Friday, 22 March 2013

Scared of heights? Try a bungy jump

Despite being a firefighter, growing up climbing trees and scaling mountains; Ben Whateley-Harris still gets that jittery feeling when looking over a shopping centre balcony. Here he writes about travelling to places to cure that dreaded fear of heights.

I stand on the edge, my heart is beating faster than a Prodigy song and I can hear the blood in my ears.
Every fibre of my body is telling me to stop what I am doing and not jump. To turn round and walk away, take the quitters option.

Instead I start to take a deep breath and I slap my chest. I grit my teeth and look towards the horizon. Then it all speeds up. I am hurtling through the air and I am screaming. More shouting obscenities than screaming really and I have no recollection to whether I jumped or fell forwards.
Suddenly the adrenaline replaces the fear and a massive grin spreads across your face. Your eyes water from the onrushing air and your hands and in tight fists.
You realise that you are having the time of your life.
Bungy jumping is brilliant fun. It is surreal, adrenaline fuelled and rather ridiculous if you look at it.
The tribes men from remote Vanuatu were the first to jump off structures with vines tied around their legs. They flung themselves off wooden structures reaching up into the sky in a jungle clearing and as the vines snap back with tension they just touch the ground. The aim is to get as close to the ground as possible.
 In 1960 the great Sir David Attenborough (one of my heroes I hasten to add) travelled to Vanuatu and visited Pentecost Island. Here he made a documentary about The Land Divers of Pentecost. This was before companies set up bungy jumping sites the world over and no one in their right mind would have through of doing something like that.
These brave men of Pentecosts Island did this ritual to pass into manhood and show off their courage to others.
Since then bungy jumping has become a global phenomenon. In the late 1980s A.J. Hacket set up a company providing bungy jumps and also jumped off the Eiffel Tower to gain publicity and was swiftly arrested.
He was the first person to commercialise the 'sport' but before that member of the Oxford University dangerous sports club had staged similar daring jumps and all been arrested.
My first bungy out of the four which I have done was in 2002. I found myself backpacking with a friend up the East Coast of Australia. I was a few months short of the 20th birthday and we were having the time of our lives exploring places such as the Whitsunday Islands and Fraser Island.
We arrived in Cairns which is a bit of a backpacker hole and decided that a bungy was in order.
The Hacket site was just outside surrounded by the final reaches of the Daintree rain forest.
It was 50 meters high and you jumped out over a pool.
Looking back I remember standing on the edge trembling. I was sweating and wild eyed. Suddenly I fell forward and when the bungy recoiled the rope actually hit me in the face resulting in a nose bleed.
The bungy at Cairns
The poor guy in the rubber dingy which he paddles out to unclip you was trying to dodge the droplets of blood falling from me while I cupped my hands over my nose.
Five long years passed before I found myself standing on the edge again. This time I was at the world epicentre of bungy jumping and extreme sports, the fabled town in New Zealand that is none other than Queenstown.
Queesntown is a hedonistic drinking and partying mecca for backpackers and travellers. Each night is full on, fun and a little crazy. Whether you are in the altitude bar drinking from teapots of organising one of the infamous backpacker pub crawls from a hostel; it is always going to be a riotous night out.
This hedonistic pleasure ground offers a choice of jumping off the Kawarau Bridge, the world’s first commercial jump; doing a canyon swing or jumping off the Nevis!
The Nevis at the time in 2007 was the world’s largest bungy jump. That is what I wanted for myself.
A large cable across a ravine supports a car full of viewers, safety men and bungy equipment. You get to the car by travelling in an open air smaller cable car, all the while looking down over the edge as the side of the ravine fall away leaving you gazing into an abyss.
I must admit this jump back in 2007 scared the life out of me. Five years previous I was in humid Cairns in the sunshine and most importantly 50 meters up.
This time here I was in the bleak cold and biting wind standing not looking out across a rainforest, instead all I could see was bare rock and hear the echoed screams below as others jumped.
Cairns was a mere 50 meters, this beats I stood on now was a whopping 134 and as I looked down on the Nevis River below I felt that familiar sensation of my heart pounding in my chest.
A girl before me refused to jump. Point blank flatly refused; she would not and could not do it. This spurred me on and I did not want to suffer the indignation of being a quitter so they strapped me up and onto the edge I went.
This time I was with a group of people who I have been travelling around New Zealand with. They egged me on and encouraged me and suddenly my knees bent and I jumped off. I didn’t fall I jumped.
The noise is the first thing that gets you. The wind rushing past you makes a sound similar to a jet engine. If feels almost as if you shout but you have to wait for your voice to catch up.
The adrenaline pulsated through my veins and I was as high as a kite for about two days afterwards. The experience was fantastic and now I knew I had tackled the biggest one in the world my confidence was sky high.
View of the bridge spannign the Zambezi at Victoria Falls
It wouldn’t be long till my next bungy. After travelling from Cape Town overland through Namibia, Botswana and now into Zambia I found myself standing on the famous Victoria Falls bridge that borders Zimbabwe and Zambia.
By this point in the trip I was annoyed with myself. I did not realise that the world’s largest bungy jump has recently opened not a short drive from Cape Town. Therefore I had missed my chance and had to settle for the fact that I had leapt off the second biggest in the world.
There was just the thing however to lift my spirits.
Victoria Falls in all her natural splendour and majesty also had a naughty little filthy by-line. She had possibly the world’s most picturesque bungy jump off the old iron bridge built in 1904/05.
This 111 meter jump over the mighty and famous Zambezi River was an absolute must. To stand here and see the falls and even better to explore them in the parks was a treat and a true high light in my life. To read stories of David Livingstone who set off from my humble home town and a small commemorative plaque stands to seeing in the flesh was truly spine tingling.
The spray soaked you to the bone and put a smile on your face at the same time. Victoria Falls no matter what side of the border you view her is pure wonderment. If you could can the magic it conjures in your heart when you see it and sell it; you would be a very wealthy man.

