We crossed into El Salvador and decided to head straight up a mountain, El Imposible! With a name like that, how could you knot want to conquer it! We headed up, and up into the cloudy covered tree tops. Stunning scenery and small towns along a decently paved road. Based on some reviews of the park (like this one by DIY Travel), I was looking forward to some forest walks with Indigo. Something we used to do back in Vancouver and loved.
Well, the best made plans of mice and men right? Nothing went as planned. It was soggy with mud everywhere, and where there was grass, it was up to our knees…and wet. We found a semi-dry spot next to the chain fence and observation tower. The bugs were vicious, and small enough to get in through our camper’s screened windows. The bathrooms were down a slippery path further into the jungle, and there was no way I was ever going to walk that path at night, so drinking a glass of wine while stuck inside was not an option to pass the time there. Needless to say, we were the only ones there….duh, rainy season!
We decided to leave the next day, but I wanted to try and salvage something after driving so far and high into the mountains. I insisted on a short trek. We picked up a walking sticks from the pile by the trailhead that was fenced off (should have been a hint no?). The trek was a bleak experience. Slippery trail, whining kid, whining husband, wet and dark, and me pretending we were having a great time. We returned the walking sticks to the pile, thankful we had something that prevented us from twisted ankles, and returned to the truck.
But, there are always silver linings, right? There was a small museum there, and Indigo enjoyed touching dead stuffed animals. And we saw hundreds of beautiful butterflies.
We ended up at the beach town of El Tunco next. In hindsight, we thankfully didn’t fit under the entrance gate in at the El Zonte campground we initially targeted, because we heard of the all-night raves that last until 7am from Steffi and Dnaiel that did fit that day. We found Tortuga Surf Lodge instead, a nice place right on the beach with a pool, and nice grounds. We let the ClunkMonkey family know we landed in a decent place and invited them to join. We knew they had to leave Antigua, as the local authorities were prohibiting overlanders from parking on the street outside Hostal Antigueno, and the police station that used to house overlanders for free, also closed its doors. No worries for future travellers….things are back to normal again and both locations are open and available!
Now this area is known for it’s good surf, and to get to that good surf you have to swim out past a very rocky beach. There wasn’t a speck of sand to be seen making contact with the sea. So, we instead hung out around the the pool and decided to wait for Steffi and Daniel of Wir-Sind-Dann-Mal-Weg to arrive from their raving campsite. Daniel surfs, so perhaps we’d get to watch someone we actually knew get past the rocks and into the water.
Both Steffi and Daniel and the Foleys eventually arrived in El Tunco. We hung out at the Foley’s campsite a lot waiting for the rains to pass. There were baby chicks and hammocks to help us pass the time.
I didn’t think the rocky beach would be enjoyable for us here, but I forget that I am not a kid. The rocks were holding Kaila and Indigo’s interest just fine. And Wyatt and Carson made a game of hitting pieces of wood floating down the adjacent river with the smaller stones. Kaila decided to build a dam across the river, and Malia, Indigo, and I decided to pitch in. It was hard and sweaty work, so of course Indigo had to strip down as always into his underwear. The tide never did let us finish our work, but we got pretty close to reaching the other side of the river.
We enjoyed the small town of El Tunco, and splurged on some meals out and ice cream. There were quite a few bathing suit shops that Okan successfully kept me from entering. I think I’m up to 7 suits now, none of which fit me the way I’d like, so I’m still always on the lookout. Indigo resumed dog walking with the Foley’s dog Max, who was starting to get used to Indigo…a bit.
For the first time, we decided as a group to move on down the road. We’d never traveled with another family before, so this was new to us, and required us to actually look at maps together and decide in advance where we were going, and stick to that decision. I must admit I liked this extra bit of communication about the future.
Malia had her sites on Tortuga Verde in El Cuco, as they have volunteering opportunities and she’s always on the lookout for her brood of 3 kids to get involved in the community. So off we headed, happy to have a purpose.
The volunteers of Tortuga Verde are actually sent down the beach a short distance to Rancho El Pelicano at playa El Esterón, where they are housed away from the paying guests. The place suited us just fine! Lots of space, a wide expanse of beach, and friendly volunteers. We settled in nicely with the ClunkMonkeys and Steffi and Daniel and started our Antigua style living again, just at a beach instead of the city this time. Travellers we had previously met in Belize even rolled up in the big white bus. Steffi and Daniel would soon head off to Honduras, the white bus crew moved on as well, and ClunkMonkey and DrivenToWander sat still for a quite a while longer.
