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April 07, 2005

Skydiving for Bacon

Cape Town, South Africa

Thursday, April 7, 2005:

Introduction: The Birth of Stupid Ideas

There are all kinds of things I once told myself I would never attempt in my lifetime, no matter what the case, end of story, period. Scuba diving with sharks, biking down the world's most dangerous road, and watching the movie Titanic, all spring to mind as examples. These are all activities that would, at least at first blush, appear to be extremely hazardous to one's health. But among the many great things I have learned on this trip (right up there with how to wash my underwear in a stream) is that with a little investigatory research, perceptions can change and an increased understanding of the risks and rewards, perils and pay-offs, can transform one-time panic-inducing prospective experiences into opportunities for adventures I will no doubt remember for the rest of my life --- which could be pretty damned short if I keep doing dumb shit. Already many of you are probably scratching your heads and asking yourselves the same exact question, so for the record let me tell you that while I have scuba dived with masses of sharks and hurtled down the most dangerous road in the world, I most certainly have not watched the movie Titanic and, by God, that's the way its going to stay, no matter what the case, end of story, period.

Until very recently, I never once wanted to skydive. There are risks and then there are risks and somehow, crazy as it might seem, the notion of willfully flinging myself out of the open cargo bay doors of an airplane just seemed the very definition of tempting disaster. You just don't give gravity the finger. Sharks might or might not attack you and the brakes on a mountain bike might or might not suddenly cut out, but just as surely as Leonardo DiCaprio is going to play exactly the same character over and over and over again in each and every single movie he is cast in, gravity is very definitely going to flatten you into a paste against the side of a mountain somewhere if you don't take exactly the right steps to stop it. And stopping it is not quite so simple as boycotting gravity's films.

What made me suddenly want to try skydiving within the span of a few short weeks? I can't place my finger on any one exact reason. Part of it could have been curiosity. Part of it could have been the realization that Cape Town is one of the most scenic and affordable places to try it in the world, meaning that if I ever was going to skydive, it might as well be here and now. Also, seeing as how I will be turning 30 in less than two months, I can chalk a certain amount of it up to that great enabler of ill-conceived ideas, pre-significant birthday existential angst. Turn 30 without having jumped screaming out of an airplane? How could I ever have dreamed it? What was I thinking? And, for that matter, how the hell could I lose the same ATM card twice in less than 10 days?


I woke up groggy at 7:00 AM. Toward the end of a particularly boring and unactive day before, I'd unwisely prescribed myself a remedy of "beers for boredom" and thrown back one or two more than I should have. I wasn't hungover or sick but I wasn't feeling particularly alert. A minivan was coming to haul my befuddled ass to the airstrip at 8:45 but until then I needed to pack all of my things, check out of the Travellers Inn, and move into another place down the street as quickly and quietly as possible. Robert, a deranged long-term lodger at the hotel where I was staying (and a psychic, occasional visitor to the Fourth Dimension to boot), had in the last few days slid two different messages under my door urgently imploring me to visit him in his room where he had something very funny/important/special to share with me. Due to a number of things he had said the last time I saw him, I was worried this might be his penis.

In fact, I'd been creeping through the halls and common areas of the Travellers Inn uneasily for the last two days in a fortuitously successful attempt to avoid Robert on my way to and from my room. Finally, the anxiety got to be too much and it occurred to me that there wasn't any particular reason why I needed to stay where I was staying. The truth of the matter was that, because of the debacle with my ATM card, I pretty much had to move to a different place. The rent at all of the budget places in Cape Town is payable in advance in cash only and my cash was starting to dwindle away. I was paying too much at the Travellers Inn. The room and building were fine, but everbody I'd met who was staying there was insane.

It was 7:45 when I crept down the stairs with my backpack on. My room was positioned so that I had no choice but to pass through the common room used as a TV lounge and breakfast room in the mornings. This was where Robert had snagged me into psychotic, interminable conversations twice before, at a similar hour on a weekday. If he caught me on my way out this time he would no doubt express his feelings regarding my complete disregard of his messages. I couldn't very well lie and say I was still planning to get back to him either. The 20 kilos of luggage I had strapped to my back would be a pretty big tip off I had no intention of swinging by around 10 that night for a chatty-poo.

