Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bungee Jumping, River-Boarding, and Other Active Overseas Activities

I wake at 8:00 a.m. and my stomach is churning like a blender filled with margaritas. I am in Storms River, South Africa, and about to go bungee jumping for the first time. A driver takes me to the Bloukrans Bridge jump site, which is about 710 feet high.

For a little perspective, 710 feet is the equivalent of two Statues of Liberty stacked on top of each other. Or put another way, I'm going to take an elevator halfway up the Empire State Building and then jump out of one of the windows.

I get weighed and strapped into a strappy chest harness. To get to the jump platform, I totter along a chain-link metal catwalk. I can see through the links to the rocks and boulders that drop away to a thread of river 700-feet below up. The catwalk flexes underfoot with each step. I've taken meditation before, so I attempt to calm my mind and follow my breathing. A soothing image comes to me: I am home in my bed hugging my night-night.

The walkway ends on an open concrete platform where techno music is booming. The other bungee jumpers are hopping in time to the music. I become quiet and pace around focusing on the lines and stains on the concrete slab floor. I'll be jumping second. My hands start to shake, so I put them in my pockets.

The first person is called to the edge of the platform and jumps without much fanfare. I'm called to the platform. The attendants tell me to sit. They bind up my ankles with a padded collar that attaches to the bungee cord, which is about as thick as a sink pipe.

The whole apparatus is so clumsy that I can't walk, so the attendants walk me to the edge of the platform. One of them puts his hand under my chin to prevent me from looking down. I look straight out and can feel tears in my eyes. My breathing is shallow; I think it may have stopped altogether. The attendants try to talk to me.

"Mr. Ross, where you from?"
"Nice. You have good rugby team, hey?" they laugh, referring to the fact that the U.S. team just got creamed by the South Africans team two nights ago in the World Cup.
My eyes are open but I can't see anything. 
"We gonna count to three, then do a nice swan dive for us, arms out, hey?"
"Whatever you say."
The attendants start counting.
"One, two, three. Jump!"
They push me forward and I scream, "Mommy!"

In bungee jumping your body can accelerate from zero to ninety miles per hour in about five seconds. A $200,000 Lamborghini goes from zero to ninety in about eight seconds. I'm used to driving a Honda Civic, which goes from zero to ninety in about eight minutes.

As I'm falling, I feel like I'm on a plane that has hit an air pocket and is plunging 70 stories. I also feel as if someone has grabbed my stomach and they're trying to pull it out through my ears. Gradually, the collars tighten around my ankles and I stop falling. I open my eyes as I bounce back up towards the sky.

I actually enjoyed the experience and I jumped two more times. If you're interested in adventure sports or just want to break up the sight-seeing on your next trip, here are some links to get you started.

Bungee jumping where I went in South Africa

Bungee jumping in Macau, New Zealand, and other spots.

River boarding (white-water rafting without a raft) in New Zealand.

For windsurfing and kitesurfing abroad see Vela or Club Mistral.

This company offers exercise bootcamps in Kenya and Greece, see Wildfitness.