Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Travel Blog #12: Devil's Island

An emaciated Steve McQueen stands at the edge of a cliff looking out at a furious sea. As he counts the waves, his lips move. Suddenly he does a little shuffling celebratory dance. He’s figured something out: the seventh wave is always the strongest. He has this plan: to lash coconuts together, fling himself into the sea and paddle his way to freedom.

You saw Papillon, right? It’s a classic movie about a man trying desperately to get off of Devil’s Island. Today we went there…on purpose.

Here’s some interesting stuff: the area we know as “Devil’s Island” is really three islands in a chain called the “Salvation Islands.”

The French penal colony was set up on all three islands: St. Joseph Island, Royale Island and Iles du Diable (Devil's Island). Today each of the two remaining islands, St. Joseph and Iles du Diable have one, that's one guard posted on each. These guys live there all alone twenty four hours a days a week, rambling around deserted prison islands. There's a great short story in that somewhere.

Prisoners were told they were being taken to Devil’s Island because if they were told they were about to be imprisoned on Royale Island in the Salvation Island chain, it didn't sound nasty enough. We went to Royale Island – where the main prison was located. But it became, and remains, Devil's Island to me.

When we arrived, the sun was hot – like warm fingers on our skin. The scent in the air was green and humid and the ground was littered with coconuts and leaves that moved wetly under our feet.

The last time I was in a place that had such a strong atmosphere about it was on Route 66. There's an undefinable something here. It's a thing you can't quite describe (at least I can't) but it's there all the same. Palpable. It’s exotic and wild and you fancy you hear a hundred voices rising up from the past, each one whispering something different.

There were a lot of people imprisoned here. A lot of people suffered here. It may just be my overactive imagination, but they seem to be here still, standing silently watching us pass by. Yeah, yeah. I know it sounds overly flowery...but that's the way it felt to me. We arrived on this island, fat and happy, from a cruise ship. We have five hours here and then we leave. The prisoners were here for four long years. Most of them would die before being released.

The only business on the entire island is the hotel, which puts guests up, primarily rich French tourists, in the buildings the guards used to occupy. They come here for two weeks at a time. The prices, apparently are higher than St. Barth's, but what a place to spend time! What a place to sit on a rock by the sea and let your imagination take you for a ride. What a place!

The Destination speaker, a guy named “Hutch”said something in his talk that I latched onto, body and soul. He said there was a children's graveyard on the island. A children's graveyard. It's the place where the children of the guards and staff who died on Devil’s Island were buried.
The idea of a children's graveyard on Devil's Island fires my admittedly over-active imagination and makes me sad at the same time. It makes me think of images from the old horror comics I consumed as a kid where whispy-white weeping ghosts in period costume come to lay their children down for the last time.

What is it about graveyards that interests me so much? It may be the fact that they are peaceful…and the older I get, the closer I come to a grave of my own. It may be that I find the things written on gravesites so awfully interesting. What exactly do people write as “lasting testimonies” for those who have died? The most commonly written word on those lonely tombstones was "Regrets" -- but I am getting ahead of myself.

There was also talk about monkeys – lots of monkeys on the way to the graveyard. These are monkeys who appear in the expectation of bananas. Yup. Monkeys are cool – but it was the children’s cemetery that fascinated me.

I admit it. I photographed the monkeys because, c'mon, you have to photograph monkeys. But I was obsessed with getting to the graveyard. I just knew there was something there for me to find.

But I am ahead of myself again. Let me go back to the "getting onto the island" part. As we got off the tender boat all the rest of the people headed left toward the building compound. We turned right on the pathway that ran alongside the sea.

Ruined buildings, many reduced to simple facades by the twin ravages of time and sea, dot the pathway. They appear at random times out of nowhere.

Sheree and I were together, creeping along pathways, until we got to the aforementioned monkeys. She loves monkeys. I think they're cute and all...but there's an actual graveyard here somewhere. No contest.

I saw Hutch, walking up the trail toward us. I asked him where the graveyard was and he jerked a finger over his shoulder and muttered something about it being behind him.

