Roadtripping is admittedly not the greatest thing for the environment. However, it is a great way to see parts of the world that you wouldn’t normally see on other forms of transportation at about the same price and without the all-consuming, unregulated diesel fumes commonly associated with Chicken Buses. I spent this week driving from Guatemala to Nicaragua (and back!) with Emily-Kate and our friends Julia and Elizabeth. After arriving from New York City and a farm in North Carolina respectively, Julia and Elizabeth were ready to cross borders and feel the dusty and warm Central American air in their hair. We also decided it would be a great anecdote to the end of the rainy season in Guatemala and scheduled our trip around driving to the beach in northern Nicaragua where we’d drop off Elizabeth at a surf hotel.
All four of us, plus our traveling dog Chispa, crammed into the car and made our way across the Central American countries that call themselves the CA-4 (The Central American 4 is a border control agreement between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua that supposedly allows for easy travel to and from these countries for nationals and foreigners).
To enter and exit countries is time consuming and confusing (the supposed streamlined process is really not so), but certainly easier than how many people from Central America enter the United States. All in all, we paid about $20 in bribes (not counting $28 for transporting our dog Chispa in and out of Honduras) and only had one strange man hang onto the back of our car in the guise of “helping us out.” It was truly an adventure, and I’ve come back to Guatemala feeling inspired to live the next two and a half months here.
On the last night of our journey, Julia and Emily-Kate and I decided to stop in a mountainous National Park of El Salvador close to the Guatemalan border called the Impossible Forest (or El Bosque Imposible in Spanish). According to our guide book (and later confirmed by the hostel), the area was so named for the treacherous mountain pass that farmers had to cross in order to sell their crops. We’d read about EcoHostel El Imposible in our Central American guide and called the hostel to see if they were still in business. No one answered. In typical road trip mentality, we decided to test our luck and took an hour to drive the 13.5 kilometers to reach the entrance of the Impossible Forest. Thankfully, thankfully–we were travel worn, hungry, and a downpour had just begun–we were greeted with warm smiles, cold beers, and a few pupusas (El Salvador’s staple food which is fried tortilla filled with cheese and beans and sometimes meat and other vegetables) at the EcoHostel El Imposible just a few minutes walk from the park’s entrance.
Eager to learn more about the history of the hostel, one of the members of the community organization that runs the hostel filled us in. The hostel begun in 2004 from an initiative started by the Spanish Cooperative (an arm of the Spanish Embassy) to bring responsible tourism to the area. From the start of the hostel until this past August, the Spanish Cooperative was in charge of operations. Now, after eight years of training, the hostel is owned and operated by a local community development organization and all of the money the hostel receives goes directly to the group. There are reasonably priced beautiful cabañas that can fit up to six people with an outdoor sitting area complete with comfortable chairs and a hammock. Down a long, winding, and slippery staircase, there’s a natural pool picturesquely set in the lush border to the Impossible Forest. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The afternoon we arrived, we quickly realized we had very little cash (El Salvador operates in US dollars) and the nearest ATM was in the border town about two hours away. Thanks to the charming Salvadoran way, both the National Park and the hostel worked with us with the cash that we had. We were welcomed into the Impossible Forest by an older Salvadoran park ranger named Eliberto, or Eli for short. Since we didn’t have any money for a guide, he very kindly led us through the land that he has protected everyday from 7am to 3pm for the past twenty years. Occasionally, he gets called in for “emergencies,” which are most commonly people extracting fire wood from the land. Along one of the trails through the park, he stopped to tell us about the different flora and fauna that was present in the park, letting us smell different plant leaves along the way (only the nice-smelling ones). Prior to being a park ranger, Eli worked for a botanical garden for ten years, but the details beyond that get a bit blurry because at that point in the conversation we were hiking in a torrential downpour.
We reached the mirador–the point of the trail that we had chosen–and could only see white (please see above picture). We were in the middle of the clouds in a pretty significant storm. I couldn’t hear anything except the white noise of the rain, which was a pleasantly refreshing break from the constant music on our road trip. I wanted to ask Eli how he chose his profession, because it seemed to fit him perfectly. I also wanted to ask him if he fought in the country’s civil war, and to learn more about his family. I did learn that his daughter is the manager of the Ecohostel El Imposible. All in all, I’m very glad we made it to the hostel; despite the rain, it seemed a wonderful example of how a community with boundless natural resources can benefit from tourism.
Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.