Yebo - Joey and the Deltones

In a way, this song kind of represents me at my best. It is a snapshot of me at my most idealistic, dreamy, and hopeful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jumping Off High Things

We've all had the dream - you jump or fall off something very high - a building, a cliff, a bridge etc., and you feel yourself falling... falling... falling... falling... and before you hit the ground, you wake up. That feeling of falling endlessly is something very few of us experience in real life due to the fact that many of us are not adventure seekers at heart, or maybe we can't afford the skydiving or bungee jump experience, and also because the highest thing we've ever jumped off is the high dive at the pool, which is about 3 meters tall, and even there, we land in the water, not on land.

I've always wanted to do things like skydive and bungee jump and other such things. But I've never had the money or the opportunity to afford such activities. Until now. Living on a government stipend, as little as it is, does have its upsides.

I've still not actually gone bungee jumping or skydiving. Yet. Someday maybe.

BUT. I did just return from a much needed and very eventful vacation, touring the south eastern part of South Africa. During this vacation, I found myself jumping off high things more than a few times. I'm not sure why. It just kinda happened.

The first few jumps I took were in Coffee Bay, during a day hike. A group of us were hiking along the coast, up and down massive and very steep hills, amongst traditional Xhosa villages, exploring the area right next to where the ocean meets the rocks on shore. We came to the halfway point of the hike - far out in the hills where afterwards, we had no choice but to turn back due to the fact that the land drops off into the sea, and we can't walk on air.

But instead of turning back, we were offered another option - jump from the 8 meter cliff into the ocean below. It was a cold, windy, and very grey day - the rocks were slippery, wet, and very hard to climb up. You had to watch your step, and time your movements so you wouldn't get prematurely soaked by incoming waves splashing whitewater up against the sides of the rocks. The guide asked who wanted to do the jump, and only three people among the 30 or so of us raised their hands. My friend Adam, myself, and some big muscular guy from Sweden (who I found out later was one of those fire twirlers, and a rather impressive one at that).

As we were stripping off our clothes, other people decided to join us in the jump as well. Standing at the edge of the 8 meter drop, I was a bit nervous. It wasn't the distance that got to me. It was the thought of the shock I would get when I finally hit the cold ocean water that made me uneasy. I get cold very fast. We had about a 3 meter square target area to land in - outside that area we were told the rocks jutted out a bit, and it wasn't smart to land on them.... mainly because of the severe pain, discomfort, and broken bones it would leave us with. Right. So go for the bullseye.

After some second thoughts, I was ready to jump. Our guide stopped me before I hesitantly took off and said that after I surface, I should not to get out right away. He said he would tell me when it was safe to get out of the water. Why didd I have to wait for him to tell me to get out? The waves were very strong, and crashing very high and rather violently in this little cove area where we were to jump. He said if I timed my exit wrong, and tried to get out too early, a wave would knock me off the escape rock, and drag me along the many tiny razor sharp barnacles located on top of it, leaving me looking like I had an unfortunate accident with a cheese grater. Good to know.

The Swedish guy and his friend decided they didn't mind going first. Cool by me. The jump didn't look so bad when they did it - they waited about 10 seconds in the water before they swam to the barnacle covered rock, and exited nice and easy. Awesome. Definitely not as bad as I imagined.

My turn. Again, I hesitantly stepped to the edge, then temporarily lost all my cares, and jumped. Hitting the water wasn't bad at all. For the first half a second. The second half of that second my mind went, "WAY TOO COLD IN HERE. GET ME OUT NOW!" I would have loved to listen to my mind, but upon surfacing, I looked up to our guide who held his hand up, telling me to wait - the waves were coming in too strong. He waved me to swim backwards a bit to make way for the next person to jump.

I swam back a bit, and watched as Adam came down with relative grace as compared to me (I still hold my nose when I jump into water - I'm kind of a baby like that). Adam was not allowed to exit yet either. He backed up and in came our friend Jeff. After Jeff came someone else. None of us were allowed to exit until after the fourth guy came in.

The whole process took over 4 minutes from the time I hit the water. I'm not a very strong swimmer in the first place. Bobbing up and down in rough ocean waters like a float on a fishing line so close to big hurtful looking rocks is not my idea of a good time. Especially not when I felt my arms getting exhausted from treading water, propelling me away from the sides of the cliffs, unexpectedly swallowing most of the Indian Ocean in a few gulps, and feeling like my nipples had shrunk about four sizes and were hard enough to cut diamonds.

We finally got the signal to exit. Sweet. I started to make my way to the barnacle infested exit rock, and realized with a tinge of fear that despite my best efforts, I could swim no closer than I already was. I wasn't moving forward an inch. Starting to worry a little bit, I watched as everyone else made strides to exit. I decided I wasn't going to stay in the water any longer. With the last bit of energy I had left, I threw myself forward, with a little/a lot of help from an outgoing wave that pushed me forward, and surprisingly quickly and gracefully, made my exit, only managing to get a few small, insignificant slices on my arm.

