One of the most freeing sensations in the world is to book a one-way flight to a country you’ve never been to and not knowing where you’ll end up in the process. I don’t rely on guidebooks anymore; other travelers and locals I meet along the way give me all the advice and inspiration I need. It’s all part of the adventure! After my six-week stint teaching English to young locals in Guatemala was complete, I decided to press on further down Central America by backpacking along a random route, going wherever my curious heart saw fit. The unplanned journeys usually have the best stories to tell.
My friend Luke and I took a six-hour shuttle van filled with a group of constantly coughing, elderly Korean passengers. If I fell ill later on, this would be the reason why. We successfully crossed the El Salvadorian border and drove to the Pacific coast, to a special place called Playa El Tunco. I heard it was one of the best places in this country and if so, I had to be there! We were dropped off at a hip hostel, with its perfect location, walking distance to the beach. We dropped off our bags and strolled down to the beach of slate gray sand and emerald blue waves. There were international surfers carving waves as the freakishly enormous sun slowly dipped beyond the horizon – I’ve never seen the sun appear so big.
The next day, I met another wandering backpacker by the name of Jaryd who is an Australian copy of myself: his traveling style is unorthodox, doesn’t always follow the rules, and doesn’t mind getting lost in the world. A little birdie told us there were some secret waterfalls nearby and we could hire a local to take us there on the cheap. We were game and hopped in the back of his blue pickup truck. Two backpackers from England and Norway joined us for the ride. It always amazes me how we all can leave our respective countries solo, but always come across the right people and never once feel alone.
We felt the sun beaming sun on us from the cloudless blue sky as we rode along the hills with surprisingly smooth roads. It took about an hour before we arrived in an isolated community, but it was here where we found the “yellow brick road” that led to the waterfalls, which according to our spanish speaking driver, were “hiding behind the hills.”
It was a piercing hot hike through a dry highland. Each step we took made a satisfying crunching sound from all the decaying leaves underneath our shoes. Winds blew up dust from levels beneath us into our faces. Occasionally, I’d find a spider or some other tiny critter on my leg from all the bushes we combed through. The sun was relentless and I enjoyed every moment of everything.
After thirty minutes or so, we arrived to the highest of a series of cascading waterfalls with bowls of water deep enough to jump in from a great height. That was all the inspiration I need. We fearlessly leaped from a cliff of seven meters into a pool of welcoming cool. Immediately after, there was another higher waterfall to hop in. And so we did, from about ten meters up! With a few leaps and a little more trudging down steep narrow cliffs, we made it to the bottom basin where all the water collected. We were the only ones there and we could do whatever we wanted.
Back near the beach, we explored more of the small town of El Tunco. Most of the stores and restaurants here were stupid cheap. Luke, Jaryd, and I each had a hamburger, fries, and a soda; a full meal for less than four American dollars. All of the restaurants were that way. I had a cheeseburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day. It’s my trip, I can wander where I want and eat what I want! Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as touristy as I thought it was going to be. The vibe was really chill and easy.
I stayed there for a few days playing in the ocean, climbing big rocks, and attempting to sneak into lavish hotel pools nearby with my mental clone Jaryd, pondering where I’d go next.
Nicaragua’s not too far away…