Day 5: Flying High on a Canopy Tour and Hot Springs
I have to admit, I am a big fan of the omelet station, or any station that involves other people preparing delicious food for my consumption. The breakfast buffet at Arenal Paraiso had it all: fried potatoes, pancakes and Tico favorites such as gallo pinto and platanos. I ate lightly, mostly because I had butterflies in my belly about my upcoming canopy tour with Sky Trek Arenal.
Other than my irrational fear of heights, I had no real reason to be nervous. The Sky Trek zip line cables were constructed under strict safety measures and the metal pulleys could support 11,000 pounds, way more than I could eat at the omelet station. There was just something slightly unsettling about hurtling your body 40 miles per hour on a wire cable suspended 700 feet above ground.
Nearly seven years ago, I had braved Sky Trek's canopy tour in the cloud forests of Monteverde. I was traveling with four male co-workers at the time, and distinctly remember wanting to prove myself unafraid of heights. With all of the canopy tours available, we chose Sky Trek for three reasons: a braking system that allows the guides to stop you, 2,450-foot long cables and, most importantly, a stellar safety record.
Upon arrival, Sky Trek Arenal's staff ushered our group of 16 into an equipment room where, in assembly-line fashion, we were outfitted with hard hats, harnesses and various clips. Feeling ultra-cool in our eight pounds of gear and cock-eyed construction helmets, we signed our lives away on mandatory waivers before climbing into the Sky Tram cable cars for a mile-long ascent above the rainforest.
The fifteen-minute trip carried us to an observation deck with sweeping views of Arenal Lake and the Tilaran mountain range. I sized up my tour group and eyed a 65-year-old grandmother and children as young as nine. If they could do it, then so could I. One of our four guides outlined general safety rules, body-positioning and basically assured us that all we had to do was enjoy the ride. They would stop us, and gravity would do the rest.
There is no faster way to bond with complete strangers than harnessing yourself to a wire cable and flying 700 feet above ground with them. It promotes a sense of unity as you cheer others on, confident in the knowledge that you would not plummet to an early death.
Sky Trek started off with two very small practice zip lines to help us get comfortable with the experience, and offered us the option to discontinue if we felt a heart attack would ensue. Everyone, including the grandmother, decided to go for it.
The practice zips were nothing compared the third; it was a doozy, one of the highest on the tour. Our guide clipped in with a small child in tow and took off, hooting and laughing the whole way. The guides' two-way radios enabled constant communication as we took turns soaring through the sky.
Our guides joked and laughed, clearly enjoying their jobs. I couldn't imagine such an adrenaline rush everyday. Our tour ran two hours, as most often we had to wait for each person to cross the zip line before continuing to the next platform. The best part was watching everyone's expressions as they barreled toward the next platform, that look of terror, fearing they would crash, but always stopped by the guides just in time.
Our last zip line was the big daddy, the longest at 2,475 feet. My legs shook like coconut flan as my guide clipped me in for the 45-second trip. I reminded myself to breathe as I sped along the cable, legs tucked in aero-dynamic position.
I was flying through the air at 40 miles per hour, and could only hear my own heart pounding and the wind rushing by. I turned to my right just long enough to see the volcano, the lake, and how unbelievably high I was soaring. And just when I started to breathe again and enjoy the experience, the trip was over just as quickly as it had begun.
In the end our slightly scared and serious faces had morphed into loopy smiles. And we had even managed to see some howler monkeys that were unafraid of herds of screaming tourists.
I returned from my canopy tour to more blue skies and had a few hours to enjoy Hotel Arenal Paraiso's hot springs. I began with a cosmopolitan cocktail while lolling in the warm waters at the swim-up bar where I met some other travelers, mostly couples and some families. Then I migrated to the hottest pool, at the top of the path, where I soaked away any last fear of heights.
The thermal pools were all lushly landscaped and offered a soothing retreat at the end of the day. Everyone arranged their poolside lounge chairs to face the volcano and watched the clouds roll away.