Sep 19, 2006

COPAN, Honduras – 
Bismark tries to lash me into the alpine climbing harness. For the uninitiated, this involves straps hanging off one's backside, pulled between the legs, then buckled under the hip bones.

No. I. Don't. Think. So.

The manager of the canopy zip-line tour steps back puzzled. "What is the problem?"

"I've climbed for 13 years. I can do it myself."

"For liability, I must," he protests.

"You're not touching me there."

I've offended my kind host, I know. But they need a female employee to maintain that policy, not a bunch of gold-grilled vaqueros and preteen lackey-boys.

"I'll buckle, you can check."

He shakes his head, muttering, hurt. But I've met few Latin men who won't respect the Righteous Virgin routine. "Bismark, I am so sorry. I did not mean any offense. I am just so shy."

Blue eyes downcast. Cupid-bow lips pouting.

Part of my brain is howling: it's 2006, screw the appeasement.

Equally, I am a stranger in a strange land. US feminism hasn't trickled down the isthmus to Honduras, clearly. So I play the scene on local terms, best I can (which is to say, not well).

Bismark relents and we rattle uphill, standing on the truckbed. We hike through the leafy green a while, crossing stream beds. And then, I suspect, he enacts his revenge.

"These are Mayan carvings," he declares, pointing to some corroded hummocks. Then, a beat too late, "oh, I hope you did not touch it, because the toad will make you very, very fertile. Many babies!"

Smile, I remind myself. And I keep the beauty-pageant grimace clamped over my gums, as I'm handed a pair of leather-palmed gloves with a tear in the side. The lackey child arranges the material so my flesh isn't exposed. Then I do a pull-up, bringing my waist near the cable, Bismark clips in my carabiners and I hurtle through space.

I hang like a sloth on the zip line: feet first, one hand on the waist webbing, the other trailing behind as a brake.

Lackey stands on the next platform – the backup catcher – to prevent me splattering into the trunk.

I glide three lines and try to catch the mood. The sport puzzles me. The soaring sensation is ruined by the diaper-harness, the jolts to the brake arm and – in my case – the quite real worry that the glove's hole might orbit, allowing the steel cable to slice off my pinky.

I'm whizzing too fast to examine the canopy or the view of ancient Copan properly. And I'm not building any discernible skills, unless I decide to become a tossed dwarf in my dotage.

Some people adore this activity, like the young Spanish kids I met at base camp, before my tour. "Whooooo!" they chanted.

"It is most like skiing, except instead of holding on ground, you are holding yourself in the air," Juanjo Esquembre confided. "The freedom is like flying! You will love it!"

Maybe it's the gender war, but I don't love the Toads' Wild Ride. I just can't.


  1. I don't see you so much as a potential dwarf tosser, but one of those Velcro suits maybe . . .

  2. Maybe I can knit one from Jake's fur, which seems to have substantial adhesive properties...

  3. Ah, yes. The very reasons I took a pass when a zipline ride was offered in Panama.

    That and the prospect of smacking head-first into the trees at the end of each line.

  4. I was surprised at the effort of braking – a real wrench on the shoulder socket.

    I'm glad I tried it, but probably wouldn't knock down any grannies to zip line again.

    How's the travel trade for you, Ms McKee?

  5. A relative called me last night, curious about zip lines, which I clearly didn't explain well.

    The activity resembles a horizontal rappel – and is also known as the "death slide".

    See this Wiki entry for details.

    Susan, apparently some have mats or nets, so maybe the fear-of-falling can be circumvented?

  6. The travel trade is lovely, Ms. Castleman.

    Off to New York City next week.

    And, re zip lines: it's not the fear of falling.

    It's the fear of not braking in time to avoid hitting the tree at the end of each section of zip line!

    Several of my companions had trouble with that technique, although none was bloodied (too badly).

  7. I think that's where the safety nets and crash mats come into play – at the docking station, not below...

    In Honduras, we had only the preteen lackey. Had I not braked properly, we would have fused into one stain against the trunk, I suspect.

    Safe travels, Susan!


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