I have a choice, I realized as I was swinging in midair.
Either I freak out or I let go and enjoy.
While fear is an emotion, often used as an excuse – “I can’t help it, I’m just too afraid to do it” – I took a rational decision not to be afraid and relax. That in itself was an awkward if not an intriguing experience. Furthermore, it worked. I felt my muscles ease up and I took notice of the world around me. Seconds earlier I had only been staring in some sort of void without really seeing where I was.
During these split seconds of taking that decision I was zipping some 150 meters above the ground attached to a 400 meter-long zipline. I looked at the partly cloudy sky above the forest-clad mountains all around me and imagined I was free as a bird and, except for being hooked to a metal cable, I was.
I was surrounded by so much space, so much silence, so much air, a feeling of so much freedom. I knew my limits though and decided not to look straight down. That could wait for a next round, after all, another six ziplines were waiting for me here high in the Peruvian Andes Mountains.
Ziplining at the Cola de Mono Lodge
Gian Marco is the owner of Cola de Mono Ziplining in Santa Teresa. The remote village lies fifteen kilometers from Machu Picchu as the crow flies, or is half a day’s drive from Cuzco, Peru’s gateway to the country’s largest and fascinating collection of pre-Inca and Inca ruins in Valle Sagrado – the Sacred Valley.
Seven years ago he introduced ziplining to Peru by bringing material and trainers from Costa Rico, which already had a system of certified ziplining companies and guides. Ziplining takes place right above Cola de Mono lodge-cum-campsite, which lies smack in the middle of the forest.
Thus far, ziplining to me had been something you do in an adventure park, where you zip from a platform over a lake so your feet can touch the water, or the zipline ends in the water. It bears no resemblance to what I saw and experienced here: seven cables, varying from 300-400 meters long, starting at 150 meters above the ground and going down to 35 meters from the ground, which is still higher than the average Amazon tree.
We were twelve: my partner Coen and I joined a group of six from Cusco, and a father with three kids. Gian Marco helped us getting fit into a harness, selected a helmet and hand protection and subsequently gave a short but thorough instruction on safety issues. He introduced us to the first of the three guides, Drey, who would accompany us that morning.
A steep walk uphill for some 20-30 minutes was a good way to warm up our muscles. Halfway my first zipline I felt the tension draining away. The second run was a piece of cake. What I didn’t know was that I would have more decisions to make about pushing back my boundaries.
Ziplining Freestyle or Superman
For zipline 3 we got instruction on how to zipline freestyle, meaning not holding onto the cable with our hands and/or hanging upside down. What was I going to do? Chicken out, or go for it? We had a ‘dry run’, so to speak, while still on the ground to check out the positions before taking a decision.
I decided on another “go for it” but as I was hanging upside down, the ropes of the harness cut too much in my stomach and I gave up. Letting my hands go off the cable it was then. As I swept down I slowly let one hand go, then the other and let myself swing around 180 degrees before turning back to face the finish.
While we were all taking these decisions as if our lives depended on them, the two oldest kids went down with an ease that was not only admirable but also enviable. Obviously this wasn’t their first go. The youngest, a four-year-old, teamed up with his Dad, an experienced zipliner (or children go with a guide) and together they flew above the forests and the fast-flowing Rio Sacsara at the bottom of the valley.
Time for a ‘Superman’, our guide informed me. Right, a ‘superwoman’ for me then, and another ‘go for it’. I had to wear the harness in a different way and was hooked to the cable at the back while the guide hooked up behind me, as this superman style is not something you do alone but always with a guide.
“Let your arms go,” Jaime instructed me.
Off I went, down the zipline flying like Superman, my arms wide, my face downwards and without any sense of fear I now looked at the running river down in the valley and simply felt incredibly free.
The two-hour adventure ended with the run of 3 ziplines right alongside each other where we could team up with one or two others to go down.
We all went down with a confidence as if we had never done anything else in our lives.
Practical Information on Ziplining in Peru
- Bring anti-bug juice, sun lotion and a small bottle of water. Wear sneakers or other comfortable shoes to hike up the mountain and, of course, you should bring your camera.
- In Cuzco and Agua
Calientesyou’ll find organizations with whom you can book this tour but you can also book directly through Cola de Mono. Part of the staff speaks English.
- You can do the ziplining adventure as a (long) day trip from Cuzco or combine it with camping at Cola de Mono’s lodge-cum-campsite. Their lodge has beautiful rooms. You can rent a tent and sleeping gear, or bring your own.