Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls: My Waterfall Rappelling Catastrophe in San Gil, Colombia

Don't go chasing waterfalls: my waterfall rappelling disaster in San Gil, Colombia
I thought I was an adventurous traveler. I was wrong. Waterfall rappelling: part adventure, part nightmare. My story of idiotic decisions, panic and rescue 250 feet in the air on Juan Curi Waterfall in the adventure town of San Gil, Colombia.

“How do I stop?? How do I make it stop going down?!?” I shriek frantically at my husband, who is calmly dangling in mid-air a few feet below me. I can’t make out his response through the roaring, cascading waterfall that is pouring buckets of ice-water down my shirt as we rappel down a sheer rock face 250 feet in the air, but it’s probably something like “Use the rope, idiot!” Oh, right. Obviously. I rack my brain trying to remember if you pull up on the rope to go or stop – or maybe move your hand up or down – or is it out to the side? What did the guide say? I cycle through each of the options, with no results. Instead of NOT spiraling towards my impending doom, I keep slipping further and further down the slippery rock face, scrabbling around like a panicked kitten clinging to a curtain for dear life. Except the curtain is freezing cold gushing water, and this isn’t cute at all. In my frenzy of attempting to gain control of the situation, I fail to notice that the slippery rock wall my feet have been uselessly tap-dancing down ends suddenly, giving way to an overhang.  Mid-tap-dance, my foot touches … nothingI swing helplessly into thin air, no longer a panicked kitten scrambling for a foothold but a fully grown woman with nothing but a tiny, stupid, probably fraying rope preventing her from falling to her death. I hear myself scream. And scream. And scream.

Juan Curi Waterfall in San Gil, Colombia, a popular waterfall for repelling and other adventure sports. Which I tried. It went badly.
Just a nice, pretty, relaxing waterfall from very far away. Little did I know this was Juan Curi, Waterfall of Death.

Waterfall Rappelling: The Beginning

We are in San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia. I like to think of myself as the adventurous type: I enjoy a good thrill ride at a theme park, I like camping or whatever, and I  even enjoy a bit of an adrenaline rush. “A bit” being the operative term, it turns out.

During our week in San Gil we had gone paragliding – which was an absolute blast and actually quite relaxing – and white water rafting in level 1-2 rapids, which was fun but not, like, scary fun. So of course, during an adrenaline filled 10 minutes after our easy white water rafting adventure, we signed up for a level 5 white water rafting course, giggling to each other over our newfound bravado. 

But as the adrenaline faded, my mind instead filled with flashbacks of a high school white water rafting trip involving my classmates floating downstream past jagged rocks, crying out for help (in my mind, this was definitely life threatening, a la Titanic but with more rocks, and it’s a miracle nobody died or was arrested, … but that’s probably entirely inaccurate). My bravado disappeared and was replaced with a much more familiar feeling of dread and anxiety.

I quickly wimped out. This should have been my first clue that maybe I’m actually not the adventurous type. Unfortunately, I have terrible judgement and am capable of learning only by trying and completely failing.

My husband opted not to go white water rafting on his own, because he’s sweet and darling (please note that since this disaster episode, he’s gone on solo adventures without me a zillion times, so I haven’t totally ruined his life by being a big chicken). Anyway, we had a whole day free in the adventure capital of Colombia.

The possibilities were limitless, but we wanted to go with something a bit more relaxing. Walking tour? Nah – TOO relaxing. Mountain biking? Goodbye, crotch. At last, we settled on going to Juan Curi waterfall. Let me repeat: we wanted to go to the waterfall. Not die there. Not jump off anything. Not even have a particularly newsworthy day. Just a tranquilo day swimming under a waterfall together, like a couple of young(ish), newly-married backpackers on their travel honeymoon, bla bla.

Then, Jeremy decided that he wanted to try waterfall rappelling.

It seemed like a good compromise: I’d swim at the bottom, safe and sound, while he dangled on a rope 250 feet in the air on his own exciting adventure. I wish this was a boring post all about my relaxing day at the waterfall and how cool it was to watch a tiny little red-haired speck in the air make its way down to me, but as you’ve probably guessed, that’s now how things worked out.

