The second in a series of posts about my recent canyoneering trip to Mexico. If you only come here for the Clippers stuff and you're not interested, then don't read it.
After our first day of canyoneering, we met in the restaurant at the hotel for some drinks and snacks. The hotel sits on the edge of the mountain, and the restaurant overlooks a steep cliff. Built out over the cliff is a metal platform, a bit like a diving board, from which the hotel offers bungee-jumping. The conversation turned to that most adrenaline-y of adrenaline sports. It was quickly established that no one in our group had ever bungee-jumped. When Wolf asked Nick if he ever would, he replied that he would if he needed to. I pounced.
"If you needed to? Exactly what would be the situation in which you would need to bungee-jump? Is there something that you need to access suspended in mid-air somewhere between where you are standing and the ground 200 feet below? Because other than that, I'm not really seeing how need enters into the conversation."
The trash-talk escalated from there. When all was said and done, it was established that the trouble-makers (that would be myself and Barbara, in case you've forgotten) would be bungee-jumping at some point before the week was out. I should probably point out that I had had a fair amount to drink at that point, and who knows if I would have talked so big with a less elevated blood alcohol content. It also happens to be true that bungee-jumping has always intrigued me, so I wasn't simply talking smack; I figured it was a good chance to do something new and exciting. Still, we appeared to be the only 8 people staying at the hotel in this particular mid-week in April, and I actually felt pretty confident that I would never have to back up my words. Surely the hotel personnel who ran the bungee-jump weren't even around when the hotel was so sparsely populated.
After the second day of canyoneering Wednesday (I'll get back to that day, but need to finish the bungee story), we were all back in the restaurant for dinner. Beforehand, just in case, I went to the entrance to the bungee-jump platform to gauge my odds of actually having to walk my talk. As I had suspected, there was no one around, and no indication of how to find anyone who could access the facility. Armed with this information, I felt confident that I could talk as big as I wanted without fear of repercussions. I was playing with the house's money.
"So Steve, you gonna bungee-jump tonight?"
"I wish I could! I was really looking forward to it! In fact, I was just up there trying to schedule it, but there was no one around. It doesn't look like they're open. Darn the luck! It looks like I'm not going to get to do it. It's really too bad, because I was looking off that 200 foot cliff and what I really wanted to do was jump with a rubber band on my ankles!"
So we ate our dinner and had some beers. In fact, I pretty much had two dinners, since Cheryl had a tendency to eat about 1/10th of the food they brought her, and I always got her leftovers (thanks Cheryl!) After dinner, Nick had a revelation for the group.
"Guess what everybody? It turns out that Paolo, in addition to being our guide in the canyons, also operates the bungee jump for the hotel! I just spoke to him, and he has the key, and anyone who wants to jump is more than welcome to do so. Isn't that great news, Steve?"
"Yeah, grrreaaat. Yippee?" Maybe that second dinner wasn't such a good idea.
Up on the terrace overlooking the cliff, Barbara tells me that she wants to go first. Fine by me, whatever you want (secretly relieved). Paolo's girlfriend, Loriana puts her in the harness and ankle straps that represent the difference between life and death in this admittedly bizarre ritual. Barbara works her way to the end of the platform where Paolo awaits. Nick and his ubiquitous camera (was this all a ploy to get some good photos for the ZAC web site?) also dons a harness so that he can venture out on the platform for the money shots. The rest of us wait on the terrace, and watch as Paolo goes through his final safety check. Barbara inches to the edge of the platform, leans forward, and... can't seem to let go of the handrail. She returns to an upright position, leans further forward this time and... once again aborts at the last second. It turns out, it's hard to convince your body to jump headfirst to what it believes to be its death. Go figure. We cheer encouragement from the terrace, not really convinced that we should be encouraging this behavior at all. The third time she goes through with it, and plummets toward the earth. Her shrieks fill the night, and even elicit an amorous reply from the peacock on the hotel grounds, clearly impressed by her vocal cords if not her tail feathers. As Barbara bounces and swings on the end of a rubber band, and is then hoisted back up (a wench and wench according to Bob), the realization sets in: it's my turn!
