Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just 'Chute Me

I'm not a particularly adventurous person.  My idea of "roughing it" is staying at a hotel where the room service menu doesn't include shrimp cocktail.  Vacations are for relaxing, not for pitching a tent and hanging bags of food in trees so the bears don't eat your Mallomars.

Not everyone shares my cautious attitude, however, so travel agents have discovered another great way to separate vacationers from their money -- provide them with unique and challenging ways to kill themselves.  Rock-climbing, skydiving, and ceremonial fart-lighting while chugging Budweiser from a beer bong (yes, Alabama has a Department of Tourism too) all attract and gloriously cripple thousands of tourists every year.  For thirty bucks, you can even buy a framed action shot to share with loved ones as they stand around your hospital bed.  But, like I said, such treacherous pastimes aren't for me.

Except once.

I was on a Mexican cruise, and the ship docked for the day in the beautiful resort/dump of Puerto Vallarta.  I spent the morning taking the official city tour, which consisted of a high-speed foray in a beat-up '72 Volkswagen Beetle driven by Paco the Tour Guide.  Paco quickly pointed out the carnicerias, which is Spanish for "store that sells fly-infested pig heads."  We saw many of Puerto Vallarta's other lovely attractions too.  I'd be happy to tell you about them, except I was too busy vomiting out the rear window to notice what they were.

The tour ended (perhaps by accident, but let's give Paco the benefit of the doubt) when the VW's right front tire blew out shortly after we'd run over a flock of wayward chickens.  I headed back to the dock with three hours left to kill, and since the ship's casino was closed while in port, I tried to find something "touristy" to do.  I bought a couple packs of Chiclets from the kids on the beach, and that's when I noticed a cardboard sign propped up against a sleeping "extra" from The Three Amigos.  The sign read "Parasailing: $20".

Parasailing is really quite simple.  A crew from the Mexican Navy straps you into a parachute, which is tethered to a speed boat.  The boat heads out to sea, and as it picks up speed, you run along the beach and gently rise into the air.  The captain pilots the boat in a large circle while you enjoy the breath-taking view from an altitude of about three miles.  After a while, the boat comes back to shore, and you return safely to the beach, your life forever changed.

I can give that a go, I thought.  Before fully committing, I decided to assess the risk by watching a few other tourists take their turns.  I popped open a Corona and took a seat at a nearby picnic table.  Over the next forty-five minutes or so, I saw a little kid, an old lady, and a morbidly obese gentleman in an unfortunate shirt and Bermuda shorts have the time of their lives.

If they could do it, I reasoned, so could I.

So I handed my twenty bucks to a guy named Jorge.  His two partners got in the boat as Jorge helped me strap on the parachute.  Jorge then gave the captain the high sign, and we were off.

According to The Official Mexican Parasailing Captain's Training Manual, the take-off procedure requires the boat to stay parallel to the shoreline to provide a sufficient "runway".  Once the parasailer is airborne, the captain then -- and only then -- heads out to sea.  That's how it's supposed to work, and that's exactly how it DID work with every single person I watched go up.

That's not, however, how it worked this time.

As the boat accelerated, I trotted along the beach, waiting to be lifted into the air.

And waiting.

And waiting.

I ran faster and faster trying to keep up with the speedboat, which was now approaching the speed of sound.  Before long I lost the race and gravity took over. I plunged face first into the sand and got dragged about fifty feet.  Fortunately, I came to a quick stop.  Unfortunately, it was because I slammed sideways into a pile of large boulders.  Jorge was yelling at the top of his lungs, "PARE EL BARCO!  PARE EL BARCO!" (in English: "Get your asses back here, this stupid gringo is about to die!").

The captain turned the boat around and returned to shore.  I picked myself up off the ground and assessed the damage.  Banged up hip.  Scraped up knees.  Bump on my forehead.  "Uh, I think I'd like my money back, Jorge.  I'm done."

"Sorry, amigo, no refunds."  At least, that's what I think he said.  It was hard to hear him clearly with my ears full of sand.

Since I didn't want to resort to fisticuffs over a matter of twenty dollars, I decided to give it one more shot.  We secured the parachute, backed up to the original starting point, and tried it again.  This time, the parachute filled with air and off I went, into the wild blue yonder.

It was not comfortable.  I wasn't simply hanging from the harness, I was also "sitting" on a rope "seat" that was digging and chafing its way into the "back of my thighs".  After about fifteen seconds, I was ready for the whole debacle to be over with.

They kept me up there for a good ten minutes, which seemed much longer and resulted in the rope "seat" finding its way into my butt crack.  Given my lack of confidence in Jorge's parachute maintenance skills, I was reluctant to shift around to try and remove the rope from my keester for fear of unhooking myself and plummeting to an embarrassing and watery death.  So I dealt with it.

Eventually, we headed back towards the beach, and I landed without further incident.  Jorge helped me out of the chute, shook my hand and said, "Amigo, chu want to go 'gain?  Only ten dollar dees tine."

"Hell no," I said, as politely as you can say "Hell, no", and I walked back toward the street to get something to drink.  I bought a Corona, and when I turned around I saw Paco's VW, complete with a repaired tire.  I said hello but I don't think he recognized me, which is understandable given my facial lacerations and swelling.