Climbing the cliffs eight meters relatively straight back up from there proved to be another challenge which I also managed, thanks to many hand assists from Jeff who pushed me up the rocks I couldn't quite pull myself onto.

I felt good. Like I accomplished something, or maybe just proved to my body that it wasn't going to hold me back. I guess I didn't actually accomplish anything, and if anything it was my body which sent me a clear message saying not to push it too far, or it would leave me floating endlessly in the Indian Ocean. What a bitch. Regardless, I was happy.

At the end of the hike, after some grilled cheese sandwiches, we were given the option to do another "cliff jump", this time into the nearby stream/river. I had no intentions of jumping again. But after watching two people take the plunge, and hearing the water was actually warm, and seeing there were no waves or scary rocks nearby, I decided to jump. This jump was about 10 meters or so. It doesn't sound much higher, but those 2 meters feel like a lifetime of difference on the way down.

I felt like I was falling, should have stopped, but instead went right thru the ground to continue falling those last 2 meters, to then finally enter the refreshingly warm water. It was a lot of fun - I made the jump twice just to make sure that it was as fun as I thought it was. It was. Hooray for me.

The real trip for me was a few days later. We had been traveling up the Wild Coast of South Africa, and had come to Umzumbe - a coastal town near the Oribi Gorge national park. We had heard there was a gorge swing in this park, where you get to jump off the egde of the gorge, into the abyss below, saved [hopefully] by a harness and a beatly metal cable that lets you fall with relative safety. The same thing went thru my head like at the ocean jump... "I'm here now, so why not?"

The gorge is absolutely beautiful. Sad thing is, the idea of this gorge swing takes attention away from how stunning the view actually is from the top. The take off spot is next to a 200 meter waterfall with not a very strong flow, so when the wind picks up, it makes the water droplets swirl and dance around like snow in a snow globe, forming little water twisters, moving like a Moroccan belly dancer. It's mesmerizing.

The jump was prepaid - no refunds, and a bit expensive. So once you paid, you kinda have no choice but to make the jump. Smart business people they are. Facts about the gorge swing - 160 meters to the bottom of the rope, 75 meter free fall, and your body reaches 120 km/h (about 72 mph) in 2.3 seconds. At least, that's what the sign says next to their office.

Truth be told, I wasn't as nervous for this jump as I was about the one into the ocean. I had no control over what was to happen to me after I made the leap, as opposed to knowing I'd have to battle the Indian Ocean to stay afloat in my past jump. It was nice to put the responsibility of keeping myself alive into someone else's hands for the time being.

There are two ways to jump/fall. Most people hold onto the giant cable they are attached to and hang on to it the whole way down. The other more fun way to jump, is to throw caution to the wind and jump head first out into the gorge, like a skydive.

My friend Adam made the leap before me. Good form on the take off - arms spread, feet together, free falling like a skydive. About 7 minutes after he left the edge and was safely back at the top, it was my turn to make the leap. The guy working next to the take off spot hooked me up to the giant cable and told me to lean back. As he let go of his end of the rope, I understood why I had to lean back. The weight of this giant cable actually pulls you forward, so even at this point, if you had second thoughts about jumping, the cable worked to actually pull you off the ledge. A funny thing I saw later in the day was that if the cable didn't move you to jump, the guys at the edge gave you a nice push to get you going - right off the ledge. I laughed.

But back to me.

I decided I would take a first person perspective video on the way down. I had my camera pointing out over the ledge, and would hold it that way throughout the whole way down. After a video farewell address to my mom (you'll see that soon mama, but it basically says I'm not crazy, just having a good time) I started filming the seconds before the leap. The guy next to me counted down, "THREE!! TWO!! ONE!! GO!!"

Take off.

Good form Joey - head first, diving out into nothingness. A little too ambitious I was, I realized after I was no longer facing the ground, but flipping over halfway down the free fall. But there was that feeling again - falling, falling, falling, falling - it's such a rush. The flip was unexpected but appreciated, the main jolt I got was from the harness jerking my legs at the point where the free fall ended and the swing began. I was giddy by the time I reached the bottom, the camera still rolling, I couldn't stop smiling. The ride was over very fast, to the point where I almost didn't remember that I just fell 160 meters, but it was well worth everything. I was happy I had my camera with me, dangling above the canyon below. I got some nice pictures from that vantage point of the waterfall and the views around. The funniest thing I saw, hanging like a worm on a fishing line was a white chalk line on the rocks below, outlining a supposed body splat, arms and legs splayed out like a cartoon character.

My friend Kristy went after me - good form again on the way down. On the way up for her, the wind changed direction, and she got a full body shower from the waterfall. Drenched from head to toe. I was pretty jealous. My friend Craig took a few hours to face his fear of heights, but eventually made the leap as well later in the day.

The gorge swing was a full day event for us, but it was well worth all the money and the waiting. They claim it's the highest gorge swing in the world. As far as I know, it's the only gorge swing I've ever heard of. But maybe there are more.

Cape Town claims to have the world's tallest bungee jump. Before I'm done with my service in South Africa, you can be sure I'll be heading down that way as well to make the leap.

Because why settle for less when you can make the leap from the top of the world?