Thursday, October 7, 2010
Tsitsikamma National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa
So I didn’t quite finish last nights adventure… After checking into our rooms, Colm, Caitln and I decided it was time to check out the Bungee Jumping hours as I was determined to make that a reality since I didn’t get to do it when I was in New Zealand with the 10 pins and 9″ of steel still in my leg.
As we’re strolling and looking at some more crap on a shelf, I notice a large commotion of people around a rather old looking, decrepit vehicle and they seem to be having some sort of car problem. Well those of you that know ANYTHING about me know that I can’t resist a car problem and that I love to help those in distress. So as I stroll over I ask if there is a problem, of course the response comes back “do you know anything about cars?”
“umm.. well.. as a matter of fact I do, I used to work for GM as an engineer”
“GREAT! We need your help, it seems this guy over here lost his keys while jumping off the bridge and we’re trying to hotwire his car!”
“Let me at it :)”
So it turns out this car is like a 100 years old made in Russia, is about the size of a matchbox car and fortunately for me, the ignition switch has all of about 4 wires on it. Well, suffice it to say, Bill “MacGuyver” Niester is on the case. Starting the car took .. hmm.. I don’t know all of about 10 minutes.. but the problem from there is the steering column is locked.
Well, not taking into account the museum aged nature of the vehicle, I begin working on unlocking the column, thinking of course its a modern car with an electronic solenoid interlock.. not.. it took quite a while, some sparks, a filed down hairpin before it dawns on me.. this stupid thing is mechanical interlock from the ignition key! So with help from Clive and the now swollen group of about 15 locals and looky-loo’s we just wrench the steering column and pop the lock. To round out the rigging we’re doing on the car, someone has a toggle switch and some electrical tape and I rig up a switch to substitute for the ignition key and the germans are back on the road again .. of course I took my payment in beer 🙂
Needless to say I’ve missed dinner at this point and make a trip over to the truck to get my meal, which thankfully they left in the oven for me and I chowed some food quickly. Then comes the “fun” discussion about how I expect a discount for the delay and the missing of a full day a the park as was advertised in our itinerary. This does not go well as I am told every excuse in the book.. I’m not going to rehash this as my previous posting told you on the incompetence of Nomad tours and their ability to live up to what they sold and provide any sort of customer service. .. lets move on to the next day.
It is the MORNING OF DEATH! Yes indeed, it certainly feels like this. It starts off sour with another argument with Nomad about the fact that they are only offering me $30USD for missing an entire day of the tour. But I don’t let it get to me too badly as this morning I am going to bungee jump off of Bloukrans Bridge, the highest land based bungee jump in the world.. seriously. The bridge is 216 meters high over the Bloukrans River. Let me tell you it is FREAKING HIGH!
The event starts with the doors opening, we are the first ones through. You pay your $115 USD and then they weigh you to make sure they know what to set on the length of the bungee. This is a very pleasant part of the experience as I find that I am at that time only 92Kg.. or 202lbs.. I’m down 15 pounds since I left home 🙂 We of course sign our lives away and I ask them kindly to find a lovely urn to send my pieces home to my mother should something go awry. Then it is over to the harnessing station where we are strapped into a full body climbing style harness and then told to “just wait here, the guys are making sure everything is ready since you’re the first ones today, they have to run through all the safety tests!” I’m still calm at this point but Colm is starting to pucker.. the looks on his face are fairly priceless!
Finally, its go-time! We start walking towards the bridge down the restricted path to the point that they give us our first briefing about having nothing in our pockets and tying our shoes on tight.. it is at this point the nerves hit the first time.. I have to run off behind the bushes and pee! Then its out on the 200M high catwalk just under the road surface. If you Michiganders have ever walked over the Mighty Mac on Labor day you know what it is like to walk over the grate in the center of the span. This time, think NO SOLID SURFACES to retreat to, everything is a grate, a chain-link fence to either side is what keeps you from going over the edge.. the nerves ratchet up a bit.. Colm is dead quite, I’m chatting away trying to stay calm.
Finally, out to the center span, I am nominated to go first. Its quite.. real quite.. the sun is shining and the wind has not picked up yet. To the south you can see the mouth of the river emptying into the ocean and to the north the river winds its way up the canyon into the mountains.. the quiet is KILLING me. Finally they turn on some music, which helps immensely! Then it comes.. sit here, we’re going to strap you in… big cushy red ankle cuffs are strapped on my lower legs (ok.. this is almost kinky!) then the nylon tow strap is tied around my ankles.. seriously, this is the same strap I have in the back of my jeep that I have used to pull the pontoon out of the lack and cars out of ditches. But still no bungee attached.. I’m starting to get jittery now.. bouncing around on the seat to the music trying not to think too much.
Suddenly someone is in front of me telling me to stand up and hop to the staging area where the bungee will be attached. I strangely find that the less I watch them prepare my safety attachments, the more calm I am. Looking only clarifies that I am going to do something stupid like jump 200 meters into a canyon! Finally, the safety gate in front of me is opened and I am helped to the VERY EDGE .. my toes are hanging off the edge.. 5.. 4… 3.. (oh shit).. 2 .. (what the HELL am I doing).. 1 (should I…) BUNGEE!!!!!!! with a slight bend of the knees and a VERY small jump, I am off the bridge.
