Once you´ve flown,
you know why
the birds are always singing.
I´ve been biting my tounge (holding back my fingers?) trying to keep this secret — partially because I didn´t want to jinx it (which I almost did!) and partially because I knew certain people (mainly my incredibly loving, but risk-take-hating parents) would have a heart attack if I told them I was planning to pay good money to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. In fact, when I get home in two weeks (yikes!) I´m more than sure I´ll never hear the end of it.
As soon as I met Vincent back in Potosi and we started talking about the 50+ skydiving jumps he´d been on back in France, I was insanely jealous. I dídn´t come to South America expecting to, or even thinking about, going skydiving, but it´s something I´ve always wanted to do, and going with someone who knows the ropes sounded like the perfect chance.
Two weeks ago, at the end of our Salar trip, Vincent and I had read in my guidebook that Cordoba is one of the better known places in Argentina to go skydiving. So we made a plan to meet there in December, after he´d been to Buenos Aires and Iguazu (where I´ve already been) and I had explored Salta with Sergio. Two weeks later, we were hugging hello again on Cordoba´s Alevar street.
On our first day back together, we ventured out to Alta Gracia, a suburb 30 kilometers south of Cordoba where an aerodome is located. We found someone working at the office we´d researched, but they told us because of the weather, jumping that day was impossible. But they would gladly have us back tomorrow instead.
The company picked us up at our hostel at 9:45 AM the next morning and drove us back out to Alta Gracia, where we sat in the hanger and waited.
In fact, we waited all day, until 6 PM, to be given our final no, you cannot jump today. We´d been told throughout the day that the wind was too strong, and it was unsafe to jump, but they kept saying it might die down, or the conditions might change. I was relieved to know the company wouldn´t put us in danger just to take our cash, but mostly just bummed that we sat in an airport hanger all day for absolutely nothing.
Fed up of waiting and less than impressed with Cordoba, we decided to just head to Mendoza, where there were other companies that offered skydiving and where we could at least drown our sorrows in a good Malbec if we couldn´t actually jump out of an airplane.
After an exhausting overnight bus, we got to Mendoza and called the three Mendoza skydiving companies we could find. Two said we couldn´t jump with them until Tuesday, and the other said he´d pick us up the next morning at 9 AM. We were stoaked, but hesitant to get too excited.
On Monday morning, our guide arrived even earlier than anticipated, and after an hour of waiting and another hour of running around the city trying to get a cash advance on my credit card (the joys of what happens when you leave your debit card in the ATM and it gets stolen before you realize what happened) then eventually being able to pay by credit card, we were finally on our way.
Two hours later we arrived in the nothern city of San Juan. We were out of the jeeping and suiting up, Vincent and our guide chatting away about canopy sizes and equipment, before it began to hit me that I was actually getting ready to jump out of an airplane, not just sit around talking about it.
Up until a few moments before my feet dangled over the edge of the airplane floor I barely felt any nerves. Just a bit of anxiousness, since I´d been planning and talking about and anticipating this moment for nearly two weeks. The four of us (Vincent, myself, our guide who was my tandem partner, and another gentleman who is a student of our guide) were all sitting backwards, crammed into the seatless back section of our very tiny airplane, chatting about nothing in particular as we circled the air, slowly climbing to 10,000 feet. Those easily felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life, but not because of nerves, just from the simple anticipation. The moment I saw Vincent´s body plunge toward the earth as he exited the plane, I felt my stomach drop. But I still didn´t quite know what to expect, I was just as excited as I was nervous, and there was no way I was backing out then.
Attached by all our harnesses and gear, I sat on my guide´s lap and we pulled our feet out of the cabin and dangled them out into the windy sky.
“You ready?” he asked me? I don´t think I said yes, I think I just squealed.
One, two, three, jump!
And just like that, we were falling. Gracelessly, effortlessly, and so quickly that I didn´t even feel a pit form in my stomach. I expected that rollercoaster nerves feeling, but it never came. Just amazement, as we tumbled toward earth. At some point I physically I lost my breath, reminding myself to pull my head up and back so I could take in oxygen through my nose. After 30 seconds of face-flapping, mind-blowing free fall, my guide pulled out the chute, and we were suddenly vertical again, still floating easily and effortlessly through the sky, but this time guiding our own way.
It´s hard to describe the high, but Vincent taught me my opening quote about skydiving, and why he´s so addicted, and it made complete sense once I´d landed from our jump. There´s something exhilarating, freeing, and even relaxing about falling 10,000 feet. About trusting your body to guide you down, and trusting your mind to allow your body to do such an incredibly crazy thing. And in my case, trusting your tandem partner and your chute to function properly.
Luckily, my guide had just come back from competing in the world championships of skydiving in Dubai, and was on his 981st jump, so I didn´t have to worry that he didn´t know what he was doing. He spoke great English, explained everything to me calmly and logically, and I felt so safe knowing he was in total control.
I would jump again in a heartbeat, and despite its high price tag, I completely understand why skydiving can become an addiction. I loved every moment of my jump, and I´m so glad I had the guts, and opportunity, to try something so crazy, but so incredible.
I have a wonderful DVD of my jump, but I can´t rip it from the DVD without tech support and/or a working laptop, but I promise to post it when I get home!
This morning I´m also getting in an airplane, but this time, it´s a comercial Aerolinas Argentina flight down to Argentine Patagonia´s Bariloche. I´m trading the vineyards and 95 degree heat for hiking amongst mountain lakes and glaciers, but I´ve heard nothing but fantastic things about Bariloche, so I think it will be worth the trade!