I have a fear of heights. I don't do well on ladders, chair lifts, balconies or Ferris wheels.

Thus, I'd ruled out ever attempting the seemingly insane sport of zip-lining, slicing through the air hundreds of feet above the ground, tethered by nothing more than a hook attached to a narrow, steel cable.

Yet, there I stood above the tree line on a small, wooden platform in the Toro Negro (Black Bull) Rainforest in central Puerto Rico, my lower torso strapped into an uncomfortable harness that, in turn, was hooked to a cable above my helmeted head.

My hands were gloved, my heart was hammering.

Ahead of me lay glimpses of sky, cloud-shrouded mountains and towering stands of green ficus and palm trees.

Below me lay death.

Raymond Sepulveda, our guide, was cheery and upbeat. "OK, just remember: Don't touch the cable. Keep your hands on this harness above you. Oh, and don't scream. There's a bees' nest behind you, and we don't want to disturb them."

He gave a thumbs-up to fellow guide Roqui "Rocky" Bello off in the distance on another wooden platform, separated from us by empty space, a gorge and a jungle floor hundreds of feet below.

With that, I was off, a modern-day Jane zipping through space, whizzing through air. Where was Tarzan when I needed him?

My feet hit Roqui's platform within seconds, and I plowed into him like a linebacker on steroids. He absorbed my impact, steadied me and swiftly freed me from the torture of the harness and hook.

I had already climbed moss-covered waterfalls, slid and slipped on muddy, steep trails and cannon-balled into river pools, but the zip-line experience was the capstone event of the adventure, a pivotal finale that marked the day as an unqualified personal success.

I'd conquered my height phobia and lived to tell the tale of "the canopy tour."

True, at the end of the long day, I was cold, wet, mud-covered and desperate for a hot shower.

The tour van disgorged our motley crew back at the hotel just as well-coifed and well-dressed visitors were heading out for an evening in Old San Juan.

They gave us a wide berth as we slogged through the lobby, our waterlogged hiking shoes disgorging globs of red clay onto the white-tile floor.

We resembled a Roto Rooter team returning from a crisis call. Even the casino crowd paused in mid-bet as we skirted the table action on the way to the elevators and our rooms.

No matter, I'd done it. And I might even do it again, which puts me among the growing number of crazy zip-liners who search destination sports-and-adventure operators looking for ever higher and longer canopy tours.

"We've never had an injury, a mishap, or an accident other than a few bruised butts and bruised egos from the waterfall climb," said Sepulveda of Acampa Tours, a local ground operator that specializes in nature adventures into caves and caverns, up rivers and canyons and to rain forests and waterfalls all over Puerto Rico.

The Toro Negro region, smack in the island's mountainous center in a region described as the backbone of Puerto Rico, is home to the highest rain forest and the second-highest mountain on the island.

The Acampa Nature Adventures series comprises seven tours, including an expedition to Mona Island off Puerto Rico's west coast.

Tour sizes range from two to 12 participants and two guides. Although I tipped the scales on the far side of the age range, most clients averaged between ages 30 and 45.

"We do customized tours for couples, families, small groups. We can arrange anything, and we have fun," said Bello.

In addition to getting signatures on the mandatory waiver forms, the guides gauge the physical condition of each person and gear the tour's pace and activity level to each group.

The full-day tour that I did, the aptly named Classic Adventure, was priced at $149 per person, including hotel pickup, transportation, gear, lunch on the covered porch of a wooden farmhouse and the services of certified guides.

Not only did Raymond and Roqui calm nerves, boost confidence and heap praise, but they plucked lemons and coffee beans, uncovered the miniature coqui tree frogs hiding on tree bark and warned us away from fire ants and thorny plants.

Agents get a $10 per-person commission, but Sepulveda and Bello said they are disappointed in the lack of bookings Acampa receives from agents.

"We've done some fam tours for agents but get very few results," Bello said. "Most of our business is either repeat customers or word-of-mouth recommendations."

Hotel concierge contacts bring in "a lot of business" for Acampa, Sepulveda said. "These guys know us, know our reputation and steer hotel guests to us."

The firm's Web site at www.acampapr.com gets plenty of hits and "yields the best results," according to Sepulveda.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].


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