Alistair Caldicott

Into India, Out of Africa

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Excerpt from Chapter 9 - New Zealand - Bungy Jumping

Eventually I can put off booking my bungy jump on the Nevis no longer. It is very expensive for a few seconds of 'pleasure', but like so many other things I convince myself that it is a one off. Now I have plenty of time to contemplate throwing myself 134m from a cable car with nothing but a rope attached to my feet. The build up and anticipation can often be an essential part of the overall experience of something like this.

Yet in the same way maybe I would prefer to think about completely different things altogether. After all, I am still sporting a sizeable lump from my ice climbing exploits. There had always been an inevitability surrounding a bungy jump on my agenda – a case of when rather than if. It simply had to be done and got out the way as much as anything.

So, after an airport style check in, where I am physically weighed in at 77kg, I have some initials and numbers scrawled in red marker pen on my hand. And then, also just like being at an airport, I am made to sit around waiting in anticipation of what lies ahead. I have already spent the best part of the day doing so – it is now 3pm – with the jump totally occupying my thoughts.

An hour later a group of us pile into a minibus for the transfer. There's quite a bit of nervous small talk bouncing around. I find this slightly irritating and opt for silent contemplation instead.

We hurtle off up a steep, rocky off road track following the deep river canyon below right to the very top of it. Then we all step into harnesses before wandering out onto the viewing balcony to watch other jumpers. There is a gondola like structure with a myriad of steel wires stretching out into the middle of the canyon. The drop down is indescribably vast and I watch in awe as the first small screaming figure dives off and plunges down…and down…and down.

There is still slack in the thin, white cord attached to the tiny figure as it disappears out of vision towards the thin blue strip of river, which we cannot properly see. Soon the time comes to be ushered into the small open-topped pod, like half a cable car, which slowly zooms along the wires out to the middle. Slowly, but surely, the shear magnitude of the drop down to the water way, way below makes its impact. Maybe it is best not to look down at this too much, but I felt compelled to.

Music is pumping out from inside the gondola jump centre, competing with the mechanical noise of clanking metal and ropes. I watch avidly as successive people ahead of me position themselves on the big ledge and free fall off it. Transparent glass bottom flooring means you can watch them disappear and adds to the tension and drama of it all.

One by one, in order of weight, the queue shuffles along. There are plenty of shouts and screams of pure delight from those who have just been pulled safely back up. In no time at all I find myself sitting in the hot seat, a big black Mastermind style chair. Music blast out. I struggle to remember which songs though. In the chair I get fixed up with a myriad of ropes and cords, which are mostly heavily wrapped around my feet. I figure there's no real purpose to ensuring they are secure. I was trusting my life into someone else's hands now.

Managing a nervous smile for the video camera above, it seems that everyone else crowded into the small space is staring at me in expectation as I sit facing them and waiting, trying hard to give off an expression, which does not convey my inner turmoil remotely accurately. Then the time comes to take the short, awkward shuffle right out onto the tip of the ledge.

Trepidation is natural, but to pause here or dwell too deeply on what you about to do is fatal. Don't think about it. You just have to make yourself go…….


'3 – 2 – 1…..'


Spreading my arms out as far as I can, I attempt a adventurously powerful leap off, in spite of this being a totally unnatural subconscious thing for my legs to do. And then came the most incredible sensation of hurtling free fall, which momentarily freezes my breathing. It is the closest I am likely to come to human flying. Continuous loud shouting is obligatory at this point.

Ostensibly, the fall is timed at well over 8 seconds, but it seems no longer than half a second. Gradually I sense the tension in the rope kicking in and with this the vaguely comforting realisation and assurance that my fall is actually being controlled to some degree. The river below looms closer and closer, but I shall not be hitting it headfirst just yet.

Nearer the end of this long 134m fall the scenery and surroundings become more vivid to me and less of a passing blur. Then follows the huge bounce back upwards, which goes back a long way, around two thirds of the distance you have come down perhaps. I am not entirely sure how far up I shall bounce…until the fall slowly begins again, leaving my stomach behind somewhere in mid air.

This second 'bonus' fall quickly generates rapid momentum and speed. It is at least as equally enjoyable as the first fall since my body is better accustomed and prepared for what will happen next. Then comes the second bounce, a bit like a human yo-yo. Importantly, I remember to yank the blue cord to my left, which somehow rotates me round into a sitting position and prevents an undignified, and no doubt painful, haul back up upside down by my feet.

Now I can really take in the full sensation of everything around me and truly savour being alone suspended in mid air. It is magnificent. I start to breathe normally again and my shouts are now more controlled ones of satisfaction and relief, rather than ones of fear and terror.

I listen out for noise from the capsule above me, which is definitely no quiet place, and from the spectators' balcony across to the side. But there is nothing except silence and stillness. Both places are still ridiculously far away indicating the scale and size of the natural environment here. If I could bottle the feeling here and now I would do so.

Then the long haul back up commences as I sit back and still try to suck in as much as I can of everything on all sides. I reach the capsule and clamber back into it over the ledge. Almost immediately there is a come down of being somewhere different. I walk around in a slight daze still fully attempting to come to terms with what I just put my body through. So efficient and slick are the operators at this sort of thing that they have videos ready to be shown within 10 minutes of completing the jumps. There was a guy jumping off who looked very similar to me on the video, but I wasn't convinced that it really was me doing such a thing.

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