Friday, February 1st, 2008, 3:30 pm
I spent quite a bit of time in Costa Rica fighting off a feeling of deja vu. I’d wake up to an alarm clock, shower and get dressed in a semi-rush, and race out the door so I wouldn’t miss my bus to the office. OK, I didn’t take the bus to work–Mario or Edwin would pick me up in an SUV. I’d usually have breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant first–anyone know why rice and beans aren’t featured on the breakfast menu at Denny’s? Because they should be. Once I’d get to our building I’d sit in on meetings and look over stuff and do some writing.
It was like every other office I’ve ever worked in, right down to the water cooler around the corner. Chatting with people in the hallways, making plans to go out for lunch…I haven’t enjoyed social interaction like that for over a year. Of course Costa Rica is a bit different from Pittsburgh–the weather was picture-perfect just about every day, the traffic was insane, and I was warned not to wander around outside by myself. The existential threat of sudden violence notwithstanding, it was a nice, relaxed place to work.
But the weekend meant I’d be at loose ends, since I couldn’t expect my hosts to babysit me 24/7. I wasn’t the only person visiting the office and my boss advised us to get out of San Jose and do something fun. The beach sounded like a good idea, until I realized how this norteamericano would look in his swim trunks. Ugh. A few folks wanted to see the Arenal volcano and visit the Tabacon spa and resort, and that’s what we settled on. Until Gaby, my boss’s ebulliant secretary, said that all the hotels in that area were already booked. We could do a one-day trip if we wanted, and that’s what we ended up doing on Sunday. But it looked like I’d have to endure a dull Saturday until Gaby saw me about to leave and said, "What are you doing Saturday? You have to do SOMETHING."
So we went back to her desk and looked over some possible excursions. Whitewater rafting seemed a bit ambitious, and anyway I can do that here in Pennsylvania if I really want to. We don’t have rain forest here, and so when I saw something for a canopy tour I said that looked good. Gaby picked up the phone, spoke rapid-fire Spanish for a minute or two, and just like that I was booked. They’d pick me up at my hotel at 8AM.
I really didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into. I figured we’d hike a bit, cross some rope bridges, nothing too crazy. I knew that there were tours where crazy people attached to harnesses rocketed across the sky on zip lines, but I didn’t know that was the tour I signed up for until I got on the bus and our guide said, "Today will be filled with excitement and adrenaline!"
"Oh…goody," I thought.
We drove along the Pan-American highway, which was interesting in and of itself. You drive along this four-lane road and at times it looks just like a highway in the U.S. Then you see a couple of houses built right up against the road. And I do mean a couple–two or three houses in the middle of nowhere, with nothing around them but trees and the highway. Some of the houses looked to be little more than shacks with rusty, corrugated-metal roofs, while others were tidy little cottages painted in bright colors. And you’d see these kinds of houses right next to each other, with barely six inches between. In your typical white-bread American suburb that would trigger a zoning fight that would rival Armageddon. There, no biggie. I wondered how these folks happened to pick that precise spot to build their home along the Pan-American.
Another odd thing we saw along the way–there was a stretch of highway where there were like a dozen furniture showrooms in a row. These long, two-story buildings with floor-to-ceiling windows displaying well-upholstered sofas and recliners, one after another. I’m in the market for a couch but I didn’t know if any of these stores ship to the U.S. So I didn’t ask if we could stop.
We did pause at a rest stop along the way, where a bought a bottle of "lime"-flavored water that was absolutely disgusting. Though the stop wasn’t a total loss:
Truth in advertising–the facilities were perfectly adequate. The road you see in the background was one-way…or so I thought. It went uphill and turned sharply into a blind left turn. Cars were passing each other before making that turn, so like an idiot I figured it was one-way, as a car coming in the other direction would make passing a near-suicidal act. And so I nearly got killed crossing that road to take some pictures when a truck–a big, BIIIIG truck–careened by. But four years at Penn State (and looking both ways on Beaver Avenue) conditioned me to never assume the other way is clear. Here’s one of the shots I risked my life to get. Was it worth it? Ehh.
