Walking onto the first platform requires courage, a little at least. Equipped with climbing gear, helmet, safety belt and gloves, I climb up the six wooden steps. On top of the platform a carabiner is clipped into the belt I am wearing around my hip, the other side of which is attached to a steel cable. I get a short briefing. I will have to bend my knees slightly, lean back, catch hold of the steel cable running above me, but not tighten my grip, so that I would accidentally slow down, spin, and possibly ruin my gloves. Plus, I have to make sure my hair is tucked into my sleeve. One last check: Are my shoes securely fastened? Is my camera stowed away safely?
And then I simply push off. It’s now or never, I guess. The longer I wait, the harder it will be. I never thought it could be that hard at all – this is only the exercise course after all – and the distance to the floor is just two meters.
After the test run, the journey through the treetops will change significantly. Ropes like the one I am attached to span the giant trees in 30 to 40 meters height, crossing vast, deep canyons. The cloud forest of Rincón de la Vieja National Park in the north of Costa Rica is home to a dense canopy net, with spectacular views over the evergreen forest canopy. Canopy describes a journey from treetop to treetop via rope. It was invented by natural scientists who wanted to examine the roof of the forest without always taking the arduous ascent and descent. Today, it is a tourist attraction.
Those who are looking for spectacular views but are not as action-seeking as those doing canopy can take a treetop trail that leads on a round tour across the treetops via rope bridges. I opted for both: I have already done the round course and now I am leaving the at least somewhat solid ground of the trail to float freely between the treetops. Whatever option you chose: Fear of height is not good for any.
And then I am jumping from the platform. Do not think too much about what you are doing, I tell myself. A jerk and I’m sitting in my belt and fly along the short distance to the next platform, where I disengage the hook and wait for the others. It is a breeze, really. Short, quick, and fun. My fear is long-forgotten. Amused about our chicken-hearted behavior, I watch the others go through the same anxiety as me.
José, one of two local security guards, is already waiting on the platform I have just arrived at. He does not start from the “Children’s slope”, he says. Together we have to wait until everybody has arrived. Then we meet the next challenge, one after the other. As we continue, the cables get longer and higher, and the task gets more fun. There is no time to enjoy the view, however. José asks me if I want to try something. In my adrenaline rush I say yes, and shortly afterwards I find myself on his lap, headfirst. He wants me to relax and just let my upper body hang down. Relax, I think, but this is madness. Not everyone dares to try that, José explains on arrival at the other side. I know why. And though I will not give it another try either, I’m a little proud.
Another thing not everyone dares to approach is the last stop of the canopy trail. It is an extra, so to speak, without steel cables, but offering a free fall into the abyss. Weak knees do not count as an excuse right now. Nevertheless, mine shake as I again climb a wooden platform and am attached to a new safety belt. They want me to step close to the abyss which is well 15 meters deep, the only protection being a rope that is tied firmly around my belt. I have to lean forward, and in this moment I know that only the security team prevents me from falling down. I am not able to step back without falling. José counts to three and then leaves me the Tarzan swing. I fall freely for like what seems to be a few seconds. Then the belt catches me, another jerk, and I am swinging back and forth for some minutes. A broad grin comes to my face. Good thing I have taken the treetop trail before – my knees would not take me too far any more. Up to the platform is the only way I can still take – I want do do it again!