesn’t exist, it’s back the way, it’s straight on. No-one knows. Even our maps had three different marked routes, none of which actually seemed to lead there. At one point a very drunk man crossed his arms and suggested we go in two directions at once, and then asked for money for his help – we almost followed his advice!
Having spent our first few sweaty hours in El Salvador with our new-found friends and fellow road-trippers Zach and Jill (yes, they’ve had all the jokes) looking for El Imposible, we gave up – temporarily. After driving in to a small ditch – unintentionally – we camped out together at a small coffee finca. Well, it said it was a coffee finca and a camping site on the sign – but when we knocked on the locked gate the man who answered told us they had no coffee and we couldn’t camp. Our powers of persuasion, coupled with our lost foreigner look, prevailed and before long we were set up and toasting our arrival in El Salvador with a well-deserved beer, while daring each other to brave the massive spiders in the toilets.
The next day got worse before it got better. More determined than ever, we set out again for El Imposible and met the same confused responses until finally we got two people to agree there was a way from the town we were in, Tacuba, but only in a 4×4. We don’t have one – but that hasn’t stopped us up to now and we followed Zach and Jill along a frightening but ultimately rewarding trail. Before long we were grinding up an impossibly steep cobblestone drive to a small bare patch of ground a family had invited us to camp on, next to their shop and the local church.
No sooner had we parked than we became the main attraction for not only the family but everyone for miles around, it seemed. Children, adults, dogs all wanted to peer into our vans, watch us cook, eat, set up the bed, chat and share the hottest afternoon and evening so far with us. We must have seemed very odd to them – playing cards and drinking a beer round our camping table in the middle of their football pitch, just one of a series of things that greatly amused them.
If they thought us odd they hid it well, and they could not have been more generous – providing us with camping space, security, water, bringing us chairs to sit on, creating some shade for us with sheets and then bringing us tortillas. We were then invited to take part in their Semana Santa procession. They had nothing but were willing to share it all.
And then, finally, El Imposible! Up at 5am to join our local guide, Clementino, for a punishing 11-mile hike. But wow. From the summit we had sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean in one direction and an exhilarating panorama of mountains and volcanos in the other. Suddenly all the hardships were worth it. Impossible? Huh. Seven hours later, with limbs aching, we had conquered it.
A quick al-fresco jungle shower and then on down the Ruta de las Flores to Juayua and the weekend food fair – which because of the elections had just finished. Bugger! But that wasn’t the end of our bad luck. With voting the next day the sale of alcohol was banned for 72 hours. It was a heavy price to pay for democracy and we retreated to our ‘campsite’ – a cul-de-sac at the edge of town – and with Zach and Jill set up our table and chairs in the street, literally, before finishing off the last couple of tepid beers and the remains of the warm white wine. For the next 48 hours we were reduced to putting triple sec in hot chocolate to get our kicks. What a desperate bunch.
With our limbs barely recovered we headed for Parque Nacional Los Volcanes and, after a beautiful and spectacular drive, camped in the national park and watched the sun set behind the perfectly formed crater cone of Volcan Izalco.
Donning the hiking boots once more we headed out to tackle the summit of neighbouring Volcan Santa Ana – an amazing walk up to the crater with incredible views across Lago de Coatepeque and right across to the mountains of Guatemala.
Talking of Guatemala, when we last posted we were still there – and now we’re not. So to recap. After saying farewell to Brian and Christine at the airport we headed to Valhalla – not literally the viking hell, but a picturesque macademia nut plantation on the outskirts of Antigua, where we spent two peaceful nights getting used to life in the van again before heading for the Atitlan nature reserve. Then it was back to Xela for a bit of work (and the chance to catch another football match) and then on to the coast – and the steamy beach town of Monterrico.
The drive there was uneventful enough until a few miles short of the town we reached the ferry port. I say ferry, what I mean is effectively a dug-out canoe-thing, a sort of raft with sides, onto which we had to drive the van and float – ok we had a tiny engine – but you get the idea. This was NOT, I repeat NOT a ferry. On the 30-minute journey through the mangroves it creaked, leaked and listed each time another boat passed. I’m sure our insurance company would have said “you did WHAT?” if something had happened.
But it didn’t, and we found yet another odd camping spot in the car park at Johnny’s Place – a beachside hotel and restaurant where we had the great fortune to bump into Zach and Jill. The odd part of it was we had camped in the sandy parking lot, right outside the manager’s cabin and wondered if we were being a bit too cheeky. The manager turned out to be Tony – a Glaswegian hippy who took to the road in the 60s and never quite made it home. After watching a fiery red sunset from the never-ending black sand beach it was easy to see why he chose Guatemala over the Gorbals.
And so back to the present – and future. We spent the past couple of nights, again with Zach and Jill, camped on the shore of Lago de Coatepeque – enjoying the amazing views, swimming, playing cards, laughing at each other’s strange expressions, putting the world to rights, celebrating the end of prohibition with a few (is 45 still a few? – ed.) cold beers and again becoming the centre of attention for curious locals. Zach even managed to be recruited to star in a commercial!
Yesterday we said our goodbyes (or we hope our ‘hasta luego(s)’) as we headed to Santa Ana and they to San Salvador. I’m sure the four of us will share a few more beers and strange adventures over the coming months. We hope so – they’ve been great travelling companions and kindred spirits.
For us, it’s time to meet up again with some old friends we haven’t seen for far, far too long – a shower and a washing machine. Hola, mucho gusto.
Things we now know to be true: Nothing is impossible
In case you missed the latest pics on Flickr, here they are again: Flickr pics: Xela, Guatemala