The walk to Juan Curi waterfall in San Gil, Colombia is pretty and flat until you decide to rapell, at which point it turns into a near-vertical hill scramble complete with ropes to haul yourself up.
The walk to Juan Curi, waterfall of doom, is pretty and flat until you decide to rapell, at which point it turns into a near-vertical hill scramble complete with ropes to haul yourself up.

Getting to Juan Curi Waterfall from San Gil, Colombia

To get to Juan Curi waterfall from San Gil, we hopped onto a bus – one of those random buses in Colombia that you just find by the side of a specific road at a random time by doing a sort of hand-waving ritual and looking lost.

It was supposed to be a quick 30 minute ride, but due to  the Colombian space-time continuum where everything takes roughly 8x longer than expected – or in this case, construction traffic – it ended up being 2 hours. In the heat.

The last rappel time was 11:30 am. We watched from our idle bus as time crept well past that, poor Jeremy feeling more and more bummed with each passing minute. To make matters worse, we were sitting in front of one of those travel couples – you know, two complete strangers with nothing in common but their mutual gorgeousness and love of travel who have just begun hooking up in their hostel and are so enamored with each other that they think they’re being sly when they grope each other and giggle dirty nothings in English right behind the only other gringos on the bus, who have absolutely nothing better to do than eavesdrop. This PG-13 rated entertainment was the only thing distracting us from the 2+ hours of traffic on the sweltering hot bus we were stuck on.

By the end of our bus ride, Jeremy and I knew just about as much as the 2 tanned travelers making out behind us as they did about each other.

Finally, we pulled up to the entrance of Juan Curi waterfall. We disembarked … and so did the lovebirds. Of course they did. All gringos in South America are pretty much always headed to the same spots.

We struck up a conversation and carefully tried to avoid letting onto the fact that we’d heard absolutely everything.

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The entrance fee to swim beneath the falls is only 7.000 COP (about $2.30 USD), but the kid (like, literally a child) at the desk selling tickets told us that waterfall  rappelling was open until 1:30! Jeremy was ecstatic.

Waterfall rappelling costs 50.000 COP each (about $15 USD). Jeremy pulled out 57.000 COP to cover my swim … but in a snap decision I still don’t fully understand, I said Dos para torrentismo, por favor.”  I still have no idea what I was thinking – I think my goldfish memory actually just forgot what waterfall rappelling involved. Or that I hadn’t planned on doing it. (And for no good reason, my husband didn’t think to let me know that I was having a temporary bout of insanity. So this is all his fault, really.) 

So much for a relaxing day of swimming, I guess.  We all hiked towards the majestic waterfall looming over us, enchanted with the peacocks, turkeys, cows and a solitary llama dotting the grounds on our way up. Note: we later learned that it was a guard llama, like all the other llamas we met in South America. How adorable is that?! One of those things that nobody tells you before you go backpacking in South America!

We parted ways with our new travel couple friends as the path veered sharply upwards. Apparently, waterfall rappelling also means that first you must hike to the top of the waterfall. Damn. Jeremy and I huffed and puffed our way up the our slow climb through the jungle, pulling ourselves up using some helpfully provided ropes tied to trees on one side of the steep trail. It was like a fun test: if you can pull yourselves up using these mangy, slippery, algae-covered ropes, you have earned the right to rappel down the insane waterfall of doom.

Or maybe it was: if you bothered to get yourself up this stupid hill, you might as well take the shortcut down.

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After about 30 minutes of grueling climbing, we are greeted by our guide. He cheerfully finishes the rest of the trail with us like it’s nothing, chatting amiably in Spanish as we breathlessly attempted our own conversational niceties.

At last we reach the top, and are struck breathless (ok, we were already breathless because we’re really out of shape and climbing up a hill, but what I’m saying here is that we weren’t able to catch our- look, it’s a turn of phrase, just go with it) by the view. We are so freaking high in the air.