Robert wasn't in the dining room. I took this as evidence that there is a God and that rather than springing Robert on me, he thought it would instead be far more amusing to see me get flattened into a paste against the side of a particularly large and nasty mountain for being stupid enough to give gravity the finger.

I checked out, then practically ran down the stairs, out of the building and down the street.


I'd already reserved a single room at Long St. Backpackers the day before. LSB has a reputation as the hostel to be at in City Bowl, if be at a hostel you must. My general view towards most hostels is that I mustn't, particularly if I am feeling particular about things like being able to sleep, having hot water, and keeping my distance from young groovy people who like to hold long, heart-felt conversations about muesli. That said, hostels are a good way to meet people and I fully admit without shame that since passing a very social time in South America I had been in quite the anti-social funk since arriving in Cape Town (given a choice between being alone and sharing secrets with Robert, each and every one of you would be renouncing all social interaction as well). The funk was abating and so I decided to chance myself a hostel for the first time on the African continent. Besides, I wouldn't be sharing some filthy dorm room, I'd be getting my very own filthy single.

The hip young dude who served as office manager/bartender at the reception desk/bar had told me between puffs on his cigarette and soulful gazes at the clock on the wall that I could come by at any time after 8 AM the next day. In retrospect, he never did promise me that anybody would actually be there at that time.

Hip young manager/bartender dude - 1.
Me - 0.

After ringing the buzzer five or six times, the maintenance man finally let me in through the gate and I wandered up a long flight of stairs and out into a green open courtyard that stands in the center of a series of surrounding buildings that include the dorms, office/bar, kitchen and laundry facilities. Its like a grungy, hippie-village oasis tucked away amid the very urban facade of central Cape Town. The office door advertised office hours from 8 AM to 8 PM, so I sat on a bench outside and waited for somebody to show up. After 10 minutes, somebody did show up, but it was just some scruffy 20ish English guy with bloodshot eyes and a lack of dexterity so appalling that it took him nearly 15 tries to light his cigarette. He sat at a picnic table and eyed the office door suspiciously. Then he eyed me suspiciously. Then he eyed a poster advertising a bus company suspiciously. OK, I'll spell it out already. The kid was stoned out of his mind.

Notes on the following half hour:

8:05 --- Nobody opened the office.

8:15 --- Nobody opened the office.

8:30 --- Nobody opened the office. Kid gave dirty look to his shoe-laces.

I shouldn't have been surprised and, in truth, I wasn't. I still reserved the right to be pissed off, however. I had been counting on checking in, changing from my jeans and loafers into cargo pants and sneakers, and heading for breakfast. I was very hungry --- the sort of hunger you have after having had a few too many drinks the night before on not quite enough of a foundation of food. Now I only had 15 minutes to do everything and get back to the corner in front of the Travellers Inn where the van was coming to get me. So far that morning I hadn't really given much thought to what it was I was going to do. I wasn't nervous or anxious because I had put it all out of my mind. Somehow it didn't seem like something that I was really going to do anyway. So maybe I was just a little hungover.

At 8:35 a different manager appeared to open the office. I didn't bother to ask him where he had been. Its a stupid question, the obvious answer to which is "in bed, like I really care about this crap job." Instead I just told him my name and that I was there to check in.

"You can't check in until 12," he said. "You can store your things until then, but you can't check in." Again, questioning this would have been futile. I simply threw my things in a big closet under a stairwell and dashed off to catch my van. I hadn't eaten and I was wearing jeans, loafers and a crocodile polo. I didn't look like I was going skydiving, I looked like I was heading out for brunch in the West Village.


