Return to Central America - Winter 2011

Waterfall Jumping and Stupidity – Just Another Day in El Salvador

click photo to enlargeEl Cubo waterfall

I spent the majority of this past week in the town of Suchitoto, near the Honduran border of El Salvador. Suchitoto is famous for its art exhibits, its stunning views of Lake Suchitlan, and the surrounding waterfalls not too far from town. Earlier this week I took a trip to two of these waterfalls with the son-in-law of my couchsurfing host (Host #3 in El Salvador) acting as my guide.

The first fall we visited was Los Tersios, which is the most famous of the surrounding falls, known for its impressive rock formations. Unfortunately, the fall is dry for most of the year, including now, but I was still able to get some cool shots of the rocks, which I’ll post later. The second of the two falls was called El Cubo. This fall had plenty of water and made for a great area for swimming and waterfall jumping.


Upon arriving at the second fall (the one WITH water), I began to look around for a place where I could get a good shot of the waterfall. After quite an internal debate I realized I was going to have to get into the water with my camera and wade over to another area in order to get any sort of angle of the waterfall. I took off my shirt and sandals and emptied my pockets of anything that couldn’t get wet, and began my trek into the shallow parts of the water, heading towards my goal. I was seriously nervous about my camera. There were so many rocks that were coming loose beneath my feet, and all it would take is one big one for me to lose my balance and drop my camera in the water. It was at this moment that I coined what would become my motto for the day, “Screw it, I’ve got insurance.”

On top of this, the water was freezing. Each time I went a bit deeper I had to stop, make a ridiculous girly face, and talk myself into continuing. Eventually the water was mid thigh, and I was NOT looking forward to the next few steps that would eventually result in the submersion of some things that don’t do well in cold water. I toughed it up and kept going towards my destination, which ended up being waist deep water.

About this time I noticed tightness around my waist. Crap, are you kidding me? This bathing suit fit me perfect before I left, and I haven’t been drinking THAT much beer! Can I seriously be gaining weight? I reached down to adjust my drawstring with my free hand, and that’s when I realized it.

You have got to be FREAKING kidding me. The tightness I had felt wasn’t my bathing suit…. It was my money belt. Yea, my money belt, with most of my cash, my credit cards, all my itinerary info, written directions for a bus route, proof of insurance, and, worst of all, my passport. I had forgotten to take it off before I got in the water. My heart sank. My money belt came with a waterproof zip lock feature, but I had taken it out long ago because it was bulky, and hey, when the hell would I ever need that? All I could picture now was the ink from all of my entry and exit stamps running all over my passport and ruining it. I pulled off the belt and rushed back to shore to try and salvage what I could.

My money – Completely soaked… But money can dry, no big deal.

My credit cards – soaked, but that’s a pretty easy drying fix.

My itinerary and other documents – ruined, but these can all be reprinted.

And finally, I see my passport. Buried beneath everything else, and lying in a small pool of water, I can only imagine the worst-case scenario… I pull out my passport, with a few dollar bills stuck to it, and start to wipe off the outside. I open it, expecting the worst, and am so relieved to see that none of the pages were damaged at all! The dollar bills on the outside had soaked up most of the water that got that far into the pouch and the rest had remained on the plastic exterior or had just barely dampened the corners of pages! I was so relieved that my dumbass mistake hadn’t completely screwed me over.

But, I still had to jump off a waterfall.

Waterfall Jumping

After saving my passport and putting my camera safely back into my bag I asked my guide where we would be jumping. He motioned in the direction I had just come from, and pointed at the second fall from where we stood. “Ok, well what should I do with this” as I gestured to my bag. “It’s Ok!”, he replied. “Wait what?!?” I just saved my passport from destruction and now I’m just going to leave it sitting here on the bank of a river with my camera and bag too? After a few minutes of being reassured that it would be fine I went against my better judgment and started to swim away from my bag (maybe this should still be under the “Stupid” headline). I was continuously looking back at the bag and the area around it, looking for a sign of anyone at all, as if I’d be able to magically teleport back and stop a thief. We reached the first portion of climbing that would get us to a second pool and the second fall, and it was here I finally saw where we were headed.

“You have got to be kidding me.” I said. “I’m sorry man, there is no way I can jump off.” Now, I don’t want to seem like a wuss here. It wasn’t the jump that worried me; it was the mountain climbing expedition I was going to have to go on to get to the spot to jump. My guide quickly swam over and scaled the completely vertical wall using the dug out hand and foot holes (that were obviously made for children) to show me how easy it was. Yea… easy for him. I probably had 50 pounds and 4 or 5 shoe sizes on this guy, and could not possibly fit my feet into a vast majority of those holes.

Our solution was for him to climb behind me and to cup his hands for my feet whenever the holes were too small. I scaled the wall in record setting time (the record for slowest ever). When I reached the top, I took one last look at my bag to make sure it was still there. I surveyed the dark water trying to remember where I was supposed to jump to avoid any rocks, which enticed images of me impaling myself into my head. I snapped out of it, repeated my motto for the day, and jumped.

