I am afraid of many things, including the following:
2. Heights. (Specifically, feeling insecure while high off the ground. Possible cause of fear of turbulence.)
As I planned my recent Costa Rican honeymoon, I knew I would have to face down fear #1. I love traveling more than I hate turbulence, so I just soldier on when I have to get on a plane. Plus, I have Xanax.
But somehow, even as I added such activities as "ziplining in the rainforest canopy" to our honeymoon itinerary, I didn't consider that I would also be wrestling with the overarching granddaddy fear.
As with so many things in life (and in the jungle) I won some and I lost some.
Costa Rican Honeymoon Story Wherein Angie Eats the Bear
I am a bit of an obsessive planner. Among friends, I have been called by the nicknames "Planny Plannerson", "Uber Planner" and "The Planning Bitch". It's just how I do.
But I also believe that spontaneity is the gateway to some of life's great experiences, especially when you're exploring the planet, having adventures, building character and all that. Which is why I found myself on the second day of my honeymoon (my honeymoon, for crying out loud!) perched on the edge of a plywood platform, getting ready to let a 120 pound Costa Rican belay me as I rappelled down the face of a 170 foot waterfall.
When we heard about canyoneering the day before, it sounded jungly and romantic. The driver who took us from San Jose to Arenal recommended it and assured me that the rappelling wasn't scary and I would be fine, even with a little fear of heights. I trusted him. (Never trust a Costa Rican who says something isn't scary.)
Standing on the platform, the roar of the waterfall was drowned out by the pounding of my heart. As I watched the person in front of me go over the edge, every instinct in my being screamed at me that this was not a good idea. I opened my suddenly very dry mouth and said "I don't think I can do this."
The 120 pound Costa Rican, the other people on the platform waiting to go over, and my husband (who presumably wants to keep me alive), replied with a chorus of, "Yes, you can!" that rivaled an Obama campaign rally. The guide held out his delicate hand to tie me into the belay rope, looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and whispered, "Just don't look down."
And so, mostly because everyone else was doing it and I didn't want to look like a total pussy, I jumped off the platform and let her rip. I quickly recovered from my panic and terror to find that canyoneering is, it really is, jungly and exhilarating and FUN. It's fun to fly through the air on a rope and bounce off the rocks and swing around and play. And believe you me, I didn't look down. Not once. Not even when my feet hit the ground.
As one of the other 120 pound Costa Rican guides unclipped me from the belay ropes at the bottom, he gave me a big hug. "You did it!" he exclaimed, an infectious grin spreading across his face.
"How high is the next one?" I asked, ready to do it again. Inside my head a room full of people held up Shepard Fairy-style pictures of my face, chanting "Yes, you can!" "Yes, you can!"
Costa Rican Honeymoon Story Wherein The Bear Eats Angie
Still basking in the afterglow of my huge canyoneering success, I approached ziplining in the Monteverde rain forest canopy with a lot of pluck. I felt only the slightest twinge of fear as we geared up, strapped in and prepared for takeoff on the first in a series of 6 practice lines. I launched myself off the first platform and started zipping along, and I hardly noticed as the forest floor dropped steadily off below me, until I was hurtling through the air trying to position myself for landing on the second platform, a rickety metal affair about one foot wide, in a tree roughly 5,000 miles (or at least 200 feet) above the ground.
Once delivered onto this platform, my little bud of fear blossomed into sweaty hands and feet, shallow breath, and a small child's voice crying out inside my brain, "I don't wanna!" It was impossible not to look down, because the metal platform was mesh and you could see right through it. I felt more and more freaked out as five, then seven, then eight people crowded into to the small airborne space to line up for the next zip.
Looking up wasn't good either- the treetops swaying in the breeze made me realize that the platform was rocking back and forth. Looking straight ahead reminded me that only a carabiner and a short length of rope stood between me and certain death. I tried to breathe more deeply. "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone," I reminded myself.
I started to calm down and might have eventually been able to relax and somewhat enjoy the experience, but as it turned out, there was a lunatic in our midst. A woman with a screechy voice and a wild head of hair, who for some unfathomable reason thought that ziplining was an appropriate activity for a person with a full-blown, off-the-charts phobia of heights.
All hell broke loose as soon as she landed on the (extremely crowded) platform. She clawed at the tree branches, the ropes, and the guides, screaming at the top of her lungs "Oh my god, I hate these platforms!" and "The platform is scaring me so bad!" and "The zipping is fine, it's the platform I can't handle!"
She was my dark and horrible phobic doppleganger, loudly broadcasting overblown doomsday versions of my own fears, impossible to ignore. Her meltdown continued as we zipped from tree to tree, platform to unholy platform. "The platforms!" she screamed "Oh, god, the platforms!"
Finally, 45 minutes and 6 platforms later, the group was required to rappel 150 feet down to the ground and hike to the next ziplining launch.
Once my feet hit the ground, I knew my ziplining adventure was over. The crazy woman had soured the experience for me completely, like when you're sitting on a porch on a beautiful summer evening, and a moth lands in your nice glass of wine. I hiked back to the office and sat waiting for the rest of the group to return, basking in the comforting pull of gravity that embraced me and held me firmly to the earth.