“Someday you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember.”
– The Nights, by Michael and Robert Silverman
The morning I left Malawi, I’d been drying my washed clothes on the thatched roof of my hut at Mabuya Camp in Lilongwe. They dried just in time for the skies to open up in a rare deluge. I and Savannah, a fellow American finishing up a couple of weeks of environmental research, left the muddied, pouring compound in a shared taxi for the tiny Lilongwe International Airport, the type of place where the security guard searching my bags kindly asked if he could have the pen he found in one of the pockets – for his son – and the terminal restaurant is a $5 plate of rice and chicken offered from a hot food station by the windows. So to say it was a bit of culture shock to suddenly find myself enjoying free wifi and a large Cappuccino in a ceramic mug along with a mushroom, spinach and cheese omelet on the sun-dappled patio of a happening and hip Cape Town café is, well, a major understatement.
I’d been told by many who’d been here before me that Cape Town isn’t “Africa,” per se, that it’s more like a European city – and they were right. And yet, as nice and comfortable and familiar as this suddenly was, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having mixed feelings. I’d longed for fancy coffee and more of my traditional foods, not to mention being able to brush my teeth with actual tap water, but this would be the last country on my extended tour of this amazing continent, and I already missed the Baobab trees and villagers of Chembe, the barefoot kids waving to me throughout the day, and taking pleasure in simpler things – watching the fishermen go and come with their daily catch, the women washing clothes and pots and pans at the shoreline, the children singing in the street each evening. We wore no watches. We had no place to be. We told time by the sunrise and sunset. If it was adventure we sought, we could find it as easily on the roads of Chembe as we might in the National Park – or even just sitting together over a beer at the lodge.
Little did I know at the time that the next couple of weeks would be filled with natural beauty, incredible adventure, and memories I will cherish forever, memories that are uniquely South Africa.
I like a reasonable amount of adventure, more than some, less than many, and I’m generally okay with heights. I hot-air ballooned in Cappadoccia, and flew over Victoria Falls in a microlight plane, powered by little more than an industrial fan and kept secure by a single-buckle seatbelt, the likes of which aren’t even allowed in most American cars these days. My daredevil Mom and I share the amazing memory of going on a glorious glider ride over Newport many years ago, and I went skydiving with Erik Hanna and Dave Wight in Lincoln – finding that to be such a thrill that I went again a year later.
You don’t have that “falling” sensation when skydiving. It’s quite the opposite, actually. But bungee jumping? It’s nothing but that falling sensation, and maybe being eaten alive by a pack of hyena or accidentally set ablaze while grilling my world famous wings are the only other ways I’d rather not shake my mortal coil.
In Zambia, there’s a famous bungee bridge right by Victoria Falls, and the only way I avoided jumping there was because I opted for the microlight.
“And besides,” I told Nathan, who had told me about his jump in South Africa – “If I’m gonna jump, it’s going to be from the world’s highest bungee bridge.”
At the time, it was little more than a delay tactic, if I’m being honest. I’d kind of counted on something coming up between that and this moment, when I found myself looking out at the tiny little dots in the distance that were people jumping and falling…and falling…falling an extraordinarily long, long way before that glorified elastic band even began to stretch taut.
“Can I just walk out and watch from the bridge?” I asked one the members of the Face Adrenaline jump team.
“Of course, but once you’re there, you’re going to want to jump, my friend.”
My famous author friend, Jeff Hull (Pale Morning Done, Broken Field, and the forthcoming NYTimes Bestseller, Pud), talked of the sense of freedom and exhilaration he felt once he stepped off terrafirma, bungee jumping from an abandoned overpass in Detroit, I think it was. I did not feel that. Instead, I kind of felt like I’d been pushed off the world’s highest bungee bridge and was plummeting to my death for roughly eleven minutes.