Friday, November 24, 2006

Ziping Through Costa Rica (Number 2)

You have the feeling that things are spiraling out of control, but you are of two minds as to whether to stop it. The process itself seems to be controlling matters and, while you have had time to think about your actions, there is something in the back of your head reflecting on the ease with which you seem to have put your life in danger. Those thoughts ran through my head as Luis, our guide, placed the pulley over the zip wire and told me to lift my feet off the platform. Mrs. PND is no wimp; she upped and went first and was now 200 feet away-- speeding 50 feet above the canopy to the second of 15 platforms we would visit in the next hour. Our two guides had clearly come to a conclusion about us immediately and, for whatever reason, they decided we would just get on with it. Hence, the rather cursory and matter-of-fact instruction, which sounded more like he was practicing his English than anything else. He gave the impression he expected us to pay about as much attention as we would to a flight attendant.

The first platform is a short drive from the head office and small gift shop and, once up the hill, we were led to a location short of the first platform. Our instructions were simple and presented in decent English—place your arm behind you, pressing on the wire to slow yourself and never grab the wire in front (otherwise you risk mangling your fingers). Then one of the boys attached himself to the practice wire suspended in front of us between two trees and showed us how it worked. We then got up from our seats, thinking we would then get the chance to practice on the training wire. Not so. We went straight to prime time.

Per instruction, up go the feet with knees bent in front of you and you are off-- flying like Peter Pan above the sea of green Monteverde rain forest. It was very cool and we still can’t really believe we did it. There are 15 platforms at Selvatura and a multi-bridge cloud walk. I had reviewed Fodor’s list of zipwire tours but decided based on the recommendation of our hotel, and I think we made the right choice. Most of the ziplines are 30-100 meters long; however, the longest is 400 meters, and runs parallel to one of the suspension bridges we walked across later that day. The wire looked more impressive from the bridge than it did when we sped across, given its height above ground - perhaps 100 feet - and the enormous distance between the platforms at either end.

Since it was just the two of us, we able to enjoy the company of the two boys and Mrs. PND was able to try her Spanish --I think the boys liked her. One had better English than the other and told her it was easy to learn English because Americans keep using the same words over and over again. I thought that comment was rather amusing.

Selvatura is located a very bumpy 20-minute ride above Santa Elena, and their mini-buses pick up customers anywhere in town. Ecology provided the genesis of the zipline tour when scientists recognized that they could study plant life and animals more effectively if they were suspended above or within the canopy. So, for purely scientific reasons--not at all for fun --scientists began zipwireing across nature preserves; word got out and a tourist attraction was born. In Santa Elena, there are at least 10 zip-line tour operators but none of them could be better than Selvatura. Any guide book will have listings and recommendations on each of the better operators. Obviously, safety is a major concern because these tours are a strong attraction for eco-tourism. It wouldn't do for tourists to start falling out of the sky and, at least according to Fodor’s there haven't been many accidents.

The zipline tour lasts about 60 mins. and I think I got to platform 10 thinking we were done. I was already impressed with the length of the tour but, as a parting gift, Selvatura offers something they call the “Tarzan Swing.” Tarzan has no redeeming or scientific value and is designed only to make you scream like an idiot as you step off a small platform and free-fall 30 feet over a ravine. It is really a mini bungee jump. Again, the fearless Mrs. PND went first. Not ever having bungee-jumped, the sensation of nothingness as you fall forward is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. This wasn't even that high--and I would do it again. When we got back to the hotel, the desk clerk asked in reverent tones, “Did you do the Tarzan?” I think she was impressed, although she might have been worried about my age...

Like the day before, we were eating lunch by 1:30 (this time at Pizzeria Johnny), feeling very satisfied with ourselves. Selvatura also has a 1.5-mile trail which includes 8 suspension bridges through the cloud forest, but we had to rush this since we would have had to wait 2 hours for the next shuttle bus to Santa Elena. We needed our lunch and we needed to get on the road to the beach.

Travel Edition: Hiking Above the Clouds

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