I remember climbing the trees in the backyard of our home as a child. Tying a rope to a high branch and trying to swing across to another tree.
… if there is a bit of Peter Pan in every little boy,
well, there must be a little bit of Tarzan too …
However, as I think back, the rope in the tree thing ended up less Tarzan and more like George of the Jungle!
Today I am in the Petén region of Guatemala traveling from Flores to the Mayan ruins of Yax Ha about 70 Km of rutted roads to the northeast. Along the way, I have stopped for a canopy tour. A canopy tour is the big kid equivalent of playing Tarzan.
Originally developed as a means of transit for rain forest researchers, suspended cables allowed for the easy movement through a jungle area with fewer disturbances of the ecosystem. Canopy tours have evolved into popular attractions in several locations in Costa Rica and are now operating in other Latin American countries as well. Adapting modern climbing and repelling gear to create an aerial network of cables, zip lines as they are also known, allowing you to fly swiftly and safely through the rain forest high above the jungle floor.
Yesterday in the pre-dawn darkness, I sat perched a hundred feet above the jungle canopy on top of Temple IV in Ruinas Maya Tikal awaiting the sunrise. Before this I have been “in” the jungle, trekking across the floor, here in Guatemala and in Fiji, Rarotonga, Cambodia and Thailand. Nevertheless, the closest I have been to the canopy itself has been as I passed through it climbing Temple IV or peering through the tree tops while scrambling over the knife edged ridge of Te Rua Manga during my trans-island trek across Rarotonga two years ago. However, this afternoon I am all decked out in the latest Guatemalan S&M gear ..er.. repelling harness and teetering up a steeply angled rope bridge across a ravine to the first platform in the trees.
I spook a couple of parrots as I lunge from the rope suspension bridge onto the platform and put a bear hug on the towering tropical cedar that holds our launching pad. Shuffling my feet, I squirm around the tree trunk as Ricardo, first of my canopy guides, grabs my safety line and snaps the carabiner anchoring me to the platform just as Carlos, the second guide who is bringing up the rear, clamors on board behind us. As I inch up towards Ricardo and the forward edge of the platform, it hits me as I realize that we are waaaaaaaaay the heck up in the air! OK, I am the one who just yesterday, in the dark, climbed nine flights of Mayan steps, nine wooden ladders, to sit 68 meters high on top of a temple to hopefully see the sunrise. The same person whose friends call upon to scale the rickety ladder and paint the upper half of the 30 ft tall living room wall (oh and would I mind varnishing the ceiling beam as long as I’m up there?)…I am the one who deals with heights, not really all that fond of them, but…
So here I am, looking down a hundred feet or more to the dense green of the jungle floor. Meanwhile, Carlos has jumped and flown down the line to the next platform with my camera swinging precariously by its strap from his neck. Ricardo places a pulley on the cable. Then in a swift fluid movement, he grabs the big carabiner on the front of my harness while pulling the cable and pulley down and the carabiner and me up, and snapping it all together he steps back as everything rebounds like the string of a drawn bow and I’m snatched up in the air by my crotch! Yowza! Talk about a nuclear wedgie! Here I am dancing on my tippy toes at the edge of the abyss, I mean platform, with this damnable climbing harness flossing my butt cheeks, and Ricardo say, “Ok, jump!” Now I may have just watched Carlos leap off the platform and zip a hundred and fifty meters through the air to the next platform, but I am sure at this precise moment I am giving Ricardo the “you’re out of you freaking Mayan mind” look, which I am quite certain he has seen many times before from other first time zipliners. Ricardo again checks my heavily gloved hands for proper positioning and with a big grin calmly says, “no brake, just glide” while nodding towards Carlos and the distant next platform. I step into the air and …
… oooOOOhhh … Shhh ... T!!!
There’s a green blur to my right, and another one on my left…straight ahead looms a gigantic mahogany tree and I’m closing in on it fast! Carlos catches my arm as I glide almost gracefully onto the platform breathlessly shouting, “I WANNA DO THAT AGAIN!” Which is a damned good thing because from here, there’s no turning back and twelve more platforms to go or else you have to shinny down the trunk of the old mahogany tree a hundred feet or so to get to the ground.
After twelve more flights, along the way spooking more parrots, seeing some toucans, orioles and flycatchers, going eyeball to eyeball with a family of spider moneys there was one last long glide that brought us back down to the jungle floor. It was about a 1 km walk back through the jungle on a cleared trail to launching pad, time to savour the excitement, catch a howler monkey off guard, and reflect on the fear of heights having been conquered for one afternoon.