For the 50+ Traveler

As my driver shuttled me from Liberia to Guanacaste on my first trip to Costa Rica, I was enjoying the warm January weather. We passed homes, cows, and lush vegetation. At one point I saw a sign on the side of the road. It read Zip-Lining. I’d never heard of it, so I asked my driver what it was. He explained that you climb up high and hold on to a cable, hundreds of feet above the ground, and slide down. I was flabbergasted. “People really do that?” I asked. It seemed completely stupid, and I made a mental note that I’d never do anything so dumb!

I eventually made my way from Guanacaste to La Fortuna on an Interbus shuttle. We changed buses along the way, and that’s where I had the pleasure of meeting Lloyd and Maggie, who were going in the same direction. We became instant friends and learned we’d all be traveling to Monteverde after La Fortuna.

Hanging bridges in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
Heather Markel

While in La Fortuna, we decided to meet up and take a tour of the area’s spectacular hanging bridges. We heard screams all around us. Nobody appeared to be falling off the bridges, and we couldn’t place the sounds, since they were a minute or two apart. Then we looked up. That’s when we saw the zip lines overhead. The screams sounded happy and felt so full of life that after listening to 10 minutes of them, we decided we had to try zip-lining for ourselves in Monteverde. I was relieved that we weren’t going to try it in La Fortuna, because there were eight cables there, and I thought one or two would be enough.

Once in Monteverde, we agreed to zip-line at Selvatura Park, because it seemed less of an extreme-sports park than the other options.

The hummingbird park in Selvatura, Costa Rica.
Heather Markel

Selvatura also offered a hummingbird park where birds sit on your hands, which we all wanted to experience.

My initial relief faded when, upon arrival, I learned there were 15 cables instead of eight, and that the zip line was the old-fashioned kind where you hold the line with your hand to avoid spinning. As my fears grew, we bought our tickets and decided to go immediately so that we wouldn’t have time to change our minds. We were given the necessary equipment and suited up. Once the man who double-checked my gear was satisfied, he said, “Hope to see you later.”

The writer smiling before experiencing the zip line.
Heather Markel

With my legs shaking and my nausea growing, we made our way to the first cable with a small group and four guides. We received a quick training session. I stood at the first cast-off tower and looked down, reasoning that the ground was close enough that if I fell I’d only break all my bones, not die. Armed with that confidence, and hooked onto the cable, I slid down. I smiled for a photo, then braced for the second cable. The third cable was high enough that death was a possibility and, though I made it, I clenched the cable so tightly that I couldn’t lift my arm.

There was no way I could continue, and I told one of the guides so. He offered to accompany me. I didn’t know this was an option and eagerly nodded my head. (Note: If you go zip-lining, you can ask one of your guides to hold your hand the whole way!) My guide linked us together so that we comfortably faced one another and I didn’t need to hold the cable. He spoke to me the whole way, joking that it was his first time, too. This was the first cable I actually enjoyed. Then Andre showed up.

Andre was another of the guides. Attractive and adorable, he informed me that he would be my boyfriend for the rest of the cables. He traveled behind me on each cable and intertwined our limbs like some sort of zip-line kama sutra. I have no idea how we got into those poses. Between them and our conversations I was completely distracted from my fear!

By the 10th cable I felt relaxed and trusted Andre so completely that after he hooked me to the next cable and told me he’d be right behind me, I took off and continued talking to him. About halfway down, I wondered why he wasn’t responding, so I turned my head. That’s when I discovered that he had let me cast off without him! I was delighted to be alone because I realized that I was ready for the experience. I found myself screaming with delight at some points, like those I’d heard before me. The more relaxed I became, the more I was able to focus on the beautiful scenery instead of the cable and my fear of falling off.

The last cable was a kilometer long. I was glad to be with Andre, because it took quite a bit of time. Maggie and Lloyd were waiting for me at the finish line, and we gave each other high-fives.

The writer and her friends after zip-lining.
Heather Markel

For the rest of the day, I experienced an emotional high and felt like I had stared down a fear. For months afterward, in-flight turbulence didn’t bother me. But that adrenaline-junkie piece never kicked in. When I think back on the experience, I’m proud of myself for having the guts to try it out. Seeing the land from above while hanging from a big string is something I’ll always remember. Stepping so far outside my comfort zone was invigorating.

Though I’m glad I did it, I don’t feel the need to do it again. I didn’t enjoy the powerful nausea I started with, nor how weak I felt when my arms cramped up from over-clenching the cable. Feeling like my entire life depended on a tiny wheel staying attached to a long cable is not something I wish to repeat!

The writer zip-lining with her GoPro camera.
Heather Markel

Should you try it, I recommend attaching a GoPro to the top of your helmet to record the experience. Also be sure to research the type of zip line -- older ones require you to wear a glove and hold the cable. Newer lines offer a harness to sit in and a bar to hold. You can also rent a Superman harness, which makes you feel like you’re flying.

Zip-lining is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s certainly something you won’t forget!

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