So I'm now almost 6 weeks into my placement, and I've realized that I haven't blogged in a long long time. I get internet at work, but I haven't been in the office much, so I apologize profusely to all those waiting with baited breath. Lots has happened since I last posted. Work is going well (once again, I promise to post about work soon, since I have lots I want to write), and I'd say I've settled fairly well into Botswana life by now. BUT what I really want to write about is the epic weekend I had at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, by far one of the coolest experiences I've ever had ever.
It began with lots of contemplation over whether or not I should even go, since I've already taken a weekend trip and I didn't anticipate doing so much so soon into my stay here. In the end though, with a little convincing from the other awesome WUSC-ers here, I decided to go... mostly though because I didn't want to be by myself for the entire long weekend (by the way, for those who ever end up working/volunteering in Bots, make sure you are around in July, because it seems like every other day is a public holiday). Anyways, if you are to take a peek at a map of Botswana, you will see that Gaborone is pretty much on the southern tip of the country... and the Botswana-Zimbabwe border is on the northern tip. So yes, we drove across the entire country to get to Vic Falls. Mind you, it only involved a 11-hour bus ride since Botswana isn’t all that big, but it was still by far the longest bus ride I’ve ever been on. And considering that buses here have next to no leg room, very little overhead space and no seatbelts, it was quite unpleasant. But we finally made it in on a nice Sunday morning, found a lovely cab driver and continued on our way to our hostel. Apparently other groups who had gone saw lions, giraffes, elephants and the like on the way there, but my group had to just settle for lots of open road and foliage. Since most of the Canadians had left the day before (I had to work on Saturday), they had already taken their rest, and so we started our high-octane activities literally an hour after arriving. On the agenda was gorge swinging, ziplining... and bungee jumping. The bridge is 111 metres high, in a huge gorge in the no man’s land between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Essentially my thought process had gone like this: “Pfft, I have no desire to bungee”... then, “Oh my god, I am so excited to go bungee jumping”... then “What the eff, am I going to seriously throw myself off a bridge???”. If I thought about it too much (which I did the entire week before), I started to freak out a little bit. But I knew I would eventually do it, so psyching myself out wasn’t helping matters.
When we arrived at the designated bridge, I actually came to realize that I would probably be more scared of the gorge swing than the actual bungee. I was already familiar with the concept of bungee-ing, but the swing was more foreign to me and therefore scary. Essentially, gorge swinging is bungee jumping right-side up: You are connected to harnesses at your chest, you run off the bridge (or sort of flop, as my case ended up to be) and you fall, swinging like a pendulum in the gorge after the initial drop. The thing is, I’ve never seen anything so freaking unsturdy-looking in my life. There are only two ropes holding up the swing (your rope and the rope holding yours up), and the connecting point is in the middle of the gorge, with rapid water running under. Since there were many of us, it would take a long time for us to all line up and bungee-- so when I heard “You’re next on the swing!”, I was more than petrified. Never mind the fact that the swing looked scary, but to be the first of my group of friends?? I think I was trying not to throw up by that point. Luckily, I was told we could do the swing tandem, so I grabbed my almost equally-scared housemate and we got strapped up. We were told our instructions, put our toes to the end of the bridge, and pushed off. Of course, I stepped off a little late compared to my housemate, so I kind of ended up being pulled down. I honestly can’t remember how I felt the first little bit, except that I was falling down backwards and could see the bridge getting further and further away. Once we started swinging, it was scary but in a “holy-crap-this-is-crazy-but-so-awesome!” scary. The great thing was that the view was gorgeous, so once you realize that you’ll actually survive, you get to enjoy and really appreciate the scenery. Getting back up on the bridge was definitely painful since the harnesses dig into your thighs (although I was certainly glad I wasn’t a guy at that point), and going barefoot on the underside of the metal bridge sort of hurt. But I really, really enjoyed it and figured that if I conquered the swing with flying colours, how bad could the bungee really be?
The answer: freaking terrifying. Note to all those who are bungee jumping: it’s better to be over-scared and at least know what you’re getting into, rather than feeling like it won’t be too bad and finding it scarier than you thought. That was my mistake for sure. I had originally wanted to go bungee jumping last as a way to build up the suspense, and luckily that’s how it ended up to be. I definitely feel like I saved the scariest for last, though. What’s funny though is that many people who ended up bungee-ing first actually found the swing the scariest, probably because they had that same overconfidence as I did about the bungee, but for the swing instead. I won’t kid myself and say that I didn’t feel shaky at the platform though. When the bungee guy (for lack of knowledge about his official job description) was explaining everything that I had to do, I didn’t hear a thing because my heart was pounding so loud. And when I had my toes over the bridge, about to jump off (or in my case, get pushed off more or less), I prayed with more intention than I ever have before. By that point though, I knew there was no turning back and I was about to fall. It was chin up, arms out, and... I honestly can’t describe the feeling of that first drop. It wasn’t like a roller coaster where your stomach is in your throat (or maybe it was but I don’t remember), but it’s just the weirdest sensation. I knew I would be fine and surprisingly I didn’t feel like I was falling to my death or anything, but it felt like an eternity. I initially started with my eyes closed as per instinct, but when I realized that I sprung them open and just saw myself plunging toward the water. When the bungee cord finally snapped up, I realized that I was actually quite far from the water so there wasn’t anything to worry about. Although I was prepared for the first drop being mind-boggling, what I hadn’t counted on was how scary the rest of the jump would be. I think I had convinced myself that it would get less scary like the swing had. But no. It almost felt like each drop down got worse and worse, and I didn’t know when it would end. When I realized that it was still going on, my irrationality kicked in and so did the profanity. Any prayer that I did at the top probably got scratched x1000000 since I was spewing 4-letter words for quite a while. Luckily, I was so focused on cursing that I didn’t feel like I was going to fall out of the cord like some of my friends did, but I also wish I had let up a bit and taken time to enjoy the view (as Barbara Walters would say). Needless to say, the yelling continued on the way up, including to the poor guy that helps you right yourself and make it to the bridge, among others. I had also been screaming so much that by the time I was back up on the bridge, I was panting like crazy. So my verdict on bungee jumping? Depends on when you catch me. Immediately after, I was like “Eff that, I am never doing that again!”, but as time has gone on, it has gotten a little better. I don’t really feel the need to do it again, but I maybe would do it in tandem with someone. I’ve just got to make sure that I know what I’m in for.
Well, this post has gotten super long, and I only described about 2 hours of that weekend, but the whole trip was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The actual Falls themselves ended up being my favourite part of the trip, because it’s just so different depending on how far you walk down the path. It’s also a kind of unspoiled beauty that makes Niagra Falls seem like nothing. Some of my friends got within touching distance of some Bambi-looking deer (I can’t remember the exact name) and we got drenched because we were so close to the waterfall. I got some pretty sweet pictures, but it’s definitely a moment that I won’t forget for a long time. There was also a bonfire jam session, a massage/mani/pedi, souvenir shopping, good food and some cool people, but all in all, a great time had by all. I hope to go back and see the Zambian side (since the falls straddle Zimbabwe and Zambia) when it’s warmer out, but we will see. I’ve uploaded the pictures I took, but I also didn’t take as many as I could have because I really wanted to enjoy the moments in person.
That’s all for now, I guess. My next blog, which has been half-finished for a while, will discuss some of my work happening and HIV/AIDS in Botswana, so it’s coming soon, I promise! But for now, shine on, my friends!