I muttered something to Sheree about going onward and she muttered something back as she concentrated on photographing the monkeys. I don't think either of us actually heard the other one as our brains were otherwise engaged.

I walked on down the island path and eventually I came to a tromped down area in the bushes to my right. Was this it? The sunlight was playing on the trees and a shadowed archway of foliage within like an invitation. My heartbeat quickened. Honest it did. I walked into it.

For a few moments, and yes I made them last as long as possible, I was living in the pages of a novel. The air was vibrant and green, full of the promise of adventure. Green plants crunched underfoot and the idea that there might even be a snake lurking inside them just an inch from my sandaled foot was as intoxicating as it was frightening.

I was alone on Devil's Island and there was a by God real children's cemetary just feet away from me. It doesn't get better than this.

I passed through the trees and saw ancient wrought iron gates. Written upon them in French were the words "Cimi..... Des enfants." (The picture is at the top of this blog.) There was sunlight dappling the graves and the far off sound of insects and the thrum of tropical life. And I was alone, for a precious ten minutes, in the graveyard of Devil’s Island’s dead children.

I walked into the cemetery, my camera hanging unused around my neck. I paused there, with my eyes closed and breathed deep. I thought about the parents – guards and their wives – carrying their children to their last rest. Maybe they wept. Maybe they stood stoically while their children were put in the ground.

Think what you want – but the magic of this place was here for an instant…a magical fragment of time. I fancied I could hear the sounds of voices long gone and the grief they must have felt.

I couldn’t keep it to myself and I re-traced my steps to find Sheree – who was still photographing monkeys.

“Come with me,” I said. “The light…the colors. You need to come with me.”

My wife trusts me and she stepped away reluctantly from photographing monkeys. I really wanted her to feel what I'd felt. I took her through the pathway I had found in the trees. I prayed the place would still be silent and crackling with atmosphere so she could feel it too. Of course it is sometimes hard for me to know what she is feeling, because Sheree lives in the moment, regardless of where she is.

This time the graveyard wasn’t the same. A man and his family had arrived while I was gone. He leaned casually against a gravestone. He chatted with his family and made jokes about the dead people planted there. His harsh voice and the braying and forced sounding laughter of the women threw a new and unwelcome atmosphere over the graveyard. Dignity fled in the face of those sounds and we were standing in a place with tourists. I sighed.

Sheree photographed gravesites…and I did too. But there was a different feel here now. It wasn’t precious and private anymore. I so wished Sheree had been with me the first time.

We spent time here and the minutes started to slide away. They became "lots of minutes" – and by the time we moved up into the Devil’s Island compound we had only an hour to make the tender back to the ship.

The difficulty was that we had no idea where the tender boat was. We'd struck off in the opposite direction upon arrival. All the instructions had been given using the building compound as a reference point and, to be honest, I had been concentrating on getting to the graveyard and hadn't really paid much attention.

We had no reference point. We had only 25 minutes to find the tender boat...not enough time to re-trace our steps around the coast of the island. Sheree was photographing what she called “cute fat little guys” – which were huge rodents native to the island. She paid no attention to the time and I had noticed there were no other cruise ship people around. Everyone was long gone. Everyone.

I went to the hotel, the only remaining business on the island, and asked the woman behind the bar for directions. She spoke only French. Despite being Canadian, the only French I know has been gleaned from examination of cereal boxes. My sense of isloation grew.

I tried showing her with my hands what a ship looked like. I tried talking very loud and slowly. (I don't know why I thought speaking slowly would make me any more understandable, but I did.) She didn’t understand. Finally she went to fetch an old guy who came around. He spoke a smattering of English. He pointed down front of the main building and then jerked his thumb sharply to the right.

We had twenty minutes. Sheree went off to pee.

I looked down the path and was reasonably certain this was the right way. I waited for Sheree and when she finally re-appeared, we had twelve minutes.

I walked down the pathway – but an old french guy called out: “De boat?”