We drove on. And up. And down. The road twisted and turned, rose and fell, and soon we passed from palm trees and blue sky to dense forest and mist. A very scenic trip, and I found it odd when one of the young guys on the bus stood up and turned away from the window. He took a deep breath, took another, and then he opened a window on the other side of the bus and leaned forward. "He’s gonna puke out the window," I thought.
Almost, but not quite. He managed to hold it in…which is more than his girlfriend could say. The undulating route made her carsick and she barfed all over herself, her boyfriend, and a great swath of the aisle. I don’t know what she ate for breakfast, but whatever it was, she ate a lot of it. The smell brought her boyfriend and their other friend to the brink of making contributions of their own, but they kept it together. I wasn’t bothered in the least. I had other things on my mind.
Like the gigantic fricking towers that, uh, towered over us when we got off the bus. Criss-crossing a deep valley were these impossibly high and impossibly fragile wires. Ropes. Strings, practically. And I was gonna fly through the air with the greatest of ease while suspended from STRING? Not Mrs. Bromberg’s little boy.
But, then, I’m becoming more adventuresome as I grow older. And so I told myself, "Ain’t no goddam WAY you’re gonna pussy out of this. So sack up, you wipe, and do that which needs to be done."
Boosting my self-confidence was Jason, one of our guides, saying, "Here’s comes the big boy" when it was my turn to get harnessed like a goddam Clydesdale. As if I needed more evidence that I need to lose weight. He got the straps and belts and chastity-belt-like-thingy arranged in such a way that I felt confident that I wouldn’t suffer genital torture during the tour. Henry, our other guide, explained that the main strap attaching us to the taxi (which is what they called the metal do-dad with the pully that attaches to the line) could support 3,000 kilograms. I did some quick math in my head and felt fairly confident that I didn’t weigh near that much. And so we were off.
We walked to the first line, which was only about 25 meters long. One guide zipped across first, the other hooked us to the sturdy metal cord and sent us across. You mounted a low metal stool to get attached and when you were ready, you just had to lean back, let the wire take your weight, and off you went into the ether. It was that easy. I was worried that I’d have to leap out into space, which is when my inner ‘fraidy-cat would make itself known. Nope. Just lean back, and zzzzzzzip.
It was a total blast. Sure, I was hanging fifty feet above the forest floor, but it was like being on an amusement park ride. In the jungle. With no car or trolley to mess up the view. The first few lines were fairly short and low enough that you could reach down with your feet and touch the leaves of some (still very tall) trees. I was lovin’ it.
I got attached to the fourth or fifth line of the day and Jason said, "Get ready for the surprise at the end". Surprise? Ehh, I was feeling cocksure, nothing could surprise me. And I zipped to the next tree, no problem. No surprise. Until we hiked down this hill to a wide, long valley. And I saw that there was a Tarzan swing suspended from a tree that was about 500 feet tall.
"Whoo, doggie," I thought I looked it over. "Uh, OK." I was actually worried for three reasons. One was the whole fear of heights thing–no problem, that was all but conquored. The second was the realization that if for some reason you didn’t swing all the way back, you’d end up suspended high, high in the air and a long, long way from assistance. The third was that, well, I’m a big boy, and the guides had to pull you back and then FLING you out into the void. And while I don’t know the Spanish phrase for "sports hernia", I could see that our two intrepid guides weren’t too excited about the idea of dead-lifting my fat ass. "When I coun’t three, I need you to jump back as we pull you," Jason said. It was the only time during the trip I saw him look anxious.
I guess hollering "Holy SHIT!" wasn’t the wittiest thing I might’ve come up with, but lemme tell you, for a second you think you’re gonna fall all the way to the bottom of the valley. For just a second. And then it’s fun. Notice that I only got two swings, while everyone else got three. Reason #132 for why I should lose weight.
Incidentally, the sound I made wasn’t a high-pitched giggle. I actually yelled out someting like "WHOOOOO-HOOOOO!!!" but between the Doppler effect and the choppy recorder my triumpant yawp didn’t come through.
And that was that. A blast, very glad I went. If you ever get the chance, go. I enjoyed it so much that I haven’t had any nightmares about it. so I even liked it on a subconscious level. What better recommendation could I give?
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