The skydiving company's minivan driver had arrived early, gone upstairs to the Travellers Inn to search for me, and was just coming back down to radio the company that he didn't know where I was when I bumped into him in front of the door. He said we still had to go to another hostel to pick up four other people. After that we would drive to the airfield, about 30 minutes north of the city. As we drove he asked me about myself and I told him about my trip thus far. He told me he had been saving up to visit Argentina for his next vacation, so I began giving him recommendations on where to go and what to do. After a while he asked me why I had switched to a new hotel that morning.

"Its a little boring there," I told him, not feeling the need to launch into stories about Robert and my dwindling cash reserves, courtesy of Citibank's idiotic inability to send proper instructions with my replacement ATM card.

"You know," said the driver, "I met some really weird guy when I was up there."

I described Robert and three other people to him, but they didn't fit the bill. He'd apparently run into yet some other piece of deranged human flotsam.

We stopped at a hostel near the V&A Waterfront, where a couple from England and a pair of Danish college girls clambered on. The English were traveling for a year on a round-the-world ticket while the Danish had taken a semester off to wander through Africa. After some initial introductions, the English fell silent, the Danish chatted in Danish and I concluded espousing my Argentinian Jennifer Love Hewitt Cloning Theory to the enraptured, misty-eyed driver.

I should briefly mention the weather. It was hazy and foggy out and didn't look like a very good day on which to skydive. Nevertheless, the driver received a message from the company confirming that the fog was low in the sky and clearing and that we would have bright and clear views from 9,000 feet when we jumped.

Jump? As we drove off the highway and onto a dirt road stretching away through yellow shrubs to a stark and lonely-looking hanger and dusty airstrip, I remembered what it was I had in fact come there to do.


The hanger looked like typical old-fashioned hangers generally do --- somebody's backyard tin toolshed enlarged a few hundred times ( Inside there were a few spaces alongside the wall at the back that had been sectioned off to form separate lounge, office and storage areas and so we were led to one of the lounges with a couch and some chairs and asked to sit for a few minutes until somebody could come see us. As I sat, I admired a paraglider that had been propped against the opposite wall and a flimsy-looking two-seat airplane that was positioned halfway between the interior and exterior of the hanger. Otherwise, there wasn't much happening. A few guys were checking parachutes and other gear against the far wall, oblivious to us, while a spastic golden retriever was frantically chasing its own tail around the center of the floor. After a while it noticed us and bounded over madly to greet us with a bounty of wet slobber.

A man in his late 30s or early 40s came over to where we were sitting. He had long mullety hair down to his shoulders and, with his glasses on, resembled Geddy Lee from Rush. I wasn't able to place this likeness at the time however, which is fortunate because I would freak out if I thought I was going to be made to jump out of an airplane with Geddy Lee from Rush ( His name was Rob and he gave a very brief but comforting overview of what we would be doing. The most comforting thing being that we would (of course) be doing tandem dives attached to experienced instructors who did all the work. He picked up one of the parachutes and showed us how it had a main chute, a back-up chute and even a built-in computer to automatically deploy the parachute in case the instructor blacked out/had a heart attack/just plain croaked along the way down. As for us, we really couldn't screw it up, which is not to say that we were encouraged to try. We simply had to try to remember to hold our arms out and keep our knees bent upward during the free fall.

I was nervous, but not the sort of nervous I thought I would be. I didn't know why I wasn't more worked up about it. I think I just figured that so long as my tandem instructor knew what he was doing and wasn't feeling very seriously suicidal that day, I would make it down again from my dive in one piece. I took a long look at Rob. Geddy Lee haircut aside, he seemed happy, healthy, intelligent and sane. In short, he had nothing in common with the freak-farm holed up at the Travellers Inn. That was good.

It was only as Rob was winding his lecture down that I noticed the tiny twin-engine plane being started up and then wobbling bumpily along down the tiny stretch of runway outside. Surely I wasn't going to go up in that, was I? I suppose that for some reason --- its called ignorance --- I had envisioned a big sturdy industrial plane along the lines of one of those military C-130 troop transports they toss squadrons of paratroops out of ( Besides, how in the hell were we all going to go up in that? It would have to make at least two trips, if not more...