I nodded eagerly.

He pointed down a different path and we went that way, after profusely thanking him.

We walked down a cobblestone pathway, thick green trees on both sides. It was unfamiliar territory, but we spoke reassuring words to each other anyway.

I saw the tender boat some distance away. Sheree paused to make a picture of the Pacific Princess moored some distance away. I went to talk to the irritable security guy, Allen, while Sheree finished her pictures.

As we went away on the tender boat, I felt a profound sense of loss. There were so very many places on Devil’s Island we had no chance to see…to explore – or just sit and be quiet for a long moment in.

I loved Devil’s Island. I really wanted to stay there for at least another couple of hours. But that would have ended in a very long swim through apparently shark infested waters -- so I got onto the tender boat. It's not often a place speaks eloquently to my spirit, but this island spoke to mine.

It would be guilding the lilly to say that as the tender boat chugged away from Devil's Island that I thought I saw two ghostly children standing on the dock, arms around each other watching us leave with somber dark eyes. So I won't.

Travel Blog #11: The Momentus Event

I waken one morning. Sheree is clattering around the cabin. Doors opening and closing, drawers being ransacked great meat platters being dropped from thirty feet above. Okay. Maybe no meat platters. But it sounds that way. It is just before five and she is up and about. I, on the other hand, being a genuinely slothful man, lay in bed waiting for the noise to stop.

“What are you doing?” I ask with just enough irritation to let her know I mean business.

“Capturing the Amazon sunrise,” she says.

“Ah,” I retort, thinking quickly.

The door slams as she leaves and I am left with a dilemma. Do I go back to bed or do I throw on clothes and capture the sunrise with her? My body tells me that an Amazon sunrise is no big deal. My mind says I should haul my lazy ass out of bed and get some pictures. Then I thought of you guys – sitting in rapt attention before your computers, aching for the latest update, probably refreshing the screen every five seconds or so. Probably.

So I grabbed the camera, put on my Great Hat and headed for Deck 9. I have to tell you about the Momentous Event that occurred this morning.

Sheree was in conversation with a rail thin Oriental man and a guy who looked like retired army. Rather she was standing there with a bemused smile on her face while they faced off with each other.

“East that way,” insisted the Oriental guy.

“Well, the boat is headed into the Amazon,” Military Guy began patiently.

The Oriental guy jabs a finger toward the back of the ship.

“East there,” he says.

Military guy strokes his chin. This is how I can tell he is thinking. Finally he speaks.

“Well the boat is headed into the Amazon,” says he with certainty.

I am just out of bed and pissy enough to speculate whether he was taught that shrewd navigation at West Point. I mean we are on an AMAZON cruise. It’s pretty obvious that we are headed into the Amazon. I await the next pearl of wisdom that will drop uninvited from his lips. But there isn’t one. I smile at Sheree and she smiles back.

The captain knows where we are going.

We head out to the back deck, fingers poised over shutter buttons. But it is a grey morning. The water around us has turned a light brown. (Sheree is calling it “khaki – the color of chicken gravy” but she says I can’t use the metaphor. So I won’t. She is here, beside me on the balcony and we are both writing blogs.) Anyway – the water has turned a light brown. Ummm. Sort of the color of chicken gravy. Ahem.

There are chunks of plants floating on the water and the air is really humid. Putting the lens cap on a camera isn’t a good idea since the glass mists over almost immediately. You can’t see much through the glass doors because of the humidity. The air feels wet – like you just turned off a shower.

Anyway – I have to get back to the Momentous Event.

Said M.E. (Momentous Event) began as we got onto the Panorama Deck. This is where they put the buffet and progressively rounder tourists graze on rich food from early morning well into night. So many of my fellow travelers lack the will power to pass by food without eating it.
Following breakfast, we headed out to the back deck and there we saw two people huddled around rectangular handheld boxes.

I was curious enough to introduce myself and ask what the heck they were doing.

“These are GPS units,” said a man introducing himself as ‘Dennis from Bristol’ with more than a flicker of pride. “We are very close to the equator.”

