Above treetops, a zip-line thriller

By Rosa May de Guzman

LAKE SEBU, Philippines — Raring to get her fix on the day of Hearts, Jane Agreda, 38, pursued her husband Nonoy and their four school-aged children out to an adventure that has become a tourist attraction for locals and foreigners on holiday in South Cotabato.

“For a change, we’d spend the V-day away from fancy places catering to couples, so I pushed my husband to drive here, to get our first dose of high-thrills and surprises,” she said.  The couple waited for their turn among the list of young and old ready to conquer their fears.

“Sorry, but we only allow two persons with a combined weight of 170 kilogram every ride,” says the crew. Jane and Nonoy weigh over 170 so their ?extreme date exploit? was put at risk, making their daughter, instead, take the strap on safety harness and helmet.

Jane and Panpan, 12, climbed a wooden bridge to the platform for the ride, but before their turn came, they lagged 20 others in the registry.  Stepping off the platform, both bobbed down like cloned robots. When, finally, they were hooked up to the cable, the crew conveyed safety talk, including a demo of the harness, prior departure and during landing.

Paying no heed on her liquefying face, Jane looked down to her husband: ?I can do this Popsie! No worries, please!” “On the zip, you will blast out of the greens at a maximum speed. Hang on,? a crew member says.

Adrenaline junkies

“One, two, three,? he yelled as he readied to free the harness that carries two adrenaline junkies whose hearts were pumping to the dreadful height they wanted to beat.

“Weeeeee! Oh my? gosh!,? the medium-built Jane shrieked in falsetto. Her daughter screamed, “Mammaaaa” almost without end, rushing across the tree-shrouded and falls-laden hills.

The initial zip at 5 seconds gained difficulty, but the duo?s mood grew madder as the daredevil speed picked up. As they hang to the 700-feet-deep foliage, their screams nearly drenched the high-pitched hum of a metal crank gyrating along 3/4 inch cable above them.

Their bodies extending, hands slumping, hair raging in the gush of misty winds, they flew at 120 kilometers per hour toward a hardly visible spot in the distance.

Jane and Panpan trekked through a carpet of trees and bushes in fiery colors of green, hill-walking trails and the regal 2, 3, 4, 5 falls opened up at their feet with no structures to break the spell in an area inhabited by bird-monkeys, butterflies and tarsiers.

For that entire first zip, Jane looked down and marveled at the wonders. “Oh God, you?re truly amazing!”

They slowed down and rocked to a stop, but were set to do it again at the other tower.

“It’s all occurring so fast that it’s hard to hold on. If only I could stop screaming, I would,” Jane said.

The first ride took only 38 seconds, but why rush it? The crew suggested a slower ride with an appropriate wind breaker to slow down the speed in order to better appreciate the sights.

On the second zip, their ride was more trees, falls, falls, falls and falls?the sight of the gushing four falls below. It?s over, finally, in 15 seconds.

“I just told my daughter not to worry about your acrophobia, don?t look down when you?re not at ease,” she said at their suspension.

This is the Seven Falls Zip Line. The high-thrill act is now whizzing the mountain wild of the lakeside villages of Lake Siloton and Lake Lahit in Lake Sebu, considered the summer capital of the volatile province of South Cotabato because of its temperate weather.

Zip-lining is a sport that requires floating through the thick forest while linked to a network of solid wires strung between stands. And the mountaintops of Lake Sebu provide the perfect stage for a zipping adventure.

The zip line only operates along the second falls up to the fifth since the first, sixth and the seventh falls are 1.2 km off the four falls.

The Seven Falls is a series of river plunge along the mountain forests of Lake Sebu.

“You are up here in the Seven Falls,” said the crew. “And we assure you that it’s going to be a unique experience,” he assured each fearless rider.

One of the 15 crew of the zip line, Ramon Dongon, said no athletic ability was needed here. The harness drapes around the back, chest, legs, and hooks onto the metal trolley.

Ahead of the Agredas, Bernadette Flores, a 12-year-old balikbayan from Kansas, touring the town with her US Army dad and a development worker mom, lifts her feet off and flies down the line.

“Woooooohhhoooooo!” Flores hurried to the other platform.

“The first zip was cool! I can do this the second time around. But you know, I?ve never done this before, but as soon as my dad explained what we?re going to do, I said, ?I?m all for it!? I?ll push my friends back home to try this come summer.”

In between, the zip line hits the speeds of 100 kph. The dual zip lines, one traverses 700 meters and the second, 300 meters, strung over mountains, trails and seven falls at 700-feet deep?the record-holder among zip line operators in terms of height.

The slant of descent, the length of cables and the aerodynamic form all go to the speed and length of the ride.

Added amenities hang over the zip line, such as the trailing, bridges, rest rooms. Now that they have laid down the foundation for zip-line touring in Lake Sebu, the provincial government is already looking to expand and enhance the experience.

In the next months, there are plans to open further expansions such as cable cars, a gazebo, stick insect and butterfly farms, and tarsier and bird-monkey watching in their own sanctuary as the new adventure outpost.

High-in-the-sky

Lake Sebu?s zip lines provide thrills for young and old alike, as long as the riders have no fear of heights.

Jane said you have to be intimately involved with the cable in order to achieve bliss.

Jane wasn?t expecting to be wowed, but it turned out to be a blast?and so were the reactions of others. ?I?ve felt completely safe,? Jane says.

The oldest person to take the zip is an 87-year-old man while the youngest is a 16-month baby.

“We can take anybody across,” Dongon said.

And once you’ve trekked the zip line, it’s easy to understand its reputation in this part of the globe.

Thanks to the Seven Falls Eco-Tourism Development Project, one of South Cotabato?s flagship projects, the zip line is rapidly becoming part of Mindanao?s consciousness.

“We’re riding on it right now,” Dongon said. “This has become our main livelihood, same with the others who live within the vicinity.”

The idea came when tourists wanted to see more of the seven falls in one view. Then, the provincial government heeded the call and tapped Sacdalan Cable Car Tours to package the zip line for P3.4 million.

And they delivered and brought in the equipment, plus the training of the crew?rescuer, stopper and rigger?according to Ramon Ponce de Leon, provincial environment management officer.

The zip line has yielded huge profits. As early as January 2010, it raked in almost P400,000, from every P250 per ride. Entry fee to the waterfalls is P10 per person and the landowners get a 15-percent monthly share from the provincial government. They are likewise given priority for future employment. (Inquirer/Mindanao Post)

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