"Hey John, you wanna go bungee jumping?"
My colleague Dave had a way of making me do things I didn't want to do. We worked on the same newspaper nearly 20 years ago. He was the most talented photographer the paper had. We spent countless hours chasing fires, criminals and covering prison riots. Dave was always in search of the perfect photo. I was always in search of a page 1 story.
At first, I hesitated. "All right," I finally said. It would be a nice afternoon away from the office. My Sunday editor loved the idea. Dave and I were off.
Driving up to the site, I noticed the 200-foot (61-meter) crane in the distance. It was framed by the gently sloping foothills of the Catskill Mountains. The sun was bright, the air was warm. A nice day to die, I told myself. Underneath the crane was a pond of questionable depth. "If the fall doesn't kill me, the water will," I nervously said. "I don't know how to swim."
Dave laughed and readied his equipment. I grimaced and confessed my sins. I asked the owner of the site dozens of questions about the ability of the bungee cords to hold a falling mass of human sinew. He assured me all was well. He then tried to school me in the best way to fall -- call it Gravity 101. My attention, however, was focused on the crane, the tall, tall crane. He mentioned something about a swan dive. I knew nothing about diving and less about swans. What I did know was swans don't actually dive. They just dip their skinny necks into the water. I didn't want my skinny neck getting anywhere near the water.
If nothing else, I'm trooper. With the bungee cords securely fastened to my ankles, I jumped. Forget the swan. I plummeted through the air like an off-course Soviet space capsule. Feet first, head last, my eyes shut tighter than a bank vault. Eventually, the cord reached its limit. I felt a snap. Then a jolt. Then I took the Lord's name in vain. I opened my eyes. The world went upside down. I went head over heels. My feet ended up where my eyeballs should have been. "Dude," I'll never forget the instructor saying. "I do that when I really want to get a rush."
Dave laughed like he was watching a Three Stooges movie. Then it was his turn. With camera in hand, Dave, who passed away in 2009, dived like a swan, hands outstretched his camera at the right angle. He snapped away. The photograph was incredible. He framed his face in a miasma of wind and joy. Dave was actually enjoying this. In the distance was the top of the crane, its umbilical cord suspended in air. We laughed for days. That was my first, and last, attempt at bungee jumping. Read on to find out the top bungee jumping sites in the world. I can guarantee you won't be seeing me at any of these locations.
Victoria Bridge Falls, Zimbabwe
At 364 feet (110.95 meters), Victoria Bridge Falls in Zimbabwe isn't that much higher than the crane in the Catskills, but it does overlook the largest waterfall in the world. Overlooking the thundering water of the Zambezi River, the bridge is 107 years old and the second most visited tourist attraction in Zimbabwe, next to the falls itself [source: The Herald Online].
One thing about bungee jumping is that you don't need much experience. I should know. Anyone can dive off the Victoria Falls Bridge. Should you decide not to jump, your money will be refunded -- but only if you back out BEFORE you've registered and signed on the dotted line [source: Afrizim]. If you're going to go all the way to Africa to take a dive, keep your eyes open. From what I've read, it's an amazing experience -- especially if you like jumping into crocodile infested waters. That's what Erin Langworthy, 22, unwittingly did in January 2012 when her bungee cord snapped.
The Australian student was jumping off Victoria Bridge when the cord snapped just as it should have been recoiling. She went head first into the Zambezi. Erin blacked out when she hit the water as the current was carrying her away, the remnants of the bungee cord still tied to her ankles. Eventually, she swam to safety. She fractured a collar bone and had cuts and bruises [source: Kindelan].
Verzasca Dam, Val Verzasca, Switzerland
If it's good enough for James Bond, it should be good enough for you. In the 1995 Bond flick "Goldeneye," our favorite spy dives off the dam in the film's opening scene. It wasn't really 007, but Pierce Brosnan's stunt double, Wayne Michaels. Michaels took the plunge, which movie goers voted the top movie stunt of all time. Michaels made the jaw-dropping, heart-racing jump from a special platform built in front of the dam to minimize the chances of him hitting the wall. To make things more difficult, the dam is studded with steel pegs. Ouch! [source: Breakingnews.ie].
At 721.78 feet (220 meters), it took five years to build the Verzasca Dam, which generates hydroelectric power. Apparently, bungee jumping is permitted off the dam, steel pegs and all. In case you were wondering, you'll be jumping at your own risk, so you better follow the bungee team's instructions [source: Trekking Outdoor].
Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge, Canon City, Colo.
I won't even walk over this bridge, let alone bungee jump from it. With spectacular views of the Arkansas River, the Royal Gorge Bridge was built in 1929 specifically with tourists in mind. The gorge is framed by sheer cliffs. The bridge spans 1,260 feet (384.05 meters) and is 956 feet (291 meters) high [source: Royal Gorge Bridge & Park]. Apparently, you free-fall for about 10 seconds before the bungee cord takes over. Then you bounce. Take my word for it.
Bhote Kosi River Bridge, Nepal
Looking down on the Bhote Kosi River, the 524.93-foot [160-meter] span is Nepel's first bungee jumping site. Built by the Swiss, the bridge, which is nothing more than a narrow steel walkway, is less than three hours outside of Kathmandu [source: MountainTrekking.com]. The bridge seems lonely and desolate as its sways above the river gorge. The jump is supposedly one of the longest free-fall dives in the world of bungee jumping. The bridge was built in 2000 by a private company specifically for the sport, although locals are allowed to use the bridge to get from one place to another [source: Daily Times].
In 2010, angry residents shut down the bridge for a time in a dispute over ownership. It seems the locals were to take control of the bridge 10 years after it was built. The company says the bridge is important for tourism and that they give local residents money to build and access [source: Daily Times].
Macau Tower, China
There are many things you can't do in China, but bungee jumping isn't one of them. At 764 feet (233 meters), jumping off the Macau Tower is the longest bungee jump in the world. The jump is the size of two-and-a-half football fields. Jumpers accelerate to a top speed of 124.27 miles (220 kilometers) an hour. It's a 4 to 5 second free-fall that then stretches the bungee cord 164.04 feet (50 meters) [source: Macau.com].
It sometimes seems that, with Google maps and GPS, there couldn't possibly be an unturned stone anywhere on the planet, but that's far from true.
Author's Note: Top 5 Most Extreme Bungee Jumping Destinations
Although I won't bungee jump ever again (unless someone pays me a lot of money), I enjoyed it. The rush of the air as it slams against your ear drums is incredible. The disembodied scream is a bit jarring at first, but then you realize it's you screaming, and all seems OK. And the feeling of weightlessness as you bounce for the first time is pretty cool.
More Great Links
- AJHackett.com. "Myths & FAQ." (June 8, 2012) http://macau.ajhackett.com/company/myths.html
- Adventureblog.org. "A.J. Hackett To Attempt Record-Breaking Bungee Jump." (June 7, 2012) http://www.adventureblog.org/Tags/a-j-hackett/
- Afrizim.com. "Bungee Jumping at Victoria Falls in Africa." (June 7, 2012) http://www.afrizim.com/activities/victoria_falls/Bungee.asp
- Breaking News.ie. "007's bungee jump tops best movie stunt poll." Nov. 17, 2002. (June 7, 2012) http://www.breakingnews.ie/archives/2002/1117/entertainment/qlqlkfmhgb/
- Daily Times. "Protesters shut Nepal bungee jump bridge in ownership row." Dec. 23, 2010. (June 8, 2012) http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010%5C12%5C23%5Cstory_23-12-2010_pg14_2
- Dawson, Robert. "6 Craziest Bungee Jumps on Earth." Adventuresportsblog.com. (June 8, 2012) http://adventuresportblog.com/6-craziest-bungee-jumps-on-earth/
- Kindelan, Katie. "Survivor of 365-Foot Bungee Falls Says 'Maybe' to Future Jumps." ABC News. Jan. 9, 2012. (June 7, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/01/woman-survives-plunge-after-bungee-line-snaps-video/
- Macau.com. "Macau Tower Bungy Jump." (June 8, 2012) http://www.macau.com/en/shows_and_events/342
- Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. "Facts So Deep, You'll Dig 'Em. (June 8, 2012) http://www.royalgorgebridge.com/AboutUs/Facts.aspx
- The Herald Online.com. "Victoria Falls Bridge Turns 106." Sept. 20, 2011. (June 7, 2012) http://www.herald.co.zw/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21627:victoria-falls-bridge-turns-106&catid=44:environment-a-tourism&Itemid=136
- Trekking Outdoor.com. "Bungy Jumping 007 Verzasca "Ultimo." (June 7, 2012) http://www.trekking.ch/en/bungy/bungy-jumping-007-verzasca-ultimo