Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Part 2: An Adventurous Day in Avalon, Catalina Island - Going on the Zipline Eco Tour

We had been preparing for this day - with two adventurous activities scheduled, we were psyching ourselves that we could do these. The first on the agenda was the Zipline Eco Tour. My friend - Jaye,  and I, both, have a fear of heights. But, I was daring myself to do this, and I had to encourage Jaye to join me to do it, too.

The requirements to take this tour were to want to have an adventurous experience and to wear tight-fitting clothes and closed shoes that would not fall to the ground. I brought  my gym clothes and athletic shoes. Somehow, Jaye forgot her socks and shoes. But that was not a problem - she bought a pair of socks and she was able to rent the shoes.

We had to figure out how to get there. We were assured by the hotel's front-desk personnel that it was about a twenty-five minute walk via the Descanso Beach Cove. Since we had not been there, we left much earlier and gave ourselves some extra time to get lost and to do more sightseeing.

Starting off on Crescent St., we headed to to our destination. We were passing more shops and places to eat. I was keeping my eyes open for unique things, along the way.
I was so impressed that even the seagulls here can follow the directions!
It's a sundae and sweets bar! Noted. We were going back soon for some ice cream on hand-made waffle cones and "chocolate con churros."
What a catchy name - Afishinados - featuring all "original American fish art"...
and as you can see, everything looks fishy!
The sign reads "SORRY WE ARE OPEN." That made us laugh.
At this point, we had to veer to the right... 
to go towards the direction of the Casino Building, which is not a real casino.
The Yatch Club
The retaining wall on this walkway is decorated with tiles in the original Catalina patterns and tile murals depicting scenes from the years gone by.
The Casino Building is across from the Boat Landing on Avalon Bay

Unfortunately, we were not able to take the Casino Walking Tour, as this was being prepared as the venue for the Jazz Trax Festival's last weekend. In the Casino walking tour, you will see the Art Deco murals, a 1929 pipe organ, the Avalon theater (the only movie theater in town), and the Casino Ballroom.
We got to Descanso Cove well ahead of time, which begins from the Casino Point Dive Park...
up to where the mountain juts out into the bay.
In just another 50 steps or more, we found this place. We met our two guides - Charles and Denny. First thing we had to do was to tie our hair back, then don our helmets. After, we put on our harnesses and walked over with the metal contraptions, to watch the demonstration.
Denny gave us an overview of the Zipline Eco Tour - we were going to travel a distance of about three quarters of a mile, over five ziplines laid out over three hundred feet  above the canyons, at a speed of, approximately, 45 miles per hour, in about one and a half hours. Then, a demonstration of the different positions and signals were shown to us.
After the leap off from the platform, go into the basic zip line body position (sitting position)...
then into the cannonball position, with arms straight and legs crossed and pulled up towards the elbows. This is to gain speed on the ziplines.
Charles explained the landing procedure - how to read his signals to slow down, then to prepare for the final approach at the landing.
 Should there be a fast approach, there is a block of wood that would go on the wire to slowdown the zipliner; or, a sack to grab just in case one suddenly stops ziplining in the middle of the course, to be pulled into the landing platform.
It was time. We were a group of four and we were bussed up to the Zipline Eco Tour gates, at the highest point of the zipline course. At this point,  there was no turning back.
 Denny was going to be our pitcher and Charles was to be our catcher. Charles went down first to await us at the first landing.

With our hearts pounding, we were relieved that the only man in our group volunteered to go first. He just took that first step into the air, literally walking into thin air and took off. Watching him helped us to recall the steps we had to do.
Jaye took that leap of faith...
and there she went! 

I was the last one to go as I was the one taking most of the pictures. I had to put my camera inside my jacket as I prepared to zip down the wires. I started with good, positive thoughts  and prayed. Then, I took that step. All went so perfectly well.  

After our first zipline, we thought it was a piece of cake. With four stations still to get to, we all got confident and had no more fears after that initial cable ride. 

We asked about the origins of ziplining. Our guides noted that Walt Disney used this means of travel in some of his Disney stories. They also told us a story about how it could have started in Costa Rica. 

Once back in the mainland, I researched about it and discovered that a historical timeline cannot be pinpointed. It was a means of getting to inaccessible places among high mountain dwellers, like in the Himalayas. It is still used as people movers and as a delivery system for rations and materials in populations where moving about and transporting goods can be difficult, due to rugged and mountainous terrains, and water ways.

Perhaps, it came about  from the technics and means used by climbers in the late 19th and 20th centuries in the Tirolean Alps, who used "pitons, rapelling, tension traverses, aid climbing, stirrups, pendulums, and the Tirolian traverse" that were "developed by the Bavarians, Tirolian and south Tirolian climbers," to have efficient movement between "rock pillars and cliffs."

The cable-and-pulley system found some strategic uses in industries and in World War II. In the 1970s,  "canopy tours" were born out of this cable system among graduate students who were researching the world beneath the forest canopy . The forest canopy is formed by the meeting of the tops of very tall trees that blocks almost 95% of the light. It is like the roof over a  forest area, creating a habitat for the plants, the birds, mammals and other creatures in diverse sizes, colors, and shapes. This is critical to the well being of the forest. 

The forest's ecosystem is quite unique, with several microclimates that sustain the different organisms under the forest canopy. Thus, this makes for a very interesting research site for graduate students in the fields of botany, zoology, entomology, and ecology. It was in the 1970s when it became the scene for these scientific-research in Costa Rica. The students figured out how to set up their means to traverse under the forest canopy with ease and without much disruption to the environment below. Employing the Tyrolean traverse, the researchers could go from tree to tree, and make their observations without having to go down to the forest  floor.

