Zip-lining over St. Lucia

by Anita Dunham-Potter on January 30, 2008

Forget bowling, rock climbing and ice skating. The coolest thing to do on a cruise vacation these days is to go zip-lining through the jungle. During a recent cruise stop in St. Lucia, I took a zip-line canopy tour of the St. Lucian rain forest. Strapped into a harness 80 feet above the jungle floor, I was flying through the air like Jane of the Jungle attached to a steel cable strung between two platforms.

Was I crazy? Sort of.

The art of zipping

We can thank Costa Rica for the boom in modern canopy tours by zip line. The system was invented by a group of botanists in the 1970s as a means to explore the hard-to-reach ecosystem of rain-forest canopies. Zip-line tours have come a long way since then, and can now be found throughout the world in the tropics, the mountains and even in the desert.

My zip-line adventure began on the east coast of St. Lucia in the heart of the rain forest at the beautiful Errad Estate. The 300-year-old estate was once a spice plantation, and it is full of fragrant nutmeg trees and abundant cocoa trees. There is also an amazing river and waterfall. All in all, the perfect setting for this crazy adventure.

Upon arriving at the zip base, our group was given a safety briefing and then outfitted with harnesses, helmets and gloves. Then it was off for the fun part. We would traverse a series of nine platforms, with the longest run being 700 feet with a 60-foot drop.

You don’t need to be the athletic type to enjoy this tour, but it isn’t recommended for pregnant women or people with back problems, and the set-up cannot accommodate anyone weighing more than 250 pounds.

Anita takes flight

I climb the stairs to the first platform and wait for the young woman in front of me. As the young guide clips her harness to the cable, she gets panicky. She’s keeps asking her husband for reassurance. Turns out they are on their honeymoon and this is one of their first newlywed outings. She gives her husband a kiss. The guide tells her to sit and put her legs out in front and her right arm up and behind the pulley, lightly grasping the cable to keep her body steady.

“Remember, don’t put your hand in front of the pulley or you’ll hurt your fingers,” warns the guide. He lets go and the young woman is off.

“Oh. My. Gawd. Aaaaahhhhhh!” she screams as she streaks down the cable. It took a mere 10 seconds for her to reach the next platform. The young guide turns to me and says, “Time to go.” I turn to my own husband behind me and say, “You go.”

He’s a lot more gung-ho and quickly gets in touch with his inner Tarzan. Off he goes.

“OK, Jane,” jokes the guide. “You go get Tarzan.”

I laugh nervously. He snaps my harness hook to the cable. “Remember to watch your fingers — you don’t want to cut them off,” he laughs.

Here I am on a small, wooden platform, the rain forest some 50 feet below, strapped to a heavy cable. My gloved hands are shaking, and my heart is racing. I figure I am about to die.

I launch with a scream and the treetops blur under my feet. The cable hums and my screams echo through the rain forest as the wind screeches by my ears. Halfway down the cable, I start to spin sideways. I stretch my right arm back to steady my spin as they showed me in the safety briefing, and it works. I am still “woo-wooing” when I reach the platform. After the guide pulls me in and unclips my harness hook, I am still laughing.

“That was fun, let’s do it again.”

After zipping through all nine platforms, the entire tour group is exhilarated.

“This was the wildest shore excursion we’ve done on any cruise,” said one enthused participant. We all agree that next time we see zip-lining on the shore excursion list, we’ll all be signing up.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column.

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