He smiled in a way that invited me to enter into the excitement.

“We are less than two minutes away,” said the short birdlike woman, who later became known as ‘Thelma from Martha’s Vineyard.”

“Two minutes, huh?” I said. “Is that close?”

Simultaneously they both looked at me as though I’d grown a third eye in the middle of my forehead.

“Less than ten minutes,” said Dennis.

“She just said it was two minutes,” I observed.

“Well it takes about ten minutes to go two minutes,” said Dennis.

I looked at him and blinked. He liked that – which I thought he might.

“Position is measured in minutes and hours. When she said two minutes, she was referring to our position.” He paused to look down his pointy little nose at me. I was instantly back in college. “That is why it will take ten minutes to travel two minutes in position.”

He settled back with a self-satisfied look, folding his hands over his paunch.

“Do you think the captain will honk his hooter?” asked Thelma.

“Almost certainly,” said Dennis enthusiastically. “We should at the very least all give a cheer.”
I looked around at the other six sleepy tourists, sipping coffee and looking for all the world as though they could give a shit about crossing the equator.

“On the last cruise, we were all gathered on the deck,” began Thelma. “We were tracking our progress.” (I should point out that as she said ‘track our progress’ she sounded exactly like the president and sole member of the Science Club in High School.)

Dennis nodded excitedly. Since I sensed the tale was reaching its climax, I nodded too.

“But the captain honked his hooter nearly two hours early. He just wanted us to leave so he could get on with business. But we knew. We were tracking our progress.”

“Imagine that!” I said, aghast.

Dennis made a tisking sound and gave his head a sad little shake.

“Like we wouldn’t know he was lying?”

The three of us took a few seconds to contemplate the sad state of affairs the world has slid into when the captain of a south American ship prematurely honks his hooter. I broke the silence.

“So is there going to be a dotted white line?” I asked finally.

They both turned to look at me. I smiled back into blank faces – expecting at least a smile, if not gales of laughter.

“What?” asked Dennis.

“When we cross the equator will there be a dotted line?”

“There’s no line,” said Dennis evenly.

“No line,” agreed Thelma with a sharp birdlike nod.

“It’s on all the globes,” I said. “You can see it. There’s a line. Sometimes it’s solid. Sometimes it’s dotted. But there’s always a line.”

Thelma snorted. Not a pretty sound.

Dennis examined me for a long moment. “You’re having us on, eh?”

“Yes. I am,” I said.

Dennis made a sharp barking sound in what could only be considered a polite laugh. Thelma just glared at me. One of the sleepy passengers laughed out loud – bless his heart.

“Less than one minute,” said Thelma.

“What does that mean in terms of time?” I asked.

Dennis paused expansively and looked upward as he did the necessary calculations. “We are less than half a mile away from the equator. Roughly five minutes.”

“I do hope he hoots his hooter,” said Thelma.

“Me too,” I said.

They compared GPS settings and sure enough they were exactly the same.

“Three satellites are providing us the information right now,” said Dennis with an impressed looking shake of his head. “It’s really quite precise.”

“Less than one minute,” said Thelma.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” began Dennis. “May I have your attention please? We are about to cross the Equator. Perhaps we could do a countdown?”

Passengers on cruise ships are in a different state of mind. They will watch anything. Yesterday Sheree and I watched in rapt attention as a Filipino man did an ice sculpture demonstration, transforming a block of ice into a fish. It was mesmerizing. I actually applauded.

So crossing the equator was a pretty big deal.

“Less than thirty seconds,” Dennis announced.

“I hope he hoots his hooter,” said Thelma.

“I hope there’s a dotted line,” said I.


Dennis gave a little whoop. Thelma pumped one fist in the air. I took a picture for you. It looks just like this.

That was it. No hooting hooters. No tap dancing dolphins. No change in the brown water.
Dennis and Thelma finished their celebrations and decided to go back to their cabins to lay down, presumably to recover from all the excitement.

