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As Alex and Wunder unscrewed the carabiner that attached me to the zipline trolley and prepared me for the next course, they both stopped and looked at me earnestly.
“Are you having fun?” Wunder asked.
“You look so serious,” Alex added.
I smiled what I hoped looked like an enthusiastic grin (and not a grimace) at two of the five guides on my Outdoor Adventure tour with Vallarta Adventures in Puerto Vallarta. I was halfway through the journey — which includes a series of ziplines, waterfall rappelling, waterslides, a mule ride up a mountain, a speedboat and an off-road truck excursion — and having a blast, though my face betrayed me.
This was my first ziplining and rappelling experience, as well as my first time in Puerto Vallarta. I was excited for these numerous “firsts,” but nervous as well. It didn’t help that I’m afraid of heights, particularly uncoordinated and had recently bruised my tailbone. (Let’s just say the mule ride wasn’t my favorite part.)
But I felt ready to take on whatever Vallarta Adventures threw at me, which were, in this case, ziplines about 1,000 feet long and 250 feet high, some of Mexico’s highest and longest, according to the tour operator.
Our small tour group of five brave souls, plus tour guides, crossed rope bridges, climbed down waterfalls, took ziplines straight into cold streams and even jumped off a suspended platform to rappel alongside a waterfall into a natural river pool. The operator ensures that groups are never more than 15 people and are always accompanied by at least five guides; I felt lucky that my particular group had a 1-to-1 ratio of guide to adventurer.
During a zipline called the “Spiderman,” the guides flipped me upside down and pushed me off into the tropical forest. On another course, we boarded a two-person plank and “surfed” across the treetops. Phones and cameras aren’t allowed on the tour, so a staff photographer snapped pictures of our wild-eyed, open-mouthed faces and haphazard flights through the air.
Of course, we were strapped into harnesses and helmets at all times, as well as connected by two safety ropes to our guides and/or the cables during all zipline and rappelling courses. The staff also informed me that the ropes and cables are checked every three hours, and a guide tests each zipline before a guest flies across. This emphasis on safety, combined with the relaxed, playful attitude of the expert team, helped put me at ease — even if my wobbly legs couldn’t be helped.
The excursion ends with a ride down one of the tour’s two waterslides, which granted me a breathtaking view of the jungle in addition to a literally breathtaking descent of 846 feet down, the third-highest drop in the world, according to the company.
My group congratulated one another on a successful adventure as we cleared the water from our noses, toweled off and snacked on complimentary fruit sprinkled with chili-lime Tajin, a Mexican brand of seasoning, and “agua de jamaica” (hibiscus tea).
I was proud of myself as I buckled in for the bumpy return to my resort on Vallarta Adventures’ yellow Unimog four-wheel drive truck (think “The Magic School Bus” meets a military-style Hummer). In the battle against my fear of heights, my tendency toward clumsiness and my nervous disposition, I had won — and had a ridiculous amount of fun doing it.
While we jostled along the winding road back down the coast, I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot. And this time, I knew I wouldn’t have to convince Alex and Wunder that it was genuine.