I've always wanted to jump from heights, so I went bungee jumping in Costa Rica. It was the single dumbest thing I've ever done.

I've always wanted to jump from heights, so I went bungee jumping in Costa Rica. It was the single dumbest thing I've ever done.

Bungee Jumping in Costa Rica – What was I Thinking?

First things first. The jump was (almost) uneventful. The guides were thoroughly professional, followed all safety measures, and I have absolutely zero complaints on that score.

Having said that, as I write this post, my palms are getting sweaty just at the memory. My feet as well. Every time I relive it, my heart races and a single thought hammers though me – “Why on earth did you do that?”

I’ve always felt the “call of the void” while looking down from a height. Something that cries “Jump!” even as my rational brain tells me to step away as far as possible from the precipice. So while in Costa Rica, I thought I’d give in to my urge by signing up for the famous Costa Rica bungee jump. A 150 meter drop from a cable car suspended waaaay above a lush forest. Sounds perfect right?

Nope. Wrong.

Anupa always said that bungee jumping was where she drew the line. Ziplining ok. Skydiving, ok. But bungeeing? Nah ah. Nada. Jamais. Until I said that I was going through with it. At that, pride swelled up and hollered that if I went bungee jumping and she held back, she would be shamed for life! So I had a companion on my terrifying experience. One might even say I dragged her along to my doom.

The day arrives and our guide unceremoniously leads us to the cable car. The wires stretch out into infinity with a green canopy far, far below. The car floor isn’t solid, but meshed. So you can see everything and feel the wind as it whips through you, swaying your (seemingly) flimsy shelter from side to side. The guides banter as they calmly explain what is going to happen. They tell us that the true moment of terror will arrive as you stand on the edge of the platform and it’s time to jump. I tell myself it’s no big deal. That I’ve always wanted to secretly jump. But nothing prepares me for the raw reality of voluntarily flinging myself into the nothingness.

Anupa insists I go first and the guide explains that I will free fall for 3 seconds before bouncing up and down a few times once the elastic tether stretches to its limit. Then they’re going to let down a second cord that I must hook onto my belt harness upside down. Using that, they will pull me back up. Sounds simple right?

“Ok ready?” says the guide and I must force myself to stand and take a few steps towards the edge. Only then does it really hit me. I have to throw myself off this box! I don’t see how I can possibly do it. But things have gone too far to turn back now. It’s not just the money. I tell myself that I’ve always wanted to do this. That I will always have the knowledge of having jumped off a terrible height.

Rationalizations. They don’t work. My body screams at me to back the fuck off!. This much is true though – I can’t look away from my death far, far below. I can’t tell myself to watch the horizon, to close my eyes, to think of something else. The abyss reveals itself in its naked savagery and I know I cannot match that stare. I am a deer in the headlights of a car, condemned to watch my doom at every instant, eyes wide, and fully aware.

I had told myself that I wanted some time at the edge to admire the surroundings and take full cognizance of the significance of the event. As I stand at death’s door, knees bent, my intellectual faculties go numb, replaced by unthinking panic. Admire the view my ass! There is nothing to admire here. There is only death below.

Suddenly – far, far too soon – the guides start their countdown. 5..4..3..2..1. I try to tell them to wait, that I’m not ready yet, but in this terror, the truth is revealed to me. If I don’t jump now, I never will. I know this with the certainty of the damned. They reach 0, and I jump to embrace the green void.

A single scream escapes me. Completely involuntary. I’ve heard of others say that once they’re off the ledge, they feel a calm as gravity takes its toll. Nothing like that happens to me. My stare is fixed at the treetops as my body senses free fall. The safety of the cable car is left far above. There is nothing to hold onto. There is nothing I can do.

I am alone.

I remember every instant of those 3 seconds. I remember it because my body screams out to me “You’re the biggest fool to ever walk the earth”. Then 3 seconds are over, and I feel the tug pulling me up. But the safety is illusory as I rebound down and fall once again. And again. And again. Each time, a new death.

And then I spot the secondary rope falling past me. I reach for it as its end approaches. All I have to do is hook it to my belt and I’m done.

But it doesn’t work. Whether from disorientation, or blood rushing to my head, I can’t tell left from right, or up from down. The clip is simple – something a child could use. One side presses open and clips the hook on my belt. But I can’t. Intellectually I know what needs to be done, but only the barest of thoughts have any coherence. I stare at the clip, not understanding which side opens and which is solid. My fingers fumble at the wrong side, trying desperately to open a latch that isn’t there.

“Turn it around! Try it the other way around!”, screams whatever part of me that can still think. I watch as my fingers reverse the clip, press in…and one side opens. Now all I have to do is look down at my belt, find the hook, and clip it through.

But which way is “up”? All this while, my eyes are fixed on the forest yawning below me and my neck muscles tell me I’m already looking “up”. So then I have to look down. But down is what I’m staring at! What is “up”? What is “down”? These are meaningless concepts.

I tell myself to contract the front muscles of my neck, and for the first time since the jump, I see the cable car far above (below) me. Out of reach. Too far to help. And the only thing saving me from certain death is a single cord attached to my ankles by velcro. The clip lies forgotten in my hand as terror washes over me once again at the thin line separating life from death.

And then the sun is in my eyes, blinding me. I cannot see the hook at my waist. I cannot see the cable car. I see nothing above (below), and my head snaps back to stare at the green fall. I realize then, that I cannot do it. I cannot use the clip to hook myself at the waist. My eyes, my body, my brain…they all betray me. I don’t know what to do.

