Top Travel Moment No. 8: A Bridge Jump in Banos, Ecuador

As I wrote in my last post, I’m not an adventurous eater. To go along with that, I’m also not really what you would call a risk taker. Sure, there are things I like doing that get my adrenaline pumping, but “extreme sports” have never been anything I have had much interest in. That all changed one day during a bike ride Banos, Ecuador.

Kim and I and the group of people we were volunteering with at Foundacion Arte del Mundo went bicycling one sunny Saturday afternoon in. It was a beautiful bike ride – it took us along a canyon with a river at the bottom, had sweeping views of the mountains, and best of all: it was all downhill.

Banos Bridge Jump Group Shot

Our volunteer group biking through Ecuador

At one point, we biked through a tunnel in a mountain, rounded a corner in the road, and saw a bunch of people crowded next to a bridge. We joined the crowd and watched what was happening on the bridge: two men were standing on the bridge, holding a third man above their heads. No one in our groups had an idea what was going on, all we saw was what looked like a soon-to-be murder scene.

No one around seemed to be too concerned about this third man’s well-being, as they were all calmly watching was what happening, and some even had cameras out. Then, with little fanfare, the two men threw the third man off the bridge.

Before the “what the f@$%?!?!?!?!!!” thought could form in my head, I saw the man who had been thrown off the bridge swinging back and forth on a rope underneath the bridge. When I looked down, I fully expected to see this man hanging from his neck, which would have completely ruined our day – not to mention his, too.

But, fortunately, he wasn’t dead. Far from it: he was yelling in excitement as he swung like a pendulum beneath the bridge.

Like the 6 year old boy that I can be at times, after seeing this, the first thing I did was turn to Kim and say “I have to do that!” The look she gave me in return was a mix of hell-no, really?-do-I-have-to-have-this-conversation-with-my-husband, you-will-die-if-you-do-this, with just a hint of I-can’t-wait-to-see-this thrown in the mix.

Banos Bridge Jump Me & Leon

Me and Leon biking through a small town along the “way of waterfalls”

After convincing Kim that my life would simply not be complete without doing this (and her actually agreeing to watch me do it), I walked up to the guy who seemed to be running this operation and asked him how I would be able to do it. He told me it would cost $15, and they would strap a harness to me and attach me to a climbing rope – then jump. Now, at the risk of sounding cheap, $15 for the chance to bridge jump seemed a little steep, so I did what any self-respecting traveler would do: I haggled.

My negotiations weren’t going too well at first. Then, I saw his daughter nearby, and she recognized me and my companions from Foundacion Arte del Mundo. She must have told her father just now nice I was (or she was trying to kill me for my Spanish being so bad). Being the good father he is, he decided to make his daughter’s day and kill who his daughter wanted dead reduced his price to $10 if a few of us did it.

Smelling a deal, a total of four of us agreed. It was somehow that, being the only male in the group who was doing this, I would go last. Ladies first, right? So when my turn came, I eagerly donned a harness, a flimsy plastic helmet, and had a climbing rope tied to me. Little did I realize just how little protection a helmet would be if the rope were to fail, but who am I to question such stringent safety protocol in Ecuador?

I had instructions for my bridge jump. They were “jump far out.” That’s it. That was the extent of the “instructions” received. Again, not being one to question the protocol in other countries (when in Rome, right?), I took it in stride and climbed onto the railing.

Now, this would be a good time to mention that I am afraid of heights. Actually, afraid isn’t quite strong enough here. It’s more like a paralyzing fear. I haven’t been to the top of the Eiffel Tower either of the times I have been in Paris. I even get nervous driving over tall bridges. Whenever I’m on a tall building, I can’t take steps bigger than 3-4 inches at a time. It’s like my brain thinks that my steps will cause the building to fall over if they’re too big, so I end up doing an awkward short-shuffle while clinging on to any available railing with a death grip. Watching me walk around a tall building has to be like watching a dog with boots on: all awkward movements and confusion.

But, for one reason or another, my fear of heights didn’t hit me as I stood on the railing, preparing for my bridge jump. I’ve read that right before you die, a sense of calmness washes over you as you prepare to leave this world and enter whatever comes next. The only thing I can think is that something akin to this happened to me on that September afternoon.

After a quick countdown, I jumped off the bridge.

Banos Bridge Jump About to Jump

The moment of truth in my bridge jump

I can still picture everything that happened in my head like it happened 15 minutes ago. Here is the exact thought process that went through my head in less than a second: holy shit, I just jumped off a bridge, I can’t believe I actually did that! Oh, the river below seems to be low because I can see a lot of the rocks in the riverbed. Well, there is the rock I am going to smash into when I hit the bottom. Kim is going to be so pissed off at me when I hit that rock. Holy shit, those rocks are really close now, I think I want to stop this whole bridge jump thing. Oh god, I’m going to die. Kim’s gonna be pissed at me for dying. Oh shit, here are rocks. Brace for impact! HOLY SHIT – THERE’S THE SKY!!!! Is this heaven? OH MY GOD, I’M SWINGING ON A ROPE!!!! WWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!! (then I exploded into laughter)

Here’s the video of it.

It was the most terrifying and exhilarating thing I have ever done. Once I was reeled onto shore, my adrenaline was pumping so hard that my legs shook. I had to take a few minutes before getting back on my bike, just to compose myself so that I didn’t alternate between giggling like a schoolgirl and erupting in primordial screams of the pure joy and excitement of facing death and surviving.

I’m glad I did it on impulse (i.e.: without thinking too much) because I definitely wouldn’t do it again. But, perhaps more importantly, it finally answered the question that my parents, teachers, and any other authority figure asked me when I was little: if you saw everyone else jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?

Well, my answer is not only a resounding yes, but if I get a friend to do it with me, can I get a discount?

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Author: Brian

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