In fact, there were five of us and the plane would be making five separate trips. Each of us would be going up alone with an instructor and, for those who wanted one, a photographer. Rob explained that an extra 380 rand (about US $65) got you your choice of a video or 24 still photos while 480 rand got you both. The catch was that you had to pay in cash. I didn't have that kind of cash to spare and so I was the only one not to sign up for a photographer. This didn't bother me too much because I assumed that I wouldn't be looking all too photogenic as I flailed my arms and screamed at the top of my lungs while hurtling down toward the planet at maximum velocity. And I doubted very much that I'd want to spend the duration of my freefall trying to grin and wave to the cameraman even if I found myself with the presence of mind to actually do so. I thumbed through a portfolio of still photographs that Rob had given to us as a sample of what we could expect. In one of them, the tandem diver, an all American-looking guy of about 25 with spiky short hair and blue eyes, stood perched at the open doors of the plane gazing down. The expression on his face was telling. He looked like he was crying, praying and crapping himself all at the same time. It was at this point that I began to feel antsy about what I was doing. If they had chosen this as a sample photo --- if this was the best I could expect to feel before the jump --- I had probably been doing myself a grave and unjust disservice by not freaking out and questioning my sanity much earlier in the day. I now had lost panic time to make up for.

Meanwhile, Rob was getting one of the Danish girls ready for her jump. She would be going first and so the rest of us looked on as she was strapped up to a series of harnesses that would eventually be attached to Rob before the jump. This Danish girl, who I will call Heidi for lack of ability to think of anything suitably more Danish, was short and plump and had enormous blue eyes filled wide with joyous excitement. She was practically cackling with glee to her companion, the taller and svelter Henna, who sported hair dyed a shockingly bright red, along with equally enormous blue eyes filled wide with wonder and mirth. As Rob continued to work, the two yodeled back and forth at one another in titillated rapidfire Danish, seeming to get happier and happier with each passing second. I couldn't understand a single bit of it, of course, though each time I hear Danish or one of the other similar-sounding Scandinavian languages (Norwegian, Swedish), I find myself overcome with a strange urge to go out and eat a half-pound of smoked gravlax salmon, perhaps with some onions and capers and sour cream on the side. And those little toast wedges too -- those are really good.

It was all of this flooming and hoobering about in Danish that stopped me from anxiously thinking about jumping out of the airplane and got me thinking about my stomach again. I hadn't eaten. I was hungry. I looked around the hanger but it was clear that they didn't have anything for me there, other than water and coffee. I tried but I couldn't remember what it was that I had eaten for dinner the night before --- surely nothing that was worthy of a possible last meal. Because of this, I decided that once I was done with the dive, assuming everything went according to plan, I would treat myself as a reward to any meal my stomach desired. And it didn't take me long to figure out that what my stomach desired the most was a Ms. Piggy Burger with avocado and bacon from the Royale Eatery on Long Street.

The Royal Eatery is a retro-diner joint several blocks from my hostel that serves up some of the best hamburgers I have ever tasted. I'd been there twice already, trying two different variants of their standard "royale" burger, which come with lettuce, tomato, a tangy relish and sweet caramalized onions, along with a range of other fixings and a side of fries. The hamburger buns are fresh-baked and you can press down on the tops and watch again as they slowly rise up to resume their perfectly-domed original shape. The last time I was there, I noticed the burger the Aussie guy at the next table was downing. It didn't seem to have any onions on it, but I noticed the tell-tale green of the avocado and saw a thick slab of richly-marbled bacon sticking out of it. "What's that?" I asked the waitress. "That's the Ms. Piggy Burger," she told me. I decided I would have to try it the next time I was there or go to my grave an unhappy man. If all of this seems (yet again) like a great deal of detail to go into over a burger, note that I had plenty of time to think about --- no, meditate on --- said burger, for I had resolved to channel any fears, uncertainties or anxieties I possessed over the skydive into thoughts about just how good my Ms. Piggy Burger was going to taste when I got back. Could I make it a double? Could I get extra bacon? These were the questions I asked myself and they were certainly far more pleasant ones to consider than "Am I going to die?" and "Will that death be sudden, or painful, or really, really, really painful?"

