Cables running over jungle canopies once ferried buckets of goods to roads where trucks could take them to market. Then one day about 40 years ago, the story goes, a guy in South America realized he could ride down with the bucket. It saved hours of bushwhacking.
Today the Philippines, a jungle-covered archipelago in Southeast Asia, is building an economy on tourism — and finding that foreign backpackers want more adventure than a cocktail on the beach.
Their answer? Strapping people to pulleys along the steel cables — called zip lines — at beaches, alpine resorts and even the top of a hotel-shopping complex in the city of Cebu. When pushed off platforms at up to 15,000 feet above sea level, gravity sends riders flying as fast as 50 feet per second.
The Philippines claims the world’s highest zip line and the first on the roof of a building.
“It’s not only for adventure but also for people who want the clean environment and the fresh air,” says Elisa Millama, a duty officer at the high-mountain Dahilayan Adventure Park zip line, the self-proclaimed longest in Asia at 2,700 feet.
It’s hard to get any fresher than whizzing through the air, belly down, with nothing to do but breathe and check out the jungles and peaks.
“The canopy ones, the slower ones are like trekking through the treetops,” says Richard Cole, owner of Association of Zip Line Technology, a company in the Philippines that builds lines and does consulting to the government.
With 22 years of experience, Cole sometimes zips upside down or does back flips off the platform. “Now it’s all about longer, higher, faster,” he says of today’s competition among zip operators.
The Sabang X Zip Line sends riders hurtling toward the South China Sea, off Palawan Island, on a 2,600-foot journey to a rocky outcropping. The line at the Crown Regency hotel complex in central Cebu runs people 250 feet, from the roof of one building to another. It costs 600 pesos, about twice what rural peers charge, and draws from 100 to 300 people per day.
About 20 zip lines have registered in the Philippines over the past five years, with an unknown number of others operating informally throughout the archipelago of 7,107 islands.
“The sentiment seems that since the lines have been constructed on a private basis that they are not that trusted,” says Matthias Hanika, a developer on the small central Philippine island Mindoro where lines are starting to appear. Licensed zip lines may cost another million pesos to build, discouraging small operators. Two local governments are exploring safety laws.
But for now, the central government’s Department of Tourism’s seven tips for a “fun and safe” zip focus on the fun: Wear comfortable clothes, sneakers (some people go barefoot) and bring a camera, it recommends. “Loosen up, enjoy the view and have fun while it lasts,” it adds.
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