Our first stop was the Knysna Elephant Park. I missed my chance to walk with the elephants by Hartbeespoort Dam, but there were two elephant parks near Knysna so we decided to check one of them out. We got to the park a little after 10. We started by watching a short video about the elephants in the Cape and also about what to expect during our encounter with the elephants. Just before the video finished, Tyson kicked over a bench that was holding two plastic pails full of fruits and veggies that we had purchased to feed the elephants. We were off to a great start!
Next we boarded a trailer that was pulled by a tractor and headed out to see the elephants. We rode past a mom and her two year old baby. They were not going to be in the group that we were going to get up close to because the mom would have been too protective of her baby and that would have caused some problems. We got over to where the elephants were and all piled out of the trailer. There were 5 or 6 handlers out there and about 8 elephants, including 2 babies-a 9 month old and a 15 month old. There was a wooden railing and as soon as our tractor pulled up, all the elephants lined up behind the railing.
The first thing we did was take our pails of food and start feeding the elephants. It was so much fun. The two babies came out from behind the railing right away and were just walking around by all the people. Most of the big ones stayed behind the railing, although their trunks were long enough that they could reach quite a long ways to where we were standing. Tyson and Jori loved feeding the babies. They were both hesitant to go near the big elephants, which was fine by me. Jori wasn't quite as confident as Tyson, but if our guide took her hand she would go over to the baby and give it a piece of orange. The elephants trunk felt so strange when they would take the food out of your hand. It was kind of prickly feeling. It seemed to me that the elephants that got the most food were the babies and the ones with the longest trunks. The others were out of luck. There was one incident during feeding time. Two elephants were fighting over some food and they caused quite a commotion. It happened so fast that it was hard to tell what happened, but they ended up on the other side of the railing and were heading towards us. The handlers were right there pushing them away and getting them separated. The bigger elephant was pregnant and they herded her away from the people and the other elephants. This ended up being Jori's favorite elephant of all, the one she cannot stop talking about. Why? Because according to Jori, that elephant was in a “time-out”. I think we've all lost count of how many times she has brought up that elephant. She even talked about “that elephant in time-out” during her bedtime prayer. “Why that elephant in time out? He a naughty elephant.” Jori Jori.
After all the food pails were emptied, it was time to touch the elephants. We were told to stay away from the backside of the elephants. My first thought was “oh, they might poop on us”, but then I realized it was because they could squash us without much effort. Jori was pretty content to just be held as all the elephants were now roaming around and most of them were pretty big. Tyson was unaware of any danger, so we really had to keep a close eye on him. We got lots of pictures of us petting the elephants, touching their ears, feeding bottles to the babies, and more. As with many other things, having the kids there made it harder to totally enjoy the experience because you couldn't ever totally focus on the elephants, but it was still awesome. We were out there for at least a half hour and all had a great time.
We left the elephant park around 11:15. Then we headed towards Plettenburg Bay to grab some lunch. After a tasty meal from KFC, we drove on to Bloukrans. What is the significance of Bloukrans, you ask? It is the location of the highest bridge bungee jump in the world. How high is it? Over 650 feet, or the equivalent of a 65 story building. Are you wondering why we were there, or have you figured it out? Darin and my MOST favorite show is “The Amazing Race”. We love to see the contestants face challenges like jumping out of a plane, milking a camel, or riding on a bike that has so much stuff piled on it that the contestant can barely keep the bike up. One of the stunts that they have done on several seasons of the show is the bungee jump. How could we be so close to the highest bridge jump in the world, and not take the plunge??
We got to the check in area and were told that once you paid there were NO refunds, even if you decided not to jump. Darin asked if I was sure I wanted to do this and I foolishly said yes. So he paid for us both and it was time to get harnessed up. Of course we both had to make a pit stop at the bathroom first as we didn't want to pee our pants on the way down. After harnessing up, we joined our group of about 8 other people. I was the only girl in the group that was planning on jumping, although there were two moms who were going out on the bridge just to watch their kids. Our guide, Rhino (that really was his name), told us to follow him, so like sheep to the slaughter we all fell in line.
In order to get out to the jumping area, we first had to walk across a catwalk that was under the bridge. It was terrifying for me. It was a metal catwalk, but the bottom of it was like a fence that you could see through. I could hardly make myself take a step at first. I made Darin hold my hand and tried to look straight ahead. Every time my eyes decided to peek down I'd feel a horrible sense of panic. Then Darin said “I wonder how often they check this thing for rust spots”. Thanks honey. That is so reassuring to think about my foot falling through a rust spot while I am 650 feet about the ground. What a guy.
