This travel story is from my first long term backpacking trip in 2009.
We arrived in Queenstown in the evening and were greeted by a merry band of traveler artists. We were in for two nights on a couch, having a slumber party with some interesting characters. I must confess, I was naïve to think I would be spending it any differently after accepting the offer from a 40-year old ski instructor who we met while she was hitchhiking. Megan was out at a salsa class, or some other thing that local people in Queenstown do. Instead we were greeted by two merry traveler who were renting one of her rooms who implored us on the interesting dynamic of their interaction and arrival in Queenstown. Despite initial implications, these two starry-eyed lovers are actually not dating, even though they are sharing the one bed bedroom they were renting from Megan. The conundrum is that she has a serious boyfriend back at home, and he is madly in love with her. She has no interest in him as more than a friend, but opted to pick up her life and travel to Queenstown in search of some adventure and seasonal work. Poor guy, they even share the same bed. Even sadder was how empty the employment barrel was when they arrived in Queenstown. Due to her blond hair and equipped breasts, she was able to tie down a job as a bartender, and as a waitress. He was spending his nights playing bongos on the frigid cold streets of Queenstown because the only permit he could secure allowed him the late-night time slot. Poor guy. I have not been in touch with him since, but hope that at the very least he got a drunken pity fuck from her. Then there was Megan’s father. Apparently this man was at the forefront of the New Zealand Motion Picture Industry boom, which I am assuming occurred sometime right before J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic was jettisoned into a motion picture possibility. In all actuality, New Zealand did sluggishly come into the film scene in 1978, when the government created the New Zealand film commission. They brought Peter Jackson his first major project, and helped him into success. He was acknowledged in the autobiography. This was a special crew I was staying with.
Another one of the remarkable facets of long-term traveling, is that interactions similar to this one become common. I found absolutely nothing odd sleeping on the couch of middle-aged ski instructor whom we had picked up on the side of the road whose father help vault New Zealand into the modern-age, and rents here apartment out to a rather confused, dejected British man and his she-devil friend. Upon further examination, I can see where this may appear to be some sort of extraordinary situation that could not be replicated in any similar case. By this point in my travels, I would have been more surprised had something like this not occurred. Traveling is all about the people you meet and the experiences you share with them. Everyone under this roof understood this concept, which is why no one felt the least bit uncomfortable that two smelly backpackers like ourselves were sleeping in their sheets and eating their granola.
We awoke to a frigid morning, the mountains sprinkled with fresh powder. Two weeks prior I was in a choking, dirty heat, and now I was seeing my breath. No time to consider these minor details, I had a 130 foot platform to dive off of. Ben and I packed into our economy-sized chariot, and made way for the Kawarau Bungy Jumping site, the first commercial site of its kind. I was surprised how calm I was about the pending experience. We had some time to kill while the instructors were on the sheep-loving and eel slapping break, so we viewed the introductory video. In the video, A.J. Hackett, co-inventor of Bungy Jumping, described the exhilaration of Bungy Jumping is not the drop, but the ability to throw yourself off this elevated platform, attached to a rubber band, and to trust you will be fine. This was what made Bungy Jumping so unique. In skydiving someone jumps for you. Here, it is you against your fear. I stepped up to the platform first, listening to the typical banter of an instructor responsible for your life, things like “okay so I can’t remember, do we loop this part through here” and my favorite, “I hope that this is tight enough.” After spending so much time in Interlaken, I had become accustomed to such behavior, at times morphing myself into the same sarcastic ass hole while guiding my trips. But, then I again I was in New Zealand, not Switzerland, so they could have been serious. I stepped up to the platform, eager to let it rip. As I was about to fling myself towards a rushing a river, a tour group of fifty young adults arrived. It was my time to shine. Girls yelled my name and showed me their hearts. I needed to jump.
Looking back, I never experienced that timidity that A.J. said would occur, and would make the jump so memorable. My mind was clear. With everything I had experienced and done over the course of my last year, I no longer feared anything. I had learned that without risk comes no reward. I could have easily not tried Bungy Jumping, and would never know what it felt like. The experience lasted only two seconds, but the accomplishment will last forever. I have the certificate to prove it. I kid you not, they gave us certificates after saying that we Bungy Jumped. It is framed on my wall right now.