Tag Archives: Monterrico

Part Two: Mission Impossible?

15 Mar

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!

Camping at El Imposible

The guided tour of the van didn't take long...

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.

Camping at Lago de Coatepeque

Rooms with a view

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 Monterrico Ferry

Don't tell the insurance company about our ferry journey

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!

Cooking at Lago de Coatepeque

Whipping up a feast with Zach and Jill

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.

Days: 163
Miles: 7368.2
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

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Part One: Meet the Parents

6 Mar

PD, Monterrico, Guatemala

It’s been a month since we last blogged. We’re still in Guatemala, and mum and dad left last week after spending three weeks here with us. It was wonderful to see them. But one week into their visit we received some very bad family news, which knocked us for six. The trip took on a totally different hue, as our thoughts and worries were constantly turning to home.

We decided then not to write anything for a while, and so, to catch up a bit, this next post will be in two parts within a few days.

Once it was clear we were going to continue with the holiday as planned, we did everything we could to make the most of our time together, and of mum and dad’s first visit to Guatemala. We’re pretty sure they liked it! Although we stayed in hotels and rented houses while they were here, they got a bit of a taste of our life on the road as we drove around the country from place to place.

Brian and Christine on the boat across Lake Atitlan

Mum and dad on a trip to the supermarket, Lago de Atitlan


One thing’s for sure – it was sometimes a bit weird to see our daily life through their eyes. Now, we are well aware that the roads are fraught with hazards like dogs in the road, kamikaze bus and truck drivers, interesting over-taking manoeuvres, and car-wrecking elements like unfeasibly large potholes and vicious speedbumps. But somehow it looks even worse when you’ve got your mum and dad bouncing around in the back, occasionally covering their eyes and not infrequently mouthing exclamations.

I think I mentioned that my dad is a bit fastidious about cars – he likes them to be looked after. With that in mind, he actually showed remarkable restraint by not swearing at every speed bump we encountered. Likewise, it took him a whole week to finally crack and wash the windows. He’s so zen these days.

We demonstrated that the van can cope with tight spots, by inching through packed marketplaces in Coban, Santa Elena and Rio Dulce. And we showed our navigational skills to the full by, er, deliberately getting lost in Guatemala City – twice – and then rescuing the situation just when things looked hopeless. Well done us.

We were extremely keen to make sure the trip passed off without incident. There’s no denying that Guatemala has its share of road accidents and crime. And most visitors come a cropper at some stage with the food or water. Knowing they would be returning to a stressful situation at home seemed to make this all the more important.

But we didn’t want it to be safe in a dull way. So we got on the ancient-looking canoe and let the 14-year-old ‘captain’ row us down a canyon. We walked round the un-visited part of Livingstone with a bloke we’d just met on the street. We spent an afternoon on a yacht in the nautical hands of an American bloke who’d clearly had more beers than was healthy. Worse still, we sank a few cervezas ourselves and then he let us steer.

The sublime view from our balcony, Lago de Atitlan

And we took the long way round to the far north of Guatemala so we could see a different part of life from the touristy spots, at one point driving the van onto a rusty car ‘ferry’ to cross a river en route to Coban.

And after that two-day journey we made it to the Mayan ruins at Tikal in the northern Peten jungle. Wandering the ruins and the area around our hotel we saw spider monkeys, coatis, toucans, oscellated turkeys, and many other birds I cannot name but which were captured on film by dad, a keen photographer, particularly of wildlife. The howler monkeys were more elusive but made enough noise to confirm they were there.

Because we like to make life challenging, both houses we rented, at Rio Dulce and at Lake Atitlan, were only accessible by boat. So we dumped the van on dry land and hauled our stuff – including most of the contents of our little kitchen – onto little lanchas to get there. Every time we had to go shopping it meant a river or lake trip to town. But for any hassle involved we were rewarded with yet more abundant wildlife and great scenery. And some bloody enormous insects. There was one flying beetle so terrifying large, it made the same lumbering movement and sound as a Chinook helicopter on take-off.

In hot and steamy Rio Dulce we had a rustic wooden house on stilts, with a boardwalk leading to a little bar and restaurant. The ‘hotel’ was really near the town, but a boat was still needed to get there. After our shopping we had to wave or shout in order to get a lift back. Our reserved calling wasn’t enough though, so we employed the talents of a local boatmen who hollered like Tarzan to get the attention of our place’s boat driver and fixer-of-everything, Luis.

Luis was just one of many great people we met. We were glad mum and dad found the Guatemalan people to be among the most friendly they’d encountered. It was nice they could see for themselves that we’re in a great part of the world.

In Atitlan, for our final week, we found absolute tranquillity. Even the scorpion on the ceiling wasn’t enough to put us off the place, an amazing villa high above the lake near Santa Cruz La Laguna. Our balcony looked directly onto two perfect cone-shaped volcanos on the other side of Atitlan, set against a blue sky with the occasional cotton-wool puff of cloud clinging to the tops.

Mum at Rio Dulce

Mum on one of the decks at our Rio Dulce river house


In both places mum revelled in the plants and flowers, while dad – for the most part – resembled a jack-in-the-box. He’d try to sit and relax, and then a hummingbird or bright blue butterfly would flutter by and off he’d trot with the camera.

While there they, and we, also got the chance to meet some other Latin America road-trippers. Via the website Drive the Americas we’d discovered others who were doing a similar trip to us were all studying Spanish at a school in another village in Atitlan. We met for beers and swapped a few stories, and hope to meet again along the road.

Saying goodbye to mum and dad at the airport was even more difficult than it would have been under normal circumstances. But we’ll be home in September for my 40th birthday. A good friend, Sally, whose sister lives in Australia, once told me that because it’s really hard being apart from your loved ones, what’s really important is that every time you say goodbye you should already have plans for the next time you’ll see each other. It was great advice.

More pics soon, but in case you missed this batch from Chiapas, here they are again – Flickr set: Chiapas (Mexico)

Days: 155
Miles: 7148.2
Things we now know to be true: Everything can change.