December 01, 2017

Above Pic: Bloukrans-Bridge

Gallery photos - Bungee Jump Zone @ Bloukrans, View around Bloukrans, Meerkats

Do heights scare you or do you panic when there is turbulence while on a flight? Well then I am sure you will find it easier to jump off a bridge, hang upside down and count all your blessings in 180 seconds, because that is what I did when I jumped off the Bloukrans Bridge bungee -the world's highest commercial bungee bridge, at a height of 709 feet above the Bloukrans River, while on a trip to South Africa's Garden Route. For someone who dreads stepping on a roller coaster, or any ride in an amusement park for that matter, my panic level, to my own surprise, was zilch while being strapped up before the leap. Perhaps, it was because of the knowledge that it was a fool-proof activity as are the rest of the various adrenaline pumping experiences in South Africa that follow the highest safety and security standards in the industry.

South Africa's vast expanses and the mixed topography make it an interesting destination to try your hand at various adventurous activities on land, in water and up in the sky. South African Tourism organised a familiarisation tour for the travel trade and media from across India in September this year to showcase new itineraries and activities, with a view to reveal lesser known, yet equally promising attractions and activities. We experienced a number of activities such as kayaking, canoeing, zipline, bungee jumping, quad biking, tandem paragliding, crocodile cage diving and much more. Bungee off the bridge! The Bloukrans Bridge is located at the border between the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape in the Tsitsikamma area. Having started in 2003, this bungee has a number of world records.

Upon reaching the base of the bridge in the morning, we queued up to have our weights measured and given our harnesses accordingly before listening to the safety instructions. Although I anticipated that my heart would start racing faster as we went up the bridge to the bungee zone, I found myself looking forward to the adventure that promises great views of the mountains with a streak of the river while hanging down there. The energy and the cheery ambience of the organisers and the bungee jump team put all of us at ease as we watched them lift up the people rhythmically with the background music. The fact that the entire jump lasts about two minutes and that there were double straps as back-ups kept my fears at bay. I felt a rush of emotions while hanging down there while I can only hazily recall the moments of the jump as I didn't want to wait too long at the edge lest I should hesitate and fear jumping.

Yet, I vividly remember how my body turned upside down dramatically without any discomfort or nausea in mid-air. After making conscious efforts to remember the instructions, a couple of us jumped with our feet first instead of pushing the head forward and ended up laughing at our videos later on. Each person had his and her own experience at the edge and down there; a few warned us against looking down before the jump while few advised us on how to take deep breaths at the edge. Regardless of what you have heard or seen or been advised about, the rush that you undergo is purely your own unique experience. Although I dread thrilling rides, bungee rides and skydives have always fascinated me but never once had I desired to try them. However, on this trip, the professionalism and the bouncy ambience of the team and the bungee staff inspired me to take the leap of faith, calmly and with poise as was evident from the video. We bought our videos, photos and a souvenir of the bungee rope to take back as fond memories with, of course, a certificate of having accomplished the feat! Flight turbulences still scare me but I would definitely recommend this bungee to the skeptical traveller!

Meerkats Tour

Did you ever think you would be up and close to the burrow of an animal waiting for it to show up from nowhere? Have you heard of or seen pictures of the meerkat? Another interesting feature of our tour was the visit to a meerkat's habitat in Oudtshoorn in the northern part of the Garden Route. Most of us in the group had not heard of or seen one. The meerkat belongs to the mongoose family and is in light fawn colour. It is a carnivorous animal that lives in parts of Africa across Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. The meerkat tour is an early morning activity which involves waking up early before the sun rises to go to the terrains marked by the meerkat that lives in families. The guides will go out in search of the meerkats a day before the tour and will advise the meeting point and time accordingly. We took an hour to reach the place from our hotel and were welcomed by hot cups of coffee, tea and hot chocolate with biscuits to begin the day. There were two guides who gave us foldable chairs and walked us till the zone where they were anticipated to show up that morning.

Interestingly, the meerkat families move often in search of food. They are used to the presence of human beings in their vicinity and do not get intimidated by our chatter. But we were given clear instructions not to stand or move closer to avoid scaring them away. After waiting for a while, one of us suddenly saw a tiny brown head pop up from underneath a burrow. The group fell into pin drop silence as one meerkat took a good look at us before turning its head to see the sun. It went back into the hole leaving us speculating its return.

The meerkats, we were told, are smelly, without which they would be perceived as predators by their own families. No sooner had the guide explained to us about their scents and temperament, than a teammate exclaimed that she sniffed something and sure enough, we saw seven meerkats coming out of the burrow to welcome the morning. We continued to click our cameras and phones and observe their movements as they darted from one end to another and as more young ones appeared, the more excited we got. Known for digging and marking their territory, these wild animals are often abandoned by owners who take them as pets only to resent their bad behaviour and send them to rehabilitation centres and zoos. After we had our share of watching them so close, we left the meerkats to their privacy.

We also experienced ziplines and paragliding against the backdrop of clear skies and gentle breezes, about which, dear reader, I shall describe in the next edition. Until then, I reckon that you would now think facing the edge of a cliff is not a bad idea; only if you remember to bounce back!

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