Can I Go Back? by Jacqueline Henry Hill

First I embraced the idea, then discarded it. I must be crazy. There is no way. I can’t be serious. I am afraid of heights and am sixty years old; actually I was sixty-one at the time. Plus, I am overweight. My friend Pat did it, and said it was fun. The cruise had been booked for months. As I perused the list of shore excursions, I smiled and even giggled. The photographs showed gorgeous, aqua-blue water, cloudless perfectly blue skies, and dense vegetation in varied shades of greens.

My internal voice stressed that it was time to fulfill the adventuresome side of myself that I’d never fully released. Once, seemingly an eon ago, I’d driven my red two-seater convertible along Route 10 on the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix at 100 miles per hour. Memories of climbing Dunns River Falls in Jamaica surfaced as I struggled to reminisce for exciting events in my life. (My son’s birth forty years ago doesn’t count.) Riding a boogie board in the Pacific Ocean was sort of daring, maybe even stupid, considering my limited swimming skills. I’d even scaled a large waterslide for a rapid ride through the watery tube.

Mostly, I was an observer. I’d sat on the beaches of Cancun, yearning to be one of those folks parasailing so freely overhead. I’d passed on walking the rope bridge in the rain forest of Ghana, sitting instead drinking tea. I reread the description of the excursion one more time, “requires no special athletic abilities. All you need to know how to do is sit down – gravity and the guides do the rest for you. The guides will gear you up and get you started from each platform.” It was time; my last hurdle was to convince my husband how much fun it would be to fly along a cable suspended above the trees. “Sure,” he said from the safety of his leather recliner.

The ports on this cruise included stops in Panama, Grand Cayman, and Colombia, but my great adventure would be in Costa Rica. When the ship arrived at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, Richard and I were among the first to leave the ship and the first to line up for the tour and board the small twenty-seat van. We joked with others in the group and quickly settled into a humorous banter with the driver and the guide who pointed to a mountain in the distance as our destination. One or two persons in the group had zip lined before and they shared their fun experiences as we quickly made our way through the paved streets of Port Limon, while the guide informed us about the history and culture of Costa Rica.

The driver downshifted, and the small van suddenly began to jolt and lurch its way up a dirt road while our loquacious guide pointed out the beautiful flora and fauna. We bumped along for thirty minutes and at a curve in the road, I saw the ship in the distance, like a small jewel on the ocean. When the guide teased about singing “Amazing Grace” and praying, my husband gave me a look that said, “uh, oh” while a woman in the next seat lowered her head to her knees. The little van’s gears down shifted again and we ascended ten more minutes while I peered over the side of the narrow road. Finally, we came to stop at a smooth dirt lane with a sign, “Zip line ahead.”

All smiles suddenly evaporated from the guide’s face and he began a lengthy speech about the importance of following the directions of the techs. Smiling broadly again, he noted that they’d never lost a customer. We departed the bus and saw two small , open structures, one with restrooms where we all immediately galloped. Next, four techs began to distribute harnesses, helmets, and gloves and to deliver directions for putting them on. Another tech dispensed the last simple, but detailed instructions. Although I didn’t give my full attention, one statement immediately stamped itself in my short term memory, “This is not the movies; these trees do not move; they hurt.”

As the group descended steep dirt steps, I thought that this would be a great time to change my mind and climb back up the steps, get on the bus, and quietly pass out. Abruptly, we halted, and I watched as two persons climbed up wooden steps to a platform suspended to a tree. As I waited for a repeat of the instructions, I shakily scaled the platform, sweat pouring as tiny insects flitted around my face. The guide hooked my harness to the zip line cable, grinned, and murmured “Go.”

Go I did, trying to recollect instructions about keeping my feet up, fixing my top hand on the pulley that fastened me to the zip line cable, and avoiding trees. Woosh! In a few seconds I was at the next platform. More confident, adrenaline flowing, but still nervous, I readied my energy for the second zip. However, the next platform was much farther away. I flew along suspended from a cable 100 feet above the forest, hearing bird and animal sounds, remembering to dodge a few small trees. Then I stopped, although I was halfway between the second and third platforms because I had not followed the directions to keep my legs up. Looking around, back and forth, up and down, I screamed, “Help me! Get me outta here! Come and get me!” A voice shouted instructions, but I hollered, “Come and get me.” I heard what sounded like “Senora loca”, but I could see a sinewy young man making his way to me. Hand over hand, his legs around me, he, then slowly pulled me back to the platform.

When we reached the third platform, two other techs helped me to stand on wobbly legs. Pointing back to the first platform, I pleaded, “ Can I go back?” They ignored me, harnessed me, and gestured to proceed. I took a deep breath, reminding myself that I could do this. Legs up; move around trees; experience the sights and sounds of the rain forest. Each ride between the remaining seven platforms was smoother, and I relished the exhilaration, savored the breezes, and delighted in the moment.

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