Do you know about zip lines? Should you ever want to test your mettle, hop a plane to Costa Rica and sign up for a rainforest canopy tour. Several years ago, my daughter and I travelled there on vacation. Having watched nearly every documentary about rain forests that the Travel Channel or National Geographic had produced, I was very interested in doing the canopy tour. Little did I know what was in store! The ones I had seen before were people walking on wooden walkways, or being carted up into the trees in large wire buckets.
We reserved our spaces and were told to meet the tour vehicle in the front of the hotel at 10 am the next morning, wearing long pants and mosquito repellent. I was determined not to catch malaria or any other mosquito-borne disease, so I slathered Deep Woods Off all over me. We boarded a small bus with about 6 other people and set off on the 20 minute ride into the jungle, where we met up with tours from other hotels, totaling about 14 people altogether. The guides were 5-6 young Costa Rican men who all spoke English well enough, and they set about telling us what to expect on the tour and showing us the gear we would be donning shortly. The harnesses and zip-line connections looked like things I had seen on mountain climbers, so I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
Eventually, after everyone was strapped into their harnesses, we began the climb up into the forest, headed for the first zip platform. We walked steadily upward for about 15 minutes; at some points our climb was almost straight up on stairs cut into the hillside. It was grueling for most of us, and for a woman my age - breathtaking. Literally breathtaking. I turned beet red and heaved my chest to get more air into my lungs. The heat and humidity did not help that cause, even though it was technically their winter, it was 85* or more, everyday.
As we reached the first platform, it dawned on all of us that this was no child's game; no jungle gym on the school playground at 6' off the ground. The platforms were 100' above the forest floor. At this point, one of the participants (a 14 year old) bowed out. Her dad had to escort her back down the mountain, and thus missed his chance to do the zips too. The guides asked for volunteers to go first and someone spoke up (not me). We watched as the guy was hooked onto the zip line and told what to do and more importantly - what NOT to do. His time came; he stepped off the platform and suddenly he was soaring across a great divide between us and the next platform. Some of the guides had already assembled on the 2nd platform to help get the guy onto it, in case he had a problem gettiing across. Momentum doesn't always carry you the full way, and if you drag your gloved hand on the zip line too hard, it will stop you in mid-zip, which is to be avoided like the plague.
Several more people took their turns, including my daughter and then it was fish-or-cut-bait time for me. Since my daughter had done it and suffered no ill effects, I decided I had to swallow my fears and "just do it". As they hooked me to the line and went over the instructions yet again, the pit of my stomach felt as if it were dropping to the ground without me. I had to do it, though, or I'd be holding up the people after me. So I paused at the edge and finally I let go. The rush of air going past as you begin the zip is surprising in its speed. Suddenly, you are soaring across the jungle with only a cotton harness and a hook or two holding you up. It was fantastic, amazing, exhilirating - and instantly - I wished I could do it everyday for the rest of my life. For the rest of the zips (about 10 in all), I was frustrated at having to wait for those in front of me to finish their zip before I could get back onto mine. The last one involved rapelling 90'down a tree to the forest floor. The guides showed us how to do it, and it was also an amazing experience. At the end of the tour, the one thing I kept thinking was how proud I was of myself for not chickening out. They told me that the oldest person to ever do it was an 84 year old man. There's no way he could have been prouder than I was!