Mar 152012

Our plan to make it to Parque Nacional El Imposible before dark seemed reasonable enough.  Distance-wise, it wasn’t far and the border crossing into El Salvador went smoothly, leaving us plenty of daylight for the trek.  Between the four of us we had three maps and a handheld GPS.  The fact that the road to El Imposible was in a slightly different location on each map didn’t phase us at all.  It wouldn’t be the first time we used a less than mediocre map (or, no map at all) to navigate Central American roads.  We’re experts, we thought.  Besides, even if we got lost we had twelve weeks of Spanish class between us – we could easily use our new skills to ask for directions from the locals.  

With Paula and Jeremy leading the way, we confidently began our journey into the sixth country of the trip.  El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and the most densely populated.  We had heard from our friend Alex that we’d be visiting during the hottest time of the year and she wasn’t kidding.  The road we were looking for would lead us east, from the sweltering coast into the equally sweltering mountains of El Imposible.

Fast forward several hours and countless interactions with locals later – some seemingly in the know, others clearly not and a few clearly drunk – we were still nowhere near our destination.  Sometime earlier we had missed that road leading to the main park entrance and had decided that, rather than backtrack, we’d go around the mountain range and enter the park from the less popular entrance to the north.  Though our maps showed a clear road from the north, the closer we got the more elusive this road became and the more we heard “es imposible.”  Originally named for the perilous gorge that claimed the lives of farmers and pack mules transporting coffee to the Pacific port, “Parque Nacional El Imposible” seemed as worthy a name now as ever.

With daylight fading fast and little idea if we were even close to the park entrance, we decided to cut our losses and settle in for the night on a local coffee finca whose owners, after some persuasion, let us set up camp for the night.  We nursed the day’s failure over cold beers and burgers with our new friends.  Tomorrow, we’d reevaluate.

The next morning we woke to discover our resolve for finding Parque Imposible had not wavered.  We set out early and soon arrived in the small town of Tacuba, the closest town to the north entrance according to our “maps.”  A bit of asking around put us in the same position as the day before: some claimed to have never heard of the park, others said the road in was no longer accessible, and others were quick to give detailed directions on exactly how to get there.  Far too committed to turn back now, we decided to follow the directions to a 4×4 road that would supposedly lead us into the park.  When the road went from bad to worse, it was decided that Zach and I would go ahead to see if we could get to the entrance.  Not long after, the harrowing drive up a very steep and dusty road ended abruptly at a construction roadblock.  A quick conversation with workers told us that this was in fact the road into the park, but that it was no longer possible to drive in due to construction – construction we would later learn had been going on for years with no end in sight.  The only way in now was by foot, a several mile hike up the steep, dusty road.

Determination, focus, absolute stubbornness…call it what you like, but we weren’t about to give up now, not after all we’d done to get here.  A quick consultation with our friends and we were in an agreement that we’d hike into the park early the next morning, as it was already far too hot to start the hike that day.

Our next mission was to find a spot to set up for the day and try to escape the heat.  Zach and I headed back up the steep road to scope out potential campsites.  About a mile in, we noticed a large empty lot across the road from a church that was located at the top of a steep driveway.  We walked up in search of someone to speak with about camping on the lot and were soon greeted by a friendly girl of around 17.  Yolanda immediately welcomed us into her humble home and introduced us to her parents.  When we explained that we wanted to camp across the street for the night, Alberto, her father, insisted that we stay on his property instead.  We’d be safer and more comfortable there.   Are you sure we won’t be a bother?  We asked this question repeatedly and he only grew more insistent with each response.   Alberto was caretaker of the small church that shared space with his family’s home.  The driveway was small but had just enough space for our two vehicles.

El Imposible

Our home for two days thanks to Alberto and his family

(Photo courtesy of Paula and Jeremy)

The offer of space on their property was just the beginning of the generosity we would see from this family: water, chairs, blankets to block the sun, a bathroom and outdoor jungle shower, hand-made tortillas.  They were friendly and above all curious about what this group of gringos was doing in such a remote village in El Salvador.  As we were setting up camp, Alberto informed us that the entire village would be holding a procession that evening for Semana Santa and invited us to join along.  Oh, and by the way, he said, the procession was to end not five feet from our parked vehicles, at the village church.

Our time spent with this family in the mountains of El Salvador remains a highlight of the trip for me, reaffirming the belief that the best and most authentic experiences cannot be planned.  If you are patient and flexible, every setback is an opportunity.


El Imposible

Alberto and his wife had three children.  Here we are showing them photos from our trip

(Photo courtesy of Paula and Jeremy)