It is at this point that fear begins to creep its way into my head: am I really going to go up to this cliff face and just …. what, casually stroll down it!?! I peer over the edge – allllllllllll the way down – and it makes me dizzy. This is insanity. This is nothing like rappelling down a wall during indoor rock climbing, which I am used to (but still makes me a little nervous sometimes, if I’m being honest). This is a prayer, a test of human mortality. At the risk of sounding dramatic: this is laughing in the face of death.

Peering into the depths from Juan Curi Waterfall in San Gil, Colombia before waterfall rappelling down.
Ha ha ha, death is hilarious!  Look, I’m not overreacting. See that teeny tiny little bar with the 2 pieces of string over it? That’s it. That’s what prevents you from plummeting to your death. DO I SEEM DRAMATIC NOW?!?!? (My husband still thinks so.)

Waterfall Rappelling: The Descent

As I peer over the edge of Mount Doom and see watery death laughing up at me, Jeremy is cheerfully chatting with our guide, who is demonstrating proper waterfall rappelling form. Oh, shit, I should probably pay attention to this. OK: legs straight out on the wall in a V formation, feed the rope through the rappelling device to slowly descend,  walk straight-legged down the wall, do something or other to halt descent, don’t die, stay tranquilo, bla bla bla. Seems legit. Jeremy and I both nod with understanding, but I’ve already forgotten everything that I’m supposed to do. Instead of thinking about proper waterfall rappelling form, my heart is clenching with fear every time the guide takes a demonstrative step over the edge of the waterfall and towards the looming nothingness below.

Jeremy is excited. I am terrified.

“You don’t have to do this, honey,” Jeremy reminds me, noticing my stricken face growing even paler than usual by the minute. “You can just meet me at the bottom!” I think of the 30 minutes of grueling climbing we just completed, and decide it is easier to grit my teeth and rappel down this stupid waterfall than hike all the way back down again. “Climbing down sounds like a whole thing,” I warble. “I’ll just do it. I’ll be fine.”

Laziness (or maybe stubbornness? No, let’s just be honest. Laziness.) results in a lot of terrible decision making in my life. Like…let’s just zoom in on this idiotic decision for a minute. I hiked for thirty minutes up a steep hill. That’s what…15 minutes downhill? Tops? Sure it was slippery, but so is the giant fucking waterfall behind me. Maybe I was holding out for a Door #3 option. Like is there a llama up here I could ride down, maybe? An elevator?  Look, I have no excuse. I’m an idiot. (Side note: how cute would a llama in an elevator be?!)

Having made my severely misguided decision to see this thing through, I step into the harness and try to pretend that I’m just going to go down a really high up rock climbing wall. After the first few steps I’ll probably get the hang of it and have fun, I think, determinedly.

The guide doesn’t seem worried by my fear. “Tranquilo,” he says reassuringly. Tranquilo: Colombia’s national state of being.

I take a deep breath and try to channel tranquilidad as I turn my back to the horrifyingly high-up view to take my first practice steps. I lean backwards to let the shoestring rope fully take my weight (all 200+ pounds of it, oh god, does this thing have a weight limit?!) and let out a terrified little squeak. Tranquilo. I can do this. Summoning my courage, I let the rope out about 1/4 of an inch and take a teeny step downwards, then another. Feed the rope, one, two. The guide tells me “bueno, perfecto” and moves towards Jeremy to watch his form, which is a lot less squeaky than mine. After 10 seconds of practice, we are apparently fully qualified waterfall rappelling experts.

Jeremy goes first. I watch him disappear over the edge, judging from his lack of panic that things aren’t as bad as I’m imagining them to be. I can do this. Tranquilo. I take a deep breath and let gravity (and physics, apparently) take me over the edge of the waterfall.

Juan Curi Waterfall in San Gil, Colombia AKA death itself. Does this look like something you want to go waterfall rappelling off of? I tried it. Trust me. You don't.
Juan Curi Waterfall in San Gil, Colombia AKA death itself.

