MONTEVERDE, PUNTARENAS — Even as spectators some distance from the safety of the mainland on Saturday, we gasped in shock as we watched fellow bungee jumpers from the platform suspended in the sky.
Seemed to watch peopleto die.
The falling people seemed to be falling forever, the impossibly long rope was taking its time to catch, and at that point the jumpers seemed to hit an invisible springboard and leap in the opposite direction - upwards - no doubt to their great relief.
The Extremo Park bungee jump, considered the highest in Latin America and the only one in Costa Rica, is 143 meters (469 feet) high, from the small cable car to the bottom of this vast and beautiful valley.
“We are 143 meters from the river and your jump is between 80 and 100 meters, depending on your weight,” said Andrés, one of the two jumping champions here today for whom everything was so routine.
The trolley returned with two satisfied young customers from Europe, all smiling and giving the thumbs up. One of them claimed that she wasn't even scared. Yes, exactly.
It was time to go. Nico, 19, from Germany, and Hansol, 21, from South Korea, crawled into the back of the trolley with Karl, 51, from Arkansas.
Andrés and Danny welcomed us on board, but skipped the usual jokes most tour guides introduce themselves with. These guys weren't here to talk, they were here to bungee jump.
The tram started across the valley and the newcomers were already out of breath. The bungee tram (which reminded me of the classic Rio Jaws Bond cable car scene in Moonraker) runs along cables attached to the mountains on either side of this spectacular valley. Of course, this cage has a transparent steel mesh floor to better prepare the bomb from the most primitive of all human phobias, the fear of heights.
Even better, the trolley veered to the right on the side I was sitting on, as if it were going to tip over. I tried not to think about it, I tried to enjoy the view, but it's hard to appreciate the view from a height like this when the ship you're on seems to be listing dangerously.
We arrived at the jump point and young Nico bravely reported first. But his courage seemed to diminish with each step he took to the edge of the bungee cage.
List!Go to the edge my friend. Closer. feet together. Ready to go!
Countdown: "Five, four, three, two, one."
"Hang on!" Nico had a question about where to jump. I think he asked the guys: "Which direction?" as he looked to the left as if he should jump in that direction.
Later I teased him with this: "Which direction? Straight down!"
The boys counted down again, but Nico failed a second time.
I couldn't fault it. I knew forcing myself to jump off that ledge would be the hardest thing.
And suddenly – Nico is gone! We could see him through the floor falling from an unimaginable height before the rope caught and he jumped again.
The boys lowered a rope with a carabiner on the end and Nico grabbed it and clipped it into the harness. Danny pulled it up with a crank.
Nico returned to the safety of our steel cage and didn't seem the least bit shaken.
While Hansol was tied up, Nico sat next to me and said that the free fall happens so fast there's no time to be scared.
Well, that was reassuring.
Hansol jumped to her feet first, which is not recommended, but despite her screams, she managed to get up easily.
It was the old man's turn. The statement I signed at the office said something about people over 50 needing a medical clearance - like I should bring a doctor's note! As if I had a doctor!
I was absolutely terrified. I wasnoHave a good time. When I reviewed this adventure I thought I'd tell people it's a bad idea.It's impossible to have fun doing something that scary.
I dragged myself to the edge, pulling my anklet with me, alarms of fear going off in every fiber of my body.
The guys called me and told me to go closer to the end.
I'm going to hate itI thought.I will hate him and I will tell everyone they will hate him too.
There were two small steel ties screwed into the bar for gripping.
The guys told me to come a little closer. put my feet togetherList!
There was no turning back. I came here to do this. It was time to stop talking about it and do it.
"Five four three two one!"
I dove I flew. Falls.
"It's a nice jump," said one of the guys on the tape, Andrés I think. "Cool cool."
I didn't make a noise. I had my arms outstretched and a smile on my face.
Two seconds after my free fall, an unexpected thought popped into my head:
This is funny!