After breakfast in our new location, our crew walked down the beach to Tortuga Verde to see what they had in store for us. It was raking, raking, and more raking. Okan was a man obsessed and raked everywhere, he should have gotten an award for most dedicated volunteer of the day.
We returned back to the volunteer’s campsite and did a lot of this….sitting, and staring out into sea. Talking, sitting, staring…repeat. Although the Malia and the kids would volunteer every day, earning them free rent. We decided we’d pay the $5/day and give raking a rest.
But right in the way of our otherwise beautiful view, was a rather trashy beach. It was really disheartening to see so much plastic strewn everywhere. Water is sold in personal sized small plastic bags instead of plastic bottles, and these bags get blown everywhere, in the brush and trees, out to sea, and also deep under the sand.
One day though, Okan quietly went out to our trashy beach with a huge garbage bag and started collecting…every morning, day after day. Indigo and I started to join him, and it became a daily ritual for all of us. Indigo got a great lesson in how garbage hurts the local animals and marine life.
A local man visiting on the weekend saw Okan out there collecting in the heat, and perhaps noticed the beach was now considerably cleaner then on weekends past. He came out and thanked Okan personally for the work he was doing. That felt nice. A couple days later a school group came and worked some more on the beach. Did we start a trend? Once we got a huge swath (our view) completely cleaned…we were not the only ones to enjoy the fruits of our labor. A local couple had their wedding on the beach right where we were staying…glad we could help.
As a nice perk, volunteers got free surf rentals. Not sure if lessons were included, but our crew had a group lesson. Indigo, still requiring his eyes be wiped by a dry towel after every splash of water, was not old enough to partake, but he was happily watching and waiting for his playmates to return from the surf.
We instead followed the resident Pelican around Tortuga Verde with one of his new friends. The Pelican has one wing damaged and is basically a mascot for the resort. He had quite the personality. With every new interaction, my love of Pelicans just gets stronger and stronger. We heard another injured Pelican showed up at the resort, and when the new Pelican got well and thought about leaving, this guy physically blocked her exit. I guess even when a bunch of humans pay enormous attention to you ever day, a Pelican just sometimes wants to hang with another Pelican.
Tired of sitting about all day, the boys started doing crossfit routines. Okan would decide on the workout of the day, and off they’d go. They were very dedicated….for about 4 days!
One of the things we loved the most in El Salvador was the skyline, the storms, and the beauty of the coast (beyond those patches of trashy beach line). One evening the Tim and Okan brought out their cameras and sat for hours trying to capture an amazing thunderstorm. All the kids eventually woke, and we all stood there in awe. At one point, you could see a partial sky full of stars, at the same time the other portion of the sky was dark with storm clouds and being lit up by huge bolts of lightening. A sight we will never forget, along with the sensations and vibrations of the thunder.
To fill up our rather lazy days, we added a slack line and some yoga to our routines. Group meals sometimes meant shopping for food together, including picking out our own fresh fish from the back of a guy’s pickup truck. Life was good.
Indigo picked up some gooey eyed sickness along the way. The gobs of goo in his eyes were so florescent yellowish green, they were obviously picture worthy to me. When he first would catch something, we would worry a bit what it was, and what if we needed a doctor. Our worries have lessoned, and we just sit back and observe, and luckily he (and us too!) have always weathered whatever ails us well. We just pay a little more attention to what we’re eating, getting rest, and of course washing our hands a lot more.
When looking back on El Salvador, I kept asking Okan about places I thought we had visited while there, and he’d always say “no, that was in Nicaragua” to just about everything. Could we really only stayed in 3 places in the whole country, and most of that time at one beach!? We didn’t slide down volcanos on sleds or sand boards, hike up the mountains, or see the cities.
Instead we hugged the coast, relaxed in the sun, and lived quite well during our time there. There would be more volcanos (in Nicaragua) and more cities (well, no so many of those) in our future. El Salvador will always stand out for us because of our serene life at the beach.
When it was time to say goodbye, we again made the decision as a group and headed for the border. Although we are extremely confident about border crossings these days, there was something comforting about recognizing the tags on the car in front of us, as we crossed the El Salvador border into Honduras.