Now Watch me Zip

ac zipline6To zip or not to zip? That was the question that we had to answer on a sweltering day in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We had gone there with a group of other travel professionals to familiarize ourselves with what that island paradise has to offer. We drove around the island touring many of the beautiful resorts, dining on sumptuous Jamaican cuisine, and enjoying many of the activities like Green Grotto Caves and Dunn’s River Falls. One morning we split into smaller groups and our group leader suggested going up to zipline after lunch. I had never done it before, so I had some serious reservations. But I figured what the heck, how rough could it be? I soon found out. Our merry band of 10 loaded into a van and began the trek up the hill, into the rain forest to begin our zipline canopy tour. Even the ride up the hill was a bit of an off-road adventure and we kept climbing, and climbing and climbing. Once we arrived at the destination we were ushered to a covered platform where we met our tour guides/canopy specialists.

zipline prepThey gave us a thorough safety briefing and instruction on how to stop and where hands should (and should not) go. There was a lot of information to absorb, but I did my best. Then they outfitted each of us with a helmet, leather work gloves and the safety harness that attached to the overhead lines.

I was getting more apprehensive (actually I was downright scared), but there was no turning back at that point. I wondered how fast I’d go, zipping along at the speed of my own body weight. I soon found out. Our guides led us out of the open shack and I figured that it was time to zip….not quite. First we had a LONG trek through the rainforest. There were more than 300 uneven wooden steps to traverse, some uphill, some downhill, and all slippery from the humidity. That was quite a workout, to say the least.

By the time we finally reached the first of 10 platforms/launchpads, I’d kind of lost my notion to zip. Then, the adventure began. They attached the first person’s harness to the line and off he went. I was number 6 in line, right behind my husband.

bob flies closeupI figured I could watch him and see how he fared. Or maybe he could catch me if I got into trouble. He took off like a champ and before I knew it, it was my turn.

ac unhooks3The guide secured my harness, told me to jump and off I went. What a rush! I felt like Tarzan (OK Jane) flying through the treetops. Before long I saw the next platform looming up ahead and I tried desperately to remember what they’d told us to do when it was time to stop – I’d forgotten completely, so I plowed into the guide at that platform with full force. Apparently I wasn’t the first to do that, and he caught me easily, unhooked my harness and connected it to the next line. Away I went. After the third run, I got so good that I started doing tricks – zipping backwards.

ac flies3Actually, my harness got reversed  and I couldn’t figure out how to turn back around. Let me tell you, zipping backwards is a serious rush.

Just about the time I was really getting the hang of it they “upped the ante” with a vertical drop. Yep, straight down for ~40 feet. That was a real surprise.

There was always a slight feeling of danger since I was so close to the trees on both sides; at most 2-3 feet on either side.

It kept getting better. The grand finale was a 1,265 foot long traverse where it’s possible to travel at over 35 mph – and I did. What a kick!

When the last of our group finished our guides led us on a nice stroll back to the van. It was along a smooth path lined with lush flora and fauna.

jamaica greeneryOur guides were full of botanical information about the plants and trees that we passed. Like this lobster claw plant.

lobster clawIt really was a wonderful, exhilarating experience that I recommend highly. Here’s a tip though. If you plan to go, take some latex gloves of your own to go inside of the leather gloves. Here’s why. Those leather gloves are used again and again by dozens of perspiring people everyday. The perspiration and the humid climate combine to make them quite mildewed and sour smelling. Even after washing our hands repeatedly with soap and hot water we couldn’t get rid of that pungent aroma for several hours. But it was well worth it and we’re really glad we did it.

lees after ziipline


When You’ve Gotta Go

Like many other travelers, I turn to travel reviews when researching a destination. I search several websites to get as much information as possible about the location. The “official” websites always give glowing reviews – even if they are “embellished” or slightly exaggerated. Reviews by other travelers can be a better source of information and it’s nice to hear about their personal experiences – both good and bad. At the end of the day you need to have your own experience to draw your own conclusions. Reviews are written about hotels, since we all need to sleep; restaurants, since we all need to eat and activities, since we all seek adventure and entertainment. However, there is another human need that is seldom, if ever, addressed. Where are the restroom reviews? Public restrooms vary greatly from country to country and region to region. Here are a few that I have encountered during my world travels.

peppermill ladies room2USA – Generally speaking, in the United States we do a pretty good job of providing public restroom facilities. They can usually be found in hotels, restaurants, libraries, stores, malls, amusement parks, fast food joints and even roadside rest areas. They can be scarce in big cities, but are quite plentiful in suburban areas.

CHINA – During a recent trip to China I visited Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai and my, what an experience. The majority of toilets are squatters, so flexibility and good balance are necessary skills to have.

toilet squatterFor Chinese locals who have been trained to use them from an early age, it’s no big deal. But for westerners, it can be a really big deal; particularly since there are no handles or rails to hold onto.

toilet sitterThe good news is that if there is a stall for the disabled, it will have a western-style commode. So if there’s no one disabled who restroom, it can be an alternative to the squatter. But wait, there’s more. Very few – like almost none – of them have paper towels or toilet paper. It’s called BYOP (bring your own paper). So each day before we left the hotel I stuffed my pockets and purse. Yep, I felt like a Charmin pack mule but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

EUROPE – In European cities like Rome, Venice, and Barcelona, finding public facilities can be a real challenge. These cities are centuries old, so public facilities were not part of the original city plan. However, restaurants and cafes will allow you to use their facilities if you make a purchase. On a hot, sultry day it’s nice to duck into a cool café for a beverage, and a restroom break. However, once you guzzle that beverage, you need to visit the restroom again. You leave just like you came so it’s a vicious circle.

AMSTERDAM – Amsterdam offers a unique solution with their outdoor standing toilets. Obviously they are more suited to males than females, but they definitely serve the purpose.

amsterdam outdoor toiletUNITED ARAB EMIRATES – It was easy to find pubic restrooms in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They were plentiful and quite clean. I found this interesting (and educational) sign outside a restroom at the Mall of the Emirates

moe bathrooms facts

EPHESUS – Obviously the need to provide facilities is as old as humankind. When I toured the ancient city of Ephesus I discovered that they had public latrines. Apparently a trip to the restroom could also be an opportunity to socialize.

ephesus latrine2 ephesus latrineWhile public restrooms are not normally the subject of travel reviews, I hope that I’ve shed some light on this delicate subject. After all, when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. As Buckaroo Banzi said,  “No matter where you go, there you are.”