Free and falling

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By Joy Hepp

Experts say that a fear of heights can be brought on by a traumatic event early in life. This could be anything from falling out of a crib to being dropped by a clumsy babysitter. As for me, I blame the coatimundi.

For as long as I can remember I’ve suffered from minor acrophobia, or fear of heights.

When my boyfriend and I attempted to climb Phoenix’s Camelback mountain last year, I made him hold my hand and help me down after the sight of the sheer cliff at the summit made my hands sweat. For someone with an otherwise adventurous spirit, my acrophobia really cramped my style.

So when my sister and I decided to take our mother zip-lining in Puerto Vallarta for her birthday, we thought it would be a great way for her to pass the half-century mark.

After living in Guadalajara for six months I had all but forgotten about my anxiety as my budget precludes me from getting anywhere near any of the posh new high-rises popping up on the city’s periphery. So booking a tour where the highlight is flying through the air with nothing but a wire and a climbing harness keeping me from falling to my death sounded like a great idea to me.

As our tour bus climbed the windy slope of road leading to the site of our zip-line canopy tour in the Sierra Madres, I felt the old familiar panic set in and thought, “Maybe I can just watch.”

Sensing my shift in mood, my mother tried to lighten things up.

“We brought Joy here when she was a toddler and she and her aunt made friends with a monkey,” she told our guide.

“What?” my sister interjected. “We’ve never heard this story!”

“I thought I told you,” she said. “We all went out to eat at le Kliff and Joy wouldn’t sit still so her aunt took her for a walk. All of a sudden a monkey flew out of the trees and grabbed on to one of her little trenzitas and nearly pulled her off le Kliff.”

After an eruption of laughter, the guide corrected my mother.

“We don’t have monkeys in Puerto Vallarta,” he said. “It must have been a  coatimundi, they look like monkeys but they’re more like raccoons, muy traviesas.”

All these years and I had been afraid because of a damn raccoon! It was time for some extreme desensitization therapy. So, when we got to the summit I forced myself to put on the goofy gear – a climbing harness and hardhat – and sit through the safety demonstration. I learned that we would be attached to a pulley with a couple of tiny handle bars that we would hold onto as we glided on a wire across a ten story-high valley and that if we twisted the wrong way, we could get stuck dangling in the middle of the line.

My mom and sister were stoked; I pretended to be.

Once we were suited up, we to hiked about 10 minutes to the jumping-off point. Along the way I was distracted from the task at hand by the witty schtick of our zip-line instructors.

“See how the skin of that tree is peeling off in the sun,” one said. “We call that the tourist tree.”

Then, some joker on the tour ahead of us yelled out a very convincing monkey call.

“Ooh ooh ooh, ahh ahh!”

“Hide your braids,” my sister joked.

When the moment of truth came I made my mommy and little sister go first. Watching them leap off into a leafy abyss did nothing to tame my anxiety. When it was my turn I gripped the handlebars for dear life with my sweaty palms. One quick Hail Mary and I was off.

Soaring over the stunning valley below at 30 miles per hour, I realized I had much the same view as I would have had that coati had its way. The majestic Sierra Madre flora and fauna surrounded me and the glistening Pacific shone off to my right.

Ha ha, I showed him!

It’s only been a few weeks since I faced my fears and I haven’t had a chance to test out my new bravado. But for the next monkey, coatimundi or any other mischievous mammal that crosses my path all I have to say is, “Bring it on!”

Puerto Vallarta zip-lining tours

Zip-lining tours in Puerto Vallarta run from $95 to $200 per person depending on the duration of the tour. Some companies will give a discount if you sit through a devastatingly boring time-share presentation.

If you want to take a flying leap towards fighting your fears, here are some great places to start the journey:

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