Roughly a minute later, my 10 seconds of practice have already been forgotten, and I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m doing. The harness is positioned in such a way that I’m unable to straighten my legs into a V shape to walk down the wall. The best I can manage is sort of a crawl, on my toes, with my knees bent – if it sounds like the fetal position, that’s because I was totally in the fetal position – which is exactly what the guide said NOT to do. My tranquilidad flies out the window.

“How do I stop?” I scream down at Jeremy, tears already springing to my eyes. It occurs to me – very logically – that this rope has probably taken decades of abuse. Clearly THIS is the moment it will finally call it quits. Hundreds of people probably do this every day – hundreds of tanned, fit backpackers who all weigh less than 200 pounds –  but I will definitely be the one that this stupid rope will break on, because that would just fucking figure.

It is at this moment of calmly accepting my inevitable demise that I suddenly find myself spiraling downwards with nothing to stop me, my feet bicycling in midair, crashing helplessly into cold, wet rock.

I hear myself scream, over and over. I try to stop myself from screaming by taking a deep breath, and find that my breath is wracked with sobs. I am having a full blown panic attack.

View of Juan Curi waterfall in San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia.
Imagine waterfall rappelling off of this thing and just TRY not to cry a little bit.

Waterfall Rappelling: The Panic

I am an accident prone person. And although I am active, I am very slow, terribly clumsy, and horribly unathletic.

As such, I tend to get myself into slightly dangerous situations whenever I try to do something that is only dangerous if you happen to be clumsy/slow/unathletic.

Several times, I’ve found myself unable to hike fast enough to escape approaching darkness on a hike that I was supposed to finish hours before (like the Valle de Cocora. Or the Quilotoa Loop. Or the Inca Trail. I could go on, but this is getting embarrassing). And although I am always tempted to panic in the face of certain death by coyote pack, dehydration, or jellyfish, (my husband says that the jellyfish were harmless, but everyone knows that jellyfish are NEVER harmless) I remember that the worst thing you can do in a life or death situation, or any kind of crisis, is panic.

As soon as you panic, you’re dead. You have to keep a calm head, regain control of your situation, and think logically.

This is usually a piece of cake for me because I’m generally logical as shit.

In the back of my panicking mind, a little voice remembers this fact and helpfully reminds me. “Remember, dude, you’re logical as shit. So don’t fucking panic. If you panic, you’re dead. The worst thing you can do right now is panic.

OK, I think. I’m OK. I’m not panicking. I’m just going to cry the entire way down this stupid waterfall, and that’s fine. Crying is fine.

Sobbing, I try to find a place for my feet so I can continue descending. With every jerk of the rope or missed footfall, I find myself screaming again.

No, bro, this is chill,” my brain says, trying to get ahold of the rapidly escalating situation. “You’re TOTALLY not panicking. These are tranquilo tears. Things are FINE. Everything is FINE.

I take a few shaky deep breaths.

After a few moments, my hand accidentally finds the “stop” position of its own accord, and I’m not moving. I relish this. I never want to move again.

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I look from side to side, trying to find an escape route: a llama with a parachute, an escalator, a little sign saying “this way to safety,” anything. But this isn’t a Disney ride, and there is no escape route.

To either side of me is nothing but giant gushing death waterfall and sheer slippery death cliff face. I try to will myself to move again, but can only manage to cry and hold on tighter to my rope.

“Look, Lia,” the calm and logical part of my brain tries yet again to reason with me, “You have two options here. You either rappel your ass down this fucking waterfall, crying and screaming the whole damn way, or you will fall the fuck down it. If you try to sit here stopping yourself, your grip strength will eventually give way, and what little control you have over your descent will be gone. You will fall down this fucking waterfall and break every bone in your body, and then you will die a horrible, mangled, and painful death.

The absolute logical certainty of my inevitable painful death only makes me grip harder to the rope and scream louder, sobbing hysterically in between screams.

The logical part of my brain throws up its hands in defeat and instead devotes itself, along with the entirety of my being, to screaming and crying. I have rappelled a total of 10 feet down the waterfall, and I cannot make myself move any more.

For the next 15 minutes, which feel like an eternity, I stay in my little fetal position, hand frozen in terror in whatever position made the rope stop moving, screaming until my throat is raw, and crying until my face hurts.

