As I zip, in fact, as I zipline through the canopy of a Phuket jungle an old ditty comes to mind, “He floats through the air with the greatest of ease, this daring young man on the flying trapeze.”
I’m neither young nor daring but am absolutely moving through the air with great ease, if not speed, flashing along a cable strung between two ancient ironwood trees. The apparatus that allows this – a pulley attached to both the cable and a harness I’m wearing – used to be called a “flying fox” but in recent times the adrenaline thrills industry has sexed-up its name to “zipline”.
Swooping and whooping through the jungle used to be the exclusive domain of simians, plus out-there heroes and demi-gods such as Tarzan and Hanuman the Hindu monkey god. Fittingly, the beautiful, eight-hectare hillside of jungle that I’m now traversing is called Hanuman World. It’s the newest tourist attraction on Phuket and a welcome respite – so much oxygen, so few tour groups! – from the traffic and clamour that elsewhere assail the island.
My three hours as a wannabe Tarzan-Hanuman start with donning a helmet and safety harness. The latter will hook me, via trolleys, onto the series of steel cables that stretch between the trees. I join a group of four, a young American couple and a Russian father and son duo. Led by our four English-speaking Thai guides we head uphill and then climb further on spiral steps winding around the trunk of a great tree. We reach the launch platform for the first of our “zips”. There will be 15, of increasing length, until the last, a rip-roaring 400-metre flyer.
A guide hooks my harness onto a pulley that’s attached to a cable spanning the green abyss. With a one-small-step leap of faith, I’m off! Gravity does the rest as I soar above the treetops towards the next platform, where a pair of “catchers” awaits me. It’s over in a flash. The other joy riders follow, hollering. We cross to another platform and do it again, swooping across a longer expanse. It’s like being Spiderman for an afternoon.
Safety is paramount, with the European-made gear, the rigging and platforms all being redundantly robust. The guides are exceptionally attentive and there is never a moment when we go unattached to either a safety line or zipline cable. This involves much hooking and unhooking of pulleys and carabiners, but any sense of vertigo or apprehension is soon forgotten.
All our “flights” are done single-file, with only one person at a time on the line, but the American couple gets to try the Tarzan-and-Jane option, ziplining in tandem on a “honeymoon sling”. Between flights we also do three abseiling descents, the highest being 40 metres. Securely harnessed we drop from one platform in the trees to the ground, inhaling adrenaline.
During the whole adventure we gradually descend, zigzagging via 30 platforms, ziplines, abseils and suspension bridges. From one vantage point I look through the trees to catch a surprise view of the buildings of Phuket Town. It’s a “before and after” vision of the once undeveloped island.
“Hanuman World is your opportunity to live the adventures of a god!” promises an advertisement. Hanuman, the mighty mythological ape who fought against evil is one of the most popular celebs in the vast pantheon of Hindu gods, but did he ever try the finale at his namesake park? It’s called a roller zipline – an elevated, fixed rail (rather than a cable) that curves and twists 800 furious metres through the park.
The guide hooks my harness to a low-friction pulley that rides the rail. A gentle nudge in the back and I’m away, angling downhill and immediately gaining speed. Before I know it I’m rocketing and turning between the trees, reaching up to 40km/h and with centrifugal force spinning my body out at wild angles as I scream (quite literally) through the curves. Tarzan would love it. As would Hanuman who, incidentally, I trust gets naming-rights royalties here.
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