"Welcome to Puerta Vallarta, senor," he said.  "You want a tour of the city?"


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Moooooog35 said...

Dragged through the sand. Smashed face first into boulders.

Like every meeting I've ever had with a pimp.

Perhaps I've said too much.

Jenn Thorson said...

Well, the good news was-- at least you weren't vomiting at 3 miles altitude.

Although that might have been better news for the folks below you, really, than you.

Junk Drawer Kathy said...

Your first mistake was reading the sign.

Your second? "Since I didn't want to resort to fisticuffs over a matter of twenty dollars, I decided to give it one more shot."

One more shot? I think that should have been a shot of tequila instead. Or twelve. That would have kept you on land. Dude.

Suldog said...

Hilarious story. Unlike with Jorge and Paco, though, you never did give the boat driver and his partner any names. Might I suggest "Skipito & Gilligonzalez"?

Homemaker Man said...

With the cab ride, you did two touristy adventure things that day.

Quirkyloon said...

After all your childhood shennanigans, I totally saw you as a adventure seeker.

Imagine my shock and disappointment.

Eva Gallant said...

You do know how to tell a story! You had me in stitches! Loved it!

Candice said...

I've seen something similar on America's Funniest Videos.

I'll add this to my list of things I sure as hell won't plan on doing.

~jill said...

perfect timing...i'll be there Thursday and i'll remember to stay away from Jorge.

ReformingGeek said...

I've had many opportunities to try para-sailing. I've turned them all down.

Wow! Sometimes my brain ISN'T fogged over.

otin said...

This past summer we just had a tragedy where the line broke and the two people flew away an ended up landing under a pier and drowning! FUN!!!!

Beth said...

Oh, good God. This was hilarious! I've never been parasailing - and now I'm pretty content passing up any opportunities to do so.

Did you see any sharks in the water?

screwdestiny said...

That was one hilarious story. Thanks for sharing your pain for a laugh. I've always wanted to try all that random mildly dangerous stuff, but now that story makes me rethink it a little.

jdemott said...

Excellent. I am with you on vacations. In my view, they are for good food, nice hotels and experiences that are comfortable, relaxing, and perhaps posh, if I can afford it. I picked up that last adjective on a rather decent trip to London.

I once went to Puerto Vallarta. I stayed at a nice resort hotel. I had thoughts of the parasailing adventure myself. Watching at the beach each day, I wasn't sure I was up for it. I always attribute my fear of the ocean to seeing "Jaws" too young. On my last day, I was going to do it. However, I woke up with Montezuma's revenge, and my stomach was killing me. It was awful.

Somehow, after a horrible wait in the airport that morning, I managed to make it all the way home before the real fun started. But, I'll never eat lobster thermador again and my disgestive system has never been the same, seriously, and that was more than 20 years ago.

feefifoto said...

Oh, I feel for you in so many ways:

The first time I tried waterskiing, at camp (which I hated in general), I did pretty well on a boom and a short rope, so they moved me to a long rope pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the counselors were too busy putting the moves on each other to tell me that if I started dragging face first through the water, I might consider letting go. So here I was, flying horizontally through the water in a saturated imitation of Superman while ingesting more than my share of the lake and convinced that if I didn't hang on they'd never notice I was gone, until finally I decided I was going to die anyway so I might as well perish with dignity. Needless to say, that was my last time on skis of any type.

As far as the parasailing goes, I did it at Disney World mainly to run up some Fun Mom points with my kids. The height didn't bother me. The floating didn't bother me. The dizzyness? Let's just say I was queasy and vertiginous for the next seven days.

Nooter said...

oh, that was nuts! did you pretend you were a superhero flying around like superman or underdog?

CatLadyLarew said...

I always thought that looked like fun, but Vlad always squelched my curiosity with a long drawn out, "Mommmmm.... don't even think about it." Now I know why.

Phillipia said...

Yeah, I always thought that looked like a safe fun adventure...thanks for the warning.
And I am with JD Kathy - the one more shot should definitely have been of tequila.

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

Terrific post, Chris! Although I have to say it seems faintly familiar.....oh, I'm probably just imagining things.

Me-Me King said...

While vacationing in Cancun, I decided to try the parasailing. I stood in line with my 20 bucks in hand. As the guy was putting me into the harness, I noticed he was wearing a carved wooden penis around his neck. I suddenly felt I was much safer on the ground than entrusting my life to someone who would wear such a thing. I got my 20 bucks back and spent it on a couple of pitchers of Margaritas. O-lay!

Debbie(singlemom;complicatedworld) said...

Oh no!! I have always wanted to try para sailing! NOW..not so much!!:) glad you survived it!!

Grumpy, M.D. said...

I go for the cruise. After my disaster in Spring, 2009, I'll never get off the ship in Mexico again.

Jenn said...

Note to self -- do NOT go to Puerto Vallarta, but if I do, avoid Paco as his lack of tire pressure might cause a shift in the space time continuium enough so that I consider parasailing. Thanks for the lesson...

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