Costa Rica 2014: Flying over the canopy in Monteverde

Although I had turned down their invite to do a night hike with Austin and Alexis on Friday night – I had a throbbing headache after the bumpy last few hours of our bus ride and was not in the mood to go tromping through the forest to see tarantulas and snakes – I did agree to join them at 7:30 this morning (Saturday) for a canopy tour via 100% Aventura, the extreme adventure tour company that runs the longest zip line in Latin America.

This meant getting up at 6:00 am to get ready and be among the first in line for breakfast at 6:30 in the hostel. Camino Verde really makes it worth it, though – they make a fantastic breakfast!

While wolfing down my gallo pinto con huevo, smothered in homemade hot sauce (YUM), I ended up chatting with the couple sitting at the table next to me. As it turns out, they were also doing the 7:30 canopy tour, and I soon discovered that the woman, Jennifer, was even more freaked out that I was! Her husband, Baruch, was beside himself with excitement, telling me how he absolutely lives for this kind of stuff. Jennifer, apparently, loves Baruch enough to do some of these things with him (and hey, when in Rome, right?), but she was clearly less excited than scared. As Baruch looked on in amusement, Jen and I tried to talk ourselves out of our fears. When our ride pulled up, though, we made scared faces at each other and told Baruch we’d hold down the fort at the hostel. “Get up, you two, you’re both going – and you’re going to LOVE IT!!” Okay, okay. We went.

As soon as we arrived, there was a flurry of activity getting us strapped into our harnesses, handing us our gloves, and giving us some brief training on zip lining procedures – how to position our bodies and hands, how to brake and, most importantly, what NOT to do. “You GUYS,” bellowed Bismark (no kidding, that was his name), “Don’t be scared. Don’t PANIC. When you get scared, you forget what to do. Don’t SQUEEZE, guys, just pull down a little, like you’re lifting yourself up. And GUYS! NOT put hand in FRONT of wheel! Strong hand always back, never front. In back, PURA VIDA! In front, ZAS! Manicure! Not pretty one, okay? NEVER IN FRONT!!”

“Jesus, I didn’t even THINK about THAT!” Jennifer exclaimed. “This is so dangerous!” Baruch laughed. I tried to.

Bismark went on to give us a bunch more important things to keep in mind, like how not to get stuck on the middle of the line (horror of horrors) or dork our head on the wheel when stopping abruptly. “Strong hand back, weak hand cables, legs up, feet crossed, head left. Don’t squeeze, make a ring, NEVER IN FRONT, so easy you guys! Pura vida!!” And off we went to the first two “practice cables.”

As I walked up the steps to the first platform, I felt all of the power drain from my body. Just standing on the platform itself made me dizzy with fear – and watching the people in front of me zip down the cable over the trees didn’t help. “This is the practice cable?” I whispered to Jen. She looked like she was going to throw up. “You go first,” she said, attempting an encouraging smile. And just like that, it was my turn, and the two men on the platform had my safety cable clipped on and were ordering me to jump up so they could attach my wheel to the cable. I jumped. Then, before I knew it, I was zipping down the cable, trying to remember Bismark’s instructions. Strong hand back, weak hand front, legs tucked, ankles crossed, head left. Make a ring, don’t squeeze. Then the man at the receiving end was giving me signals – keep coming, keep coming, keep coming – brake. I had survived my first zip line!

What I didn’t realize was that the next line started on the same platform, and the man who had just received me was hooking me up to the next cable. “Ready?” he asked. What? I guess… And suddenly I was zipping down a longer, higher cable, towards a platform I could barely even see. But again, all went smoothly, and I arrived at platform number two feeling significantly more confident. I was still scared as hell, but I was starting to enjoy it, too!

I waited for Jen and Baruch and we climbed down together, continuing down the path that would lead us to the only non-zip-line crossing of the day: the monkey bridge. I was thinking it would be a nice break from the zip lines, until we turned a corner and saw this:


Holy crap. I have no words for how terrifying that was. It was high and bouncy and there was lots and lots of space between the boards. It’s a good thing that was the only one, because I couldn’t have done it twice.

