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Road Trip! The adventure section!

Written on: Friday May 1st, 2009

Now that there were only three of us, we noticed some changes during the road trip: there was more space in the car, it was quieter and Lady Gaga wasn't played for at least a week.  It would have been nice to meet up with Koeb again, but for whatever reason, we stopped hearing from him and eventually gave up hope regarding his return to the group.  But that most certainly didn't stop us from having fun!  En route to our next destination we stopped off at a gorgeous beach where we met some cool locals and were lucky enough to see dozens upon dozens of dolphins surfing the break just offshore.  It was really exciting watching them ride the waves, darting back and forth as the jockeyed for better position.

We continued the drive up the coast to one of the adreneline centers of South Africa: Storm's River.  It was here that we found the Djembe Backpackers Hostel, a beautiful, well laid-out home that happily catered to the needs of those traveling the area and wanting a place to crash.  As Nish had already traveled to this region a couple weeks earlier, he knew the lay of the land, and we can only thank him for the wonderful recommendation to stay here.  As is so common along the Garden Route, a cool staff, fun bar and giant bonfire made our experience all the better.  This place also had a pool table, making for a memorable evening taking on all the locals who thought they were god's gift to pool! 

As the night progressed, we contemplated tomorrow's activities.  The main highlight in this area was bungy jumping; well, not just any little jump.  Rather, the world's highest, fixed bungy jump, at 720 feet!  I really wanted to try this, but was awfully nervous to do so.  And since Nish had already DONE the jump two weeks ago, he didn't want to shell out the cash to do it again.  That meant finding another jump buddy.  Mari was having none of it, regardless of how much I tried to sway her.  Fortunately, we met a few other travelers here, including Liz, a Floridian traveling solo for a couple weeks of fun and adventure in South Africa.  She was on the fence with the bungy thing.  So with a little persistance, I got her to tentatively agree to join me the following day.

The next morning we opted for some light yet entertaining adventure to start the day.  We drove to the river canyons for some zipline fun over the water and through the trees.  There were nine stations in place.  After properly securing our harnesses, we took turns zooming from one launch point to the next, gradually increasing our speed and length of flight.  Also available was abseiling, where we all took turns repelling downward into a fern-filled cavern.  Liz joined Mari, me and another traveler, Heather, on this adventure, and a good time was had by all. 

Heading back to the hostel, I continued my efforts to talk Liz into joining me on the bungy jump.  She agreed and actually seemed more calm about the situation than I was.  Nish wanted to come along with us to the site, if only to be the official photographer and laugh at our ever-increasing nervousness.  And we were nervous: I was bouncing back and forth from 'what the hell am I doing' to cranking the music in an attempt to psych myself up for the experience; Liz wanted to pop a valium and defer all current thoughts of the activity about to take place.  And so it was.  We went there and waited and waited in line to register, further increasing the collection of butterflies already overflowing in each of our stomachs.  After the weigh in we strapped on our harness (which, incidentally, are only for the ascent back up).  It was most entertaining when Liz's helper didn't know how to correctly put on her harness.  Oh my!  If she spoke that way in a bar, sailors would come running out! :)  Eventually we were both geared up and reluctantly headed for the bridge.  Now, let it be know that I was not afraid of heights.  I did, however, get that horrible, naucious feeling immediately upon walking out over the gorge and looking down through the catwalk floor to the rocks some 720' below.  Dammit; why didn't they use stronger bar grating for this floor?  We could feel the deflection with each step, causing us both to walk along the steel supports only and avoid the grating.  Eventually we got there.  Liz was nervous; I was worse.  There were about fifteen jumpers in the group, and we were assigned an order seemingly at random by those in charge.  As it turned out, I was to jump fourth; Liz was to go ninth.  OK, that's good; at least I'm not first and I go before her.  They hooked up the first person, a young Indian kid who was way too excited to do this.  We all watched with great concern at the process with which they attached a single rubber band style cord to his feet.  Dang...that SO doesn't look like it will hold him!  Then they stood him up and walked him over to the edge.  5-4-3-2-1 BUNGY!!!  And off he went.  We all watched on the nearby monitor as his body voluntarily left the bridge.  He survided; that's good.  Soon it was my turn.  The first step was to attach the cushions around my ankles. 

"Are you sure that's tight enough?  It feels really loose."

 '(With a slight chuckle) It's fine.  The strap will be tighter and that's all you need.'

Another guy jumped; I was transferred to the on-deck position.  

 'OK, I'm going to attach this strap around your feet'

"(With heart thumping REALLY hard) OK."

 'Alright, are you ready? Stand up.  You're next!'

And that's when my arms went numb. Both arms instantaneously went numb from the elbows down.  What a strange response to raw fear, but nonetheless it happened.  And then they helped me to the edge.  OK, if you're going to do this, do it well.  Don't fall off the edge like everybody else did...JUMP off it!

"Don't push me off; let me do it on my own."

 'Are you going to jump?'

"Yes!"

Five...

Four...

Three...

Two...

One...

BUNGY!!!!!!!!!!!!