As I am gearing up, I nervously chat with Loriana (who speaks perfect English, unlike her boyfriend whose broken English nonetheless remains miles beyond my Spanish). "So, Loriana, have you ever bungee-jumped?" "No, but I think maybe today I will try." I sullenly empty my pockets, handing my iPod to Maya, my wallet to Cheri, assuming but somehow not convinced that I'll be getting them back a few moments hence. I clip into the safety tether and work my way to the end of the platform, a dead man walking.
Standing on the end, on what can only be described as a 200 foot diving board erroneously erected over arid earth, I contemplate the fact that it is night. There are lights shining down from the platform, but they can't actually illuminate the ground so far below. So is it a good thing that I can't see the bottom? Would I be more comfortable diving toward the fully visible earth so far below, my subconscious completely convinced that death is the only possible outcome? Or is it better to be jumping into a black void, where death is no less likely, but perhaps delayed, perhaps indefinitely, by some bottomless pit? The question is interestingly rhetorical, but I for one will never know the answer, since I don't plan on experiencing the daylight version at this point.
Paolo asks me if I want to dive forwards or backwards. (Forwards, thank you very much.) He explains to me that I have to dive headfirst. (With the bungee attached to my ankles, I had actually figured this one out.) Now he wants me to get to the very edge of the platform with my toes dangling over the void. When my right foot is four inches over the edge, but my left foot is a mere three inches, he wants me to move my left foot out further. (REALLY, Paolo? I'm jumping off a platform 200 feet in the air, and you're concerned that my feet aren't in exactly the right spot? What's going to happen? Am I going to stub my toe?) He tells me he's going to count to three, and he wants me to jump. He counts. I jump.
I kind of surprised myself on that one. I fully expected to have at least one false start. After all, you're telling your body to do something totally illogical - your survival instinct isn't particularly interested in the redundancy of the bungees, the backup tether to your harness, the various and sundry assurances that it's all perfectly safe. There still comes a time when your mind tells your body to do something that it feels rather strongly it shouldn't do, and it usually takes quite a bit of convincing. But after a couple years of canyoneering, I guess I've learned to trust the equipment (most people experience a similar mind-body disagreement the first time they lean back over a 100 foot cliff). Paolo got to three - I jumped.
I'm pretty sure I executed a perfect swan dive. Nobody told me differently, anyway. I'm proud to say I did not scream in terror on the way down, though I did let out a rather loud 'Whoo-hoo' as I started to bounce (which likewise prompted a response from that confused, randy peacock). The descent was fun, and the bungee provided for a surprisingly gradual stop. So gradual in fact, that it was hard to tell exactly when you were at the bottom. Whether or not the darkness affected the fear factor on the top of the platform, I feel convinced that it contributed to my disorientation after I jumped. Catching mere glimpses of the ground, the platform, the side of the cliff, the flash of Nick's camera, it was almost impossible to tell where I was at any time. The top of the bounce was unmistakable, with its weightlessness. Other than that, it was all a formless mess. And though dangling upside down may have helped align my back in the absence of my chiropractor, hanging there with the blood rushing to my head was not a particularly pleasant experience. And that second plate of enchiladas was not sitting well, that's for sure.
The coda to this story involves Loriana. She did indeed decide to try her first ever bungee-jump. Apparently, none of us found it more than mildly strange that she was helping setup the equipment, that she dated the guy with the key, that she was a rock climber and canyoneer with to-die-for earrings or tiny carabiners, and yet she had never before tonight taken the plunge. She walked out to the edge of the platform, positioned herself to dive BACKWARDS, and executed a perfect quadruple back somersault as she flew through the air and we howled with laughter at her little joke. In retrospect, of course we should have known that she was pulling our legs. But something about the language barrier (even though she spoke perfect English) makes you take people at face value. It's difficult enough ensuring that you understand what they're saying. You just don't really take into consideration the possibility that they might also be lying to you!
Despite the fact that I painted myself into a corner with all my big talk, I'm glad I had a chance to bungee-jump. It was fun, and one more thing off the list. Not to mention, that I needed a little cred hanging out for four days with a couple of F-16 pilots. Did Wolf and Bob embrace me after the bungee experience? More on that later.