Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Juayua Food Fair and the Apenca Zipline Canopy Tour

El Salvador is a beautiful country, populated by friendly and honest people (mostly), and is a burgeoning tourist destination. Museums and galleries, great restaurants and street food, clubs and bars, shopping be it in the cheap and dodgy el centro or the high end malls, golf courses, surfing beaches, national parks with their waterfalls, and picturesque towns such as Juayua and Suchitoto. There is one excursion or day trip that I can really recommend.

Some girls bugging me at the food fair

We drove an hour west of San Salvador through Sonsonate and up the Ruta de los Flores to the small town of Apaneca. They have a food fair every weekend with dozens of food stands serving everything from seviche and black clams to all sorts of grilled meats to frozen desserts. There is usually some good live music (I have seen/heard the most amazing Bee Gees cover band there) and a market selling touristy stuff and cheap clothes.

Jake eating his paella
We got a tasty assortment of foods including smoked ribs, seafood paella, grilled shrimps, and fresh tortillas washed down with cold beers. Then some frozen strawberries, bananas and watermelon dipped in chocolate.
Jenna enoying her dessert

We had some time to kill so we walked around the markets and bought some souvenirs. There were a couple of places selling woven goods from Guatemala and one guy insisted that his prices were cheaper than in Antigua. It could only be true if the stuff was from China .... which maybe it was. We did find one guy with some big hoppers full of T-shirts. I found a great old school Run DMC shirt and Jeff got a great vintage look Iron Man and Jake got a Spiderman T-shirt. And they were a buck each. I shit you not.

Kath souvenir hunting in Juayua

Then back into the car for the short drive to Apaneca ... a small town with not much going for it but beside a mountain with lots of coffee growing on it. We were the first there - they go out 3-4 times a day so you should call ahead to make reservations - so just hung out for a bit before piling into the back of a truck transporter with a bunch of the guys. It seemed like there were 12 clients and about an equal number of workers.

.Jeff hoping we don't drive off a cliff before getting to the zip-line

The drive up the hill was pretty bumpy and steep and we went through some locked gates into a coffee finca. Then to a staging area with a great view where we got geared up with harnesses, leather palmed work gloves, and hard hats.

Gearing up

Now The Apaneca Canopy Tours charges $30 per person - a price I found somewhat high in a country where a common wage is $10 a day. I wondered if the owner was gouging the tourists but after going through it, I think the price is fine. The infrastructure of hooking up a dozen steel cables along with platforms built onto trees often 40' in the air and then having the trucks and the workers all adds up.

On the practise lines ... Kath landing and MJ taking off

We climbed up to the first zip-line which was only about 10' off the ground and maybe 25' long. There were several of these little runs to get you used to the harness and braking, Then you get to the top of the main hill ... and holy crap! Over 400' above the ground and about 900' long. A Mexican girl in front of me asked the guide "if I fall, will I die?" and he, of course, said "No" and she was off into space.

When I got there, I pushed out and managed to manouevre with one hand while I filmed the run with the other. It was an amazing experience but ended too quickly

The reason why there were so many workers is that they have to man each of the platforms and they descend with the group. They would hook on and then throw themselves out into space, usually kicking off from a post or a bannister to give them more speed. Half way down, I told one of the guys that he had a great job and I wanted to join up. He gave me a "meh" look and I asked him if the pay was bad and he said it was really bad.

Yes, that is MJ screaming

Everyone had a great time and the scared Mexican girl got over her fears pretty quickly and was soon jumping off the platform.

Jenna hanging in space!

They give you some instructions on how to slide down with your hand breaking behind you. They have a series of signals to speed up, slow down, or to brake hard but they have a braking system at the end of the long lines in case you can’t stop yourself. I realized that I could come in at pretty much full speed and they would stop you without any problems.

Me filming the first run

As for safety, they were really excellent. Whenever you were on a platform, be it 3' or 50' in the air, you were always always hooked up to something. As you lined up to get launched, you would be on a safety line and then only when you were hooked up to the main zip line would they take off the secondary safety line.