Looking back on it now I am quite proud that I did this jump. I am proud with myself for jumping and also for going there in the first place. It truly was so beautifully magnificent that I have  a picture on my walls still.
Barefoot and ready I was on the edge. I jumped, I fell, I smiled and then when you walk back up the bridge is so harsh under foot that you wish you jumped in shoes.
Even at 111 meters it was over quickly and you are left bobbing up and down upside down until a guy on a rope is lowered and grabs you before your head fills with too much blood.
Flying through the air African style at Victoria Falls in 2008
Last year an Australian tourist called Erin Langworthy made international news when she jumped off the same bridge. Her rope snapped and even though the cord had taken one large bounce taking a lot of sting out of the fall she still suffered massive bruising when she fell into the Zambezi below.
Stunned and still with her feet bound she managed to get to the bank safely and crawl out onto the bank on the Zimbabwean side with a broken collar bone.
One broken bungy and 364 feet gave her an unexpected stay in a South African hospital and the company shut down pending an investigation. They said it was the only accident that they have had and they can have up to 50,000 jumps a year.
Looking back I think how lucky it wasn’t me. I am heavier and would I have survived the fall. Did she jump when the river was high or low like when I did?
The most beautiful place to bungy jump.
I returned to Europe and felt all bungy jumped out. I didn’t have an urge to do anymore and especially not those by coastal resorts or in holiday destination.
There was however one thing I didn’t count on. This was stumbling across a bungy in the most unlikely of destinations with a group of outgoing mates.
 2009 saw a group of us travel to Latvia. It was one of those trips where we wanted to go somewhere different and be active as well as have a few drinks and see a city. The group I went with are my oldest friends and over the years we have travelled to many places such as: Iceland, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Poland, Scotland, France and of course Latvia.
 Latvia offered so much to do and one such thing was a train ride to the town of Sigulda. Where after going down a bobsleigh track in the summer on wheels, riding a rodel down a ski slope and canoeing down the Gauja River we came across a cable car over the river.
This yellow cable car offered a small 43 meter bungy jump.
A mere baby to the ones which I have done in the past.
Only two of us had done one before both being the Zambezi bungy so we all decided it was worth the small fee to do it. I say all but my friend Babbs said it would "hurt his belly", so he wimped out and went and watched from the river bank with an ice cream.
We were all in the car and the door was opened. The guy with the mullet who was obviously in charge said in Pidgin English "Who jump first". Without hesitation the most Russian looking man I have ever seen said "me" stepped forward was clipped on in a matter of second and flung himself out of the door. No safety chat, no checking to see if the rope was OK, nothing.
He fell screaming and looked most odd in his shell suit bottoms, woollen pattern jumper and skinhead with what looked like war scarring on it.
Who was next? We suddenly turned to one of my friends and pointed at him. "Him", we said and he looked crestfallen. Alistair jumped and was followed by Ben. Then JP who had done the Zambezi one before followed him leaving me on my own with a man with a bullet in the car.
Before I jumped JP had dared me to sing Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler when I jumped. I am not sure why but we kept singing it to each other on nights our and have even sung it altogether in a karaoke bar in Marrakesh!
The mullet man clipped on the rope to my ankles, he didn’t seem to check anything and I was ready.
I stood on the edge. I have done this three times already now and still before I jump I am a nervous wreck.
 I jump, I fall, I shout and this time I sung.
I smile as I am being lowered down to the ground and see the smiles on the faces of my friends; I know as we have all had that adrenaline rush tonight is going to be a good night out in Riga.
I think I will never get used to it; but one thing is for sure I rather like it.

Although I still get that sudden jumpy feeling when I stray too close to a shopping centre central balcony' maybe that will never change!


  1. All your adventures are quite fun and very informative. It's nice to know that you actually explore different things especially Ghana Adventures. Am off to Ghana in months time ... What activities or places would you recommend for me to explore while in Ghana ?

  2. Ghana is brilliant for exploring. Tray and travel around by Tro Tro and see as much as you can. Don't linger in Accra too long.
    Get out and visit Cape Coast and Kukum national Park, Mole national park, the Boabeng Fiema Monkey sanctuary in the Brong Afaro region and also visit Wli falls near Hoehoe.

    There is so much to do and see it all depends on how much time you have.
    Safe travels.

  3. Choose a facility which has well-trained bungee jumping instructors, and is high and clear of obstructions. Wear comfortable casual clothes and closed shoes. As taking the plunge will have an impact upon your body, what with you jumping head down, and going to bounce around for a bit at the end; it is highly recommended that you do not eat just before bungee jumping, and definitely not eat heavy in your meal before it, as obviously, you don't want to be throwing up mid-air.

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