Unbeknownst to me, Jeremy is finishing his rappel – having had absolutely no fun at all, given that his wife was above him screaming bloody murder. He’d been unable to do anything to help me from below on his own perilous journey.

The minute his feet touch the ground he runs toward the guide controlling the ropes from below, yelling for someone, anyone, to help me. The entire swimming hole is watching me in the air, frozen, bloodcurdling screams ringing out over the valley (and if you have ever heard the roaring of an enormous 250-foot tall waterfall, you can imagine how loudly I was screaming).

The guide, in the most Colombian fashion, calmly tells Jeremy, “tranquilo!” and radios to the guide at the top of the waterfall, who casually ties on a rope and begins descending to rescue me.

According to Jeremy, it is difficult to be tranquilo while your life partner is having a panic attack in a legitimately dangerous situation. 

Through my tunnel vision of terror and gushing water, I saw the guide’s rope fly past me as he threw it down. My logical brain, which had checked out for the day, registered only that a rope was falling, and then reasoned that it was either my rope or Jeremy’s rope, and if someone’s rope had fallen, and I wasn’t dead yet, then my rope was probably about to fall, too.

This sent up a new wave of fresh screams, faster and more desperate than before. I realized vaguely that my hands were going numb.

Being rescued while repelling down the Juan Curi Waterfall in the adventure sports town of San Gil, Colombia.
Do you see those two teeny tiny figures 3/4 of the way up Juan Curi waterfall on the right? That’s me, screaming my face off, and my rescuer.

Waterfall Rappelling: The Rescue

It is in this condition of screaming, sobbing, and screaming more that the guide reaches me. He carefully makes his way to to me, telling me, “tranquilo! Recuerda!” I take shaky breaths and stare uncomprehendingly as he demonstrates correct waterfall rappelling technique once again.

I have curled into the tiniest, tightest fetal position possible, hugging myself into the rock face as if trying to slip into a crack and disappear (is that where the fucking elevator is hiding?!)

Apparently, this is also the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do when dangling from a rope on a giant waterfall. The guide tries to tell me to extend my legs on the wall.

I try, I really do. I fumblingly attempt to push myself outwards, but my hand moves accidentally – losing my accidental “stop position”, which I still cannot recall for the life of me – and I feel myself sliding down the rock again, which sends up a fresh wave of screams.

Tranquilo,” he says again and again, trying to talk me through rappelling myself. But I was well past instruction. I was unable to control my own movements or reactions. If you’ve ever had a panic attack before and experienced that odd feeling where your hands go sort of tingly and numb and you can’t do much with them other than make hideous gargoyle claws, then you know what I mean. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to rappel myself down this damn waterfall with my ugly crying and gargoyle hands.

After a few more failed attempts, the guide gives up and instead positions himself underneath me so that all of my weight is on his legs. He takes hold of my rope and tells me to grab onto my harness. He was going to rappel both of us down.

As we flew down the waterfall, all I remember was screaming and holding on for dear life to the poor guide as he calmly reminded me to be tranquilo yet again (Colombians have a never ending supply of chill).

You’d think this part would have been a little bit fun: I was under the calm control of an expert, flying down a waterfall in the safest possible way. But I was too far into my panic for this to register.

I screamed the entire way down.

I screamed when our feet touched the rocks at the bottom of the falls.

I screamed when I forgot how gravity works and fell flat on my face in a pitiful attempt to stand.

And then I screamed some more.

After pitifully laying on the ground for a few moments, I finally downgraded from screaming to plain old sobbing.

I sobbed as my guide and savior cheerfully told me “Ya estamos aqui, el fin!

I sobbed as I vaguely heard the hollering and cheering of the swimmers who had been watching me from below.

I sobbed as the gorgeous travel couple from the bus flashed me matching pearly white grins and thumbs up.

I sobbed the hardest when my husband wrapped in his strong arms around me and whispered “it’s okay, you did it! you’re okay! everything’s okay.”

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I sat shaking for a good hour, watching two other people cheerfully embark on their own waterfall rappelling adventures (with no issues – though I’m sure watching me didn’t help their anxiety levels at all).

