Vacation Week: Fun in the Apaneca Mountains

My friend and sister of the soul, Deb, has died. We loved each other like family, shared lots of life adventures together, and talked nearly every day. Deb was a woman of great faith, a healer, a researcher, a teacher, an adventurer and a loyal friend who ended every call with "love you." She would not want a great fuss to be made about all the lives she saved, the families she helped, and the communities she educated. Deb, like her kind and generous family, live out the command to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God."

When the time comes, I will write about Deb, our adventures, and our mis-adventures, as I have occasionally done over the years. But right now, I think, I will continue the blog stories where I left off, with a travel diary from a week of vacationing in El Salvador with friends. While Deb does not appear in this episode directly, Deb is the one who first suggested we take delegations to Ataco. (Long story - because there is always a long story - back in the early years, Bob and Deb's Salvadoran goddaughter rented a car and drove them to Ataco so they could have some fun after a week of caring for people, and (important point here) she did not really know how to drive.)

Hey Deb, love you.

Quick Review:  Vacation Week Series
Episode 3:  Concepción de Ataco

Welcome to Episode 4:  Fun in the Apaneca Mountains

Ataco is well-located as a home base for exploring natural and touristic sites in the Apaneca Mountains. Because rain and clouds can come and go on short notice, especially during the rainy season, we ventured out into the natural settings when the sun was shining, and explored Ataco when the clouds rolled in. Flexibility and umbrellas are vital to enjoying the mountains in El Salvador. 

"Mirador" means lookout, and there are a few places to pull over and take
in the view as you drive through the Apaneca range. However, we found that
trees have grown to obscure the wide vistas, so, as long as you are not the driver,
it's worth the attempt to snap a few photos as you move along.

The Apaneca range is coffee country, so after the storm cleared, we made the short drive down highway CA8 from Ataco to Café & Restaurant Entre Nubes (which means "among clouds"). The staff was very welcoming. We stashed our backpacks at a table in the outdoor (covered) dining space so that we could freely hike around the gardens and through a small portion of the coffee grove. The flora and fauna were beautiful, and the coffee was soooooo delicious. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch (which we must have eaten quickly, because I did not even capture a photo).  Although we did not do the coffee tour, from our experience and from what I see on the Entre Nubes web site, I think it would be a worthwhile experience.

Photo op in the center of the Entre Nubes gardens

Flora  (photo credit: Tim Muth)

Fauna showing off

Fauna hiding in the foliage

Brightly colored flora, despite the cloudy skies  (photo credit: Tim Muth)

This photo does not adequately capture the variety of 
plants in the garden with their exquisite colors.

What are you looking for? Far, far away, you might
find revenge, arrogance, hatred, and misery, but very close by
within the garden, you will find love, honesty, peace, respect and loyalty.

And if you are looking for a lovely cup of coffee,
look no further.

After lunch, we drove to the Laberinto de Albania (Labyrinth of Albania), located on farmland at the edge  of the town of Apaneca.  The labyrinth is part of an extreme sports complex operated by Café Albania.  We did not really know what to expect, but that labyrinth was not easy to figure out! The parking lot is at the top of a hill, and the labyrinth experience begins with a long walk down, down, down through a trellis-tunnel covered in plants (including orchids which hang down into the tunnel). We all had to crouch to get through it, and just as we were wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, we were out in the open. Well, open to the sky. The maze walls are tall, fairly thick and mostly made of arborvitae, with flowering plants near the base of the trees. The goal is to find the center of the maze, to climb up to an observation platform and ring the bell.  Then you have to navigate your way back out again. We definitely should have carried more water! We really enjoyed the challenge and an afternoon of shared camaraderie with other labyrinth adventurers.  We did find the center. We did ring the bell. And we did need a tiny hint from a well-placed guide to make our way out.

A look into the plant tunnel that heads down into the labyrinth

Inside the labyrinth. The pathways all look the same. Paying attention
to the colorful plants helps just a little with navigation.

Strategizing: you go there, I'll go here and tell me what you see!

We took turns ringing the bell. Here's the view back down into the maze from
the center platform.

We were thirsty after nearly 2 hours in the maze, so we headed to the upper deck of the café for some ice cold beverages. It was super fun to watch folks slightly more adventurous than us fly down the zip line course and ride specially-designed bikes on the high-wires.

Time for some delicious frozens up in the cafe.

The cafe is a great spot from which to watch maze-walkers, zip-liners,
and high-wire bike riders.

There are so many opportunities in this little corner of El Salvador to explore natural sites, enjoy local foods and beverages, learn about the local culture, shop, and have adventurous fun.  

Concepción de Ataco is an endpoint of a tourism route called Ruta de las Flores (Route of the Flowers). In our next episode, we drive the route south to Nahuizalco.

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