Monteverde (DP Challenge)

(July 2004)

Soaring above the treetops with only a cable and a harness for support     

I wasn’t worried about my 19-year-old son going on the canopy tour without me. However, since I couldn’t accompany him as a spectator, I would be bored waiting around for him for a couple of hours, and then I’d be angry at myself for not taking the risk, embracing the adventure. Although the thought of soaring above the rainforest treetops with only a cable and a harness to support me still appalled me, I suddenly felt ashamed of my fear as I saw other people my age and older lining up for the tour. My competitive nature kicked in and there I was, trying to feel excited about an adventure I never expected to undertake in my wildest dreams.

The trainer explained what we would have to do. I listened and watched, with concentration and growing alarm. I felt a pit in my stomach as he told us we would be suspended on a cable, wearing only a harness, with a wheel attached to glide along the cable. To stop, we were to reach up with one hand and pull on the cable, causing us to slow down as we gradually approached the next platform. If we pulled on the cable too early, we’d be stuck – God forbid! – out in the middle of the cable, suspended in midair, having lost the momentum to reach the next platform. I made a mental note: Whatever you do, DON’T pull on the cable too early!

“Don’t worry,” our trainer told us. “There are guides on each platform who will be watching you. They’ll signal when to pull the cable.”

With great trepidation, I followed my group on a tramp along a forest trail, our wheeled harnesses swinging heavily, to our awaiting jeeps. At each platform, we waited in a line ascending a staircase, until it was our turn to be hitched onto the cable. When it was my turn, the guide lifted me by the harness and I gave a little jump up, and held on for dear life as I was pushed off, to zip along the cable over a vast expanse of tropical rainforest. I’d seen a rainforest from above before, but within the safe confines of an airplane. Holding tight onto the rope, I began to actually feel a sense of exhilaration as I soared along, the wind whipping past my face and blowing my hair behind me, high above the trees and the animals that dwelled therein (which I could only imagine, since I couldn’t actually see them).

I allowed my eyes to travel downward, to briefly gaze at the canopy below without moving my head, before lifting them once more to look at only what was level to my own height and to gauge the proximity of my approaching destination – the next platform, and safety!

Zipping along this way, in spite of the rush of excitement I felt, I was too scared to look down for more than a second, thus losing, probably, much of the purpose of soaring above the canopy. It was, after all, called a “canopy tour.” The truth was, I was petrified the first couple of times. I finally relaxed enough to allow myself to even feel like I was actually safe in this unnatural position on the third, very long ride.

Pain

The fourth line was very short. I hopped up to be hitched onto the cable with confidence. It had gotten easy, too easy. The platform was approaching fast, faster as I gained speed, and my confidence turned to terror. I waited for a wave from the guide to pull on the cable, but he was distracted and his signal didn’t come. By the time I took action to pull on the cable, it was too late – I slowed down, but didn’t stop. Just in time, the guide grabbed me to brake my approach. I felt my body impact on the cold steel, and the arms of guide surrounding my torso. Pain seared through my lower shin and I felt the hot trickle of blood. I buckled and plopped down in a crumple on the platform.

People surrounded me and the guide bent over me, asking if I was all right. I heard my son’s voice saying, “Mom, what happened?! Are you all right?”

“No,” I croaked angrily, painfully. It was all his fault – his determination in convincing me to do this. More people were coming in and being helped off by the guide. I was told to sit off to the side until I could get up and continue. I couldn’t go back – no one could be spared to take me. However, they would have a guide accompany me on the next several lines – as long as I needed him – but I would have to wait for him to arrive meanwhile.

I sat and waited, using Kleenex from my pocket and dribbles of water from my water bottle, to clean off the wound. I didn’t even want to look at it at first, the throbbing fueling my imagination of how awful it would look, probably causing permanent scars – who knew, maybe I had even fractured my shin bone! So I cleaned off the blood without really looking at my leg, and crumpled the bloody Kleenexes into my pants pocket.

Feeling slightly better by the time Raul came along and introduced himself, I got up and limped along the trail to get to the next platform. Although Raul spoke English, I impressed him by speaking in good accented Spanish. I was already an invalid – I didn’t want to give him the impression that I was a silly, fragile and inconvenient American tourist. As we walked and talked, I almost forgot to limp.

Raul accompanied me, as promised, on the next three lines, but I had to wait for him to perform other guide duties. I remember sitting and waiting while several other people passed me, slowly ascending the stairs, speaking in German, Norwegian, French, English, or Spanish. Some of the younger people, including my son, took a detour across the road during a particularly long wait to a Tarzan rope – I couldn’t see it, but heard their whooping as they swung back and forth on it. I felt some fleeting remorse at not dragging myself over to at least get a picture of him swinging on it. He told me how cool it was and tried to get me to go over there. I glowered at him.

In the arms of Raul

Finally, I hobbled up the stairs and Raul and I were hitched together. In his arms, I felt confident and relaxed enough to safely look down and really gaze at the green foliage below. I was disappointed not to spot a single bird, having hoped to at least catch a glimpse of the elusive national bird, the quetzal, for all my trouble.

Raul regaled me with facts about the rainforest, including how high up we were – 1200 meters, he said (I really didn’t need to know this!) and the height of the tallest trees which formed most of the canopy layer of the rainforest. He mentioned some of the species that lived at this top layer, but none of them were visible from here.

After about three trips in Raul’s arms, he left to help others. I saw him zip across one expanse with a young boy in his arms. OK, that was it – I couldn’t wait anymore. Although there were several lines left (I wasn’t sure how many), I had to suck it up and continue on my own. I counted after that, and when I was finally back safely on solid ground again, I had done a total of 14.

Would I do it again? Never!!

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