I want a zip line.

The children who ride a 40mph zip wire a quarter of a mile high to get to school

More than 1,300ft above the roaring Rio Negro in Colombia, nine-year-old Daisy Mora prepares to throw herself over the abyss.

Attaching herself to an old and rusted pulley system she drops over the edge before plummeting at 40mph along a zip wire to the opposite bank half a mile away - a vertigo-inducing journey she has to take every day to get to school.

For the handful of families living in the area, 40 miles southeast of the capital Bogota, the 12 steel cables that connect one side of the valley to the other are their only access to the outside world.

German explorer Alexander von Humboldt was the first Westerner to observe the unusual rope system in 1804.

They were traditionally made of hemp, but steels cables were installed with the advent of logging in the surrounding rainforest. Today, the cables are still the only transport available to those living in the area.

Farmers use them to transport goods to and from the closest town and, for children like Daisy and her five-year-old brother Jamid, it is how they get to school.

Jamid is too young to safely ride the wire on his own, so she has to carry him with her in a jute bag, controlling their speed with a wooden fork.

Photographer and author Christoph Otto, who took these amazing pictures, suspended himself above the valley on one of the cables to capture people making the remarkable journey.

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19 Responses:

  1. phreddiva says:

    This is the solution to the problem of the cheap steel on the bay bridge. We should just zipline across.

  2. I'd like to see the jet pack they use to get back up.

  3. krick says:

    Er... I call bullshit on this. How the hell do the get home from school every day? Back up the zip lines with a rocket backpack?

    • elusis says:

      Zip line in the opposite direction. Which, like line #1, involves an uphill hike. So they truly do have to go uphill both ways to school.

      • jwz says:

        If I had a zipline I would not have complained about going up hill both ways. In the snow, even.

        • jayp39 says:

          barefoot, even.

        • pmb7777 says:

          I figure these kids are a sort of karma balance for the universe. We all traveled uphill both ways in the snow, they get to ride ziplines downhill both ways through gorgeous rainforest. I'm not sure where all the shoes are though.

    • nothings says:

      The article indicates the zipline actually only covers a distance of half a mile. I had to walk half a mile to elementary school and it didn't take that long, so I suspect the point of the zip line isn't really so much the horizontal distance it's saving as the vertical distance it's saving. (I mean, I could be wrong, maybe the terrain there is treacherous regardless of the elevation change.)

      In other words, I imagine that the amount of climbing they have to do to switch zipline directions (or pulley them or whatever) is far less than it would be if they had to fully descend and ascend from whatever elevation they're at, and that's actually the big savings of the zipline. Draw two big triangles and put a line between them partway up. Normally you'd expect that line to be a bridge, and by my theory here a bridge would serve just as well -- it's just infeasible at that scale/budget. So you get two slightly(?) angled lines instead.

      Sadly, the reporter was apparently incurious about the return trip (and unsurprisingly uninterested in the 'scientific' side of the whole issue) so it's all just speculation.

      • fnivramd says:

        The zip line also clearly crosses a river. The river probably doesn't have a bridge either, so, not only is the alternative climbing up and down the whole way, you also have to cross the river somehow. Maybe there's a rickety boat you can use as a ferry? Or a place where the river gets very wide and you can ford it? Neither of those sounds as safe as a zip line ride on a steel cable.

      • fnivramd says:

        Also the article makes a big play about things being "old" and "rusty". But I encourage people to check out the bridges your roads and railways pass over. It's not uncommon for a 19th century bridge, built with unknown materials (the builders often didn't realise it was important to record what was used) to be part of the civilian road or rail infrastructure.


        is an example of the kind of thing which happens once in a while when a modern, industrialised country owns a bunch of old, rusty bridges. At least these villagers can all inspect the steel cable for themselves before they trust their lives to it.

      • mcfnord says:

        Yeah, cheaper, faster, and I argue it's safer than a bridge.

    • amaranthyne says:

      This seems to be a summary of an article published in 2003, which does explain that there are 12 ziplines: 6 in each direction.


      • effbot says:

        And the girl was seven back then, so the Daily Fail either just reprinted something from 2005, or messed up the 2003 article even more. Journalism at its finest.

  4. This video explains more about braking and getting back...

  5. pdx6 says:

    Zip lines are fun! I went on a set in the forest near Puerto Vallarta and it was a blast. What makes it even more fun is the questionable mounting of the steel wires to things like trees and how to stop if you are coming in too fast (read: you crash into a large rubber pad and experience a lot of pain). If you come in too slow, then you get to go hand over hand on a greasy steel wire until you get to the landing.

    • mcfnord says:

      I went on that one last year. Did you drive up along the river to the place?

      • pdx6 says:

        I really have no idea where it was. A couple of sales guys on the beach talked us into it and the next thing we knew we were on a long and bumpy bus ride along a dirt road next to a river.

        Probably the same one. After that they had a dinner and tequila tasting. It was so miserable. ;)

        • mcfnord says:

          I was blessed to do it with a family of Mexicans, and a lot of kids. On the ride home, I sang the lyrics the Mexican girls were singing, and this was hilarious to them, but they would not tell their mom what the song was. I saw horses on that road. We went to another river where people swam and dove and ate tacos all day. I met my girlfriend there. I became a father there, to her daughter, to this day. Her father invited me to his rented shaded middle class flat ten blocks from Wal*Mart (siempre!). Little Chloe just learned the word "yes", and ran around the courtyard with me, looking at me once at first like, "there you are. there you are. oh man i wanted you so bad, and here you are." and i am. i really am. and her mom and i have a lot of good times. i'm just... she says if i wanna go then go, and when we do get together it is very hot at times. she's a career marine so there's the tension and energy. anyways up at that zip line place the fireman friend who went with us said Spanish is easier after tequila.