Tuesday, April 29, 2008


This is tourism central. Fortuna is designed to get people touristed. There are signs everywhere for every type of tourist level adventure.

We are filming canyoneering today. That’s a merger of the word canyon and mountaineering, which means exploring a canyon with mountaineering gear. One repels down water falls, climbs through narrow canyon walls, gets real wet, and generally gets to poke around in a unique and beautiful setting. The gripping thing is how the hell do we get the sixty five thousand dollar camera down through water falls, streams and over slippery rocks. Remember, this is a rain forest and we’ve already toasted one camera getting it wet. We were shown a video the day before, it’s real wet in that canyon. When the big Sony Seven Hundred A, dies, the gig is up.

First we meet the tour operators. They’ve got a great place. When we explain that we need to film the car on the way to the canyon. They ask if we want the car washed. “Yes” is the answer to that question. Five guys are all over our car, soon it is sparkling. I ride up in the tour operator’s truck with Don. Keith is driving the Earth Roamer, getting filmed.

The tour company is owned by a Husband and Wife team. The gal turns out to be my former Alderwomen from when I lived in downtown Madison. We chatted about the Paul Soglan years, Madison’s once hippy Mayor turned grumpy old man.

We drive up, yet another contestant for the worlds bumpiest road. Occasionally, opening gates, and herding cows off the road we gain altitude. At the top we pull out the trusty cooler, which worked so well in the caves, for the camera, get geared up for repelling and head off.

Entering dense forest we haul the gear in. There are five guides with us to help and I don’t have to carry the tripod, so it’s more or less a day off. This is a different than the jungle in Belize, this is dripping rain forest. There are the palms and banana trees, hanging vines everywhere and, what is to a Wisconsin boy, huge house plants that have escaped their pots, everywhere.

I know how to repel, I rock climb but I listened the briefing to be a good sport while checking the anchors to see if they’re set up properly. After a short hike came the first repel that would drop us into the canyon. Now comes the first logistics discussion. There is a second repel point, near by, that is a free repel. That is the rope drops straight down. The main repel goes down a near cliff but the rope lays against the wall so the person going down will walk their feet down the wall as they go. Don will shot keith going down from the top and then the camera will go back in the cooler and be lowered down the free repel. That way the camera will not be banged against the rock wall, even if it’s in the cooler.

I get to go first. The repell is about a hundred and fifty feet. The guides are attaching safety lines to everyone with a braking devise. That way they can control my descent even if I screw up.

For those who haven’t repelled before the first thing you do is stick your ass out over the edge. the further your ass sticks out the better. This is not a comfortable thing to do. And though I’ve done lots of repels, that first moment, before I get my feet on the wall and start descending is always disconcerting.

I dangle off the platform. The first little bit I’m hanging free of the wall. The rope twists me around in the circle so I get a full view of the canyon walls, the waterfall and the deep “V” the canyon makes in the thick foliage. My feet soon touch down on the wall and bounce down to the pool below. I speed up the repel to see how tight of a leash the guide overhead is keeping on me with the safety line. I find out He’s letting do my thing so I speed up some more. Too much He puts the brake on me. Oh well.

Next comes Keith. Don is filming with the big camera. I’ve got the little camera and am filming from below. I’ve got to scramble up the side of the canyon a bit to stay out of the shot yet still film.

After we are all down, the guides come descend. Showing off they come down head first. Last is the big camera being lowered on the rope.

Next we climb further down into the canyon, going through and along the river. Keith is getting soaking wet for the camera while Don and I are doing everything we can to keep that camera and the other gear dry. At times I’ve got my heavy pack on with one foot on each side of the canyon, my hands pressing outward on the walls and the river running underneath and between my legs.

The last repel is a free repel that goes through the waterfall. It’s over two hundred feet. Keith will repel this one, get to the bottom, run the long way around on the trail so that He can be filmed again. This way Don can get a shot from above and well as below. Keith goes down right through the waterfall whooping it up. I’m next. I try to stay out of the water, keeping the gear dry. (That sort of works.) I stop for a moment to just look around. I’m on a rope, a waterfall, that I can touch with and outstretched hand, next to me and lush jungle all about. I look straight down at the pool below me. I let myself zip around for a while till my guide overhead puts the brakes on me.

Keith does his second repel and then heads down stream to do some interviews with the guides and the tour’s owners. I stay behind to collect the gear. The cooler will be sent down clipped to a guide rope that is tied out at an angle to keep the gear out of the water. A second rope does the actual lowering. I can’t help but think what the camera rental place would think of it all as I watch the small dot of the cooler with the camera in it become larger and larger as it descends.

At the end of the day, driving back it’s clear. Finally we can see the volcano is all it’s glory. We set up the Earth Roamer and Don getting great end of the day shots of the volcano with a sky full of orange modeled clouds.

1 comment:

CalActive.com said...

What a great story! Is there a way to see the video too?