As I watched, I asked the friendly guide if this kind of thing happened a lot – having to rescue people, like me. He very nicely said, “No.”

Apparently sometimes people get scared, but no one had ever actually needed to be rescued. I guess I’m just a record-breaker.

I could not get my legs to function properly. It wasn’t until it started raining and I realized that our trip back down could be dangerous that I was finally able to will my legs into propelling me forwards. I wobbled all the way down the path, holding on to various things for dear life – Jeremy, the ropes, the kind guides who hiked past us offering more friendly assistance, an obliging cow or two.

Finally we made our way out to the bus station to go back to town.

Making cow friends near Juan Curi waterfall in San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia.
Jeremy’s 1st priority after making sure I was OK? Locating the nearest animal and befriending it.

Waterfall Rappelling: The Aftermath

In the days after the incident, my hands were so cramped and sore that I could barely type. My legs ached. My entire body was tensed up and achy, as if I’d been in a car crash.

Jeremy and I tried to watch the Go-Pro video that he had taken of his descent, cringing as we heard my screams. I was screaming so loudly that a tiny Go-Pro was able to pick up the noise of my screams over the gushing water of a 250-foot tall waterfall. That just goes to show how loud I am, like, as a person.

It took me a few days to process things, to reduce it from something larger than life, a real life nightmare, to just a funny story. I still got a little bit teary and shaky as I wrote this, just remembering how damn scary it was. Months later, editing this post, I STILL have to fight back a few rogue tears, even while laughing at my own ridiculousness.

But look: I know that this wasn’t actually a crisis situation. It wasn’t REALLY life or death: the guides did such a great job rescuing me, and as it turns out, I could have let go entirely and they would’ve just lowered me down slowly (you know, like that thing I do ALL THE TIME when we go rock climbing. I felt like such an idiot when I realized that).

And frankly, I’ve been in scarier situations – like, ACTUAL life or death situations with real danger, and no, I don’t just mean the stupid jellyfish –  and handled myself fine. Waterfall rappelling was just way too damn adventurous for me.

As it turns out, I am not REALLY an adventure seeker. I only like adventures when they’re actually pretty tame. Like a roller coaster that undergoes daily safety checks and tests. Or an extreme sport during which I am firmly strapped to an expert with hundreds of hours of experience who is in control of my safety, such as paragliding or skydiving. Or maybe easy white water rafting in which I am unlikely to hit a rock and will be able to swim until the guide pulls me back in the boat.

I like having a backup plan – or 2 or 3. I don’t like being out of control, especially when there is no expert to take control for me. I am only able to enjoy something scary, and adventurous, and thrilling, when something in the back of my mind can remind me that I am safe. That hundreds of people do this every day, and it is very unlikely that anything will happen to me. When I can logically evaluate the best course of action to take.

And apparently waterfall rappelling does not meet my criteria.

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I do not have the desire to challenge death, to face my own mortality. I will never want to climb Everest, or do something stupid and dangerous just for the fun of it.

I like my life. I want to keep it as comfortable and secure as it is. I enjoy taking risks, but I like them to be evaluated, vetted, safe. Practical.

And I can safely say that the rest of my adventures on my travels and in the future will be strictly tame: the sort of things that are more fun than scary, more exciting than dangerous. I can now check “waterfall rappelling” off of my adventure list, and I’m so glad I never have to do it again.


Are you the adventurous type or do you prefer to watch from the sidelines? Leave me a comment below! And don’t forget to share this post so all of your friends can laugh at me too!

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I thought I was an adventurous traveler. I was wrong. Waterfall rappelling: part adventure, part nightmare. My story of idiotic decisions, panic and rescue 250 feet in the air on Juan Curi Waterfall in the adventure town of San Gil, Colombia.

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Hey, I'm Lia! I'm a Kentucky native living in San Francisco. I'm extremely practical and also entirely addicted to travel, which I'm forever trying to reconcile. If I had a patronus, it would a spreadsheet. Or a llama. Possibly a llama creating a spreadsheet. I'm married to Jeremy and I'm obsessed with him and it's super gross, unless you're us, in which case it's the best.

