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.


  1. This was so much fun to read, John! It's not too often you get to zipline and buy a vintage Iron Man shirt in the same day.