Soon, someone thought of how fun this activity could be, similar to the canopy tours, and that's when it became commercial. With little to do with scientific exploration, ziplining is now an adventurous, exhilarating trip, flying down the cables from platform to platform (I call them stations) on the mountain slopes. It has been made safe and secure for the daring, fun-seeking people, with the use of durable materials in a studied design, adapted to the local setting. 

Back to our tour...
With regards to landing, our other group mate was a petite lady. Her light weight exempted her from doing the slow-down, star fish position (stand-up position), prior to landing. She stayed in the cannonball position from take off to landing.

Charles signaled us to slow down by spreading his arms wide open, and then the zipliner pulled the handles towards his chest and assumed the star fish position. Once slowed down, the catcher, who is Charles, gave another signal to assume the cannonball position for landing.
St. Catherine's Lace

Though we had no forest canopy above us, we sort of had a chance to explore the ecosystem here in Avalon. In between ziplining, we looked around the surroundings in each station. Our tour guides showed us some of the flora and fauna indigenous to Catalina Island. 

We found this flowering, mounding bush: St. Catherine's Lace. The clusters of off-white flowers bloom in late spring and turn to brown in the summer - beautifully contrasting the grayish-white, felt-like leaves. Scientifically called "eriogonum giganteum," this plant grows six to eight feet tall and wide. It thrives even in this rocky, desert-like setting and near the coast.

Here, my gear was being engaged onto the cables, for my third zipline. For my connecting-to-the-cables metal contraption to reach the wires, I had to tiptoe.  We were given instructions and a demonstration on how to zipline sidewards, to see the view.

I was able to maneuver and assume a sitting position with my legs stretched out, to side zip down the wires...

to catch this view of Descanso Cove.
That lasted for a few seconds. By the time I reached this dense section with the very tall trees, that was my cue to get back into the cannonball position.

Lemonade Berry Fruits

Another plant we saw up in the hills was a Lemonade Berry bush-tree. Charles took a branch so we could taste the fruits. To taste, we used our finger tip and rubbed the sticky residue on the red fruits - we discerned a very strong and sour flavor. The fruits from this plant, "rhus integrifolia," were used by the native Indians who once inhabited Catalina, to make a refreshing drink. 

This is the souvenir I have from Catalina Island. I bought a small potted plant and brought it back to the mainland. I will be relocating it to a planter, instead of planting it on the ground, to control the growth. I hope it survives the lowland conditions.
We also saw this dug out in the ground - the home of the Catalina Beechey Ground Squirrel.

The ecosystem in Catalina Island has been affected, negatively, by human activities. The   overgrazing and the bringing in of non-native species have contributed to the soil erosion and affected the soil compaction on the slopes. Mining, film making, and landscaping have all added, too, to the deterioration of the island in the last decades. To counter this, the Catalina Island Conservancy (CIC) is at the helm of reversing the trend, to restore the island to a healthier state. CIC takes charge in protecting the rare and endangered species through their various programs. It's a balancing act to do this, especially, with the arrival of an estimated million visitors a year. 

We did it! We were brave and we conquered our fear of heights. Our tour guides were very professional and  highly entertaining. They graciously gave us high passing marks. This experience was truly exhilarating. I am looking to zipline anywhere I go now.
 As our adrenaline levels started to go down, we retraced our steps to go back to town, but taking a detour to go through the Casino Point Dive Park walkway, on the side of the Casino facing the bay.

We noticed someone painting Descanso Cove. He reminded me of how Claude Monet painted - in the outdoors, on location.

Passed the Casino building and before the Yacth Club is a floating gas station, to service the boats. For land vehicles, we found out that the gas cost was over $6.00 per gallon. We wondered how much the fuel for the boats were.

As soon as we were back on Crescent St., we were figuring out what to have for lunch. We thought we deserved to indulge and have a hearty meal.

We also window shopped and checkout some souvenir shops.

At El Galleon, we sat down and ordered our hearty meal: French Onion Soup, Clam Chowder, Caesar's Salad, and Barbecued Pork Ribs - Texas Style. I think we ordered too much! We didn't have room for dessert.

We had our second adventurous tour, after lunch: the East End Tour - this was a tour on rugged terrain, in an open-air Hummer that brought us to the highest points on the island, to see spectacular views of the canyons, the coastline, and the animals that inhabit this place. We'll tell you all about that, too. 


  1. What a beautiful and quaint island. The zipline part just was incredible!!It was amazing to see the beach and you dressed in warm clothing. Photos were perfectly shot. Thanks for sharing!!! ...... BatG

  2. The zipline experience will make anyone feel young again. You have to try it. Visiting Catalina Island in the fall, is perfect weather for me.

  3. The last time I went was some 20 years ago with a 6 yr old in tow. We just went for the day with another family. A lot of shops changed. It was more of crowded a family day in summer. When I went this time, it was more enjoyable because I got to do the grown up stuff. A great weekend getway for couples or girlfriends .October is a good time to enjoy Catalina for romance & relaxation or just plain bonding time...... JMVDD

  4. The fall weather is perfect for a walking city like Avalon. When the sun comes to peek, it does not get too hot. No hot tempers when it's cool and pleasant.

  5. Wow, AWESOME BLOG, Yogi, you are VERY good at editing :) Haiying

  6. Thanks, Haiying. Something to add to your wonderful memories of Catalina Island.



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