But I must do something. I know that much. So I press the side of the clip again to open it and swipe downwards blindly at my waist. I hear a “click” as of metal touching metal. Did it work? Did blind luck save me? I have no wits to even glance down and confirm.

And then the rope is rising up. I cling to it with my hands and get pulled along with it. I still don’t know if it’s attached to my waist. I cannot support my weight with untrained hands for long as I feel my muscles begin to fail. If my random swipe didn’t hit the mark, I would plunge again down to the nothingness below. And what would happen to my sanity then?

My grip loosens…and I feel a merciful tug at my waist. It worked! It bloody worked! As my grip loosens further, I feel my weight settling down into the harness at the thighs. And then for the first time in an eternity, my head is above my legs. Clarity rushes back and for the first time since I took the plunge, I realize that maybe…just maybe, I’m going to get out of this alive. I slowly approach the cable car, never leaving the rope regardless of its hook at my waist. Up..up…and I can finally appreciate the beauty around me. I refuse to look up at the cable car. There I am, suspended above nothingness attached only to a rope, and I look at the horizon, feel the wind, and taste the sweet promise of safety.

I finally reach the car. My guides joke about how the rope is not secure and pretend to “let it go just a bit”. But after what I just went through, these petty pranks fail to have any effect whatsoever. I have felt death approach, and made it out alive. I extend my hand to my guide, who pulls me up and there is Anupa. Waiting for her turn! I realize then that from her perspective only a few short moments have passed.

“How was it, she asks?” I want to warn her about hooking the clip at the waist. But what good will that do? I know she will not turn back. At this point, anything I say will only confuse her further. The instructions are clear, she knows what to do, and there is little I can add. Whatever I try and express now will only hinder her, make her doubt herself, and I do not want to do anything of the sort. So I muster up a smile and say “It was good”. My legs are surprisingly stable as I make my way to the other end of the cabin and sit down.

And now it’s her turn. She steps to the edge of the platform in the “ready” position. Her face is blank, and I know she’s on her own. The guides start their countdown, and by the time they reach 3, she’s on her way. I feel a moment of pride at her fearlessness. And there she is swinging down below. I watch carefully as she bounces up and down a few times. They throw the rope down to her, and in moments she gives the “thumbs up” signal with both hands. She never has any problems with the clip. Never has issues with looking up (down), and her ascent to safety is uneventful.

Later as we discuss the experience, she tells me that the same thought of “Why? Why? Why?” was echoing through her head. For her, the bounds and rebounds were the worst. Indeed, in the video afterwards, we hear her exclamations of terror. Each of us experiences it in a different way. Different terrors. But we both reach the same conclusion. “Never, ever again”.

Every time I think about it, the cold fingers of horror reach around and squeeze my heart. As I type this, my fingers are clammy and I feel a slight headache at the memory. Even now I re-experience the moment of the “jump”, that awful weightlessness as the ground rushes up towards me, the panic of not being able to work the clip into the waist hook. The horror of realizing I am alone, suspended upside down in a void with nothing to hold onto.

In the safety of my room, sitting with the comforting tippity tap of the laptop, I can let myself feel every nuance of the experience. Reliving and sifting through it. And though the void cannot reach me now, I feel I may have carried away its shadow into my heart. Doubtless the memory will grow fainter as the days pass. It’s lingering effect will diminish. That is all to the good. It was without doubt, one of the stupidest things I have ever done in my life.

I have defied hundreds of millions of years of evolution and survived. I should be dead right now. Before bungee jumping became a “thing”, no creature had ever experienced freefall from a cliff and lived to tell the tale. What I am feeling right now is a new experience from an evolutionary point of view. The mind does not know how to handle it.

I got my wish. But the abyss is not to be toyed with. You can flirt with it from a distance, and imagine yourself its equal. You can entertain fantasies of matching its gaze from the safety of an airplane or a hot balloon. But when you stare naked into it with no protections, with nothing to shield you from its baleful glare, the heart quails. Human weakness takes over. The body’s primal defenses are activated.

And yet I jumped. Willingly! What kind of imbecile offers himself as an offering to the void like that? A tasty little morsel on a platter.

I can write no more. What’s done is done. I am alive, and I hope for nothing else. It’s more…far more…than I deserve.

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Comments

  1. Brilliant narration!!

    Reply

  2. Beautifully recalled! Was a very enjoyable and thrilling read. Loved the way you have described the dreaded abyss or void and your relationship with it. A remarkable combination of being the victor as well as the vanquished!

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  3. The exact question I want to ask you, ‘What were you thinking?’!! Gosh. What an experience. And your writing about your experience is awesome to say the least. I was there and hanging with you watching the green canopy down below, fascinated and terrified. I am not going to forget this post ever. It brought to life some of my worst fears. Hats off to you for doing it.

    Reply

    • In reply to Shail

      I think the fear of heights is the single most primal fear we have. Shared not just with each other, but with all mammals. Darkness, hunger, foul odors, predators – we can confront all of these and live. But no one – nothing has ever survived a 150 m free fall. No wonder it’s our worst fear!

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  4. Woww, it was like experiencing it myself!!! I had goosebumps all over my neck and hands and legs and fingers and toes :-). I can only applaud people who try this bungee jumping and sky diving etc. Though I would love to try it some day, I don’t think I would actually ever do it. I know, its so contradictory. But hats off to you and wifey for trying it out and the awwwwsom narration.

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  5. I thought you were crazy…but you didn’t need to validate my assumption….I like to think that I will try most things….but Nah Ah….not this…no way… congratulations on being an honorary member of the crazy club….I hope you have more pictures!!

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  6. Thanks for so vividly sharing this …truly an experience of a life time (y)

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