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.
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.
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?"