South Africa: Garden Route to East London

Our stay in Plettenberg Bay allowed for a short drive to our next adventure, but to call it an adventure is an understatement.  It was the one thing that even Joshua, my adventure junkie, has never wanted to do.  Knowing, however, that we would be passing the world’s highest bridge bungee jump in Bloukans (216m), we played the “once in a lifetime card” on ourselves.

From the moment I woke up, my anxiety level was high.  I couldn’t even finish my morning coffee: the caffeine was not doing me any favors.  We had a short wait once we arrived that allowed us only enough time to pay, get fitted with our harnesses and take a photo before our assigned jump time—9:45am (and an obligatory prayer or two).  We walked to the viewing area for a picture…several girls yelled at me, “If you haven’t gone yet, don’t watch!” So I covered my eyes and kept my distance until we were called.

Walking on the narrow catwalk under the bridge to the jump site was a nerve-wracking start to the activity.  With clear views down to the gorge below, the wobbly and surprisingly bouncy metal walkway added to my stress level.

Once we arrived in the middle of the bridge, the last group was finished jumping.  They were cheering, dancing to the DJ music and giving each other high five’s.  When they saw the three of us walk up, they started to give us pep talks—”it’s awesome,” “you’re going to love it,” “don’t be scared.”  I hated them.  I have told Joshua before that I can’t control my fear, so telling me “not to be scared” is pointless and annoying (and probably makes it worse).

Quickly, they assigned our jump order—Joshua 1, me 2 and the French guy 3.  All of a sudden, they took Joshua away and started binding his legs…I sat next to him for what I imagined could be the last time (actually Face Adrenalin has a 100% safety record and 1 guy did 106 jumps in a single day for the Guinness Book of World Records).

They hopped Joshua to the edge of the bridge and encouraged me to watch from the screen.  He gave a big smile and then launched himself into the air.

The pros advised us to keep our heads up and backs arched to allow for more time to freefall.  Joshua did it perfectly.  He bounced a few times on the rope before settling at the bottom.  Meanwhile, they told me to sit down so they could bind my legs and get me ready to go.

At this point, I hadn’t seen Joshua return and they were carrying me to the edge.  I remember the music playing loud hip hop, one of the guys said, “Enjoy” and the fastest counter in the world said, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Bungee.”

Standing with my toes up to the edge and looking down was terrifying.  I could see how small the trees were.  I could feel my heart beating in all my extremities.  They said that they’ll give you a push if you don’t go—I can’t actually remember if I did it myself or with a little assistance.

The sensation of falling was overwhelming.  My stomach flipped, my heart stopped and I couldn’t even scream.  I knew there was a rope attached, but I couldn’t feel it at all.  I was wondering why I had agreed to do this!  Even when I looked at the surroundings and noticed where I was, the stunning backdrop was no comparison to the horrible feeling of falling.  It was like a dream, where you fall, but instead of waking up right before you hit…you keep going and going for what seems like forever.  When the rope finally caught in the longest moment of my life (but was actually closer to 20 seconds), I realized I was going to live.  But with bungee, you bounce back.  The second drop gave me that same loose feeling in my stomach.  When I stopped moving and hung still at the bottom of the rope, I realized I was frozen in my swan dive position with my arms outstretched, and I finally relaxed them over my head.  Waiting at the bottom was worrisome…I didn’t know how long it would take for them to come and get me…my feet felt like they were slipping from the wrap, all the blood was rushing to my head.  I finally heard a voice above me, and I was turned right side up in a seated position for them to reel me back in.  My retriever asked how my first bungee jump was, and I told him that it was going to be my last.  I was shaking when I arrived back on the platform where Joshua was waiting.  We both were a little uneasy after the experience.  Yes, it was a thrill .  But, for us, it was not the kind we want again.  It was so different from sky-diving (yes, we’ve done that too and from 18,000 feet!).  With sky-diving, the rush of the air is so strong that you don’t feel like you are falling, but rather the wind is pushing against you.  I felt like I was plummeting into the gorge below on my bungee jump.

Afterwards, we hopped in the car to Jeffrey’s Bay, where they hold very prestigious surfing competitions each year and it is arguably one of the best spots in the world for its consistent big waves.  It was as flat as a pancake when we arrived, but we soaked up the surf vibe for lunch.  I needed some time to regroup, chill and relax after our stress-inducing morning.

Our goal was to make it to East London for the evening…otherwise, we knew we would have an uncomfortably long drive ahead of us.  I started writing the blog for the day, while Joshua was driving—we just had a straight shot down the N1.  But when I checked our status, I realized we had gotten off the N1 onto a freeway headed North (about an hour earlier).  We tried to find a road to get us on track without driving all the way back the way we came, but many roads outside of the major freeways are not paved.  Our Nissan Micra wasn’t build for dirt roads, rocks and mud (nor was our rental agreement).  We had no choice…we really tested her limits on 20km where we were forced to drive 20km/hour so she didn’t hit bottom.  A little over 2 hours later, we were back on the main highway, only a few km from where we had exited on accident.  But we made it to East London without any other hiccups…except, it turned out, that finding accommodation was the real test of our day.

The recommended hostel was not in the nicest area—surrounded by hookers and police cars with their lights on.  Joshua circled the block while deciding if we should even go inside.  When Joshua did, the owners and a whole swarm of people gave him a look like “what are YOU doing here.”  Thankfully, Joshua didn’t have a chance to decide between shared or private bathroom because they were full (I’m not sure with what, to be honest).  That put us in a difficult situation.  It was dark.  We had no map of the city.  We had nowhere to stay.  We pulled up to another “lodge” which happened to be an old person’s home, but the security guard got us going in the right direction. We paid more than usual, but stayed at a guest house called Arum Chine where they fed us dinner at 10PM, breakfast the next morning and even did our laundry.  After the day we had, it was pure luxury to be taken care of for a few minutes.

4 thoughts on “South Africa: Garden Route to East London

  1. SO SCARY!!!! You guys are so brave!! I am sitting here in my St Louis kitchen and my anxiety level increased while reading this story. 🙂 You both have perfect bungee jumping form!

  2. I cant believe you stayed at Arum Chine – it is my B&B of choice when in EL – how did you find it – it is quite a way from where you were?

    • We stopped at a Lodge before we understood that Lodge in South Africa means Old Persons’ Home. The security guard recommended a BnB down the road which ended up being too expensive and that BnB recommended one further down the road. The directions were complicated, and while getting lost, we stumbled upon this one. It was amazing luck.

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