Only seven women signed up for the zip-lining and cave-tubing tour in Belize, and they were half my age. With a life-long fear of heights, I forced myself to be Gutsy, and play Tarzan for a day.
Our adventure started the minute we boarded a retired American school bus and bounced all the way to Jaguar Paw Jungle Reserve, a tribal style resort located on 215 acres of jungle reserve in the heart of Belize. The Caves Branch River meandered through the jungle with several miles of underground caves where the Mayans once lived and worshiped.
Two young Belizean men led us on a steep path to our starting point in the heart of the jungle’s lush, tropical canopy. After a brief lecture on the equipment we’d be using, I told Louis I was scared of heights. “You’ll be safe,” he said. “We have two steel cables on each of the eight rides so you’re doubly protected.” We each wore a metal helmet which I assumed was to protect our head in case we crashed into a tree trunk.
I started working out when these young girls were still in diapers, and my years of weight training finally paid off. My arms lifted me with ease, and Louis snapped my belt to the cable. We each stepped into a harness which Louis tightened firmly against our waist and hips. He then fastened the harness clasps to the steel cables and a safety leash secured us to a massive tree trunk at each of the eight landing stations. We looked like seven monkeys tied to a tree trunk, forty feet up in the jungle canopy.
Our first platform was knee-shaking high. “So who’s ready to go first?” Louis asked.
A short skinny girl raised her hand. “I will.”
Louis gave a brief lecture, then instructed the girl to put on her heavy-duty industrial type gloves.
“Put your left hand around all the ropes. Your right hand slides behind you on the bottom cable. The right glove is reinforced with a thick leather pad, so you don’t rub a hole through it and end up with a bloody hand. Use your right hand for braking. If you need to break, you’ll pull down on the cable with that hand.”
“How do we know if we need to break?” I asked.
“We’ll make this type of motion,” he said, waving his hand up and down.
I hoped we were done with all the instructions as I started getting confused.
“Are you ready? Let’s get started,” Louis said.
Oscar, the other guide, demonstrated our first ride to the second platform, about ninety feet away. He made it look fun and easy.
Our first volunteer started her Tarzanna trip, screaming, as she zipped along, though not as smoothly as Oscar had demonstrated.
I decided to be fourth in line—my favorite number for good luck. I concentrated so hard on technique, that before I knew it, I’d reached the other side. What happened? This was really no big deal. My fear of heights didn’t even enter into the equation as I focused so hard on the task. Thankfully, I’d forgotten to look down. Everyone except poor Tracy, became experts at inter-tree air-borne travel.
The grand finale was getting down from the last platform. No we didn’t have the luxury of a staircase or a ladder, we had to repel. We were instructed to squat, grab the rope on the edge of the platform, hang over and control our descent with a hand lever. A slight pull could send you flying, so the exact contraction on the rope was critical.
All of us struggled with the repelling, but I reminded myself not to look down and that helped. Once again poor Tracy was last. It took Oscar a good ten minutes to prep her. She accidentally released the lever too quickly, which sent her flying at top speed. Her terror stricken shriek ended when Oscar controlled the security lever from above and succeeded in aborting her free fall a third of the way down.
“I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this,” I said to Louis, all proud of my accomplishment. One by one we waited for our security gear to be taken off and headed to the Jaguar Paw Lodge, where we met the less brave who spent the day at the zoo.
After a typical Belizean lunch of chicken, rice and beans, our group of seven women hiked towards the underground river and caves, each one carrying an inner-tube into the jungle. Now we were ready to see some Mayan artifacts.
What one Gutsy thing have you done that you remember?
Remember to come back and vote on January 1st-11th for your favorite December “My Gutsy Story”