A re­luc­tant tourist, a zip line and the Costa Ri­can rain for­est

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Rhonda Shafner

LA FOR­TUNA, Costa Rica — “I’m not sure I can do this,” I said to my­self while climb­ing a few steps to take a prac­tice ride for a zip line. I was in north­ern Costa Rica, in the shadow of the coun­try’s ma­jes­tic vol­cano Are­nal. I was part of a group of about 25 tourists, ages six to 60, all fit­ted with hel­mets and industrial-strength har­nesses, pre­par­ing for a zip line tour of the rain for­est. As we waited for a prac­tice run, there was laugh­ing and jok­ing in Dutch, French, Span­ish and English.

But it was prob­a­bly bet­ter that I didn’t un­der­stand most of the jokes. I wasn’t sure I was ready to laugh about pos­si­bly fall­ing on my head. You could say I was a lit­tle ner­vous. And this was just for the six-sec­ond try-out. The real zip line ex­pe­ri­ence was two hours long and much far­ther off the ground.

I re­al­ize that th­ese days, a re­luc­tance to em­brace adventure tourism prac­ti­cally makes you an out­lier. Ex­pe­ri­ences like para­sail­ing, dog-sled­ding or trekking in the wilder­ness have be­come so com­mon­place that many trav­ellers don’t hes­i­tate to em­brace the lat­est thrill. But I’m not that type of per­son. I won’t even let my 11-year-old get on a roller coaster, though he’s pleaded for it. It’s not just too high — it’s also too fast, too much up and down, too much jerk­ing around. I don’t like my head spin­ning or my stom­ach leap­ing into my mouth.

But then we planned a trip to Costa Rica, where zip lining above the rain for­est has be­come a stan­dard part of the tourist ex­pe­ri­ence. My hus­band re­fused to do it, but my son begged to try it. Friends and col­leagues urged me to say yes, in­sist­ing it was safe and not un­pleas­ant.

One friend, though, gave me pause. Like me, she’s not fond of heights. Walk­ing around New York City, where we live, she pointed up to a five-story brown­stone and a 10-story build­ing to show how high I could ex­pect to fly. How did she feel about her own ex­pe­ri­ence zip lining? “I didn’t hate it,” was all she said.

Now here I was, ready for my test run. A guide hooked me onto a dou­ble steel ca­ble and showed me where to rest my right hand, en­cased in a kind of leather glove. The prac­tice run was a lit­tle like trav­el­ling across a clothes line and about that far off the ground. The har­ness was wrapped snugly around my waist and thighs. I sat back, feet crossed, one hand on the ca­ble, the other on the har­ness, and off I went. My son fol­lowed.

“Want to keep go­ing?” I asked him, hop­ing he’d say no. But he nod­ded, determined. “Once you start, you have to keep go­ing,” I re­minded him — and my­self. There was no hik­ing trail back.

We got in a large wagon pulled by a pick-up truck up a moun­tain. As we rode, we were drenched by a warm, calm­ing rain. We then hiked a lit­tle far­ther up to the first plat­form, one of about 15, with each ca­ble line vary­ing in height and length.

My son wanted me to go first. The guide hooked me to the ca­ble and off I sailed. Fly­ing above the emer­ald green rain for­est might sound mag­i­cal and serene, but at least to me, this was not. The metal hooks slid­ing against the ca­bles made a loud, whizzing noise, like some kind of mu­tant trop­i­cal in­sect. I was sail­ing above the green tree­tops, yes, but also above the green viper snakes and the green basilisk lizards and the green walk­ing stick in­sects and all the other crea­tures that give new mean­ing to the word cam­ou­flage.

Each time I was pushed off a plat­form to sail across the ca­ble, I avoided look­ing down. Keep­ing my eyes on the next plat­form and the next guide wait­ing there helped staunch my fear — along with the knowl­edge that fin­ish­ing each seg­ment meant I was closer and closer to the end.

More than half­way through, I was fit­ted with a dif­fer­ent har­ness. You can con­trol your own speed by press­ing down on one of the ca­bles, but I was slow­ing my­self down so much that I al­most didn’t reach the next plat­form. The new har­ness gave the guides more con­trol.

Fi­nally, we were done. My son loved it, call­ing it “heartrac­ing.” He was happy to have spot­ted a howler monkey and asked if he could do it again.

I wasn’t even tempted. “No,” I said. I was just glad to have fin­ished with­out pan­ick­ing or plead­ing for a ma­chete to hack my way through the trop­i­cal for­est and back to civ­i­liza­tion.

A few days later, an­other ner­vous tourist trav­el­ling with her fam­ily asked me about the ex­pe­ri­ence. “Did you like it?” she asked.

She laughed when I couldn’t an­swer. But the truth is, what I liked is that my son loved it.

PHO­TOS BY KENT GIL­BERT / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Get­ting glimpse of the cloud cov­ered Are­nal Vol­cano ris­ing above the trop­i­cal for­est. At left, a zi­pliner rides through the canopy of the trop­i­cal for­est at the Are­nal Vol­cano near La For­tuna, Costa Rica.

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