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Friday, May 8, 2009

Stories from Costa Rica: Flying

The first morning I woke up in Arenal I still wasn't over how beautiful it was there, even though it was now raining, and a fog so dense that it hid the volcano had descended.

One afternoon, years ago I stood with a friend on the observation deck at Shelbourne Falls in Massachusetts. I told my friend that I wished I could live on the top floor of the candle shop that stands next to the great glacier potholes. Every day, waking up to this, I told him, would be amazing. Knowing I could come outside and climb up the falls whenever I wanted; dive and dunk into the pot holes; sun myself on the ancient rocks. He answered sadly. He told me that we would get too used to it. And we'd forget to be thankful.

I don't know if that's true, I suppose it could be. But I only spent four days in Arenal with Mom and Jack, which meant there was no limit on how much we could appreciate our time there.

Our patio had a roof, which meant even when it rained we sat outside, enjoying the garden and each other. I've described the garden, the volcano and our room here. But I'd rather show you my photos of Arenal.

Our first morning, since it rained, we postponed plans for a horseback ride and I made arrangements to go canopying instead. I sat on the patio playing with the cat we adopted, and listening to what I imagined was the worlds largest frog when up walked a man. He stood expectantly and then said my name. I realized without any further conversation that he was going to drive me to the canopy tour.

I jumped up to follow him, realizing only as I climbed into his mini van that I hadn't said goodbye to Mom or Jack. Now here I was, on my own in Costa Rica for the first time and I was getting into a car with a man I didn't know whose language I didn't share. This is how movies start, I thought. Bad movies. Movies that end with Denzel Washington killing everyone.

Of course I was not in any real danger, and he dropped me off at a gated compound where a few guides and one newlywed couple about my age were gearing up. I thanked and tipped him, and then tried guess my pulse. I'd guess 125. I was so nervous that I forgot to tuck my camera into my coat pocket. Luckily, the couple had a camera and agreed to email me some photos.

After a brief orientation to the cables and equipment we began hiking further up hill. I didn't know there were more than one types of canopying, but there are. On this occasion I sat in a type of sling-style harness, mostly upright. A guide was available to fling us off the platform, but we needed to brake on our own, using a piece of leather strapped to the dominant hand. We could use this brake to slow down if we wanted, the guide told us, but if we lost too much speed too soon we would get stuck out on the line and have to pull ourselves in hand over hand.

It was so much better than I had pictured it. Each line was high above the canopy floor, allowing for amazing views of the forest, as well as views over the forest for miles. The lines were so long, some of them, that we couldn't see the other platform. My favorite happened to be the longest, and ran parallel to a small canyon with a river running through it.

I expected (and braced for) that drop in my stomach that happens on rollercoasters and other carnival rides, but it never came. There was only a rush of adrenaline and the sensation of flying. Wind and mud hit my face. The sound of the trolley rushing along the cable was the closest thing to my ear, but it couldn't silence the birds, bugs and frogs, or the sound of the river below. I looked down, a lot, which wasn't as scary as it sounds. The lines were so long, there was plenty of time to appreciate the actual flying, as well as doing some prime canopy sight seeing. It started to rain, which made the lines wet, but it was possible to brake by pressing my left hand on top of the right one holding the leather strap even more firmly against the cable. Here's a picture of me braking as I approach a platform:

Adding to the fun, there were only three of us on the tour, and then the two tour guides, so we took our time, took photos, and joked around with one another. We lamented the rain, which kept most of the animals hidden, but we learned about nearby flora instead. One of our guides showed us that the tree we were standing in was a rubber tree. He pulled a piece of the tree off and showed me how it stretched, and then retained its original shape. "This is how they make tires," he said.

The very last zipline was low, and took us from a half-sized platform to the ground. The guides pushed and pulled on the line to throw us up and down, and it made us all laugh. Bottles of water and a tram awaited us, and when we got back I called to arrange another ride back to the hotel,
after all Mom and Jack were waiting for me to go on our horseback ride*.

P.S Canopying and then horseback riding makes for some serious hurt the next morning.

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