Biologists have long been interested in the rainforest canopy. In his excellent book Life Above the Forest Floor, Donald Perry Ph D. Tells how he became entranced with the rainforest canopy when he was a university student studying biology. There was virtually nothing known about the canopy at that time, and he decided to dedicate his life to changing that situation. Due to his vast powers of innovation and persistence the canopy is now easily accessible to everyone from biologists to tree huggers and fun loving tourists.
In the book Don Perry describes his first ascent into the rainforest canopy in Corcovado National Park in southern Costa Rica. He used a crossbow to shoot an arrow with a fishing line tied to it into the canopy and over a stout branch. The arrow fell back to earth with the fishing line still attached. The line was then used to pull a rock climbing rope (8000 lbs. test strength) over the branch and back to the ground where it was tied to the base of a nearby tree. Don then climbed the free end of the rope using devices called jumar ascenders, a common piece of gear used by rock climbers. When it was time to rappel back to earth he used a another item used by rock climbers called a breaker bar. Today he uses a figure 8 which is much safer.
The rainforest canopy turned out to be every bit as fascinating as he had imagined, and Donald Perry found himself spending more time in the treetops than on the ground. He decided that he was wasting too much time climbing and descending. What was needed was a system that would allow him to get from one tree to another without returning to the forest floor. This he accomplished by securing climbing ropes from one treetop to another. He then used pulleys to move along the ropes between trees. His first such rope system was built at La Selva Biological Research Center. Later another was set up at Rara Avis nature reserve. Both of these rope courses attracted a great deal of attention and, among other things, inspired that all time great motion picture Medicine Man starring Sean Connery, first released in 1992. Donald Perry was a consultant for the movie.In 1993 we at Hacienda Baru realized that the rainforest canopy was a new frontier in tropical biology, and we wanted to be a part of it. Donald Perry trained our first guides in the art of tree climbing. One of our guides, a former Peace Corp volunteer named Jim Zook, had extensive experience in rock climbing and quickly learned to adapt the techniques he already knew so well to tree climbing. On top of everything else he was an ornithologist and found the canopy to be an excellent place to pursue his passion for birds. We started offering tree climbing as a tour that same year. The first tree we climbed was an enormous ceiba. The tour was totally oriented towards ecology, but when you are upwards of 30 meters in the crown of an enormous tree the adrenaline is going to flow regardless of whether or not that is the reason you climbed up there.
We soon discovered that there were lots of visitors who would love to experience the rainforest canopy, but who were physically unable to climb a rope, or just didn’t want to work that hard. We solved the problem by building a platform at 32 meters above the forest floor and hoisting people up there with an electric winch. After a time on the platform the people rappelled back down. This was our most popular tour for six years. Then we built a zip line.
We call our zip line the Flight of the Toucan because it mimics the flight of the colorful, big beaked, rainforest birds.This may be the only zip line tour out of 100 to 150 that exist in Costa Rica that wouldn’t be classified as an adrenaline tour. It includes a 40 minute ecological hike up to the first cable, and the entire tour is oriented around ecology. The guides carry spotting scopes to show people wildlife up close,and love to teach visitors about the fascinating secrets of the rainforest. The cables are all less than 100 meters long, and aren’t particularly fast. We have taken people from three years of age to octogenarians. The oldest person to have done the tour was an amazing 89-year-old lady. Since its inauguration in the year 2000 the Flight of the Toucan has been our most popular tour.
In 2009 Donald Perry, the inspiration behind all of this, surmised that it would be wonderful if you could meander through the rainforest canopy at your leisure in some sort of vehicle that you could control. Nothing short of a totally new method of exploring the canopy. The result of Don’s R and D is called the Eco Tram and it is completely different from anything that has been done to date. With the Ecotram the visitor rides in a chair that runs along a cable, has its own power source, and is controlled by the person sitting in the chair. It will stop, turn up to 90 degrees in either direction, go faster or slower, or go in reverse. Seated in the chair you make your way through the canopy along the cable stopping to take photos, take in your surroundings, or simply bask in the exuberance of the tropical rainforest. The Ecotram gives people an opportunity to experience the canopy at their own pace. We call it “unzipping nature.”
We at Hacienda Barú Ecotours are proud to announce that we will be inaugurating the first Ecotram in Costa Rica in early March.