The Canopy Zip Lines

The morning greeted us with soft sunlight filtering through the early morning mist and the songs of several kinds of birds. We opened the sliding glass doors, taking in the air scented with tropical flowers, the temperate climate, and the stunning landscape around us. It was absolutely perfect.

At 0730, we headed over to the little restaurant on the hotel grounds where we were served Gallo Pinto, the traditional Tico breakfast of two scrambled eggs accompanied with a big mound of rice and beans mixed together, a piece of cheese, and a piece of pan fried ripe plantain. Butterflies flitted about while we ate. It was almost surreal.

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Yesterday, we booked a zip line canopy tour for this morning. At 0930, a van picked us up and took us to their facility on the slopes of the volcano just outside of downtown La Fortuna. We stepped off the bus onto a covered patio where several staff members were waiting with harnesses and leather gloves we were told were the brakes. The three of us were amongst the first to be strapped in, and we waited while everyone else in the rather large group was harnessed in.

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Then we were marched over to a little zip line set up just a few feet above the ground, basically two cables strung between two trees. A staff person demonstrated how to do it. Let the staff person clip your harness to a pulley on one of the cables, sit back almost like you are in a chair, and hold the other cable with the leather hand break to control your speed. The demonstrator glided effortlessly across the cable and showed everyone how to stop. Then each one of us did a practice run, which went quite smoothly. Even though we were close enough to the ground that we could stop and stand up, it still was a thrill to go flying down the cable. Stopping was a piece of cake. Here is Christi on the practice run.

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As we came off the practice run, we were loaded into a truck. We were lucky because we were one of the first to do the practice run, so we got a seat on one of the benches inside the truck’s bed. The people who were at the tail end of the practice run were strapped into benches on the outside of the truck bed. Many staff members also strapped themselves onto the exterior benches. We were surprised by the number of staff that went up with us.

The little truck was so loaded down with people that we couldn’t believe it was capable of moving at all, let alone climbing a hill. We were surprised when we saw how steep the road was, and shocked at how far we climbed up this steep mountain road. Every time we caught a glimpse of the view below, La Fortuna was smaller and the countryside around it more sweeping. After what seemed like forever, we finally made it to the end of the road and everyone piled out. Did we mention that we were really high up?

We all marched up a set of stairs probably equivalent to a 2 ½ story climb, which led to a large platform. We all stood in line on the platform and watched a staff person hook himself to the line and go zipping off. When he was safely landed and unhooked at the other side, another staff person hooked on and zipped off, and so on until only one staff member was left on the platform with us

Then he started allowing the clients to go, carefully hooking each person in and reviewing the procedure before sending each person on their way. Once again, they only allowed one person to be on the cable at a time, and it seemed to take a long time for the clients to get unhooked from the cable on the other side, which was making the line move slowly. We somehow managed to be the very last ones in line, and it was getting to be a very long wait. We were starting to think that if things continue to progress this slowly, this wasn’t going to be all that much fun.

Finally, it was Eric’s turn. He was hooked in, went flying down the line, and landed at the small platform on the other side. Flying is probably the right word, because it did kind of feel like flying. It was a tad bit scary to be so high up in the trees, but with the two cables and the harness, he knew it was safe. It was definitely a rush. Then Mike went. Here he is nearing the platform at the end of the first run.

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Christi was the very last to go. She was one of the many who had a hard time getting herself unhooked from the cable on the other side. She was really stuck, and to get her unhooked, the staff member had to actually pick her up and hold her up in the air by a few inches as he unhooked. Now she knows first hand why the line was moving so slow.

As soon as we unhooked from the first cable, we were immediately attached to another cable and sent on our way again. Here is a photo of each of us on the second run. Christi is first, just launching off the platform. Eric is second, in the middle of the run. Mike is last, at the end of the run just before stopping.

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There turned out to be a total of 10 runs before we got to the “Tarzan Swing”. Each run was progressively longer, steeper, faster and more thrilling. Initially, we were completely surrounded by dense forest and couldn’t see how far it was down to the ground below. But after the third or fourth run, we came out from the forest and found ourselves above a cleared field that was a long, long, long way down, which added to the thrill.

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Another thing that added to the excitement was the sound of the pulley moving along on the cables. The faster we went, the louder, more high pitched, and fervent the whine became. We never had to wait for more than 3 or 4 minutes, so we never lost the momentum of the excitement, and it just kept getting more and more fun.

The first run was 98 feet (30 meters) long and took about 5 seconds. The longest run before the Tarzan swing was 640 feet (190 meters) long and we’re not sure how long it lasted. It seemed like a long time, though! They definitely were smart about warming people up. After doing the shorter runs in the dense trees, we never hesitated to go on the long runs with nothing but air below us. Had we started on a longer run, we may have had doubts, and if we started with the longest run, Christi probably would have chickened out.

At a couple of the platforms, we saw cool looking birds. One was hanging out in a tree. Another one was gracefully gliding through the air right at our eye level. How crazy is it to be eye level with the gliding birds!

We found stopping was not nearly as easy when you are really zooming along at very high speeds. Christi had an especially hard time with stopping, frequently making contact with the tree at the end. She never “crashed”, but usually hit the tree with her feet and bounced back off of it while the staff member grabbed at her to help interrupt the momentum.

Since Christi was last, after she went, the staff person would zip in right behind her, then cut to the head of the line, and zip over to the next empty platform, ready and waiting for when the group started to come through.

Just as the zip lines were starting to lose their novelty, we came to the Tarzan swing. Here we had to stop and wait in line again. By the time we arrived, more than half the group had already gone, so the line wasn’t very long. At first, we couldn’t see much. We watched as someone walked out to the edge of a platform, was handed a rope to hold on to with her hands, then was also harnessed to the rope. Then they pushed her off the platform and she screamed like crazy. Christi’s stomach did a flip flop listening to the scream.

After a couple more people, we were close enough to see over the edge of the platform. The ground was a long way below the platform edge, far enough that a fall would result in at least every limb being broken in multiple places. Three or four staff were waiting on the ground directly below the rope, and much of the rest of our group was watching intently from off to the side. As soon as the person jumped, he was swinging wildly through the trees. The momentum was taking him very high up into the air, almost as high as the platform, as he went back and forth. He screamed a few obscenities as he registered the shock of not being on solid ground anymore. After a couple passes, the staff started grabbing at him to slow him down. Once he was slowed down enough, they took hold of him, stopped him, and unhooked him. It looked so intense. Wow. And we thought the zip lines were a rush!

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “The Canopy Zip Lines

  1. I have followed your world tour from the very beginning. I know you are now back home and I would like to ask a question. After all the countries you have been to, which one would you move to if you had to? I am reading about Costa Rica and it sounds beautiful.
    Thank you for my imaginary trip (on a boat) around the world!!

  2. Wow. This blog is still going on since you’ve been back? Forgot about it. And I’ve been totally zoned into Zac Sunderland’s blog! LOL.
    -rich

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