Sheree and I took some pictures, swatted at a few bugs and then came here to write to you guys.

We get five hours on the legendary Devil's Island tomorrow. I have been looking forward to this since Sheree and I started talking about this trip in our bedroom ages ago. You remember Devil's Island, right? Steve McQueen and lepers and nasty prison guys.

I was really excited about being there. But I didn't know my most remarkable moments on Devil's Island would be spent with dead people. At the risk of sounding a little like a radio serial: I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Travel Blog #10: Terror in St. Lucia

With apologies: I have been asked to keep these blogs a little shorter. I will do this...but the blog that follows is REALLY long because it details true jungle terror on St. Lucia, the port we visited today. I wrote it in our stateroom the same day it happened. So here it is, unvarnished and stark. I hope you enjoy it. I didn't.

The day felt bad from the very first waking moment.

Hands poking at me, fingers stabbing urgently into my skin and a way too fast rise out of deep sleep and into a cold and hostile world.

“Wha…” I stated with what seemed, at the time, commendable clarity.

“The door. Someone’s at the door,” hissed Sheree, who has the unsettling ability to wake up instantly, ready to pole vault out of bed and paint the house.

“Wha..?” I said again, since it was obvious that she hadn’t understood the first time.

“The food’s here,” she said.

I looked at her dully – which, trust me, was the absolute best I could do.

She rolled her eyes and stabbed a finger into my arm, which kind of hurt. “The food.”

I had a vague memory of ordering food for delivery at 6:30. I figured I would be awake at 5:30 and had visualized myself calm, collected and smiling as I greeted the little guy who delivers the food in the morning with a suave smile – not the hairy scary fella in underwear and a t-shirt, shambling to the door, stubbing his toes on everything, softly swearing, moving by pure force of will.

“I’d like to do the zip line today,” said Sheree – and not for the first time.

I made a non-committal noise as I had each time she’d mentioned it before. I don’t even like standing on a footstool in the safety of my own home. The thought of flinging myself off of a tower into sheer space ranks right up with a colonoscopy and a root canal on my “List of Things I Must Avoid.”

I studied my coffee cup as though one of the secrets of the universe was hidden there, shot a look at Sheree and saw her looking intently back at me. I hate that. Avoidance is not an option. So I made another non-committal noise, flashed my most winning smile and was rewarded only with that stony gaze.

“It’s something I really want to do,” she said evenly.

When forced to comment – I’d said that it was fine with me if she wanted to zip-line. I’d also said that I could stay on the ground where the possibility of soiling my own underwear is relatively low.

She was still looking at me.

“Are you coming or not?” she asked.

I frowned and tried to figure out a way to decline without looking like a little girl.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll go.”

There’s a part of me that is eternally aghast at the stupid things I commit to. The internal conversation was instant and vehement: “Are you freaking NUTS? What did you just say? THINK about this! You’ll look like a suck for a minute…but death is forever. You moron. Idiot moron. Idiot moron poopypants. What the hell is wrong with you?”

The internal gibbering continued as I made a show of staring into my coffee cup. But sweat ran tiny ranting rivers under my arms and my smile at my wife lacked conviction.

“Really?” she asked.

I made the non-committal sound again and she rewarded me with a smile.

I don’t actually recall much about the “in between” part. I know that we hired a cab for the day (the hourly rate for most cabs is $25-$30 per hour, by the way) and I was aware only that each moment drew me closer to the zip-line.

I am a pretty big guy. Maybe there’s a weight restriction. I laid all my hopes at the feet of that one possibility and had nearly convinced myself that it would be so when we arrived. The cab driver was an efficient sort, getting us directly in touch with the zip line people, and costing himself half his tip in the process.

“I’m probably too big,” I said to the zip line guide. “Too big, right?”

He looked me over appraisingly. “No, mon. You’re fine.”

I glared at him and considered brandishing my wallet for emphasis. “Are you SURE?”
“If you can get the harness on – you can zip line,” he said with the air of someone granting another someone their fondest wish.

Hope was fading.