We watched as Rob led Heidi out of the hanger and down toward where the plane sat on the runway. We heard the whine and sputter of the engine climb in pitch and finally grow distant as the plane sailed away. It wasn't one of those strong and inspiring sounding engine noises --- it sounded less like a powerful and ingenius machine designed to facilitate the triumph of man over the forces of gravity and rather more like an '82 Buick Cutlas-Sierra backfiring over and over again in a Woolworth's parking lot. God that burger was going to taste fine with an icy bottle of Castle lager to wash it down!

We sat and waited. Henna wandered off somewhere while the English and I compared travel notes for a few minutes before drifting off into our own private worlds. Eventually we saw Henna standing in the doorway, looking out and up at the sky above the hanger. We got up and sauntered over in time to watch Heidi touch down on the ground with Rob strapped directly behind her and a big, billuous parachute folding down on top of them. Heidi was grinning maniacally and made a series of positively medieval-sounding guttural clucks to Henna. Henna oogled and hooli-floogled right back. I felt inspired to quote a Rick Moranis line from the movie Ghostbusters that I thought would fit nicely into the linguistic mix ("Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!") but restrained myself and didn't.

Who would be next? I was eager to go as soon as possible and get it over with. I thought as I sat there (and correctly so as it turned out) that the waiting around would be the most nerve-wracking part of the whole experience. So you can just imagine my delight when we walked by a chalkboard that listed our order with me going fifth and last. I wondered if it was because I hadn't come with anybody else, or if they were giving deliberate preference to the people who were paying extra money for a photographer but in the end I think it was just that the photographers needed to get their work done and leave as quickly as possible and that meant getting the photographed dives over and out of the way with first.

I sat. I read the African travelogue Swahili for the Broken-Hearted by Peter Moore. I tried to decide if I should have the fried sweet potato wedges or regular french fries along with my Ms. Piggy Burger. Meanwhile, as the minutes gave way to hours, Henna and then the two Brits were strapped up in gear and led off one at a time to go on their dives. Each time they came down grinning. Each time I thought of the poor American bastard in the sample photograph grimacing in wide-eyed terror while perched at the edge of a 9,000 foot precipice.

We had reached the hanger at just before 10 AM that morning. At about 12:15, a clean-cut guy of about 30 with short blonde hair, blue eyes and a nose like a hawk's came up to me, introduced himself as Jean, and told me it was time for me to gear up. He looked serious and decidedly un-suicidal. I got up and he helped me get ready.


The plane wasn't a two-seater. In fact, it had only one seat for the pilot. The spot where the second seat would have been was cargo space --- the sort of cargo space that is disturbingly set adjacent to the airplane's sliding door. Behind the pilot's chair was an additional small cargo area, stretching not more than four feet back. The cabin space was low and cramped. You certainly couldn't come close to being able to stand up in it, the best you could do would be to duck your head down while sitting up on your knees.

Since I hadn't hired a photographer, I'd assumed I would be going up only with Jean and the pilot, a thin, lanky guy with dusty long hair (to keep up with the rock star comparisons, he looked the way a lot of the guys in Cape Town do --- like Beck). This assumption proved incorrect, however, because, as we were getting ready to wedge ourselves uncomfortably into the storage area beside the pilot, a guy who looked to be about my age came up to the side of the plane decked out in the same jump-suit/harness gear that I was dressed up in. He was broad and stocky with a very close flat-topped buzz-cut, a stubby nose and pin-point brown eyes. He told me his name but I promptly forgot it. He said the pilot was a friend of his and that he was simply tagging along for the ride to see what the fuss was about.

"You're not diving?" I asked.

"No way in hell," he told me.