I lept.  It felt good.  It felt scary.  It felt free.  And then gravity took over and started plunging me to the Earth.  Keeping my eyes open the entire time, I could see the ground rapidly approaching.  It was exhilerating!  I was loving it, and suddenly I slowed and was just as quickly thrust upward.  WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I could not stop screaming!!!  It was so freaking cool!!!!  Flying back to the upper limit, I once again felt zero gravity before my body shifted and I was back in free fall.  Now, being that this jump site was so high, the first three vertical drops were higher than most bungy jumps were at the start, so it was quite a rush for a long time...not just at the initial launch.  The experience continued and I kept screaming out of pure joy, to the point where people at the nearby restaurant later told me they could hear me from there!  Eventually my momentum slowed until I came to a stop, dangling upside-down from a rubber cord.  That was the worst part of the experience...waiting...for the worker to be lowered via a winch to me.  Finally he arrived and hooked a shackle onto my harness.  Having given the signal that we were hooked up, the winch started and we asended, my body gradually going from upside-down to right-side up.  We made it back to the platform and I heappily stepped on to the solid structure.  YYYYEEEAAAHHHHHH!!!!!  I saw Liz, and the fear still on her face, but could only scream shouts of joy through my permanent smile. 

Soon it was her turn.  I consoled her the best I could, assuring that the experience would so be worth it.  She was nervous, but not overly visibly.  She got strapped in, made it to the edge, and lept!  I watched her perfect free fall on the montior and waited for her to return to the platform some five mintues later.  Her first words when asked how it was were, "There was nothing about that experience that I enjoyed!"  Over time the shock wore off and she spoke about it in happy terms, but that first hour after jumping was a challenge for her.

Making our way back to the hostel, we celebrated throughout the night.  We proudly displayed our videos for the other guests, and could now share a secret knowledge with Nish and all the others who conquered the world's highest bungy jump!

As a cool down from the bungy, the next morning five of us drove off to the mouth of Storm River, where we hiked the first portion of the Otter Trail, a four day hiking trail that passes some of the most beautiful spots in the country.  As our time was limited, we were contented to experience a three hour hike to the waterfalls and another journey to the suspension bridge.  We were rewarded with beautiful scenery and some nice bouldering before having to make our way to the hostel, pack our stuff and continue on our way.  Liz was off to safari near Kruger, while Nish, Mari and I were headed for Jeffrey's Bay.

Way back in last October I was in Indonesia.  For part of that time my mother came to visit me (yippee!).  Near the end of her stay we traveled to Flores Island, from where we ventured via boat to Rincha, one of the two island homes of the legendary komodo dragon.  While on this trip we met Johan and Sandra, a wonderful South African couple who had given me their contact details, in the event I ever made it to Jeffrey's Bay.  As I had kept in loose contact with them over the months, Johan invited us to come to his beach front home for a visit, as well as stay the night in one of the apartments below his home.  We accepted and showed up late in the afternoon.  Wow...it was so cool to see them again!  They had both traveled extensively throughout their lives, and loved to share stories of their adventures.  We shared a drink, trading stories and news until late in the evening.  The next morning we were invited up for coffee and snacks and of course more story-telling.  It was brilliant!  And seeing their fabulous home in the daylight was a highlight in its own right.  Alas, it was time to say farewell, but it made me very happy to see my friends again!

Our next destination was nearby Addo Elephant Park.  We drove to Aardvark Hostel, a beautiful property in the country, dropped our gear and headed off for a self-guided tour of the park.  It was wonderful to once again see the African animals in their natural environment!  As we drove through the park, spectacular encounters with kudu, zebra and elephants abounded.  A laid back evening followed as we played uno with the French owners of the hostel!  The next morning we went for a second tour of Addo that actually outdid the first.  It was a fun-filled twenty four hours.

Back in the car we set our sights on Grahmstown, a quaint city inland of Port Elizabeth.  Our goal here was simple - it was time to skydive!  We arrived at EP Skydivers and were offered a free bed since we were diving with them.  In addition to joining up with Emily, a travel mate that we had all previously met in Cape Town, one of the dive instructors joined us for a night out prior to tomorrow's dive.  We had some drinks and checked out a couple local college bands whose music greatly reflected their overly flamboyant homosexual personalities.  Still, it was an experience that was enjoyed by all.

The next morning I woke early to get in a run with the instructor.  It was somewhat comforting to spend some time with him before strapping our harnesses together and jumping out of a plane...my level of trust and confidence in his abilities grew.  Soon the hour was at hand.  The four of us, me, Emily, Mari and Nish, were first on the docket, with Emily and I slated as the first two divers.  While we geared up I noticed that the nervousness I experienced prior to the bungy jump did not exist now.  Hmmm...maybe jumping off the bridge has calmed me for this experience.  We got into the plane and started the climb to 10,000 feet.  Also in the six passenger aircraft was a sky diver working on his solo diver's liscense.  At 6500 feet he flew out of the plane, suddenly making our situation very real!  At 9000 feet we were given very brief instructions on what to do.  Climbing the last distance, Emily prepared for her exit.  Wooof!  She was gone; I was next.  We quickly shuffled across the cabin and made our way to the opening.  As I hung out the window, strapped to the dive master only by shackles, a calmness came over me as I eagerly awaited the jump.  We launched ourselves out, sommersaulted once and found stability in our form.  Oh my GOD this is exhilerating!!!  I screamed perpetually out of adrenaline-filled joy!  The 35 second free fall went by quickly, although I did test my flight ability by changing the position of my legs and arms.  One really can control one's flight, to some extent!  Without my knowledge the parachute was pulled and we suddenly went from 200kph to a relaxed, controlled flight.  Ditching the goggles, I was able to fully enjoy the view of the ground below.  I was even allowed to steer for a while, and managed a couple gnarly corkscrew rotations as we came back to Earth.  Sticking a perfect landing, we uncoupled and exited the chute.  Damn!  I wanna do that again..NOW!  Mari and Nish were next, and experienced similar nirvana during their jump.

With the flight over and the four of us happy beyond belief, we opted to have a braai that evening with the owner and staff of the place.  Great food and great company abounded as we told tales of our experiences and heard stories of theirs.  It was a nearly perfect day!