26 Comment

  1. sara llewellyn says: Reply

    Poor thing, but great story!
    Bien puesto, bien escrito, calidad!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thank you Sara! The worst experiences always seem to make the best stories 😛

  2. I love the photos. Feels like I am right there next to the camera. I hope this worst experience bring some good out for you. Good luck.

  3. Mike C says: Reply

    Wow, this place looks stunning.

  4. OMG what a story!!! I’m like you, very accident prone even though I’m athletic (like whyyyy??!) haha so I feel you on having weird stuff happening to you, not matter how cautious you may be! Like your outlook on it though!! Such a fun read 🙂

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thank you! It’s only after years of failing at very basic activities (like walking…) that I’ve learned to accept my clumsiness without letting it stop me from putting myself in ridiculous situations. hehe.

  5. I’m sorry, I really couldn’t stop myself from laughing until you got to the aftermath. It must have been terrifying but you tell it in such a funny way, I enjoyed every word ! And you still made me want to do it 😉

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Haha I’m so glad to hear you say this! I wanted to tell it as a funny story and not scare anyone off from doing it. It just wasn’t for me, and I didn’t realize it until too late! Glad you liked the post 🙂

  6. Wow! What a story! I also pretend I’m adventurous and then when it comes down to it I am just not all that into it. Glad you’re okay!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Yes I’ve learned to just ignore that part of myself that keeps insisting I’ll have fun on an adventure. It’s always wrong! I’m a wuss!

  7. Paul Good says: Reply

    That was a VERY entertaining read. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing skills and found myself laughing out loud multiple times. Your descriptive Gargoyle hands have etched into my mind. I have a group going to Costa Rica in a few days and after reading your story my mom has taken her name off of this particular Extreme Adventure. Maybe its a good thing since shes pushing 70. You are now a hero as you may have saved her life.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thank you, Paul! I’m glad to have saved her from a terrifying (but totally safe) fate! We’re going to Costa Rica next week too and of course my husband has scheduled a whole heap of adventure tours – all of which I’m opting out of. I learned my lesson for sure!

  8. “A llama with a parachute”.
    I was laughing so hard with this that my dog actually started barking at me!
    This was a great text, and you made this sound funny, but I can only imagine how scary this whole situation must have been!

  9. Oh gosh, poor you! I love how you’re like… THIS is when the rope is going to break!! 😛 I would be freaked too, I think!

  10. Ellie says: Reply

    Holy cow what a time you had! Good thing your husband is kind and supportive I will have to think twice about this when we get to Colombia. It looks so high up in your pictures!

  11. Nope nope nope nope nope! I am filled with anxiety just reading this! I would have died right there on the rock. Well, no, there’s no way I ever would have done it (or paragliding!) in the first place 🙂 This is coming from someone who had a panic attack on a glacier in Iceland – you know, I’m “adventurous” (ha!)

  12. Inge says: Reply

    This is a great story! Scary but funny! So sad we skipped San Gil and these cool falls!

  13. Erin says: Reply

    I totally feel for you, but this also such a hilarious story! This part ha ha: “I screamed the entire way down. I screamed when our feet touched the rocks at the bottom of the falls. I screamed when I forgot how gravity works and fell flat on my face in a pitiful attempt to stand.” It’s horrible to be in complete terror like that though. I’m glad you can look back at it now and see humor in it. Thanks for sharing your story!

  14. Kevin says: Reply

    Very, very entertaining read! I am glad you made it home safe!

    Still, I am sad that you feel this way about adventuring. The greatest joy in life is learning how to remain calm in all sorts of situations. Understanding that the only way to get out of a situation is to take control of it, and then actually doing it is the greatest feeling in the world. People never learn to do this and they teach themselves to become helpless. This is very often seen from people who come from very comfortable homes in the first world. Maybe one day you will summon the courage to finally try again and successfully rappel down that waterfall! I look forward to reading that story. The key is to practice and build up your skills before you tackle the big one.

