Just hang­ing around in mag­i­cal Mex­ico

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - DESTINATIONS - By Ge­off Kir­byson

WITH my knees shak­ing, my heart pound­ing and my mind rac­ing to the mul­ti­tude of ways I could die in the next few min­utes, I was se­ri­ously re­think­ing my def­i­ni­tion of “hol­i­day.” I had just climbed a 21-me­tre rap­pelling tower about a half-hour out­side of Playa del Car­men and was pre­par­ing to vol­un­tar­ily step off the edge, while wear­ing a har­ness, of course, and rap­pel down. All of the equip­ment looked to be in work­ing or­der dur­ing the on-the-ground demon­stra­tions, but I kept re­play­ing the open­ing scene from

in my head. You know, the one where Sylvester Stal­lone races out on a ca­ble thou­sands of feet above the ground to try to save his co­worker’s girl­friend, whose clips and straps had failed? He gets to her in time, but as he strug­gles to hold onto her, her hand slips out of her glove and she plum­mets to her death. Hav­ing never com­pared my­self to Stal­lone be­fore, the ra­tio­nal side of my brain thought I was be­ing ab­surd. The ir­ra­tional side, how­ever, was do­ing the TV ver­sion of my obit­u­ary, com­plete with bari­tone an­nouncer voice. “A Win­nipeg jour­nal­ist plum­meted to his death to­day when the an­cient rap­pelling tower he was stand­ing in was blown to smithereens by a light breeze. Film at 11.” Not known for my love of heights, I had no­ticed ev­ery crooked step and creak­ing beam as I made my as­cent, on the heels (sort of) of my daugh­ter, Mia, 17, and son, Alex, 14. I was not in the slight­est re­as­sured by the fish net­ting wrapped around the en­tire struc­ture. Just a few min­utes be­fore, our tour guide at Mayan Ad­ven­tures, Ho­ra­cio Dominguez, had given a demon­stra­tion on a mini-plat­form at the tower’s base. “Oh, good,” I thought, as Ho­ra­tio demon­strated step­ping back­wards, stand­ing with your heels hang­ing over the edge. “We’ll get to prac­tice on the begin­ner run.” But as soon as he was fin­ished, he hopped down and said, “Let’s go, rap­pellers!” and headed for the stairs. Be­fore I could blurt out any­thing about prac­tice mak­ing per­fect, he was half­way up the tower, closely fol­lowed by sev­eral chil­dren who wouldn’t be al­lowed on a sin­gle ride at the Red River Ex­hi­bi­tion or Dis­ney­land. Once I reached the plat­form, I re­al­ized I had two choices — suck it up and do what thou­sands of peo­ple do at this site with­out in­ci­dent ev­ery year or take the walk of shame and go back down the stairs. One by one, peo­ple made their way to the front of the line, and one by one, they rap­pelled down to great cheers from Ho­ra­cio and his fel­low in­struc­tor. Fi­nally, it was Mia and Alex’s turn. At this point, any good par­ent would have done ev­ery­thing in their power to pro­tect them and save them from cer­tain death. Also at this point, it’s ev­ery man for him­self. “Ready?” Ho­ra­tio asked me. “I guess so,” I gulped, as I stepped for­ward and then turned my back just a few inches from the tower’s edge. (I was strapped into a safety har­ness while my equip­ment was read­ied, so it wasn’t as scary as my brain was telling me it was.) But when he told me to back up so my heels were over the edge and then lean back into my har­ness so I was per­pen­dic­u­lar to the floor, well, that’s an­other story. Ev­ery­thing you do in your life, in some man­ner or an­other, in­volves try­ing not to get hurt, whether it’s not driv­ing in the left-hand lane on the way to work or not bring­ing a toaster into the shower with you. Why would you lean out 21 me­tres above the ground with noth­ing below you ex­cept — what you’ve been fran­ti­cally pray­ing for the last few min­utes — the Hand of God? But inch by inch, I did what he told me and trusted in both him and the equip­ment, and a few sec­onds later, he was telling me to go down the wall’s first step, then the se­cond, and fi­nally the third. While I was busy try­ing to be pet­ri­fied, the Mayan Ad­ven­tures pho­tog­ra­pher was con­vinc­ing me to mug for her cam­era. A se­cond later, I was hang­ing in mid-air, 20 me­tres above the ground, with noth­ing but Mex­i­can jun­gle all around me. I re­leased some of my ca­ble slowly, tak­ing in as much of the scenery and rev­el­ling in not hav­ing died (yet) when the si­lence was bro­ken by Alex on the ground. “Geez, Dad, could you go any SLOWER?” Ho­ra­cio says there’s usu­ally one per­son in ev­ery group who gets to the top of the tower but opts for the walk of shame in­stead. There are even peo­ple who get so freaked out by they pass out as they’re half­way down the rap­pel! Luck­ily, be­cause ev­ery rap­peller is equipped with a safety line. They sim­ply stop and dan­gle un­til the in­struc­tors are able to hop on an­other line and bring them down to safety. Our en­tire group was helped out im­mensely by Ho­ra­cio, who used the right amount of hu­mour cou­pled with a re­as­sur­ing ledge-side man­ner to help us fully en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence. “You have to be part psy­chol­o­gist,” he said. “My job is to be pa­tient, al­ways, and help peo­ple be­come con­fi­dent. Ev­ery­body is very ner­vous for the ac­tiv­i­ties. We have many peo­ple who are afraid of heights. I don’t like to make too many jokes when peo­ple are ner­vous. They don’t care about jokes or any­thing, they’re fo­cused on (not dy­ing). I talk very slowly, ex­plain ev­ery­thing again and watch their eyes.” That didn’t stop him from get­ting ev­ery­body to pose for what he de­scribed as the “Just in case” pic­ture be­fore we climbed up the first tower. Ha, ha! Thanks, Ho­ra­cio! I think I WILL try the veal! Once I was on the ground, it was off al­most im­me­di­ately to the first of three zip-line tow­ers, a struc­ture eerily sim­i­lar to the rap­pelling one. I’d al­ready cheated death once to­day, so what the hell, right? Zip-lin­ing is a dif­fer­ent kind of crazy. You get strapped onto the line, stick your feet out in front of you, and with a push from one of the guides, you’re sud­denly do­ing your best Su­per­man im­per­son­ation above the trees (if the Man of Steel flew feet-first in a seated po­si­tion and prob­a­bly should have been wear­ing an adult di­a­per). It’s all so sur­real, you don’t have time to re­al­ize all that’s keep­ing you from plum­met­ing to your death, or at least a dis­fig­ur­ing in­jury, is a cou­ple of clips, pul­leys and ropes. (This is also the time when you should have a GoPro cam­era strapped to your hel­met.) Each zip-line is longer and faster than the one be­fore, and there’s no other way to de­scribe it ex­cept, well, it’s a to­tal rush. Ho­ra­cio also as­sures me the tow­ers were built a few years ago and weren’t, as I sus­pected, con­structed by the Mayans hun­dreds of years ago. The har­ness­ing equip­ment is also safetied ev­ery year from a team of ex­perts in France. Dur­ing our day to­gether, Ho­ra­cio demon­strated an un­canny abil­ity to re­mem­ber ev­ery­body’s names, as in, “Way to go, Alex! You’re rap­pelling!” and “Way to go, Ge­off! See, I told you that you wouldn’t die!” “It’s just prac­tice. I eat a lot of ap­ples for good mem­ory,” he said. Some mem­o­ries, I sus­pect, won’t need any ap­ples.

Wildlife lives and thrives among the tourist pop­u­la­tion.

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