We made it to the platform and found out that Darin was going to be lucky jumper number 1. It was SO cold up there. Thankfully I had grabbed my moms sweatshirt, because if I had been up there in only my tank top, I might have had to head down before I even jumped. I went and huddled under a blanket next to the two moms while Darin was getting hooked up to the bungee cord. Then it was time for him to jump. Two guys put Darin's arms around their necks and walked him to the edge of the platform. 5,4,3,2,1 and off he went. There was a TV monitor where we were sitting, so I could see his face as he jumped and I could see his body dangling above the earth. It was so freaky, but just awesome. He'll have to tell you about what he was feeling, but when he was brought back up, he said it was great, other than the headache it gave him.
I ended up being the 4th jumper, so right after Darin got back up, it was time for me to get hooked up. I had to sit down while Rhino put some velcro things around my ankles/calves and then tied a rope between my legs and finally hooked it on to my harness. I wasn't really paying attention to what he was saying to me, and this would prove to be quite unfortunate. I was all ready to go. Two guys came and brought me to the edge of the platform. I was freaked. The one guy said “don't make it worse for yourself”, and then the countdown began. 5,4,3,2,1 and with a gentle nudge, I was free falling from 650 feet up. It was awesome, scary, exhilarating, terrifying, the coolest thing ever, and the dumbest thing I have ever done.
Within the span of two seconds, I had my eyes open, then shut, then opened them up again. It was amazing to look down and see the water, trees, rocks and hard hard ground rushing towards me. Then the bungee cord went taut and I was pulled back up towards the bridge. I was still doing ok, but then I went down and up again and felt the stuff tied on my legs slipping down. Did I mention that I was barefoot when I jumped? So here I am, being pulled up and down like a yo-yo high above the earth, and all that I can think about is that fact that my feet are about to slip through the bindings that are keeping me from falling to my death. I SERIOUSLY thought I was going to be the first fatality for this company. I am not a big girl. I have small ankles and my feet are slender. I was praying and saying “please Jesus, keep me safe” and at the same time I was flexing my feet, willing them to stay bent and not go straight. For surely, if my feet straightened and pointed up, they would slip right through the bindings and I would be dead. I knew that at any second someone was going to be coming down to hook me up for my ascent back up to the bridge (someone comes and hooks you so you end up in a sitting position instead of staying head down), and I was asking God to please send this person RIGHT NOW because I couldn't hold on much longer. Every once in a while, I would look around and think “it's pretty up here”, but then I would realize how far my fall to the ground was going to be and it was all I could do to not totally flip out. I am amazed by how calm I stayed in the moments before my certain death. Well, the guy came and got me, and when I told him to hurry because my feet were about to slip out, he just laughed. LAUGHED. The whole way up, even though I was now tethered to someone else, I still felt so horrible inside.
I finally made it back to the bridge and was reunited with Darin. He asked me how it was and I told him that the free fall was awesome, something I would love to do again, but I would probably never jump again because my feet almost feel out of the binding. He kind of laughed and said “oh yeah, mine felt like that too. I didn't want to tell you because I thought it would freak you out”. Huh?? You came back from jumping, told me how all sorts of bad things like getting a bad head ache, feeling like your face was being pulled off, and that you felt like you couldn't breathe, but you didn't tell me that you felt like your feet were going to slip out of the bindings???? If I had known that little bit of information, I could have asked Rhino about it and he could have eased my fears. But no, instead I spent almost a minute of my life believing I was about to die. Oh Darin.
While we were standing around, freezing, and waiting for the other guys to finish jumping, we did ask one of the workers if anyone's feet have ever slipped through. He also laughed and said “No, but if they did, you would still be tethered on to the bungee cord by your harness.”. Oh, yeah. And sure enough, when we watched the DVD of my jump, Rhino first ties up my legs and then hooks on the tether to my harness and says “you are tied on in TWO places”. If I had been thinking straight AT ALL, I am sure I would have realized this, but honest to God, in my mind, I was a goner. So, would I do it again?? You betcha. It was really amazing, other than the neck pain that I am now suffering.
While we were out on the bridge, my parents were watching our kids and trying to take pictures and video of us at the same time. It's a good thing that they were both there, because just before I jumped, Tyson stepped on a nail. It went right through his croc and into his foot. My parents both missed my big leap into space, but thankfully Tyson is ok. Darin and I weren't the only ones who ended up jumping. There was a small group going out after us and once we realized it wouldn't take over an hour, like it had taken for Darin and me to jump, my dad about ran to the cashier to pay for his chance to jump off the bridge. The kids were both screaming at him and telling him “Good job, Papa”.
After playing with elephants and jumping off a bridge, we decided to grab some groceries and head back to our cottage. It is just 10 o'clock right now, and even though there is election information on TV, my parents are both in bed and Darin is sitting on the sofa sleeping, just waiting for me to finish typing this up. Tomorrow we are planning to take it easy and head to the beach. We'll let you know how it goes.