On a Saturday morning in Hong Kong, I woke up an hour before my alarm went off with a single thought: After today, you really should stop trying to off yourself.
The morning I was scheduled to leap off the Macau Tower tethered to a bungee cord, I found myself wondering why on earth I decided bungee jumping was something I just had to do before turning 30. I'd done some risky things over the last few weeks: hiking through deserted lahar fields to take a dip in the crater of an active volcano, swimming with whale sharks the size of a Greyhound bus and spelunking through pitch-black caves with sheer vertical drops. But looking back, I did all of that to see something spectacular that I wouldn't otherwise be able to set eyes on. So why did I want to leap off the edge of a 233-meter high tower again? I could see that spectacular view of Macau by taking a 1-minute elevator ride.
But I'd set the plans in motion and there was no turning back now. I'd flown into Hong Kong on my way back to New York from Manila to spend the weekend with my good friend Tamara. I'd booked her, her boyfriend Michele, his friend Juan and myself to do the highest bungee in the world off Macau Tower months ago. When I got there, all of them shook their heads at me, saying I really hadn't given them a choice in the matter and it was my fault they were all doing this. Clearly, there's no coercing anyone into leaping off a tower, but I knew I had to man up.
Tamara and I left Hong Kong on the 9:30am ferry to Macau to make it to our 11:30am bungee appointment. By the time we docked, I had finished a good cup of coffee and was entranced by the sight of this city that melded Portuguese and Chinese influences, and whose cup seemed to runneth over with opulence from its thriving casino industry. Again, I berated myself. Why couldn't you just have a relaxed visit to this city? Sightsee, eat good food, shop, go to the spa ... all those lovely non-life-threatening things normal folks do. Why do you have to jump off a freaking tower first thing in the morning, Celine? Why???
The part that bothered me the most about bungee-jumping was the thought that I would have to stand at the edge of the tower and, using that wonderful thing called free will, decide to leap off. How was I going to manage that? Don't humans come with built-in survival instincts? Wouldn't every fiber of my body just rebel against the idea of going from ledge to thin air?
If you've been following my exploits, this must sound a little strange since this wasn't exactly my first time to leap from great heights; I did jump off a plane last June. But jumping out of a plane is different. From 14,000 feet up, the earth looks pretty abstract. The possibility of smashing into the ground is not quite as glaring. But from 764 feet, the concrete is very, very real. Plus, there's also the fact that you have to do this on your own. When I skydived, I had an instructor who jumps off planes 20 times a day strapped to my back, and that's reassuring. This time, it was all me. I would have to throw myself off that platform and swan dive with nothing but the wind on my back. Petrifying thought.
Once we got off the taxi at Macau Tower, it felt as if someone had pressed the fast forward button. It all happened so quickly. There was no line at the first floor ticket stand, and we were told we could pay for our packages and the tower pass right there. "You get a discount if you pay for it now," the AJ Hackett representative told us. Then she added the clincher, "But no refunds." I handed over my AMEX knowing there was no turning back from here on out.
We were ushered into the elevator and in a minute and change, we were on the 61st floor. We were given waivers to sign (a very short one compared to the book-like waiver I signed for skydiving) and complimentary t-shirts to wear. For a MOP 20 deposit, we got a locker to stow our things, and were instructed to remove all jewelry and completely empty pockets. As soon as we stepped out of the dressing room, we were strapped into harnesses, weighed and brought out to the jumping platform.
"Who's going first?"
"I am," I answered, raising my hand. I was told to sit on a metal table and bindings were swiftly attached to my feet.
"It's all happening so fast!" I said to Tamara.
"It's much better if it goes quickly," said one of the attendants.
"It gives you less time to change your mind, I guess," Tamara mused.
As they fiddled with my bindings, I saw that a crowd of tourists had gathered at the deck, cameras whipped out waiting for me to jump. The videographer asked me if there was anything I wanted to say.
"It's been nice knowing you all," I said with a nervous laugh.
I was given final instructions once my bindings were in place. After the recoil, pull the strap attached to the feet bindings so that I'll flip right side up and get lowered to the ground feet first. Take baby steps to the edge of the platform, spread your arms out to the side, look to the right when we tell you to (to smile/wave/flip the finger at the guy taking your video), and at the count of three, lean over the edge until you start to fall.
"Two minutes," one of the jump masters said, and I was asked to stand up and they continued to check on every cable attached to me. At this point, I allowed my mind to go blank. I was resigned—nay, committed, to my fate. Once you're tied up in the harness with feet bound out on a windy platform, you know this is it. No turning back now.
Soon I was taking my baby steps to the edge. I kept my chin up, looking at the pale turquoise waters of the Pearl River and those glittering casino buildings beyond. I refused to look down. I refused to think too hard about what I was about to do. The jump masters told me to stretch my hands out and look to the right to give the videographer and photographer their shot. After that, I knew what was coming.
"3, 2, 1 ... "
I let go.
The first few seconds of freefall are quite possibly the most petrifying I've ever had. When you jump out of a plane, you fall with such speed that it doesn't really feel like falling. But when you jump off a tower—hell yes, you know you are freaking falling. The bloodcurdling scream came ripping out of my chest.
And then, just as suddenly as it came, the fear was gone. It was overtaken by the adrenaline rush, and my brain started to scream, "Holy crap, you crazy woman, this is amazing!!!" My shriek of terror turned into a yell of joy, and I realized I wasn't afraid anymore and I was loving every millisecond of this mad leap of faith.
My jump ended with a smooth stop; not a bouncy recoil, as I expected. AJ Hackett uses cables to guide the bungee cord, to ensure the jumper doesn't recoil towards the tower (v. dangerous, as you can imagine). It definitely makes for a reassuring bungee jump, but I couldn't help but wonder what an organic bungee jump would feel like ...
After unhitching my feet from the harness, I turned right-side up and was gently lowered to the airbag, where AJ Hackett representatives were waiting for me. Once I was down, I realized my legs were shaking from the experience. After the harness was removed, I sat at the outdoor tables to watch my friends come flying down, one after the other. It's quite a thrill, as well, to just sit there and watch the bungee jumpers. One second you're looking up at a sun-drenched tower. The next there's a body hurtling down towards the ground at 200 kilometers per hour.
Everyone came off the bungee with exhilarated smiles, relishing the thrill and absorbing the shock that they had done something so extreme. We spent the rest of our afternoon in Macau on a high from the experience.
That night, back in Hong Kong, we watched our videos while having dinner on a rooftop overlooking the city. I found some comic relief at the narration of the videographer, who funnily enough was also Filipino and had the thickest Pinoy accent ever. I had to laugh when he said it wasn't a wonder I wasn't afraid because I'm from the "home of the brave." When the video reached the actual jump, my heart pumped at the sight of myself falling off the ledge and plummeting to the ground. I couldn't believe I really did that.
And yet, as we continued to watch the reels of AJ Hackett bungee jumps all over the world, I couldn't help but wonder ... What would a bungee jump without the guide cords feel like? How cool would it be to jump and dip your hands and head into the water below? What would it be like to jump into a forest ... or off a bridge ... or ...
... and then a stern little voice chimed up in my head: Celine, I thought you would stop doing crazy things after this one?
A wicked little smile spread on my lips. We'll see about that.
A massive thank you to Tamara and Michele for being such wonderful hosts and to Juan for taking a big gulp of the crazy sauce!