There are enough cautionary tales of zip-lining mishaps in nanny-state Canada to discourage ultra-cautious thrill-seekers (if that’s not an oxymoron) from trying this risky activity in Mexico. But in my experience, combining equal parts tequila and sunshine doesn’t equal good judgment.
My sister, Alison, her husband, Ian, and I piled into a Mexican dune buggy for a ride that would take us from the cozy cocoon of our all-inclusive hotel to the “natural jungle of Huatulco”. Our guide, Paco, was a cheery fellow, who kept us entertained with jokes and stories. Upon discovering we were Canadian, he shared this wry joke, “ What do you call someone who speaks many languages?” Answer: “A polyglot.” Then, “What do you call someone who speaks one language?” Answer: “An American”. As he cackled appreciatively at his own wit, I wondered what Canadian jokes Paco shared with his American customers. No doubt igloos and toques played a role, eh?
The only indication we’d arrived at the zip line starting area was the dune buggy came to a stop and the driver and guide jumped out. Our destination appeared to be nothing more than a bare patch of dry reddish earth amid brush and cacti. There wasn’t anything resembling a formal kiosk or office where one would expect to review waivers, top up one’s life insurance and sign a release form in triplicate. Just a jerry-rigged wooden structure that reminded me of Lucy’s “Psychiatric Help ” stand . In that moment, I had more faith in Lucy’s 5 cents’ worth of analysis than in the three amigos behind the booth, knocking back cervezas as they sized up their Canadian quarry twitching nervously in the vehicle.
Mucho Spanish was flying among the zip line operators and our guide as they waved their arms in our general direction. Finally, Paco gestured to us to join them.
Feigning confidence (poorly), we strolled over to the kiosk where we were eyeballed again before being provided with a jumble of grimy harnesses. As we looked stupidly at these Gordian knots, our Mexican hosts unraveled the bewildering tangle of clips and straps and each of us was then buckled into the bondage that would soon be all that stood between us and the promised “natural jungle of Huatulco” more than 300 feet below.
Trussed and helmeted, we got back into the dune buggy and were then driven a ways further to the base of a tall laddered structure. We climbed up and had our first real look at what we’d signed on for: a thin cable line that “zips thrill-seekers through a stunning treetop canopy” was strung across a deep gully between two primitive platforms. Ian, Alison and I huddled anxiously as our guide showed us how to use the “braking system”.
The “system” consisted of a wooden block about the size of a Big Mac. He rapidly explained the physics of this crude mechanism – something to do with friction – and I couldn’t grasp how such a ridiculously inadequate wooden block could slow down a human anvil hurtling at warp speed down a clothesline. Panic and concern were battling in my bowels.
I didn’t have much time to contemplate brakes, gravity and other life-saving considerations; Paco clipped my harness to a tangle of pulleys and with firm pressure, led me to the edge of the platform. He waved to his amigo on the lower platform to signal that la loca turista was ready to launch (and throw up). I spotted the tiny speck of a person who if all went well, would be soon be performing an Olympic catch-and-release.
I was so scared I don’t remember how I actually ended up airborne. More critically, however, I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do with the Big Mac. What were Paco’s instructions? Something about “frrrriction, senora” and “prrrressure, senora”. I was befuddled, picking up speed as I plummeted a thousand feet a second. Having already thrown common sense out the window when I decided to try zip lining in Mexico, I threw the wooden braking system down to the jungle below.
Alison later told me that she and Ian, watching from the launch pad above, looked over at Paco who shrugged his shoulders and said, “Senora no leesen to zee eenstrrrrucshens.”
The rest of the free fall was a blur. Literally. The gully below was vaguely green and hazy. The wind felt hot, sticky. Or maybe those were my underarms. I couldn’t enjoy the view and calculate my landing strategy simultaneously.
As I accelerated to mach 10 on the Mexican death slide, the wee dot of the man (soon to be bumper car) loomed larger quickly. Photos taken of me on the zip line show my bulbous red butt bulging out of the sling. Bystanders’ sympathy and concern would more appropriately have been placed with the poor amigo on the platform who was about to absorb the impact of a 165-pound cherry bomb.
My catcher was focused and unruffled as he manipulated some pulleys that slowed my re-entry as I closed in. He reached out and grabbed my harness while guiding my numb feet to the platform in a well-practiced pas de deux.
It was a quick how-de-do; he guided me to the other side of the platform for the next free fall to the zip line terminus. The second leg was a much shorter ride, and with a fresh Big Mac, I made it down without incident. With my rubber arms, I was preparing to give myself a triumphant pat on the back, when the final coup de grace was delivered:
I looked up just in time to see my poised sister execute a perfect 10.0 leap from the second tower. Cool-as-a-jicama, Alison crossed her sleek ankles as she made an elegant, flawless descent.
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