Through the coffee plants near the bottom

They leave from Apaneca at 9:30, 11:30, 2 and 4 but call them at 2433-0554 to confirm the day and time since they can move around with the seasons. They provide water during the zipping and they photograph everyone going across the highest line ... although they charge an egregious amount for the hardcopy photo and an even more ridiculous price for a disc with the photos. It seemed overly greedy especially when they were only charging a dollar for a beer. We treated all the workers to a beer since it was the last run of the day for them.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Antigua Guatemala Part II

Wedding photos on the streets of Antigua Guatemala
Phew! Relaxing after a busy few weeks with the Combees visiting from Owen Sound, Ontario and the Semana Santa (Easter) weekend. Highlights of the week included another trip to Antigua, lunch at the Juayua food fair followed by zip-lining with Canopy Tours in Apaneca, and a few days at a beach house in Tunco.
The church at the parque central from the balcony of a public building

We piled into the Honda Pilot and headed to the Guatemala border. They seemed to have changed the rules because now we all have to get out of the car on both sides of the border. A few weeks earlier, only I had to get out with the passports. I complained to the desk guy and then spoke with the supervisor who said it was an interim program and they were going to streamline it soon. I was a bit pissed off that we all had to get out of the car and go inside while we saw several cars just drive through.

Crossing the border into Guatemala

There was more construction this time but we weren’t delayed very long. Going through Guatemala City, we stopped at the Pricesmart to look for stuff not available in El Salvador and then a Toyota dealership to look for car parts for a friend. Then down the mountain into Antigua. I had booked my friends into a nice little hotel http://www.hotelentrevolcanes.com/index.php which was right in front of the market. Nice place (although you may want to avoid the rooms overlooking the streets since it can get noisy in the morning) and great staff. Whenever we had to ask for something, the answer was always "yes". From staying out late to smoking cigars in the garden to checking out really late to leaving my car in their lot to having extra people for breakfast, they were always completely accommodating.

First floor of the Hotel Entre Volcanes

We met up with our friend Sandy who had been studying at the Christian Spanish Academy (not particularly religious but very professional) and doing a homestay. Hotels in Antigua are quite pricey at about $70 + per night but the homestays are really cheap - around $120 per week which includes all meals.


We did the usual ... shopping in the market for clothes for the kids, white belts, woven goods. Ate at the restaurant in front of the market (Restarante de los Antiguenos?) which has really good and inexpensive local favourites. I had the white bean stew with tortillas ... and a giant Gallo beer.

I stashed my stuff at Michael’s place and we went for a walk. He has been there for about a year now and knows a lot of interesting people and places. We stopped at a tiny but very cool looking restaurant called Hector’s in front of the Merced church which was preparing for a private party ... will have to eat there next time but it may be hard to find since they don’t have a sign. Then we dropped into the Jungle Party Hostal to chat with Monica, the Salvadoran owner of the place. She set up the first hostal in Guatmala ten years ago and now has a very successful and popular place. She was planning on heading back to El Salvador the next day so we decided that she would come with us. We left El Salvador with 5 people and were returning with 7. Check out her place at http://www.junglepartyhostal.com/

Michael recommended we go to La Pena de Sol Latina for dinner. The place is around the corner from the hotel and he is friends with Bill and Mary, a semi-retired American couple who have built a charming and cozy restaurant with a tasty and very inexpensive menu. Their signature drink is a delicious coconut lemonade. Bill is a former session musician who played for years in Memphis (with the likes of Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins) and even raced in Nascar for a while. Now he plays with a local band that fronts Peruvian pan flutes. They also sell these amazing hand made candle screens with colourful and whimsical inserts (Kath bought one with pieces of a coke bottle built in) with the monies going to charity. Check them out at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=43415256326

The Combee/McKerihens and Sandy at the arch

So after the show and many drinks, I went back to the Hotel to smoke a cigar with Jeff. It was pretty chilly by then but we had hot coffee with rum to keep us warm. Then headed back to crash again on Michael’s couch.

A new market popped up on the site of some church ruins

The next morning, we had planned on getting an early start but between shopping and meeting up with Sandy and Monica and having lunch, we didn’t get away until about 3:00 pm. Boy, just in time for very heavy rush hour traffic and major construction delays. We should have taken the coastal route but, instead, took the north route and there was one stretch which was down to one lane and where we were basically parked for 30 minutes. Then I took the wrong road and then we dropped Monica at her Dad’s place in Santa Ana ... and finally got home about 6 hours later! Oh, we all had to get out of the car, again, on both sides of the border. Then we were stopped by cops twice to look through the car. I asked if they were targeting Canadian tourists and one cop said it was just a routine and random search.

I think I’ll be heading back in a few weeks. Deb is coming for a visit from Owen Sound and she wants to check out Antigua. There are so many interesting places to see and restaurants to eat at that the place never gets boring. I want to check out Hector’s with Michael.