Humans are born to be scared. When fear kicks in, our pulse quickens, our skin moistens and our pupils widen; we become hyper-aware of our surroundings and some say we even perceive time more slowly.
None of these facts crossed my mind on the platform. Looking down with my toes curling over the edge, I watched the sweeping river roll over the sharp rocks below, and there was no avoiding the wave of terror, my body’s final plea: Please do not disobey the laws of nature.
After all, “You aren’t built to fly.” That’s what Danny Vargas, my bungee guide, said. “It isn’t natural. If you could fly, you wouldn’t feel that fear.”
Danny claims to have bungee jumped hundreds of times, and even with all of his experience he still feels afraid before each plunge. Like so many in his line of work, Danny bungee jumps for the thrill. And part of that thrill is the fear.
Monteverde eXtremo’s owner, Olger Vegamejias, built this place so that people could conquer their fears. He’s a former motocross champion and an extreme sports enthusiast, but he said nothing he’s ever done compares to the jump.
Out on the platform, I thought about how this has happened – the simple steps that brought me to this place. While boarding a cart attached to the highest cable car platform in the country, I had put on what I imagined to be a brave face. I tried not to think too much about what I was actually doing. But moving back and forth in the cart across wires suspended over the valley, I realized that I would be jumping right into its heart.
That’s when the environment seemed to begin responding to my nervousness. Fog rolled in, obscuring the valley, and I almost laughed out loud at the irony. The clouds hovered around the platform, while Danny and his assistant checked my restraints.
Soon, I was waddling over to the platform. As I stepped out the fog dramatically cleared (I’m not even kidding, it was like a movie) revealing the full absurdity of what I was about to do.
I reminded myself that for the most part, bungee jumping is safe. More people die every year from lightning strikes than they do from bungee jumping, and Monteverde eXtremo adheres to safety regulations. I examined the girth of the ropes that would be supporting me and tested the strength of the restraints secured like shackles around my ankles. I knew I was not in real danger, but my neural circuitry had me gasping at the 470-foot drop. I was dangerously close to peeing-my-pants terrified, and I was not alone.
“The Israeli girls, we go to the army, but we are afraid to do this.” That’s what Raya Yoeli said to me back at Monteverde eXtremo’s headquarters before declining to jump. Her two daughters, Roni and Chen, were the only other two people bungee jumping with me that day.
The family was visiting Costa Rica to celebrate Roni’s recent release from her two-years of Israeli military service. Bungee jumping was at the top of Roni’s Costa Rica activity list, and she managed to rope her sister into going with her.
Roni and Chen know that few people are injured bungee jumping, and were not afraid they were going to die. As the popular saying goes, what the sisters feared most was actually fear itself.
“I decided I had to go first,” said Chen. “I knew that if I watched her [Roni] go that I would get too scared.”
Chen did go first, smiling nervously at a camera before leaping off the platform and letting out a full-bodied shriek on the way down. “I thought I would feel my heart pounding in my chest, but I just felt like I was flying,” she said.
Roni had no such qualms about watching her sister jump. After they hauled Chen back onto the platform, she stepped out, straight-faced and full of determination.
“I didn’t think about anything at all,” said Roni. “When they counted down to one I just jumped. I blocked my mind, and didn’t realize what I was doing until I had already jumped.”
Roni and Chen came back to their mother unscathed. Even having watched her two daughters take the leap, Raya still stood by her decision. She could go into the army, but she wouldn’t make that jump.
As I peered over the valley, I began to wonder why I was doing this. Was it to conquer a fear? Was it a ritual, like Roni’s jump? Even now I’m not entirely sure, but I think that like so many others, I wanted to bungee jump just to see if I could.
Looking back now, I’m not sure how I did it, I’m not sure I was even thinking. The video I watched later showed me pursing my lips as Danny began the countdown at five, showed my jaw tense, at four, it captured me beginning to flex my knees at three, and in a full squat at two. Finally when he reached one, it shows me flinging my body off the platform, my arms spread wide, embracing the empty air.
I felt several milliseconds of sheer heart-pounding panic, and then nothing but pure bliss. Soon, my screams turned into laughter.
I may not have wings, but who says I’m not built to fly?