  1. adventureswithben

    I did some rock jumping in New Hampshire. Love it. It’s so old school. Tough to describe, but I guess it’s the simple pleasures, before there were water parks. Ya know?

    I also damaged my passport at Victoria Falls. It got drenched by the mist. The cover is curled, but it held up pretty good!

    1. Matt

      Oh man, mine didn’t get it that bad. If you look at it now you can’t even tell. I was just worried about all of that ink running everywhere…. Thanks for reading!

  2. Nick

    Haha, awesome story man. Hope you enjoyed El Salv. I really did.

    1. Matt

      I’m loving it! Should be on everyone’s travel list for 2011!!

  3. Migrationology

    It’s a good thing passports are made pretty tough. Mine has been through a few wet / abuse occasions and has remained pretty much in tact. Looks like a very fun place for some waterfall jumps!

  4. John in France

    You write well Matt. Now the main pages of passports are completely sealed, but I suppose the visa stamps aren’t, which wouldn’t be a good look at the El Salvador entry points. Then he jumped..

    1. Matt

      Thanks so much! I realized after that the main page was sealed (didn’t know as it was happening though), but yea, the passport stamps running was my main concern!

  5. inka

    That adventure, Matt, I call true dedication to travel writing. And there is a whole new use for dollar bills: towels. Good to know they saved your passport.

    1. Matt

      Thanks so much for the kind words Inka!

  6. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    I’m so glad to hear your passport made it through! When I was traveling through SE Asia, my passport kept getting wet in my money belt from me sweating. haha. So I had to keep it in a plastic bag when it was in my money belt. Good job for doing the jump! I love jumping off rocks!

    1. Matt

      Ah, you should get one of the money belts from REI. It isn’t made of cloth it is more of a plastic material. So sweat doesn’t really get through it, just entire pools of water 🙂

  7. Laurel

    I love your guides solution for getting you up the cliff by hanging onto your feet. I’ve traveled quite a bit in Central America but haven’t made it to El Savador. Hope to one day.

    1. Matt

      I definitely recommend it!

  8. Andrea

    Thank goodness your passport wasn’t damaged! It is so brave that you jumped…I don’t think I could do it. I’m definitely a wuss =)

  9. Jim

    Loved the story Matt.
    I gotta get to Central America one day…

    1. Matt

      I HIGHLY recommend it! HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it!

  10. Jade

    I was hoping nothing happened to the passport- awesome!!

    1. Matt

      Haha, glad you experienced the suspense that I went through!

  11. Cathy Sweeney

    Great story, Matt! I was on the edge of my seat right up to the dive. So, then what happened? Although I will never be a waterfall jumper, I really admire people like you who it.

    1. Matt

      To be fair it wasn’t a huge jump! But after the jump I swam like crazy back to the point where I could see my bag again, haha.

  12. Kyle Morgan

    I hate the feeling that you experienced when you realized you had soaked your money belt and everything important…its the same feeling as when you jump into a lake with your cell phone in your pocket, or you have something stolen from an obvious place. At least you had the adrenaline of the water fall jump to help get over the feeling quickly!

    1. Matt

      Ah man, exact same feeling! I remember being pushed in a pull once, knowing my phone was in my pocket. It all felt like slow motion as I tried to reach in and throw my phone towards the deck…. Didn’t work out…

  13. The Dropout

    I can’t believe you jumped!
    I used to be brave and crazy but as I get older I seem to focus on what could go wrong.
    I’m glad your passport survived too. My last one was very very battered and very very sweated on when I had to get it replaced because I’d run out of pages. I was allowed to keep my old passport when they issued the new one and I’m very proud of how banged up that passport is. Keep up the good work!

    1. Matt

      Well, I’d seen someone else do the jump, so I figured, “why not?” I’m glad I did it! I hope to one day have an old passport like yours that I can look back on. Mine is filling up quickly!

  14. Colleen Ladd

    You are simply the most enticing person I know! I love the motto you embodied that day with not only your belongings but yourself as well. I miss you so much and I sat with your girlfriend at the bar and spoke to her about your next leave to London. I told her we should have a going away party with all celtic things like car bombs, English crumpets, fish and chips… (I couldn’t think of any more English alcohol… I guess English and Irish beer?? I’m not sure we should heavily drink and eat fish and chips… just a bad hunch that is) But let me know your thoughts! Have fun today, wherever you find yourself and take a picture for me!

    1. Matt

      Colleen!! I miss you a ton too! Obviously you know I’m down for a party, I’ll look for any excuse to have a few with my friends! We’ll figure out the drink line up once I get home from this trip 🙂 I’ll talk to you soon!

  15. Mike

    Great little post. It must be amazing down there.

  16. Cal

    Wow. Great story. Sounds like a lot of fun. The jumping part that is.

    I know exactly what you are talking about when you leave your stuff behind and keep looking at it as if you can magically teleport back to stop the thief.

    That’s one of the hardest things when it comes to travel for me. Is leaving all your stuff behind.

    Sometimes you just have to let go.

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