Remembering how we’d slide down homemade “foofy” slides (ziplines) in South Africa as kids, I reckon this one should be a blast. Sitting at 1500 metres, however, it is just a tad longer than our 30-metre concoctions. Nor does it have a knot in the middle that would inevitably result in tears as we’d crash into it with our bit of hose pipe and tumble hopelessly to the ground.

Nope, this is safety to a T. Not only do we get body harnasses to lie in but also a great big strong cable with click-on climbing gear … all the i´s are dotted. Even little Khiana (aged 6) thinks it is safe enough and is ready to glide across the canyon.

There are various groups at the Pena Adventure Park, and watching the others zip across, we giggle at their same reaction, “kicken!” or “the best thing ever!”

When it’s our turn, Marcel, Jaidinn, Jessica, Naomi, Rob, and Simon get geared up and we take pics of their funny bat suits and orange goggles. It takes about 15 minutes for the adventure staff to shuttle them around the valley and up the other side to the “drop off”. Mikki, Khiana and I watch in amazement as Marcel whizzes through the trees and connects with the Bungy cord brakes. A huge clang is followed by a whelp of delight. “Wicked!”

On the walkie talkie, we overhear Simon encouraging Jaidinn (aged 10). This is the bravest thing she has faced. We listen proudly. Full of confidence, she goes for it. We recognise a speck in the distance but when she’s got a quarter of the cable left and see that she’s travelling far slower than Marcel did. Her legs are lying limp underneath her.

Going backwards

I panic, wondering if our niece has fainted with shock. The look on Mikki’s face suggests the same thought is flashing across her mind. She watches her daughter with hand on mouth. Jaidinn eventually nears us, slows down and starts sliding back down the cable again. She is completely motionless. Quite aghast, everyone says they’ve not seen this before.

Meanwhile, the safety guy has calmly clipped himself onto the cable and reaches Jaidinn in no time. He retrieves her and we expect tears and shivering fear. No such thing. Jaidinn smiles and says she wished her pen and pencils were with her so she could have drawn the view! Jessica comes next and reaches the brakes with a smaller clang. Our fearless “Walibi World kid” found it surprisingly scary… Fascinating how different things trigger different emotions.

We think Simon is coming next and want to see him cross, but get called for our turn. I take Khiana to get attired. The staff take one look at her and shake their heads. No can do. Khiana is crushed. Big tears finally subside at Mikki’s promise of an ice lolly for being so brave.

What is your weight?

Marcel proves guys can multi-task as he gets charge of Neeka (nearly a year old) and Khiana, a camera in one hand and the video camera in the other. Mikki and I pull on our bat suits and jump into the shuttle. I’m feeling fine until we reach the top of the other side. It’s exceptionally steep, but I remind myself how safe this operation is and suppress my fear. Mikki gets hooked up first. “You w’right?” “Huh” “You w’right?” “Uh, yes… fine thanks.” “No, no. Y’r weight?” “Ooooooh.” The information is relayed across the valley. Mikki is gently released and glides off.

I get connected and follow the same preparations. Their discretion of repeating our weight in Portuguese is rather appreciated. Excited, I wonder how this compares to flying in my dreams. I ask if I can spread my wings and get instructions to extend my arms at the first bauble under the cable and then to tuck them in again when I pass over the freeway on the other side. I hear a click. The platform falls away and I can almost touch the pine trees before they peel away too. “Yaaaaaaaaaaaay!”

I see farm houses below and scream with delight, “I’m flying!!” My arms extended, I wave at anyone and anything who may be looking up. The harness keeps you tucked safely, so I can’t tilt and roll as much as I hoped, but that’s no problem. I feel so light and free. Grinning and laughing, I’m unable to prevent a gaping insect scoop.

The freeway gets closer and closer. I don’t want to constrict myself but want to carry on flying. I feel sad it’s ending. But the looming platform looks dangerous, so I oblige and meet the bungies with another yodelling yee-hah. Two minutes of sheer ecstasy. Mikki and I are the last two gliders of the day, and the staff laugh as we reluctantly handed back the suits and goggles. Can we do it again? Sure, come back tomorrow …

Bush fires in Portugal are common in summer

On our way back to Quinta D’ Alijo, we come across another bush fire. Hot, dry summers and brittle forests are desperate combinations. Nature seems better able to cope with the blazes than the people living too close to the trees. Instead of the usual smoky smell, chewed up Eucalyptus trees remind me of a steam bath for winter colds; a strange contrast to the crackling flames

We hear chopper blades and see the water bucket empty its bowels through smoky clouds. The pilot returns to scoop up another thirst-quenching load. We drive a little further and see the pilot navigate down to the river in the valley. Impressive manoeuvrability.

Unphased by the natural disaster, a butterfly lands near me and is happy to pose. That is until another 4×4 driver accidentally drives into my heels and I yelp with surprise. Fortunately, I get the shot. The multitude of dragonflies, butterflies, grasshoppers and lizards in Cabeceiras de Basto leaves quite an impression on us.