Don’t worry if you missed “Ziplining 1” because I wrote that way back in November 2009. It was my first and, I thought at that time, my last go at ziplining after a five-segment ride of nearly a kilometer in Rajasthan, India.
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, ziplining is recreation, sport, or plain thrill ride, where you’re strapped and secured (or so you’re told) to slide down sturdy (again, so you’re told) cable wires a few hundred feet above the ground. You’re supposed to feel like a bird, or, as in my second adventure, like Superman.
Rewind to India. People told me the hills of Rajasthan were breathtaking, but I’ll never know because my eyes were shut most of the time. I was sort of fooled into it, having been told we would do “ropeways” and a cable. I was a consultant then with a US foundation and I presumed taking a cable car leisurely down the mountains was part of some team-building exercise.
We trekked uphill while I fretted about going back downhill because I have severe acrophobia, a fear of heights. (I like to joke that it was this acrophobia that prevented me from going to the hills during martial law.) When we got to the hilltop, I learned I didn’t need to worry about walking downhill because we were going to zipline down.
I had never heard of ziplines even if, and I learned about this only after I returned to the Philippines, there were already such facilities in Davao, Bohol and Cagayan de Oro. Since then, ziplining has become wildly popular in the Philippines, with each new one claiming to be longer and more thrilling than the others. Apparently, there’s even one that will take you close to Mayon Volcano.
The popularity of ziplining here indicates a large market—a young population that loves risk-taking. We are, after all, the most disaster-prone nation on the planet, so a zipline is child’s play.
Child’s play indeed. In 2009 I wrote: “I have a feeling that when my kids are older they’ll pester me to do the zipline and I’ll have to go with them.” I found some consolation in the Indian zipline requiring that kids be at least 10 years old. Well, I didn’t factor in our laxity in the Philippines where, it seems, the minimum age is much lower, or maybe nonexistent. I am told even babies can zipline if a parent is willing to play kangaroo and have him/her in a pouch.
I did Ziplining 2 last week in Palawan. No one asked how old my son was when we checked in. He’s eight, and I was with a Dutch friend and his daughter who is nine. She had done that zipline two days earlier and so loved it that she wanted to do it again. My Dutch friend asked if my son wanted to go, and of course he shouted yes, yes, yes, having done another zipline, also in Palawan, a few months earlier in a trip with relatives.
I was determined not to do the zipline, but felt that as a father, I had to accompany my son to the site. When we got there, I felt guilty about letting him do it alone. So I said I’d do it, but in a more conservative sitting position, similar to my experience in India which I described as being put into strong diapers and sent down a clothesline.
Palawan seems to have ziplines everywhere now. The one we took was Ugong Rock, which combines spelunking (cave trekking and climbing) with the zipline. That part is short but still grueling, as you go through narrow crevices which reminded me of a rock formation on Mount Banahaw which supposedly traps sinners as they squeeze through. At Ugong Rock the two kids slipped through with no effort while I felt the rocks closing in on me… And I worried about my Dutch friend, who’s more than six feet tall and heaven knows how many kilos.
We all made it to the peak where I learned that there were two different exit points, one for the “diaper ride” and another, more expensive, Superman route, which the kids had chosen.
But should a 61-going-on-62-year-old acrophobic pretend he’s Superman? I breathed deeply and said, okay, I’ll be Superdada, and would go first so I could video the two kids and my friend as they ziplined.
In India, we had almost half an hour of briefing. A guide outfitted in safety gear explained how the system worked, and we were told, or assured, that the steel wires came from Switzerland and the pulleys from France. Our leather gloves were made in Pakistan, which got my Indian friends a bit nervous, but they were really thick, and sturdy.
We even had to rehearse our ride, taught how to crouch, how to extend. We were told that the lighter ones—the guide stared at me—might come to a halt on the zipline and that we shouldn’t worry because all we needed to do was twist our bodies a bit, wiggle, and push forward. All that about 1,000 meters up in the air.
For my Ziplining 2, there was no briefing, no rehearsal. I was told the kids had to be at least 30 kilos, and I said my son probably wasn’t heavy enough. Ay, 15 kilos pala, the guide corrected himself. For the kids, he recommended the Superman ride because they’d zip through all the way.
Before we set out to the cave we were given mittens, which made me want to go meow, meow.
On the platform in the sky, the guides, in T-shirts and flip-flops, got me into my harness and told me to take a few steps to the launch point. I was suddenly overcome by dread, wondering if in previous lives I had been executed by hanging… or by guillotine.
I gingerly walked up the steps, took a deep breath, and asked, What next? The guide said, Just crouch (tuwad) a bit. Crouch I did, thankful no one was taking pictures, and was about to say, Just tell me. Then it happened. Wait, wait! I said, tell me when, not push me off.
Superdada was on his way! There was no PowerPoint of my life flashing through my brain, but I could hear my other Dutch professor-friend, who had refused to join us, quite sternly telling me, “Chancellors shouldn’t zipline. The university needs you.”
It helps in ziplining if you regularly meditate, as I do. I did have a morbid moment thinking of what a chancellor would look like on the rice fields below, but quickly overcame that, spreading my arms to embrace the world. Hey, it will be all right, I told myself, and hey, this is a half-minute, a short ride compared to India.
Glide, glide, feel like a maya, no, an eagle, a Blue Eagle, oops, no, a maroon Eagle. (See you on Saturday when UP plays Ateneo.) Then it was over and, like in India, I realized, with horror, that I had enjoyed it.
I waited for my son, again with guilt: How could I have let him do this? I could see him across the chasm, a tiny yellow speck becoming larger and larger. As he zipped in I shouted, “Here comes Superboy!” And he hollered back, “Dada, Dada!” And of course, as he came in, “One more, please, one more!” I said no way.
Supergirl came in next, flapping her arms like a bird. Then came her Superdad, who sort of crash-landed because he was so huge and heavy.
So, should we have more safety precautions? More briefing, maybe rehearsals, as in India? I’m actually ambivalent. I suspect that in India, many more precautions were taken because we were officially an American group. The zipline was, after all, located within the hotel where we were billeted, a 15th-century Mogul palace and fort that had been renovated.
Ugong Rock is a far cry from that, one of a growing number of community-managed ecotourism projects. You don’t expect Swiss cables here and Pakistani leather gloves.
So maybe part of the thrill of ziplining in the Philippines is learning to flow. The briefing in India did get me nervous, but it was important to know what to do if I got stranded. In Ziplining 2, I had to play it all by ear, with a lot of trust. As I keep telling our UP basketball team, let it go, let it go!
Yes, they offered photos of our ziplining, and I asked how they took the shots. They pointed to the photographer and his telephoto lens. My son the comedian, complained, “Oh, why didn’t you tell me to smile?”
(E-mail: [email protected])
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