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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Climbing the Amazonian trees

An intrepid tree lover leads adventure travelers high above the Brazilian rain forest.

AMAZONAS, BRAZIL (FORTUNE Small Business) -- Suspended 100 feet above the rain forest floor, I finally understand why I traveled thousands of miles to the Amazon to climb trees.

Through the lattice of leaves I glimpse a loftier, greener world where only the cries of howler monkeys and macaws pierce the silence. As I inch higher, the canopy grows closer: Its branches stretch over the forest like an awning, shielding the earth from the equatorial sun. I ease back into my climbing saddle to rest, stretch my fingers, and watch the sunset as I sway beneath the rope that supports me. Then I make a mistake.

I look down.

When I see my feet dangling more than ten stories above the ground, I panic and freeze. Recreational tree climbing has an impeccable safety record: Tree Climbers International (TCI), the sport's flagship organization and first for-profit school, has facilitated lessons for more than 100,000 climbers since 1983 without any fatal accidents. This statistic escapes me, however, as I stare down at giant fronds that look like the tops of tiny pineapples. As I white-knuckle the rope connected to my saddle, my instructor, Tim Kovar, swings closer to me. "How's it going?" he asks.

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