Face your fear

Saturday April 21 2018

The entire bungee jump lasts a minute and 20
The entire bungee jump lasts a minute and 20 seconds. PHOTO | LIZ NG'ANG'A | NATION
Step 1. Don’t look down. PHOTO | LIZ NG'ANG'A |
Step 1. Don’t look down. PHOTO | LIZ NG'ANG'A | NATION

Step 2. Flight. PHOTO | LIZ NG'ANG'A | NATION
Step 2. Flight. PHOTO | LIZ NG'ANG'A | NATION
Step 3. Bobbing and swaying over the river.
Step 3. Bobbing and swaying over the river. PHOTO | LIZ NG'ANG'A | NATION
Step 4. Retrieval after successful jump. PHOTO
Step 4. Retrieval after successful jump. PHOTO | LIZ NG'ANG'A | NATION
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Three pm on a February afternoon finds me seated facepalmed on a wooden staircase.

Below me, The Nile flows majestically. I am deciding whether to complete the climb up and, whether, when I reach the top, I will bungee jump over the river.

Bungee jumping involves “free falling” from a tall structure while suspended on an elastic cord.

As I am not generally a thrill seeker, it is inexplicable how engaging in such a wild adventure became entrenched in my mind.

I can only blame it on my interest in Africa’s natural wonders, in this case my goal to encounter the mighty Nile from as many angles as possible. And of course vanity.

My chosen bungee jumping spot is the Nile High Bungee in Jinja, Uganda, which hangs ontop of a cliff over the deep, fast-flowing river. Not known for planning, I have no idea that the tower is 44 metres high, at first glance, it appears to be child’s play.


Initially, I am scheduled to jump at one pm and as the time approaches I impatiently line up my cameran and videographer before starting the climb to the tower, certain that by 1.15pm I would be sending heroic photos to friends and family.

As I proceed up, it starts to dawn on me that the endeavour is not as easy as I had imagined. I reach the top out of breath, the result of unfitness and height phobia. I am then harnessed, frighteningly tightly, around my ankles and waist.

That done, I am escorted inside the tower, like a high security, but, ironically, meek prisoner, weighed down by the harness and the folly of my decision.

I am instructed to walk until part of my foot is hovering beyond the edge of the platform. Between me and The Nile is just the plank of wood I am stepping on and the instructor holding the harness around my waist.

Reality hits. I look down. Big mistake. I am terrified of the vastness of the Nile; its menacing flow seemingly daring me to jump. I start to tremble.

“Don’t look down. Fix your eyes across the river,” the instructor advises. But I keep looking down. “Close your eyes,” he tries. Even worse. I start to scream, internally, apparently now incapable of producing any sound. Oblivious, the instructor starts the countdown to the jump.

Five, four, three, two, one, jump!

“Are you insane,” I want to shout, “Why would I jump?”.

As any logical person faced with a precarious situation, I obey the natural instinct to save myself. I lean backwards and hold firmly on the door separating the platform from the rest of the tower.

Four more attempts later, it becomes clear that I will not jump. “We have an aborted jump,” the instructor yells to the retrieval boat team located in the river.

Tail between the legs, I head downstairs, all eyes on me, where I sit meekily,thinking. I am under no obligation to bungee jump, but since the unfathomable aspiration for this dare-devil mission persists in me, I must find a way. I conclude that to succeed, I need to override the logic switch; surrender myself to one second of irrationality.

An hour and a half later, at 3pm, I make the “now or never” trip up; I take my time climb, and reach the top oddly composed. I follow instructions to the letter; I allow myself to be harnessed and then walk to the edge of the platform. I close my eyes, raise my hands over my head and zone off into a thoughtless space in my head.

I hear the countdown and lean forward right on cue. I feel myself leave the platform, an out of body experience taking over when I fly across the river. I am terrified for one split second before I am gently slowed down; bobbed up and down, and swayed sideways. This is the best part for me. All is tranquil.

The exercise lasts a minute and 20 seconds, before I am lowered into the retrieval boat, where, pulse racing, adrenalin pumping, and jubilant, my mind starts to come back.

Bungee jumping is the craziest yet most exhilarating experience of my life. Why did I do it? I still don’t know. Would I do it again? I say once is enough.

Did I learn anything? Perhaps the lesson is yet to reveal itself. But I do know this for a fact: heights are truly scary.