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Saturday 14 Dec 2013
Santa Elena, Costa Rica

Scream if you wanna go faster

Andrea didn’t feel well, so it was just Chris, Steph and I that went zip-lining today.  We were driven about half an hour out of town up some very steep gravel roads to reach the base, where we got kitted up with harnesses, helmets and thick leather gloves.  They had a helmet with a GoPro mount on top so I was able to use my camera.  Just as well, because we needed both hands for the zip-line: one hand to hold the sling in front and the other (the one with the leather glove) to brake by pulling down on the cable above.  Having done both this and zip-lines where the brakes are controlled by the guides, I think I now prefer the one where someone else brakes, as it means you can look around, spin around and generally enjoy the ride without having to concentrate on not braking too soon or too late.

We whizzed down 9 zip-lines, our crazy guides unclipping us from one and sending us down the next only moments before the next person arrived.  I could hear Stephanie scream or sing TLC songs as she set off on each line ahead of me, while Chris came barreling down behind me with a grin on his face.

The last two zip-lines were slightly different.  Firstly, we were lowered down from the tree platform on a rapid abseil.  I asked the guide not to go too quickly with me, as I really hate abseils.  He agreed and swung me off the platform, then instantly vanished above me as I dropped at a ridiculous speed, yelping and screaming.  He’d agreed, but he wasn’t even the one in control of the rope – that guy was on the ground laughing at me with a cheeky grin on his face.  Grr…

We had a steep climb up to the next area:  The Superman Zip!  This was a one-mile-long cable that crossed an entire valley.  Our harnesses were adjusted so that we were lying down with the cable above us, Superman style.  Each person stood on a wooden platform while they were clipped on below the cable.  The guide gave them a push and they slid towards the gap in the trees, slowly at first, before they gathering speed as the ground dropped away beneath them, launching them out across the valley. 

Chris went first, saluting us before pulling the classic Superman pose, one fist held out in front and the other by his hip.  He seemed to get smaller very quickly as he shot off into the distance and it wasn't long before we could hardly see him at all.  Stephanie went next, again singing, “It’s a girl thang” in order to stop herself screaming. 

Then it was my turn.  This was the first zip-line that made me feel a little apprehensive, but there was no turning back now.  The ride was very smooth, but the chest harness dug uncomfortably into my ribs, which made it more difficult to breathe by the end.  It took only two minutes to travel the mile-long cable, but speed was a very strange concept as the ground got further and further away from me.  The initial bit through the trees felt fast because the leaves were rushing past right next to me.  As the trees became treetops and then a blanket of canopy down below me, it felt like I slowed down.  I had plenty of time to look around me and marvel at how peaceful and calm it felt, in spite of the rushing wind and the metallic whiz of the cable runners above me.  If this is what a parachute jump feels like, then I can see the attraction – that said, it is highly unlikely you’ll ever convince me to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane!  As I approached the trees on the far side, I looked up to see Chris and Steph waiting for me, grinning broadly.  The guides took care of braking this time, but I’m sure they left it slightly later than necessary, just to make me scream again as I hurtled into the clearing and found myself yanked to a standstill at almost the very end of the cable.  What a buzz!

The three of us chattered excitedly all the way around to the next cable.  This was another Superman, but only 700m long this time – only! Still longer than a lot of the others I have done – and the last cable of the day.  I asked the guide to adjust my shoulder harness and found it much more comfortable on this run.

Last up was a Tarzan Swing: a giant swing over the valley floor.  In principle, I liked this idea, but it was the initial two-second free-fall before the swing picks up the slack that I had an issue with.  I was in two minds about whether to do it as we followed the path down to the platform.  As we rounded the corner to see someone drop like a stone off the end of the long walkway, my mind was instantly made up.  Not on your nelly.

We watched as everyone else in the group went one by one up the walkway and jumped into oblivion, followed by screams and squeals and laughter.  There was a Costa Rican family in front of us. Their 11-year-old son was jumping up and down waiting his turn, making us feel like wusses.  After his Dad went, he practically ran down the walkway for his go.  His Mum was halfway out after him when he dropped off the end – I’m pretty sure she screamed louder than he did!

Chris was still unsure, but headed out to have a look off the end before he decided.  The guides gave him no time for consideration, roping him in as soon as he got close enough for them to grab his harness.  He was still saying he wasn’t sure when they pushed him off the end...  I have never heard a bellow like it in my life!  Steph and I had to sit down because we were laughing so hard.  Birds in a 20-mile radius all took off at once as his shouts echoed around the valley.  It was priceless.

I had no qualms about being the only one in the group not to jump, but I didn’t want Steph to regret not going just because I didn’t want to.  The guides were beckoning us, so I convinced her to at least go and look.   Steph walked up the gangplank like there was a pirate behind her with a sword in her back, arms folded over her head and pausing several times while I shouted encouragement.  She stopped about 3m short of the end, before finally stepped within the reach of the guides, who took their chance.  They had her roped up in seconds.  They paused long enough for her to look the smallest one in the eye and tell him she hated him, before he grinned and pushed her off the end.

I just about got the camera recording in time to capture her screams as she dropped and swung.  Chris – thank goodness – had his phone ready and recorded the whole thing from below.  It remains one of the funniest things I have seen all year.  She didn’t just scream at the initial drop.  Or the first swing.  She kept on screaming until she’d run out of breath, and then gathered a lungful to scream again.  And again, even more high pitched than the first two.  We spent the next two days watching the video over and over and laughing until we cried every time.  We’d suddenly burst out laughing from nowhere and know we were both thinking of that scream.  I just WISH I’d got Chris’ bellowing on video too.  In hindsight, I should have given one of them my helmet and recorded the whole swing on the GoPro, but we didn’t think of it at the time.  Even so, that 10-minute package of comedy gold will remain etched on my memory forever.

We spent another great night with Gayle and Chris at Taco Taco, reliving today’s heroic moments.  Sadly, they were leaving the next day.  I really liked them and could have happily travelled on with them for a while, but my timescale didn’t allow it.  Hopefully we’ll catch up again back in the UK next year.

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #2 Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica

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I met Christina in April. We travelled a bit of Australia together and both learned to dive. Now we're off to Mexico and Belize to see what the Caribbean and the Great Mesoamerican Reef have to offer, before I head down to Costa Rica for 10 days.

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