He got in first and sat behind the pilot's seat, facing backward, legs stretched out in front of him. Jean, who didn't seem to know the guy, helped him clip his harness onto the back of the chair to keep him in one place during take-off. I then got in next to our unexpected passenger, also sitting backwards. Finally, Jean got in behind me and we all squeezed ourselves a little bit too close together to prepare for the ride.

"Where you from?" asked the passenger, fidgeting around with his harness and trying to turn sideways to face me.

"New York!" I yelled, trying to be heard about the sputtering whir of the engines as the pilot started the plane.


"NEW YORK!!!!"






In truth, I wasn't interested in talking much at all. I had expected a quiet ride up --- one during which I could review the steps for the dive again with Jean while thinking happy, fuzzy, comforting thoughts of living to eat the world's tastiest lunch. Now I had company to deal with. Chatty, bouncy company, it turned out.

We sputtered along the runway and somehow managed to become airborne, though the plane still seemed to bump and thump along spastically like a three-wheeled pick-up truck on a Bolivian dirt road.

"I WAS IN THE POLICE ACADEMY!!!!" yelled the passenger. Then, as if this didn't get the message across, "I STUDIED TO BE A POLICEMAN!!!!" I looked at him again. He looked exactly like a policeman out of a bad cop comedy. In fact, if you gave him a close buzz-cut, Chief Wiggum of the Simpsons would bear a striking resemblance to this guy. As he talked, launching into stories of how much he missed New Orleans and Houston Astros games, he unbuckled himself from the back of the pilot's seat, turned around, and leaned over the pilot's shoulder. He then started asking his friend questions about this mechanism and that dial, while very nearly managing to elbow me in the head a few times. Nevertheless, I was just happy enough that he had found himself a source of distraction to help satiate his ceaseless need to keep his lips moving. I was only worried that he would reach over and start playing with things on the control panel.

Soon we were gaining some serious altitude, sailing jerkily over the clouds and into a sunny, blue sky. Jean pointed out Cape Town and Table Mountain in the far distance. It was a spectacular view, but I was beginning to sense that our "drop zone" was near and even the most intensely delicious thoughts of bacon-topped burgers and fries failed to keep my mind fully off what was to come.

"THIS PLANE IS KIND OF RINKY-DINK, ISN'T IT!!??" yelled Wiggum into the pilot's ear.



Why did this guy spend seven years in the police academy? I was beginning to think he had needed it to complete a two or three year program.

Jean reached over and fastened Wiggum back to the chair. I could tell he wasn't thrilled with all of the squirming around, but the point was to keep the guy from somehow falling out of the plane when we opened the door for our jump.

"I'M A BABY ON A LEASH!!!!" shouted Wiggum, jerking on the chain attached to his harness. "LOOK AT ME!!!! WAAAH!!!! WAAAH!!!!"

This seemed a very undignified way for me to spend what could be my final few moments among the living.

"Time to get ready," said Jean.

"WAAAH!!!!" screamed Wiggum.

I looked over my shoulder as Jean began to fasten loops and chains to my harness --- one on each shoulder and one on each hip. If all this doesn't seem quite S&M enough, bear in mind that I was also practically on his lap by now. Regardless, I think I probably would have gone down with the Marquis de Sade at that point, so long as I knew I would make it in one piece and wouldn't have to listen to another grown man's bawling (my own bawling being a different story entirely).

Jean went over a quick last-minute checklist of the few things I would need to remember to do. Once the plane door was opened, he would put his left leg out the door and onto a stair that served as a jump platform. I would then move both of my legs out and he would follow with his right leg. We would then be perched on the edge of the plane. He would take it from there, initiating the jump when ready. There were a few other small points as well, put they were things he could instruct me to do as we made our way down. I wanted nothing more than to get it over and done with at that point.

"Ok," said Jean, reaching for the door.

One... (Again)

The pilot muttered something. Jean pulled his hand away from the door.

"Shit," he said.

"What!?" I said, alarmed.

"We've been put on hold," said Jean. "Commercial traffic coming through. Sorry."

