Pinterest A Grateful Life Lived: Ziplining in the El Yunque Rainforest

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ziplining in the El Yunque Rainforest

A view of the rainforest
(photo credit:

     Of all the unique place I have been blessed to visit, Puerto Rico is one of the most beautiful I can remember.  One key feature of that beauty is the El Yunque Rainforest-- the only rainforest in the U.S or one of its territories.  We were eager to visit while in Puerto Rico two summers ago.  In fact, we were so enthralled by the adventurous spirit of Puerto Rico that we decided not only to hike through the forest, but also to zipline.  Why not?  After all, adventure is what we do best.
    We had built plenty of time in for the rainforest, staying close by for a few days before we went to the island of Vieques (RELATED: Unforgettable Runs, Puerto Rico).  I wasn't sure what to expect when my mom first came up with the idea of zip-lining.  I'd never done it before and although I'm not afraid of heights, I was a little wary of hoisting my body out and relying on a tiny cord to keep me up.  

     We followed the Yunke Zipline Adventure car as we wound up and down narrow dusty roads and into the dense foliage of Puerto Rico.  It felt like at least 90 degrees when I finally hopped out of the car and glanced around the area.  Our "base camp" was a weathered blue house sitting in a wide open vista overlooking the nearby rainforest.  A couple of workers from the zipline company showed us over to a small veranda just off the house.  I use the term "company" loosely: these guys were native Puerto Ricans who had decided to start their own business after working for other zipline companies in the past.  They wanted to incorporate a more educational aspect to the adventure it seems.  The two of them were so outgoing and knowledgeable  that as my mom signed my life away on a waiver, they showed us some trees with yellow, mango like fruit right outside the house.  While we stared at the fruit like idiot, suburban Americans, one of them plucked it down and explained that it was Passion Fruit, a very well loved Puerto Rican fruit.  I could understand why: it was absolutely delicious and sweet (I will warn you though, as I have tried, if you are so lucky to find it in the U.S: It won't taste nearly as good.  It's the same disappointing reality we found out after having Mango in Mexico).
     While my brother and I watched the man show us how to eat the fruit, the men handed it out to the other 6 or so people who were going to be zip-lining in our group.  There were two girls from Texas, a family with two teenaged kids from the U.S, and  a couple of others I don't remember.  I do recall however, that as a couple of us were waiting for the restrooms, one of the Texans confessed to my mom and I that she was terrified of what was to come.  "I'm really scared of heights," she warned.  At least, I reasoned, I would be better off than her.
     With the tangy Passion Fruit juice still in my mouth, we gathered up the group and headed out on the trail.  I was fascinated as the guides began explaining the geology of the land and the trees and fruits we were passing.  They had very extensive knowledge about Puerto Rico and its people, and conveyed it in such an interesting way that I didn't even grumble with the realization that I was learning over summer vacation.  The hike to our first zip-line took about 45 minutes, and I really enjoyed seeing the private part of the rainforest that seemed so untouched and pristine.  I was amazed that I could look out to my left and see a distant canopy of trees falling out from below where the path dropped off to the left.  After a little while, we reached the first zip-line and I got ready to go.  I'm pretty sure I opted to be one of the first to go, so I soon found myself on a high platform looking down to see small trees below.  Shakily, I nodded to the guide that I was ready and let go.
     There was such a rush flying through the air!  You have to be careful to keep straight while your zipping, but I hadn't quite mastered that skill yet, so I was spinning and laughing and freaking out all at the same time. It was so much fun!  Then, I realized that if I was going so fast...I would have to stop pretty fast too.  A little nervous, I braced  myself as the platform rapidly approached.  The guide was nodding and smiling as I rushed towards him, probably about to smack so hard into the tree that I'd knock him down.  But he caught me and quickly halted my movement.  I dangled for a minute before he reminded me I could stand up-- should stand up.  That's how I like to do things: clueless and with a smile on my face.  Since I was one of the first to go, I got to laugh as everyone else did the same stumbling halt toward the platform that was a good 90 feet off the ground.  My poor little brother was only 11 and understandably scared for the experience, but after the first two ziplines. he was a pro.  My mom never got over the "mom" reflex of "what if I hurt my ankle?  What if I can't stop?  I can't drop my camera!"  I'll give her credit though because she did calm down quite a bit.
photo credit:
     After a few ziplines, we got to do repelling as well.  It was hilarious because everyone went one by one  off the platform.  I captured my mom's decent with the camera, and couldn't stop laughing when she just smacked her butt on the forest floor because she'd forgotten to sit down.  Sure enough, I did the same thing. One I'd wiped off the dirt, I followed the rest of the group-- with my pride a little dented-- towards the last and ultimate zipline.  Not only was it strung over a river valley far below, but it is also the longest zipline on the island.  I wanted to make the last zipine worth it.  One of our guides explained that we could go backwards or with our hands off our holster if we wanted, and then demonstrated this craziness as he jumped off the platform and did a flip before zooming to the other side.  I was one of the last to go this time, wanting to prolong the tour as long as I could.  Finally, I edged toward the drop-off.  I decided that I wanted to be sure I saw everything, so rather than going backwards: I opted to go hands free.  Before I knew what I had done, I jumped through the air and was flying over the treetops far below.  For a while, I closed my eyes  to feel the wind brushing past my face.  Then I kicked my feet, opened my eyes, and began to scream with delight while I gained speed.  Sadly, I eventually halted to a stop.  They had warned us that some people that  didn't weight as much might not make it all the way to the other platform.  In that case, they would reel a sandbag out on the line for us to hold to while they pulled us back in.  Thankfully, I got stuck.  I would have loved to stay out there for just a little longer, but I reluctantly grabbed the bag and ended my moment of flight.
     On the short walk back, our group of now-experienced zipliners joked and congratulated each other on a job well done.  Though we'd been strangers when we ventured out  hours ago, we were now comrades.  After saying our goodbyes to our new friends, my mom nabbed one of our tour guides for one last photo op (RELATED: Growing up a Photographer's Daughter).  After my mom made sure someone took at least three shots-- just to be safe-- she put away her camera and we loaded back into the car-- exhausted and happy.  I looked through the pictures and realized that our guide had been putting putting "bunny ears" behind my brother in all of the pictures.  As I showed it to my brother, I realized that the photos exemplified our day.  It had been a laughter filled day full of challenging new experiences and family memories.  For that reason, it was also something I will never forget.

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