The best thing about living like Tarzan and/or Jane in the jungle? Cuddling monkeys, swinging from vines and climbing trees of course. Enjoy the Algarve also wants a part of this adventurous treetop lifestyle, so this month we try it all (apart from cuddling monkeys) at the Parque Aventura near Albufeira.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2017
Survival adventures in the woods are all nice and cool, but let’s be honest, they also include some shitty stuff. Like giant spiders, loads of smoke while failing at making a fire, sleeping on top of an ant colony and getting poisoned by eating the wrong mushrooms. No thanks. Could I just have the action-packed cool stuff like tree climbing and vine swinging please? And seeing as my survival skills are close to zero, it might be wise to do this in a supervised place. There must be more people like me in the Algarve, because they’ve got two high ropes adventure parks here in the south of Portugal (soon there’ll be three; one in Vila Real de Santo António will open in May). High ropes courses, or arborismoas it’s called in Portuguese, include all the fun bits of jungle life, plus some security and supervision to keep it fun.
‘Security and supervision’ may seem like the opposite of ‘survival fun’, but read on as this isn’t some kind of lame indoor playground. Despite its closeness to concrete jungle Albufeira, the protected green park area is a real forest, full of holm oaks, eucalyptus and pine trees. The econess already starts in the toilet, which you share with an inquisitive gecko, and which is basically a wooden shack without water. Instead of flushing, you cover up with mulch. Very back to basic indeed. In case you’re wondering, yes, there is some hand-sanitiser (they’re eco-friendly, not gross). Now for the many trees: they don’t have any holes drilled or nails hammered into them. Instead, all platforms, cables and ropes are pressed to the trunks as the park has been constructed with respect for the local environment. “You see there, those pieces of wood are cut out especially and form a buffer between the cable and the trunk so the trees aren’t hurt,” monitor Filipe Rossa (35, pictured below on the right), points out. I haven’t even started the course and I already like the place.
Filipe and fellow monitor João Gonçalves (31, pictured above on the left) learned the ropes (haha) by studying sport and adventure. Now, they spend their days getting people more in touch with nature – sometimes literally, when they don’t follow the instructions and spin through the leaves or smash into the sand instead of land on their feet at the bottom of the zipline. “Kids love the park; they ask us ‘is this real?’ and pretend to be superheroes,” says Filipe. “Parents especially love it that their children spend a couple of hours without their phone or computer,” he jokes. Serious again: “I can really see the difference in skills between children who play outside a lot and those who’re only stuck behind a screen.” High ropes isn’t just for children though. You have to be at least 14 to do the more difficult courses and there have even been participants well in their seventies balancing on the bridges. The courses, which range from orange and yellow to blue and red, are divided into difficulty levels. As the monitors put it: curious, adventure, and fearless.
Then again, there isn’t any need to be afraid no matter what course you’re on. You’re wearing a harness and are clicked in by two magnetic safety carabiners. As the safety briefing explains, instead of normal carabiners, with these magnetic ones, only one can be released at the time. Number two stays shut until you click number one in – making it impossible to fall out the trees even if you wanted to. It also doesn’t make it scary at all. Starting off on the yellow course, I’m thinking they should have filled the forest with crocodiles, piranhas or lions, making it at least seem a bit more dangerous. Happily hopping from platform to platform, I secretly worry about getting a picture for this article that shows a bit of drama and action. That’s of course right before I take a slightly too massive leap at the start of a zip wire on the purple course and slam into the tree at the end. Think tree hugging, but a hard-core version. The tree is covered in pillows, so apparently more people have made an idiot of themselves this way. I bounce off the tree and slide back on the wire, having to pull myself forwards to the platform, much to the amusement of Filipe, João and another group of adventurers…
On one of the other courses I encounter a big ball on a rope (sit on the ball and swing to the next platform – think Miley Cyrus on her wrecking ball, but about a zwillion times less sexy), and my favourite: a skateboard. Yes, you’re actually skating through the trees. Tarzan would be so jealous. I wonder where they got the idea for this. “In the park in Lagos we’ve got a bicycle,” says Filipe. There are ladders, nets and balance beams – all great fun. The only annoying thing is having to click and unclick yourself twice, and that at every new obstacle. Just as I’m thinking they’ve overdone it a bit on the safety side –can’t they just have a single normal carabiner instead? I mean: how hard can it be to not fall off the platform, surely one could manage with just one clicky thing? – I slip while trying to click myself in (on the platform) and dangle from a rope about six metres above the ground, saved by the second carabiner. Let’s just say I’m not complaining anymore after that. Not even in my head.
Being outside on the high ropes course feels like being a kid again. Really cool are the zip lines – not as long as the one in Alcoutim, but many of them (especially on the purple course) and you’re literally swinging through the forest. A bit cocky after my flying action, I start bouncing around on the wooden bridge. Half a second later I find myself hanging from the harness. This actually quite hurts as the ropes cut into my tummy. I refuse to pretend-fall again for the picture. No need; it happens again on the single line bridge on the red course. It’s great fun though – especially for the ones watching from below. Among them is Gustave the Dog, running around from tree to tree on the ground, barking in protest because he believes only cats are allowed to climb trees. Photographer Kyle does part of the tracks while carrying all his equipment, muttering under his breath that everyone who thinks Bear Grylls is the ultimate hard-core survivor, should think of Bear’s camera man. (Although I’d preferred to be likened to Lara Croft, I feel flattered to be compared to Bear Grylls).
Then again, I’ve completed all the 46 obstacles of the five courses, from crawling through nets to mastering the Himalaya bridge. My muscles are killing and my hands are red and chafed, but I didn’t have to call the monitors to rescue me and save my ass. Something that happens on a daily basis. Or more often, in the high season. This is also the reason of the 100 kilos weight limit – the steel cables can easily hold 3,000 kilos and also the ropes won’t break that easily, it’s because of the monitors who have to hoist people back up. They have to be able to climb up and down at any given point of the course and sometimes do the entire route (yes, that includes the ziplines) backwards, just for fun. “It’s a complete workout, better than the gym,” laughs João. At the last zipwire, I’m spent and quite happy that instead of continuing this jungle business by having to build your own tree house or hunt for food, I can just head home with a shower and a nice cosy bed. No monkeys today unfortunately, but Gustave the Dog, happy to see his humans safe on the ground again, is cuddly enough.
When to go?
The park is open all year round, but opening days and times vary with the season (in winter time it’s only open during the weekends for example). Check out the website for opening times, contact info and precise location, also of the other Algarve parks.
Booking a place on the high ropes course isn’t necessary, but it’s advised to call ahead in the high season as obviously it’ll be busier in summer time. If you’re with six persons or more, it’s worth asking for additional opening times.
Because of the steel cables, this activity isn’t possible with thunderstorms. The park will also be closed in case of heavy winds and bad rain.
Eco-adventurers and other wannabe-Tarzans. People looking for an adventurous but very safe outdoor activity will love it.
There’s no need to have any experience in anything, but being fit, flexible and having strength in your arms helps a lot. The monitors will show you all you need to know and provide extra advice and rescue if needed. Take old clothes, good shoes and gloves if you have (fingerless mountain biking gloves would be ideal).
This activity is also suitable for families. Children can do the orange and yellow course, where they’ll stay clicked in the entire time, as long as they’re 4 years or older and have a minimum height of 1m. For the purple course you have to be a least 8 years old and 1,30m, and all other courses require a minimum age of 14 and a minimum height of 1,40m.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2017