I didn't hate it! Big surprise! That was great.
When I hit the invisible springboard and bounced, I managed to gather enough air to say, "Wooooooooo!"
The ebb and flow continued for a long time as I laughed, exclaimed and had a great time.
Not to suggest that the terror is gone. When I stopped jumping long enough to realize I was hanging by my feet by a small rope in thin air, waves of fear washed over me again (and again).
Danny made me take off my boots because they came up to my ankles and he needed them for the Velcro ankle strap. So I jumped on my socks.
But now, hanging upside down in the air like a giant bat losing a branch, I was afraid my skinny ankles would slip through the Velcro and I'd fall straight to my death.
So instinctively I pulled my fingers up (actually down) as far as I could, trying to create an L shape that I couldn't escape. Rationally I knew I was being stupid and should just relax and enjoy the view.
But I was suspended hundreds of meters in the air by a small rope!
I couldn't bring myself to let go of my feet. That's how it would beashow i screwed up - relaxing.
I remembered that I had to work. I found the rope the guys were dropping and grabbed it, then started pulling to get to the crucial carabiner at the end.
The guys upstairs pulled the end rope and at one point it slipped through my gloves very quickly which is why you wear gloves. I grabbed the carabiner and managed to clip it onto my belt, all upside down on the end of a rope, of course, like I was Tom Cruise and this was Mission Impossible. Good thing I brought a pair of zip-up pants for my wallet, iPhone, and room key.
Danny began to spin and I felt myself being pulled up like an exotic animal rescued from the air.
After about a minute, the rope threw me back onto my right side and I was able to sit back, enjoy the view, and relax my feet.
I went back to the platform and joked with the guys that I thought it was scary.
Danny asked for my left hand - "No, yourslinkshand” – and pulled me onto the platform. I continued to hold onto his hand.
Danny said he needed his hand back.
When we got back to the safety of dry land (in the pouring rain), half a dozen jumpers gathered under one roof to watch videos being filmed by our helmets and the guys above.
The last one shown was the old man's top-down video - in which I did a swan jump so perfect everyone screamed when they saw it.
"That was the best jump," Danny said.
It felt like I'd done it 100 times already, even though I'm a bungee virgin like pretty much everyone else here.
I asked Nico if he would do it again. "Of course," he said.
"It was the best thing ever," said Evelyna Deckel, 20, from Sweden. "Oh my God, I want to do that again."
"I felt so weak," said Sarah Hodgson, 19, from England. "I felt like a rag doll."
I asked Danny a rude question: "Have you ever killed anyone?"
He shook his head, said "wait" and started recording a video on his computer.
“See this guy falling?” said Danny, showing a GoPro video of a bungee jump and adding his own wind noise. "Bang!"
The video crashes into a tree.
Women watching the videos screamed.
I laughed and said, "You dropped a camera."
Danny smiled and nodded. He said a jumper twisted the rope and ripped off his GoPro helmet, and both the helmet and camera fell to the ground. The camera didn't even break down - a testament to how thick the canopy is in these lush mountains, not to mention how well built the GoPro cameras are.
"These cameras are robust," Danny said.
I asked Danny how many people gave up, paid their money and rode the cage and were too scared to jump.
Very few, he said. Maybe 4 or 5 percent.
My advice: If bungee jumping is something you would never do because it seems the opposite of what a normal person would do for some reason, then you don't need my advice.
But if you're strangely drawn to this more extreme adventure, Monteverde might be the best place in the world to try it first.
WHEN YOU GO
Get there:Transportation to and from Extremo Park is included from any hotel in the Monteverde area.
What to bring:Be prepared for rain and cold, but the less you bring the better - all bags are left at reception or in the car, and phones and cameras are not recommended on the bungee platform. If you plan on taking your phone, wallet, keys, or passport with you, wear pants with zippers.
Contact Karl Kahler firstname.lastname@example.org.