“Can I try a harness?” I asked. Already I was defeated. The one faint hope was that the harness would not fit.

“Yeah, mon,” he said. He sounded like a Jamaican instead of a Saint Lucean.

He winked at me in a hollow effort to reassure me. I swallowed.

He returned with a complicated mess of loops, steel thingies and nylon. He handed it to me and nodded encouragingly. I turned it over in my hand, looking dumbly at it. I caught his eye and raised my eyebrows in a “so what now?” gesture.

“I am kidding. I will help you.”

It took squeezing and pulling. We tightened and loosened. We cajoled. Okay: he squeezed, pulled, tightened and loosened and cajoled. I worked to counter purposes at each turn, taking deep breaths whenever it would make the harness tough to put on. If I could have increased the size of my thighs, I would have. The little bastard prevailed and eventually I stood in the harness, feeling like Charlie Brown after Lucy jerks the football away.

“See, mon?”

I looked over my outfit with a sinking heart.

“Isn’t this GREAT?” said my wife chipperly. (Yes. I know “chipperly” is not an actual word. But she did speak ‘chipperly.’ Honest.)

I nodded and wondered: if you fake a heart attack, does it start with the right arm or the left? Maybe I should just sprain my ankle. Maybe I could develop a sudden attack of narcolepsy. But I just stood there like a horse in a too tight saddle.

My bride put her hand on my arm: “You are going to love this, David.”

I smiled and swallowed back the bile creeping up my throat.

The first part of the zip line trip/ordeal/personal growing experience isn’t so hard. You get into a tram that takes you through the rainforest. It’s high. Really high. But you have the illusion of safety because the gondola is made of a sturdy looking metal. (Like that would protect you if the steel cable suddenly frayed and snapped and you plummeted hundreds of feet directly downward to a crashing mashed bloody screaming death.) I held tight to the guardrail, knowing without the slightest doubt that the worst was yet to come.

I took some pictures. I don’t remember them and I think most were out of focus.

We got out of the gondola, the safe precious gondola, and hiked into the rain forest. I truly understand how it must feel for a man walking toward his gallows. Each step is precious. The scent in the air is sweet and life is a wonderful gift. So precious.

“I can hardly wait,” enthused Sheree. Poor girl. At least the Lord gave me love before my life came to a crashing splattery death on some rainforest floor.

The walk ended too soon.

We stepped out of the trees and looked at a platform high above the ground. There was a steel cable soaring through the trees to another platform. They are kidding, right? Someone is gonna jump out of the trees any instant and say “GOTCHA! You didn’t actually think we were going to make you ride that thing, did you? HA! You should see the look on your face.”

The true horror of my predicament settled on me like a blanket when no one appeared..I looked at the nylon harness, listened to the laughter and chatter around me and wondered what in hell I had done to wind up at this exact point in my life: standing on a tiny platform waaaay off the forest floor, seconds from sailing over the rainforest at fifty miles an hour.
I suspect you may be sitting in your comfortable home reading this and thinking it sounds wonderful. Uh huh. It’s different when you are standing on a platform in a thin nylon harness.
The guide was speaking. Sounds were coming out of his mouth but they weren’t making sense. My brain wasn’t processing the information. He was showing us how to zip.

“What did you say?” I asked, my voice sounding far away from me.

The guide smiled: “You put your weak hand here,” he said, clamping it onto the harness. “Your other hand goes on top of the cable. You brake with your palm. Like this.”

The guide rested his hand on top of the cable and gently pressed it against the cable.

“That’s how you stop?” I asked.

The guide nodded. I think he had already identified me as the “problem guy on the tour who just might freak out at the top of a platform somewhere.”

“But don’t brake too soon. If you do, you’ll be stuck on the middle of the line.”

The guide held up his open hand, swaying it slowly from one side to another, to convey the idea of a body trapped on a cable. Trapped.


“Who’s first?” asked the guide.

Hands went up all around me. Morons all around me.