If the monkey bridge left me shaken, what happened next would almost make me stop the tour altogether. On the third zip line, which was notably longer, the guy at the send-off platform told me that this one would be faster than the others, and that I should be prepared to start braking about halfway through. I nodded and was off. I was getting good at this, I thought! Around the halfway point, the guy at the receiving platform started to make a slow braking sign, indicating that I should start applying a little pressure to the cable that I was making a ring around with my right hand, behind me. Instead of just pulling down, however, I must have squeezed the cable a little bit, and before I could even register what had happened, my hand had skipped entirely off of the cable. Getting it back on quickly proved impossible, as I was going waaaaay too fast to line the leather clad part of my glove up with the line itself, and the rest of the glove was not thick enough to withstand the friction produced by the metal line. After zinging my fingers a few times, my time was up, and I came flying into the receiving platform at full speed. Luckily, there are emergency brakes that the receivers can use in moments like these, and the guy saw what happened in time to use them. Phew! But I still came in hard and fast, hitting the tree with my right foot before bouncing back to the platform. Ouch!

I wasn’t seriously hurt – I walked away with nothing more than a decent sized goose egg on my foot and a few sore fingers. But I was seriously shaken. This was another one of those platforms where the next cable was right there – and following the pattern that was quickly being established, this one was much higher, much longer, and even faster. I couldn’t feel anything below my waist at this point, I was so terrified. What if my hand came off he cable again? I wanted to cry. But as the man offered my a “taxi,” a guide to go along with me and do all the work so I could just “sit there and enjoy the view,” I shook my head. No. I said I was doing this, and dammit, I was doing it! I knew what went wrong and how to avoid it in the following lines. As I zipped into the next platform, this time being very careful not to squeeze the cable when braking, one woman was standing off to the side, shaking her head. “Are you okay?” I asked. “I’m done,” she said, “it’s too much.” I told her I understood, and wished her a nice, relaxing remainder of her day. And then I hooked on and zipped off.

Once I got through a few more lines I felt a little bit better again, and by the seventh or eighth, I was really getting into it. Then, after the first ten seated cables were completed, it Superman time. The first Superman cable (named the superman because of the laying down, flying position) is the longest in Latin America, and 100% Aventura’s main claim to fame. At 1590 meters, it is almost a mile long, soaring high above the Monteverde canopy. Watching people get pushed off, some screaming as they went, I was again gripped by fear. What if something went wrong? A mile was so long for one cable – what if it snapped, or my wheel broke, or, or, or… Just before I almost turned around and ran back down the stairs, a guide grabbed me and said, “come here, superwoman, let’s get you strapped in.” Okay, this is what I came here for, right?

Once they double checked my harness and cables, they hooked my first wheel on the cable, just above the space between my shoulder blades. Then they told me to step up on the stool and lay down so they could attach my second wheel, above my waist. “No,” I said, without meaning to. They laughed. “Lay down, amiga.” I couldn’t do it – it was like my own body was fighting me! One leg would go up, and the other remained firmly on the stool. I tried the other leg first, but then e other one refused to budge. I was glued to that damn stool!
“Do we have to pick you up?” one of the guys chuckled. “No. Yes. No. Oh shit.” And then finally I managed to lay down. They hooked my wheel to the cable, told me to enjoy the ride and warned me not touch anything – the receiver would do all the work for this cable. As they pushed me off, I was halfway crying, focusing on my breathing so I wouldn’t pass out.

The ride across was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It was beautiful and horrifying and amazing all at once. While the braking and other technical aspects of the other lines had been stressful for me after that early braking fail, on this line I was hyper aware of the fact that I had absolutely no control over any of it. In some ways, that was actually very liberating, and I finally was able to let go and appreciate the experience.

For those of you who might want to see what it looked like, here’s a link I found on YouTube from someone who filmed their trip across the same cable (the music’s kind of weird, sorry):

How crazy is that?!?

The next one was shorter (about a kilometer, or .6 miles) and faster, and having survived the first one, I really enjoyed it. It was a good way to end the tour, because this was the end for me. There was one more optional experience – the Tarzan swing – but I decided from the outset that I wouldn’t do that one, for a number of reasons. I mean seriously, would you do this???

I was pretty proud of myself for getting through the zipline tour, superman cables and all, and I was happy to mentally cross it off my bucket list. Will I ever do it again? Probably not, but I’m pretty damn proud of myself for doing it this once. Pura vida!!


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