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However, and unbelievable still, I was some how able to conquer this fear during two amazing incidents on my latest trip. I recently traveled to Ecuador and the Amazon for an unforgettable adventure. We visited cities that showcased the brilliant crafts manship of the local people; saw beautiful waterfalls; swam in thermal pools; straddled Middle Earth, with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern Hemisphere; and sat mesmerized in our tour bus as our incomparable driver wound 'round and 'round and upwards through the magnifi cent Andes until he finally stopped at the top of the peak — the Papallacta Pass, at an alti tude of 13,900 feet. Just running out of the bus for two minutes to snap a quick photo made me breathless. But the highlight of our adventure was our hike through the Amazon jungle, the portion of the trip all 26 of us on the tour had been anticipating the most, and none of us had ever done before. We awoke to a cloudy day at our lodge, which comprised a series of beautiful buildings sur rounded by stunning tropical flowers and overlooking the Rio Napo. After breakfast, we walked down to the river, climbed into rick ety motorized canoes and "zoomed" down the river for 30 minutes to our destination, an ecological preserve. The boat ride was so calming, the water so serene, but it did noth ing to calm my nerves, especially given what would soon take place. Hiking up the hill, wading through mud, trying to avoid tripping over huge logs and branches — these were my primary goals. My back pack seemed to gain weight as I kept climbing higher and higher. Two wonderful new friends, Colin and Maddie, became my bookends. As one pushed me up from behind, the other one firmly grabbed my arm and guided me along while telling me to hold on tight. And then, suddenly, it appeared from nowhere: a small singleperson basket connected to a rope and a wire. We had to use it to cross a ravine in order to continue our hike. I was not prepared for this at all. I barely had time to acknowledge my terror when somebody "escorted" me into the basket and then the guide gave me a heavy push. Off I went along this wild and crazy zipline in the jungle. I really do remember nothing because I closed my eyes and screamed the whole time. But when everyone was applauding and I was once again standing on solid mud, I knew I had survived. I barely had time to catch my breath when, 10 minutes later, we were staring at a very long, wiry suspension bridge. And once again, we had to cross it — continuing our quest to win a prize for masochism. They called my name and told me to "hold tight," and off I went. But this time I kept my eyes open so I would not miss the spot where I had to grab the iron railings. OPINION Sarasota News Leader April 11, 2014 Page 86

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