I was bored last Thursday. After two and a half months of tending bar and riding around on my bike, life in Taupo had become a bit tedious. The crystal clear waters of Lake Taupo and the Waikato River had lost a bit of their allure and my second bungy jump didn’t give me quite the same jolt as the first. In an effort to liven my dreary existence, I did the natural thing and jumped out of a plane.
Skydiving is very popular here in Taupo. There are three competing skydive companies in town, and I have flatmates that work for each of them. Some work in the office. Some pack the parachutes. One pilots the planes. Two of them have made skydiving their careers and have jumped literally thousands of times. I figured it was time to take advantage of my connections and signed up to jump with the good people at Taupo Tandem Skydiving.
Upon my arrival at the hanger, I was fitted with a close-fitting jump suit that made me resemble a mentally challenged superhero. You get to choose to jump from an altitude of either 12,000 or 15,000 feet. Wannabe badass that I am, I opted for the full 15,000. If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.
We were all packed extremely tight on the plane. There were five or six jumpers with a tandem guide for each, and everyone was basically sitting in each other’s lap. My tandem jumper was a guy from Sweden named Markus whom I had met at a party a couple of weeks back. It was a relief to see a familiar face, but still a bit awkward as I was not only strapped to him but sitting snuggly in his crotch. Why is it that on this trip I keep finding myself in physically awkward situations with Swedish dudes named Markus (or Marcus)? Remember Swedish Marcus from Zorbing? There was also a cute Israeli girl on the plane named Moran. Think about it: if we were to have hit it off and gotten married, she would be Moran Moran. That’s almost as good as Tamarvin, eh Jeff? Gotta love those Israeli girls.
Anyway, seeing as skydiving combines several fears (flying, heights, falling, traveling at great speed, invasion of personal space, and general fear of death) into one giant phobic extravaganza, the tandem jumpers are trained to put you at ease. They do so by telling dirty jokes to break the tension. As the plane gained altitude and we all sat in a straddled mass, Markus decided it was time to test out his comic stylings:
“Hey Mike, what’s the difference between a hard-on and a Ferrari?”
“I don’t know, Markus.”
“I don’t have a Ferrari.”
Even though my flatmates had told me that my tandem guy would do this, I still think that’s a pretty good joke.
Once the plane reached 12,000 feet, the first group jumped out. Watching those people suddenly disappear was bizarre. One minute, you are riding in a plane with a bunch of strangers. The next, they are jumping out of the door and plummeting to the earth. We 15,000 footers still needed to climb for another 5 minutes or so as the air got thinner and thinner. I was the first one of our group to go. Markus pushed me towards the door and I dangled my legs out. I leaned back so that I could get my exit photo taken (see above), and then we jumped.
From 15,000 feet, you get a full minute of freefall. I spent the first 30 seconds screaming and looking straight down. Markus tapped me on the head, which was my reminder to put my arms out to feel the wind and have a look around. We spun around a bit and watched clouds fly by. The only sounds I remember were my own screams and the wind. It wasn’t scary so much as it was surreal. Complete sensory overload.
After falling 10,000 feet, Markus pulled the chute. It wasn’t a violent jerk the way you think it is from TV. It takes a few seconds to slow down, and then you still have a several minutes to slowly drift back to earth. It becomes very quiet. Markus spun us around so I could enjoy the spectacular views of the lake, mountains, and forests. I spent too much time looking straight down, which makes you dizzy. I began to wonder, if I were to vomit at that point, would the vomit fall at the same rate of speed or would it just drift away like the 12,000 foot jumpers? I managed to keep my lunch down, and we drifted to the surface. We landed in a field right next to the hanger. Solid ground never felt so good.
I paid my bill (TTS’s policy is that you pay “upon survival”) and got my ride back into town. So much adrenaline was pulsing through my body that I could barely speak or form coherent sentences for the first hour. I went to bed early that night.
In other news, for the first time since the late 1980s, I did not see all of the Oscars. They were replayed at 10pm Monday night ‘round these parts. I made it through the first couple of hours (boooooooooring) and then the Indian food I had bought for dinner decided it that it hated me. Around the time Jennifer Hudson accepted her I’m-A-Better-Actress-Than-Beyonce trophy, I headed for the bathroom for an extended visit. I finally caught Marty’s acceptance speech on YouTube and I am psyched that “The Departed” won. It was by far my favorite movie of last year, even though I didn’t see many movies.
Come to think of it, here’s a list of notable movies from 2006 that I have not seen:
Little Miss Sunshine
Children of Men
Flags of Our Fathers
Letters from Iwo Jima
Stranger Than Fiction
World Trade Center
Granted I didn’t really want to see all of these, but in any other year I would have seen most of them just to satisfy my movie cravings. At the moment, I have other priorities.
I gave my notice at work and will be hopping back on the Stray bus on or around March 15th. Next on my itinerary are Tongariro National Park and Wellington. I’ll probably stay in Wellington for a few days to get the lay of the land (Knock Knock, Weta!) before I catch a ferry to the South Island. Once I get there, who knows? I don’t have a real plan. Everyone says that it kicks the North Island’s ass. Hard to imagine that.