The pilot turned his head to look at me. "Sorry about that, there's an American Airlines flight coming through. It could be three to five more minutes, maybe more." He began to putter the plane around in wide, nauseatingly bumpy circles.

"They always screw everything up," I said.

"THAT SUCKS!!!!" said the Chief.

It was the smartest thing he had said. The waiting around was terrible. I had been all set to go and then, at the last minute, we had aborted. Now we had to wait again.

"My legs are killing me," Jean complained, detaching me from the chains that had me latched on top of them.

We flew around for a few minutes.

"HOW MANY JUMPS HAVE YOU DONE!!??" Wiggum asked Jean.

"About 2,500," he replied. Both Wiggum and I sat there stunned. I thought about it. Wiggum thought about it too, his beady eyes narrowing and open jaw quivering.

"NO WAY I WOULD EVER DO IT!!!!" he finally blurted.

"NO WAY!!!!"


"Ready," said the pilot.

Jean quickly re-fastened the harnesses.

He slid the door open.

He moved his left leg out onto a single stair outside. It wasn't attached directly to the side of the plane but rose up out of the air like a lonely island instead, supported underneath by an arcing metal beam that was attached to the plane's underbody. I made a serious effort to squeeze my legs out the door and onto the stair, at which point Jean followed with his right leg.

There we were looking at the earth 9,000 feet below.

(This is the website for Sky Dive Cape Town: . See how serene the first photo looks? Scroll down to the third for a slightly better sense of how it was to be positioned above it all.)

A very long second passed.

I felt Jean pressing his leg muscles down on the stair.

All at once I was propelled from the edge of the airplane and plummeting madly downwards into open air. In mid-summersault, spiraling towards the earth on my back, I could see the plane's wings gliding high above me and sailing rapidly off into the distance. Although I had spent the entire day preparing myself psychologically for this moment, my body neverthless registered a singular nano-second of shocked horror, as though my fall had been a sudden and entirely unplanned mistake on a deadly scale, the sort that could never be retracted or undone.

This was it...

This was how it ended...

Every fiber in my being cried out for a Ms. Piggy Burger with bacon and avocado on top...

And then that instinctive instant of horror vanished and I found myself falling effortlessly, face down, wind buffeting my face, the world spread out for miles below and the sky spread out infinitely above and to my sides. Jean had stabilized us and I took this as a sign to spread my arms out above my head and bend my legs back to further permit us to balance our fall.

I have read descriptions of skydiving that claim that the overall experience really isn't so much like plummeting towards the earth at 120 miles per hour as it is like floating downwards upon a gigantic cushion of air. During the first few seconds of the free fall I could see the sense in those words, for I did indeed feel very much like I was being buffeted upward on an enormous bed of rapid, rushing air. That said, I also felt very much like I was plummeting towards the earth at 120 miles per hour. Go figure. I was.

The thing is, I wasn't plummeting towards the earth at 120 miles per hour in a bad way. The fall felt controlled, the view was spectacular, and the surge of adreneline running through me was instantaneous, huge and involuntarily. I was grinning like a maniac, cackling just like Danish Heidi had been when she'd reached the ground with her triumpant (and vowel-heavy) cries of excitement. Superlatives were pouring out of my mouth and I could hear Jean laughing madly as well right behind me, though mainly I just heard the air whipping past us as we fell.

We fell...

And fell...

And fell...

Thirty seconds doesn't seem like a long time ordinarily, but when the experience is this novel and intense, you can still manage to get a great deal of excitement out of each and every moment. Finally, Jean put his hand over my forehead to brace my head and indicate that he was pulling the ripcord. I was jarred upright forcefully and then, strangely, the sensation of downward motion seemed to increase, although we had clearly slowed down considerably.

"You just fell 5,000 feet in 30 seconds!" Jean told me.

"How fast are we falling now?" I asked (although, to be honest, I think I first emitted an unintelligible --- and vowel-heavy --- cry of triumph).