The first person was a sweet little thing from Romania. She weighed all of about a hundred pounds, mostly white teeth and blonde hair. She sailed across the distance like a pixie and landed on the opposite platform with grace. Everyone whooped and clapped.

Just like camp.

I hated camp.

“Next?” asked the guide.

I stepped onto the platform. Yes. It felt like there was someone else operating my body. But I really needed to get it over with. I really did. Backing out at this point would make me look like a coward in front of my wife. Somehow that seemed worse by far than simple death.

I stepped up on the platform and looked down. Bad idea. Have you seen those movies where the camera trains on the ground and then suddenly pulls back with sickening speed? That happened inside my brain. My head snapped up and I looked at cable stretching across the abyss.

Also a bad idea. Looking at anything at this point was a bad idea. Closing my eyes wasn’t an option. I was well and truly screwed.

The guide was strapping me onto the wire. I was thinking of every lethal injection scene from every awful movie. They strap you in so you can’t flop around like a fish frantically trying to draw life out of air.

My heart was beating inside my ear. My internal coward gibbered: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET DOWN GET DOWN!!! You IDIOT!”

“Settle back,” said the guide.

“What?” I said. My word sounded sharp even to me. “What?”

“It’s like you are settling into a chair. Lean back.”

Oh my God.

I lean back, breath coming fast. The cable looks like a strand of silk to me. I feel like an elephant.

“Okay, mon. Let go and zip,” says the guide like he is giving me a great gift.

“What?” I said, stalling for time.

All eyes were on me. I didn’t care. I kept my butt cheeks clenched tight and chewed on my lips like a crazy person.

“Just step off the platform,” said the guide.

“Why?” I asked, panic tight in my voice.

Confusion crossed his face. “So you can zip.”

My nostrils flared. I mean they FLARED. I wondered briefly if there was any way out.

Then the madness came. I stepped off the platform and into nothingness. Seconds later, I sailed into very thin air. Holy freaking crap.

This is the proper time to say that something cut loose inside me – that I cried out in triumph and pumped my fist in the air – and that my companions on the other platform applauded and the music rose and the credits rolled.

All I can say is this: I did not pee in my pants. Much.

My wife was having the time of her life. I wasn't.

There were ten towers – each one a little higher and a little longer than the last.

I was first across nearly every time. There were ten towers. Ten zip lines. TEN.

Around the eighth tower the guide strapping my washboard stiff body onto cables looked at me: “At first I thought you were an eager beaver,” he said with a glint of sudden inspiration in his eye. “Now I see you just want to get it over with.”

I thought something very very unkind.

I nodded and took the moment to ask the question that had been burning in my mind.
“Do you really like this?” I asked. “This whole zip line thing?”

“Yeah, mon,” he replied with the same tone he’d use if I’d asked if the fall really would kill me.

“No. Really. I mean do you really like this?”

“Yeah, mon.”

I braced myself and prepared to sail off into my ninth potential oblivion.

“Have fun, Dave,” encouraged Sheree. My poor misguided bride of twenty plus years was STILL having a wonderful time. “C’mon! Holler when you go across this time.”

The sentiment was echoed by others on the platform.

I launched myself into the air and zipped in terrified silence across space. None of the previous trips had been this fast. The platform was coming up too fast. I braked too early and just as my feet touched the platform, I started falling backward.

“Help,” I squeaked weakly.

It was in that moment that the guide insured a tip. He caught me and pulled me in before anyone saw.

“Thank you,” I whispered and meant it.

“You’re doing fine, mon,” he said softly. “Almost done.”

“How many more?” I whispered.


“Okay. I can do two.”

So I did.

As we walked toward the tram for the return ride down, Sheree looked up at me, smiling brightly. The sunlight played across her face and her eyes sparkled. She crackled with life. She smiled at me. I smiled back at her and my heart did its familiar two-step.

“Wasn’t that great?” she said.

I made a non-committal sound but realized I was still smiling at my bride.

I have now zip-lined above the rain forest. Am I glad I did it? Sure.

Would I like to do it again? Not while there is breath in my body.