I don’t watch a lot of TV (baseball, repeats of West Wing and Dick Van Dyke Show) but one show that I enjoy is The Amazing Race. The show consists of pairs of travelers circling the globe and being given tasks to perform in the destinations they arrive at. The team that arrives at the ‘finish line’ at the end of each show is eliminated. I could care less about the drama, backbiting and interpersonal relationships, the main reason I watch and continue to enjoy the show is the fact they are traveling to places that I would either love to go or have never thought of going to. The Amazing Race is a traveler’s dream.
While staying south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico I had a chance to experience my own one day Amazing Race. One of the premiere tour operators in the Vallarta area is Vallarta Adventures and one of their most exciting excursions is their Outdoor Adventure, a fast-paced, six and a half hour trek into the Sierra Madre Mountains on five different modes of transport (including your own power). On paper this sounded great but the reality was even better.
The day began early with a speed boat ride picking us up at our hotel then racing across Banderas Bay to Boca de Tomatlan, a secluded beach at the base of the mountainside. Here we climbed into 4×4’s for an off-road trek 2000 feet up the mountain. We then donned safety gear (and had the requisite safety talk) then clambered aboard mules for a jaunt up the narrow trails to the top.
A personal note here, and don’t let this deter you from experiencing the excursion if you have the chance: We took the first mule ride of the morning after a night of relatively heavy rain. Although I do not have a lot of experience horse riding, I must have looked particularly comfortable to our guide as he had the two of us doing a light gallop up the wet trails, breaking away from the rest of the group. I noticed my mule was releasing a lot of gas from his morning grass breakfast. This did not cause me any undue concern until I realized that the release of gas was causing my saddle to slide as it was no longer strapped firmly to his diminishing belly. The trail here was particularly narrow and steep allowing only one rider abreast as I looked down my right side I could see the hill falling away hundreds of feet into a valley and I could feel my saddle sliding in that direction. Using my elementary physics I leaned in the other direction hoping to correct the saddle slide. My mule however had no idea what I was attempting, only that he felt uncomfortable with it and it was at this point that my friend lost his sure footing on the muddy trail and as I slipped off to his right he promptly fell on my leg. My rugged all weather hiking sandals were no match for his weight and as I found out later, he had broke my second toe and sprained the baby finger on one hand. As the rest of the group caught up to me, my wife grew understandably concerned to find me laying in the mud in pain but after a minute of consultation with the guides in which they asked me if I would like to go back down the hill and wait for them to finish, I realized I was not going to let this small setback destroy the excitement I felt about the rest of the day so after a quick bandaging job we continued on.
After a quick reconnoiter at the top of the mountain we began a series of zip lines that would take the better part of an hour. I can’t begin to describe the the thrill of skimming over the tops of this beautiful jungle.
Halfway down we encountered a 100-foot waterfall and after proper harnessing we were able to rappel down the cascade into the cool, refreshing pool at the bottom. I had never rappelled before but it was much easier than I anticipated and by the time I got to the bottom, I felt like a natural.
After a few more zip lines we walked out onto a metal catwalk 90 feet above another pool of water. Here we were to free fall rappel to the water below.
The instructions were to grip the handbrake and bit by little bit release it enough to lower us safely to the pool. Being a guy, I of course felt the need to go faster than everyone else so I released the handbrake a bit more than I probably should have but I don’t care, it was a blast.
My wife on the other hand (who has a bit of a fear of heights) was gripping the handbrake too tightly and was suspended motionless 90 feet in the air. She yelled down, “What am I supposed to do?” and the guide at the bottom with me yelled back, “Let go!”…and so she did. She completely let go of the handbrake and plummeted the 90 feet at top velocity, sending the guides scrambling on the ropes to arrest her fall. As she splashed into the waist-high water, she exclaimed, “That was fun!”.
After a few more zip lines we began a 20 minutes jungle hike back to base camp. We were wet and tired and I was sore but we had had a great time.
We were not allowed to bring our own cameras along but one of the guides, a professional photographer was hovering, zipping and dangling around us the whole day snapping great pics. These pictures were loaded onto discs and available for purchase once we were at the bottom. Although I felt the price was a bit steep I’m glad we bought ours so we could have a record of our own Amazing Race.
I have done a number of different zip lining excursions in my travels but this was by far the longest, most complete and most fun to date. If you are in the Puerto Vallarta or Riviera Nayarit area and feel up to this undertaking, contact Vallarta Adventures and book the Outdoor Adventure. The company offers a wide variety of excursions and day trips from the relaxing to…well, this one. I did not receive any compensation or discount for this endorsement, this is simply how much I enjoyed this excursion.
Addendum: Since I did this excursion, they have added 2 huge waterslides to the day, one of them being the 3rd longest in the world at 258 metres (846 feet)! All the more reason for me to go back and experience it again someday!