Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Canopy Tour, Monteverde, Costa Rica

January 2, 2017

It is early morning. I woke up with a bad feeling after a dream last night. I normally never remember a dream, but tonight I woke up dreaming I was dead. I was existing in some sort of limbo between life and death like Bruce Willies did in The Sixth Sense. I had no idea how I died, but as a build-up to my zip-line adventure in the forest canopy, it was not ideal. 
In that state of mind, I had a breakfast and waited for my pickup truck. I was not sure what to expect, but I felt a little down. The constant bad weather had started to take its toll on me and the clouds wrapped the mountain in its carpet this day too. There was a drizzle in the air and the visibility was poor. I hoped that it was clearer higher up.
I checked in at the reception at the Aventura Canopy Tour, emptied my pockets for everything lose and signed the paper claiming that I was sane and that I knew what I was doing. I actually didn’t have a clue. They strapped me in a harness and a group of 10 people was gathered together to have a rapid training. I got a helmet, luckily with a GoPro support and a pair of leather gloves with an extra thick leather padding sewn across the fingers for the wire control. Then there was no turning back and we headed for the first wire. It was a labyrinth of wires stretched from one tree to another and with platforms built in the trees to change from one line to another. One time we had to cross a walking bridge to get to the next and after the sixth line there was a rappel. This is a map of the route:

The first line was for training only and it was not more than 20 meters long. Then we continued zigzagging through the jungle on five new lines before we reached the seventh and a sign telling us that from now on it would get serious and that this was the last chance to turn around. Here is a long video of the first six first lines:

As the video shows, all the previous lines were in-between the canopy with a relative closeness to mother earth. The rain kept the wires wet and that ment a higher speed so we were told to use the glove to control the speed by dragging us up to create a little friction. If somebody got afraid and braked too much so they stopped before the platform, it was still possible to drag them the last meters. The seventh line was not close to earth. We were zipping more than 100 meters above the ground at the most and I could only hope that Aventura Canopy Tour have regularly checks of the wires. The line was 600 meters long and thick as my pinkie finger. We were told not to use the glove to slow down; we were actually not allowed to hold onto the wire at all. They were probably afraid that somebody would stop halfway and it would not be easy to get hold of them to haul them into solid ground again. The problem for the riders was that the hand on the wire was not only for controlling the speed, but also for controlling the direction of the body. Without this control, the body was swirling in all directions during the ride and that was not very pleasant. Here is line no. 7:

Waiting for the transport up to the next line, I heard someone above me shouted and I looked up. More than 200 meters above me somebody screamed out in fear, shooting along the next wire. It was incredibly high up and the dream from last night came back, and I started to look for a way out. There were none.
An ATV with six seats picked us up and started to climb the path up to the next line. It was a scaffolding platform in-between the trees and from this point on, I was no longer in control. We changed from one wheel on the wire sitting in the harness, to two wheels and hanging flat out below the line. "Fly like Superman" they called it. The next line should be 2000 meter long according to the map above, but I realized later that it was “only” 1600 meters long and I had already seen how incredibly high up it was. I was afraid - very afraid. 
A couple from Canada was in front of me and the girl started to get ready. When she was on her way to be hooked onto the wire she collapsed. They had to unhook her and she fell down in a corner, crying and shaking. Her boyfriend of cause, had to take care of her so I suddenly found myself to be first in line. I hadn’t seen anybody do the next zip-line so I didn’t know what to do. I gripped frantically onto the wire with both hands and the guy repeatedly told me to hold my hands up. I am holding my hands up!, I answered, desperately clinging to the wire. After a while I understood that he didn’t tell me to keep my hands up, but off. I let go of the wire and he pushed me on my way...
The video below is from the eighth and ninth line. About 56 seconds into the video, I have slowed it down for some seconds. If you look closely, you can see a little spot coming into the frame from the top and passing below me. That is a person riding the seventh line. It gives a little impression of how high up I actually am. 1600 meters hanging under a suspiciously thin wire was a scary, but actually a fantastic fun ride. 64 seconds gives an average speed of 90 km/hour, but the maximum speed was probably faster than 100 km/hour. The ninth line is “only” 700 meters long and at this point I felt confident.

Then there was only one thing left: The Mega Tarzan Swing. Because of the trees, it was not possible to see the persons in front of me and what they experienced. Only one person at the time was allowed to cross the bridge to the platform. I have done one bungee jump before in my life and it didn’t like it. I hated the free fall and I hoped that the free fall in the swing would not be very noticeable. It was…
Here is a video from Aventura Canopy Tour’s homepage that shows the swing from a distance (it looks like there hves been sun in Costa Rica once):

If I had seen that video before I did it, I would probably just have walked away. However, after the free fall, when the rope stretched out and I started to swing, it was just pure fun. Here is my experience from close by…

I was transported back to the hotel where I checked out, ready for my last leg to San Jose and the motorcycle rental shop. Monteverde was for me, the most uplifting place in all of Costa Rica. It is a tourist industry, but it is well oiled and functional. I felt they were professional in all what they were doing, and that the safety was taken care of at all time. If you seek adventure, Monteverde is the place to visit. 
I jumped onto the bike and started to decline on the opposite side of the mountain from where I arrived. The road was loose gravel and the speed low. Only a couple of hundred meters below the town the sun approached, but looking back at Monteverde, it was still hidden in the cloud carpet. 

Somewhere inside this cloud you can find Monteverde. 

Riding down the hills I had a beautiful view over Gulf of Nicoya coming in from the Pacific Ocean with the Nicoya Peninsula in the background.

Nicoya Golf

The ride back to San Jose passed without any special events except for the usual extremely aggressive driving from nearly every driver in this country. Their eager to always be first, constantly blocked the traffic in a way I don't think I have ever seen anywhere else. If two lanes went into one, nobody showed any flexibility and the traffic jammed. It was just plain stupid, but understandable looking back on my experiences the last 3 weeks. This is a genuinely unfriendly country. Nobody cares about you or wants to help you at all. Maybe they just don't like tourist, but that normally fixes itself. Just maintain the negative attitude and tourist will no longer want to visit you. Problem solved!

I took the highway back and had to stop at every tollbooth and pay the same amount as the cars did. It is so fun to stop, turn off the engine, take off the gloves and then dig into the pocket to see if I had enough change, find out I hadn't, open the jacket to pull out the wallet, find a note and get the change back, put the wallet in the inner pocket and the change in the trousers, on with the gloves again, start the bike and then ride for another ten minutes to the next tollbooth and repeat. If I had been in a car behind me I would have been aggressive too.
Tomorrow I will leave Costa Rica and head for Nicaragua and Little Corn Island. On the map below you can see the route from Monteverde to San Jose. You can also see the Corn Islands on the top right corner of the map and Managua, the capital of Nicaragua in the top left corner where I have to fly by. 

I will come back shortly with a review of the Costa Rican Travel Agency and Costa Rica. 

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