    In any case, I greatly enjoyed the read!!!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Wow, that was really inspiring, Kevin. You’re right, there is really a sense of pride and exhilaration that comes from handling a scary or difficult situation with calm and control, and pushing through. And I’ve HAD that sensation before, in legit scary situations, but I totally crumbled when it was supposed to be “for fun!” I’ll keep your suggestion in mind the next time something challenging arises and I find myself needing to remain calm and take control, but I’m not sure whether I’ll go seek it out because it turns out I don’t think it’s very much fun at all 😛 Though maybe this is one of those secret “1st world privalege” things, which I never even considered! You’ve given me quite a bit to think about.

  15. Jeff says: Reply

    First off there should be two ropes one that you use to rappel and one that the tour company can use to stop you if you are unable to rappel on your own safely. Not sure why a second guide had to come up to rappel you down that seems really unlikely to me. I think this story is more made up than factual. I suggest since you cannot follow simple directions that you stick to 5 star resorts and sit on the beach. If your not athletic do not try things that would put you in harms way and cause problems.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      HA! I wish I could stay in a 5 star resort, that sounds great. Not in my price range, though. And I’m not a beach person! Too much sitting around, too hot, too much sand. TBH waterfall rappelling does not require athleticism (though, as someone who rock climbs regularly, I really should have been comfortable with it anyway…) but it does require being able to follow instructions and most importantly, REMAIN CALM the entire time. As for the reality of my story, we did actually take a GoPro video of this calamity, but then when we re-watched it, it was just a lot of gushing water and me screaming for about 20 minutes until the rescue at the very end. Not terribly exciting to watch 😛 I have no idea how many ropes there were, but I’d managed to stop myself and found a ledge to perch on, and they weren’t able to reach me (or get a message to me) to let go so they could rappel me down. Sorry you’re having difficulty swallowing the entire thing. I’d suggest you go to Juan Curi and ask them about it – pretty sure they’d probably remember me as the only person they ever had to rescue 😛

  16. Jeff says: Reply

    A regular rock climber? where kids amusement parks? How do you claim to be a “regular” rock climber and have not been somewhat instructed on rappelling? Do you mean you go hiking on rocks?

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Hehe, fair. No, I rock climb at indoor climbing gyms here in San Francisco. I hate bouldering (can’t deal with jumping down and not being tied in) but I love top-roping. That said, I’ve never climbed a 200-foot tall wall, and the rappelling techniques I use at my gym were not the same as the techniques used at Juan Curi. At least, I think – the instruction was all in Spanish, and my panic didn’t lead to the most clear mental translation. Hell, it probably IS the same, but I had a panic attack and forgot everything I know in the face of blind terror. It’s very different to climb your way up a wall and then rappel down it versus being gushed with gallons of water 200 feet in the air and attempt to rappel down that. At least, it was for me. It sounds like you’re not the type to panic in a scary/adventurous situation, which is great. As it turns out, I am.

  17. Ariel says: Reply

    Lia – I had a totally similar experience when I was in Baños, Ecuador. We were canyoning down waterfalls, and all my friends were totally fine, and I had a COMPLETE panic attack. I had to hike by myself all the way to the van, which was kind of scary, but WAY less scary than dangling attached to a flimsy rope next to a giant waterfall. One of the scariest experiences of my life. So I totally feel your pain here. Thanks for writing about it so clearly – wish I had this when I was in Baños so I’d know I’m not alone!

    As a PS – I also was talked into doing a level 4 rafting experience in Baños during which we had one of those scary jagged rock flip-over fearing for your life experiences. I had to be rescued. I almost drowned, and I’m a freaking LIFEGUARD. It totally sucks. So you made the right call to skip that experience 🙂

    When I’m in San Gil this winter, I’ll let my partner do the adventure sports without me!

    1. Ahhhh! I LOVE Banos, but the only adventure sport I tried was Zip-Lining. I hated it. Had a panic attack again. LOL. We tried 1 last time on an easy 2/3 white-water rafting trip in Costa Rica anndddddd …. yup, hated it, miserable, terrified. Adventure sports just aren’t for me!

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