You stare straight ahead of you, feeling the sweat break out all over your body - a sweat brought on not only by the heat, but also by nerves and anticipation.
You are perched on a platform mounted in a treetop too many feet above the ground to think about. Your field of vision presents you with lush vegetation, blue sky and a gorge that you know has a bottom only because you can hear the roaring river lost in the undergrowth way below. Barely visible on the other side of this chasm is another platform similar to the one you now occupy. It is your destination.
To get you there - a length of cable that at this moment looks surprisingly thin. You are hoisted up, and your eyes meet those of the guide, who says, "Ready?"
You look at him for a moment, take a deep breath, and nod.
Suddenly you're launched forward, gravity pulling you along, flying through the air. Adrenaline pumping, nerves forgotten, exhilaration soaring.
This is the experience of ziplining in Costa Rica, an opportunity we could not let pass during a recent visit to the tropical paradise.
Costa Rica has much to offer the traveller, including some of the best adventure and eco-tourism in the world. You can whitewater raft, snorkel, trek through the jungle, hike up a volcano, kayak through a dolphin-filled cove, swim through a waterfall, and soak in natural hot springs.
On this particular day we opted for the adventure that the country is probably most famous for - we took what is called a canopy tour, soaring three kilometres through the rainforest on more than 20 different ziplines.
Our travels through Costa Rica took us to the Caribbean coast and a tiny village called Punta Uva, nestled in the southeastern corner of the country just north of the Panama border. It was in the neighbouring town of Puerto Viejo that we found Terra Ventura, a company that specializes in adventure tourism, including the zipline canopy tour.
Eleven thrill-seekers headed into the jungle. A minivan carried the group out of town and down a gravel road, turning off half an hour later and stopping on a small side road. From there, we were informed that the rest of the way would be by a 4x4 vehicle. Our group crowded into the back of the truck, our guides cramming into the front. Short of room inside the vehicle, the last guide sat on the hood of the truck, leaned back on the windshield, and off we went. The terrain, considerably rougher, took us up and down hills, across rivers, and deeper and deeper into the rainforest. We finally stopped at a small hut perched on top of a hill. We clamoured out into the sunshine and into the lodge. There we were given instructions and a safety briefing, and were suited up. Harness strapped on. Helmet fitted. Safety hooks attached. Gloves on. Ready to go.
There were four guides, two to go ahead of the group and two to go at the end. We were assured that no one would be left behind and that the guides would do all the hooking and unhooking and give directions as to the speed and difficulty of each zipline. One guide carried a camera, another a first-aid kit.
The first guide demonstrated how to boost up, hook on to the line, and go. With a loud "whoop!" he launched off the platform, flipped upside down, and effortlessly glided out of sight. The second guide did the same. Some members of the group were anxious for their turn; others hesitated, nervous but excited. One by one, the members of the group took their first leap.
Any doubts or hesitations were quashed after the first zip. There were a few things to remember: sit back, legs straight out, strongest hand on the cable to steer and brake, relax, and enjoy. Each zip was different. Some were breathtakingly fast, with speeds reaching up to 50 miles per hour. Others required no braking at all, and at times some people got stuck within 10 feet of the end. Dangling high above the ground, a little bit of muscle and effort got those folks safely back to the platform and onto the next zip.
Every zip provided a sense of freedom: a feeling of weightlessness, a panorama of trees, and a whoosh of air that ended with a solid landing at the destination platform. We all marvelled at the feats of design, engineering and labour that envisioned and created the zip course. Platforms were built high up in the trees with wires suspended, at times, hundreds of feet above yawning valleys. Paths and steps were hewn through the rainforest for participants to hike from one platform to the next.
With each zip, we became more comfortable and had more and more fun. The guides started to have fun with us. At one platform, we were told to hold on to the hook and not touch the cable. The guide at the destination end pulled the wire up and down, causing it to undulate, providing a speeding, bouncing run through the canopy. As we neared the final zips, the guides suggested that we ride upside down. As we were boosted and hooked on, they helped us secure our feet around the hook, enabling us to see the world from a completely different perspective.
As our level of comfort increased, so did our recognition of the surrounding beauty on each of these zips. The diversity was striking. The natural landscape brought us side by side with sloths, howler monkeys, toucans and other birds, butterflies and a myriad of plants and trees.
As we reached the final platform, we hiked back to the hut for fresh fruit and water. The two hours experienced over the zipline course were thrilling, affording us a way to get close to flora and fauna of Costa Rica in a unique way.
Terra Ventura provided not only an exhilarating experience but also an incredibly hospitable one. The guides were extremely professional, accommodating and safety-conscious, while making sure that all participants relaxed and had a good time.
As we left the lodge and headed back to the Jeep, one last glance at the platform and valley below left a lasting image of the uniqueness of the experience we shared in one of the most beautiful locations we've ever seen - the Costa Rican rainforest.
Kristin Harris Walsh is project co-ordinator at the MMaP Research Centre at MUN, and Kieran Walsh teaches English literature at Gonzaga High School. Their travels have taken them to five continents in the past 12 years. Their son, Declan, has been an enthusiastic travel companion for the past two years.