Confessions of a Novice Traveler – Conquering New Heights

This past spring, I found myself on vacation in Puerto Rico with a group of friends. Together, we visited several parts of the island, from the western shores of Rincon to the historic city of San Juan. Much of what we did in Puerto Rico were activities that I wouldn’t normally do; I’ve never been an outdoorsy person, but that didn’t stop me from hiking through the El Yunque rainforest or exploring the dark caverns of the Rio Camuy.

But there’s one particular experience I want to talk about today. In Orocovis, located high up in the mountains of central Puerto Rico, all of us went ziplining through the mountains. We went on two different tours: the normal circuit with 8 different ziplines, each with a different ride speed and distance, and La Bestia (or “The Beast”), a single zipline where you soar face-down at speeds much faster than the normal zipline (the website says up to 60 miles per hour, and it certainly felt that fast). Some were very surprised when I told them about this experience, and rightfully so, as I’d probably be one of the last people they would expect to go ziplining.

As a kid, I had a strong fear of heights. That’s one of the main reasons I typically refuse to go on roller coasters and other thrill rides (and why amusement parks were never really my thing). This fear isn’t as bad as what it used to be, but back in the day, you would have had to pay me good money to ride on a zipline. When I was asked if I wanted to go through with ziplining in Puerto Rico, I definitely hesitated; being suspended at hundreds of feet above ground, held up only by a bunch of belts and buckles, was just a little outside of my comfort zone.

So what made me decide to go through with it?

One large part of it was actually doing research on the ziplines. A quick YouTube search helped me find videos of people actually riding on these ziplines. From the safety of my computer screen, ziplining didn’t look too bad, and I could tell it would give me one heck of a view. I also knew that the chances I would go back to Puerto Rico in the near future were slim, so this would be the best chance I get.

The other major factor was actually my fear itself. I knew that ziplining embodies everything I hated about heights, i.e. seeing exactly how high up I actually was, and not having a sturdy floor beneath me. But as the saying goes, sometimes the best way to get over your fears is to just go for it. Everyone else in my group was going for it (on the normal circuit at least), so I knew I wouldn’t be alone. And to return to my previous point, when else would I get a chance to zipline in Puerto Rico?

So, after much deliberation and questioning my own sanity, I bought the tickets. I immediately questioned my decision.

Fast forward to me waiting in line for the actual ride. It was a warm, slightly humid day, helped by a cool breeze that blew across the mountaintops. As I waited, I noted the mess of equipment that the tour staff had put on me. It was heavier than it looked, but to my relief, everything seemed secure. However, all of this was second to my the amazing view of the mountains.

The view of the mountains of Orocovis while waiting for my turn on the zipline.
Photo by Lester Maceren

When my turn came up, I let the staff member hook me up to the zipline. I rehearsed their instructions in my head over and over, and remembered how I was supposed to hang on while riding. I took a deep breath, and he pushed me off, with me holding on tightly as I soared through the sky.

It was amazing. I looked to my left and saw a sea of trees along the mountain’s surface. Looking to the right, I found myself in awe of the sunny horizon, and saw miles into the distance. The calm breeze felt like a burst of wind against my face, and in the thrill of the moment, I forgot how nervous I was up until my turn. I feel like I can’t describe it in words, though this paragraph is my best attempt to do so.

After what felt like only half a minute, I landed on solid ground, legs a little shaky from having to keep my body steady in midair for so long. I was instructed to walk a quick path to the next zipline, and the process would repeat. And so I went on zipline after zipline, each one slightly different than the one before it. Even the weather mixed up the experience, as during the middle of our run, it rained for a few minutes, which made it significantly cooler. The walk between each zipline was surprisingly tiring though, and I remember the hike to the last zipline felt like climbing a small mountain. Thankfully, the adrenaline from each ride helped re-energize me, at least for long enough to get through everything.

During the circuit, me and my friends got stuck a few times on the zipline itself, as in, we lost momentum and ended up stopping before we reached the platform at the other end. Despite being suspended hundreds of feet above the ground, I didn’t feel all that nervous. I felt securely strapped in, and every time this happened, a staff member did a great job in pulling us back to solid ground. I have a feeling that had this happened a few years ago, I would have panicked, which is probably the worst thing I could have done in that situation. Of course, when I got stuck halfway on La Bestia, that was slightly more nervewracking since the ride has you lying flat and looking straight down by default. I even had to keep my head facing upright in order to prevent my glasses from falling off!

After we finished our run on the ziplines, we all ate about two meals’ worth of food at the onsite restaurant, and made our way back down the mountain. I couldn’t help but be proud of myself for taking a big step forward in beating my longtime fear of heights. Even after going through tiring hikes up the trail and getting stuck on the ziplines multiple times, the experience of soaring through the air and seeing those beautiful views was more than worth it. In retrospect, I would have regret my decision had I not at least given ziplining a shot, and now I know that I would consider going again in the future. Of course, Orocovis set a really high standard for me, but who knows where I may get my next chance!

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