"Maybe 10 miles per hour, probably less, but we're moving forward at a rate of at least 15 miles per hour." Jean was steering the parachute down toward the landing site in front of the hanger. Or trying to, at least. There was a layer of cloud blocking it from view and we flew through it for about 30 seconds. Once we emerged we had clear views over the landscape, though it wasn't so bright or sunny any more. We drifted down for a few relaxed, weightless minutes. Jean let me steer a little, then took the reigns back in order to take us down low over the roof of the hanger before we finally cruised in for a landing directly onto the tarp that had been set out for us.

Some guy with the company who I didn't know came up and high-fived me.

"Amazing, isn't it!" he said.

I grinned like a deranged person. I felt so insanely happy at that moment --- and probably looked it --- that had any passing medical sort been in the vicinity at the time, they would probably have ordered me committed to a mental asylum on the spot. Or forced me to check back into the Travellers Inn, at least.

I thanked Jean. He was all smiles. I asked him if, after 2,500 jumps, he ever failed to get a kick out jumping out of the airplane and he told me he couldn't think of a single time when it hadn't been a thrill. 2,500 jumps. He didn't seem crazy, I have to admit. (Unsolicitied Plug: Skydive Cape Town was an A+ operation in my view.)


The drive back to Long Street was the epitomy of anti-climactic. The Danish and English got off first and I told the driver about my Robert problems until we reached my stop back at Long St. Backpackers. I wished him good luck with Argentina, he wished me good luck with avoiding crazy people, and I went upstairs to check into my room and change clothes. I did this very quickly.

I then marched down to the Royale Eatery, never more sure about any restaurant order I have ever placed in my life.

"Ms.PiggyBurgerwithpotatowedgesandaCastleplease," I told the waitress before she could even hand me the menu.


It was only as I was finally and blissfully savoring the long promised crispiness of the bacon and rich, fatty tenderness of the avocado on my burger that I noticed what a guy two tables down from me was eating. It was an absolutely immense doubledecker hamburger with two patties and fried eggs, oozing rivers of cheese down the sides and sporting what looked like twice the bacon my Ms. Piggy had on it. This was the Jupiter of all hamburgers.

It was the Fat Bastard Burger.

How could I have missed getting the Fat Bastard Burger?

I slowly began to ponder all of the other crazy, possibly suicidal activities I could do in Cape Town that might exceed the danger posed by the skydive and warrant me eventually treating myself to a Fat Bastard Burger as a reward for success.

In the end, however, the only thing riskier than the skydive that I could think of was the risk to my health that would be posed by actually eating a Fat Bastard Burger.

Posted by Joshua on April 7, 2005 03:21 AM
Category: South Africa

Wow. Incredible. Wow. Of your very many entries, this is the best. The best. The best.

Posted by: Hank on April 13, 2005 01:28 AM

Thank you. Trying to get out of Cape Town in the next two days. First to dive on the coast south of Durban, then to Lesotho and/or Mozambique if there is time before flying to Tanzania. Still unclear, but running out of different types of Royale Burgers to try here.

Posted by: Josh on April 13, 2005 04:24 PM

Its Saturday night in Cape Town. Tomorrow I am set to fly 1,000 miles East to Durban, on the coast of the Indian Ocean --- its the largest port in Africa and third largest city in South Africa. I will probably only stay for a day or two before heading an hour South to spend a few days diving off by Aliwal Shoal, famous for its many ragged-tooth sharks

Posted by: Josh on April 16, 2005 03:20 PM

Am an hour south of Durban doing some nice diving off of Aliwal Shoal. Plenty of large reef sharks and sting rays, plus a few turtles and enormous potato cod (I mean ENORMOUS). Still hoping to see some tiger sharks. In a few days time I expect to head north to Swalizand and into Mozambique. I DO NOT HAVE MUCH ACCESS TO INTERNET RIGHT NOW and only expect to be able check mail very infrequently over the next several days, if at all.

Posted by: Josh on April 19, 2005 10:38 AM

I just got into Zanzibar (Tanzania)(

Posted by: Josh on April 25, 2005 12:06 PM
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