Now I can tell you it is at this time that the entire campground, the entire valley and perhaps everyone south of the equator heard a very loud.. OOOOOHHHHHHH SHHHHIIIIITTT! It is one of the most scary sensations I have ever had. You feel like you just lost your balance and fell off a tall wall but there is not ground below you.. I remember pinwheeling my arms trying to gain balance while I am still horizontal before I “right” my fall and point head first into the canyon.. strangely it is at that point when I can see the ground that the “accidental falling” sensation dissipates and you just get to enjoy the sensation of free fall for a couple of more seconds.
Slowly, and surprisingly slowly, you feel the tension build around your ankles and the descent stops.. then you get another heart and gut wrenching experience as my fat American butt rebounds about 30 meters in the air to free fall a 2nd time .. and a 3rd time.. and a 4th time.. and finally I just start to hang a bit and the blood starts to really rush to your head and you just want to sit up so you can enjoy hanging 190 meters below the bridge free falling. Well that all happens soon enough and the safety climber is down to strap me onto the hoist and bring me back up.. WHAT A RUSH! I loved it!
Back up on the bridge Colm is getting ready to go and I’m going to watch him from the back side of the bridge… well that is if he can get his butt over the edge.. for about 10 minutes Caitln and I were treated to a stream of F-bombs and .. no way.. I’m not doing it.. you do it.. I can’t do it.. almost there.. nope not there.. why am I doing this.. I don’t need t
o do this.. OK I’m going to do it.. No F’ing way.. dude you have to let go of me is finally the words out of the jump assistants mouth. They tell him.. look, we have to get you out to the edge, do the countdown and if you don’t jump then we can bring you back, but up to then we have to keep trying.. so they get him up to the edge.. 5.. 4… PUSH…LOL! Over he goes.. and then he has the same experience I do but Caitln and I are laughing our assess of watching.
Finally we’re all back up, have watched the videos and now realized that we didn’t eat anything and go and grab a bite before Clive drives us down to the park for our afternoon hike. Having gotten our adrenaline fill we decide to scrap the mountain bike ride that we were thinking of.which I think was a grand idea as the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping a bit with the clouds rolling in.
Finally, we are at the Tsitsikamma National Park, one of the most scenic coastlines I’ve seen yet in Africa.. VERY different from the sandy beaches, more of a rugged, jagged, set of rocks in sheets set on edge with the piercing blue and angry white ocean crashing all around. Before we hike out on the Otter Trail to the waterfall we stop by the Nomad truck and let them know that we are indeed NOT going to do our mountain bike and that they can stop back and pick us up at 4:30 when they are returning from the canopy tour that others are doing. This gets a big affirmative from the crew and off we go.
The hike is spectacular. Hidden coves and caves, wind and waves both pick up to the point that the spray reaches us on the twisty scrambly trail that we are following along the cliffs. Along the way we see a HUGE pod of dolphin and even a whale off in the distance. We chill on the rocks enjoying the trance inducing sound of the waves, the soul soothing motion of the massive southern waves crashing around the jagged stones jutting from the sea. Finally out to the “waterfall” which is almost dry at this time of year and back to the start of the trail.. a lovely 4 hour hike that was truly spectacular in vistas and emotional soothing capability. By the time I reach the trail head I’m no longer even upset about the messiness with Nomad. There is however supposed to be a lovely suspension bridge to hike over about 1Km down the road so we decide to head to that.
Well, by the time we walk down there, the combination of cold, wind, adrenaline let down and sleep deprivation.. oh and did I mention my latest bout of Africa Arse .. we decide to skip the suspension bridge and just grab a coke and have a bag of BBQ Fritos while we watch the baboon running around ravaging every garbage can in sight!
Well, 4:30pm has arrived, the cold has set in, I only have my long sleeve shirt and no jacket and my shorts… and there is no truck.. 5:00pm .. no truck.. I’m now in full blown Africa Arse crisis having made a trip to the facility every 15 minutes.. 5:30pm no truck.. finally we call Clive.. who walks over to our cabins to find our truck there.. he puts us on with our driver.. who then blames US for not telling him when and where to pick him up. Colm finally has gotten angry about the situation and finally gets him to shut up and just come pick us up.. finally 6pm , 1.5 hours after our scheduled pickup, freezing and feeling like hell, we get picked up.
I am not absolutely sick, feverish, crampy, nauseous and exhausted and dehydrated. I just crawl into bed after having the discussion with Caitln and Colm about how I am absolutely NOT continuing on this tour but wanting to figure out how we can make this work with their not being able to get their money back. I ask them to let our driver know I will inform him of my decision in the morning as I was too sick (truly was!) to come to dinner.
That night was horrible! The cabin had no head and the temps dropped into the low 40’s and I just had a big comforter. Needless to say the toilet trips were constant at about 45 minute intervals during the night and it was pathetic to see me having to wrap myself in a comforter while visiting the toilet .. lets hope tomorrow is a bit better.. Caitln gave me some meds that seem to be helping beyond my Cipro and Imodium!
Pictures & Video
Wait.. THERE’s the hat!