By Jonathan Benaiah (The Ugandan Tourist)
“Forget your problems, don’t look down. This activity is very safe; don’t worry Jonathan you won’t die. I got you, you can trust me. Simply spread your wings and fly…”
These were words repeated several times by the bungee guide, words in English that sounded like Japanese (I don’t speak Japanese by the way); these were words intended to sooth me but statements that didn’t mean much to a youthful lad with no plans to die but rather dreams of living big and long.
The week before, with a team of friends, I had tied together a plan to go hang; literally kill ourselves, for lack of a better word. We had the wildest dreams of knocking several activities off our bucketlists, just hoping it would grant us bragging rights when we returned to the city. We wanted to visit Jinja, we wanted to sail the Nile River, we wanted to have fun, but high on the “to-do” was a chance to look death in the eye and scare the heck out of him. Who does that, but a group of mindless youth?
A beautiful sunrise shade perspective on the 29th day of October. The day of our planned trip to the adventure capital of East Africa, Jinja had arrived. Our van kissed the tarmac a few minutes after the eighth hour and off we were, restlessly seated in the back, chatting and cracking jokes about who’d jump first.
Just like minors high on glucose, we were packed with energy. We drove past the famous meat spot “namawojjolo”, past a small township called “Lugazi” and onto a bridge that flies across the Nile, then onto a dirt road and very soon arriving at the Adrift River Base.
Snap! snap! snap! Some members of the crew got into photo moments while a few responsible others quickly made payments for what we’d later-on brand the deadly dive, the bungee jump.
It was time to place feet on a weighing scale, a precautionary measure to ease weight apportionment among the different bungee chords available. Little did I know that the measurements would grant me my own special bungee rope.
“At the top of the pier is where we will do the bungee jump from”, our guide communicated, pointing to an elevated metallic bridge over standing the river below at about 100 feet. It didn’t look so high from the bottom and I was filled with thoughts of confidence like an expert scientist super confident of the results of his new experiment.
An upward journey along a maze of stairs led us to the very top where the life-threatening bungee jump would happen.
I had this weird confidence within me all the way during the hike to the top; the feeling of fear was far and unfelt. I had actually switched on “Facebook Live” (of course to show off a little bit) and in no time I had tens of friends back in the city commenting and cheering us on. I just couldn’t wait to take photos and share them with my other buddies several weeks after. Going live would tell the story much easier and better. Isn’t technology wonderful?
Soon all seven had defeated the bungee, including the girls, and my turn had come despite feelings of cowardice.
Fast-forwarding to the climax, I quickly got laced in safety gear by the guides and swiftly went through the safety procedures. The guide spoke so softly, like he could see fear in my eyes. Of course I had lost control of my heart’s tempo and my tummy was singing “Jabulani Africa”, but I was trying so hard to listen to the Guide’s instructions.
The one-on-one briefing was soon done and I watched the swapping of bungee ropes. Now this freaked me out even more. All my adventure-mates had used the same chord, including those I always knew were heavier than me, and it worked just fine for them all. But the guides insisted that I would have to use my own elastic chord. “Dang it! Am I that heavy?” It was time to put my trust in an elastic line, a rope smaller than the breadth of my hand.
“Stand up now, put your knees together, look ahead and then dive into the air”, the guide demonstrated swinging his hands in a dive simulation. I nodded in agreement, like I had understood each illustration in his exhibition. But I was truthfully physically aloof and very scared, I still wonder how I survived a pee.
On the Guide’s instruction, I hopped on twos like a zombie towards the edge of the pier and then took mini baby steps all the way to a point where my toes peeped over the metallic bridge, helplessly feeling the open space below the pier (my feet were bound). And then the count began.
“One – two – three – bungeeeeee!”
“Okay wait a second, how do I dive again?” Of course the guide had done a brilliant job explaining the art of self-murder in the guise of bucketlist priorities but I wasn’t ready and I was far from ever getting ready. This was me buying more time.
“Forget your problems, don’t look down. This activity is very safe, don’t worry you won’t die. I promise you, you can trust me. Simply spread your wings and fly…” He whispered like a lad trying to conquer a lady’s heart, but my ankles had gone numb on me and my smile was cheek-to-cheek crocodile style. Of course I had no wings so I knew the flying bit was just mingling more confusion; it didn’t help. And then it went again…
“One – two – three – bungeeeeee!”
I don’t really recall how I swung off that pier, but I did. Friends still tell me I just dropped like a stone. But I remember the feeling midway. It felt like skydiving from space to earth. How do you skydive from space to earth, you’re literally beyond the sky there’s no sky in space. You just can’t skydive from space. It’s a death trap.
I remember the feeling of never reaching, I recall the essence of an endless plunge into an open space, I remember it as a time of abandonment with no one to help me, no one to hold my hand. I couldn’t even call my mommy.
I was lost in mixed thoughts of death and survival and the journey downward seemed never to end; at least not soon. Just then the rope snapped! Yes the rope snapped and then pulled me back up. Hope came alive, the rope was elastic and it had contained my weight. I swang about 4 times like a pendulum ball on an elastic band; this was the fun most point of the entire experience. With every swing, I yelled with Ecstasy; it was so fun hanging upside down.
When the rope had absorbed all oscillations, I was lowered into a small raft on the river by two gentlemen who aided the “dizzy me” off the bungee rope head first and then rowed the inhaled structure to the river bank where a ladder of steps led through the bush, back to where I had last felt like a normal human.
Sounds like an hour’s activity, but this didn’t even last a minute. This risky but rewarding activity ended in about 35 seconds but felt like forever.
Disabused of the notion that “don’t risk life if you don’t want to lose it” and with stunned disbelief at what great adventure we had squeezed into a fast weekend, I proposed the name “Extreme Escapades Uganda” for the gang. We still go by the same name every other time we go traveling together.
The date: October 29th 2016 I will always remember like I do my own birthday, as the day I went out of my comfort zone and actually felt extremely uncomfortable; the day I looked fearfully into the merciless eyes of death, but on survival, grinned back in mockery.
If asked whether I’d take that challenge again, I have a rather waveringly unsure and held back response. But skydiving is something I look forward to doing, hopefully soon. Perhaps I will take on the bungee experience again sometime in the future, probably at a point higher, but after you my friends have done it. I want you to go beyond the limits and take on this challenge. I want you to sit at the balance of risk and reward.
Till next time, I remain yours truly.
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