African adventures

06/08/2019 10:51

From paragliding to bungee jumping to encounters with lions, South Africa is a destination to get your heart racing.

Like birds in the sky

Mid-March marks South Africa saying goodbye to summer and embracing autumn’s arrival. The sky is still tauntingly blue, winds have yet to be fierce, mountains are lushly draped in thick greenery, and the sea remains a dreamy vision. For paragliders, this time of year is ideal to take off and hover like carefree birds.

I picked Knysa, a little town on the Western Cape to freely explore the sky. This was the first time for me to try paragliding over land. The takeoff area was a hill boasting scenic beauty, towering over a valley, a town, a bay and the sea. I did not glide alone, but with a local tour guide and after 10 minutes, it was possible to relax by leaning back and gliding under the guide’s instruction.

Because Knysa is located in the Garden Route running along the Southeastern sea of South Africa, you will be dazzled with the incredibly rich terrain, from mountains, hills and vales to lakes right next to the endless stretch of beaches of the Indian Ocean. Nothing can compare to the kaleidoscopic tapestry of nature at the height of 126 meters. Before my experience ended, the instructor performed some acrobatic twists that really gave the sensation of flying. Depending on the wind and with any slight danger of the weather, the glide would immediately stop and sometimes you may land on a spot very far away from the departure one.

The big fall

Still on the Garden Route, I left the Western Cape to reach the Eastern Cape. The two regions are connected by Bloukrans Bridge, and located in the middle of this bridge is a golden opportunity for all thrillseekers: a bungee jump. The height of the jump is 216 meters, twice the height of our paragliding spot and setting a record for the highest bungee jumping bridge in the world.

The jump, which lasts for less than ten seconds, takes place right off the bridge, with vehicles crossing past and a grimly ravenous abyss below. After I had my your back and legs wrapped with a big rope, I headed straight for the spring board. A feeling of fear took hold at the daunting height and the strong wind blowing. At that time, the organizer asks the question: “Are you ready?” Experienced jumpers will tell you not to look down, but just straight ahead, or else you hesitate and step back.

When jumping, you’re told to spring forward and spread your arms wide. Why? You will be perfectly posed for a good photo. The organizer collects all videos of your bungee jump and a screen is placed at the takeoff site to encourage the next jumpers in line. The rate for a bungee jump is around 1,350 Rand (nearly US$100), and just 400 Rand more (or US$27) for both video and photos of you in the air. If you’re still short on courage, just know that the oldest bungee jumper ever tried his luck on this bridge at the age of 96 and survived it well.

Into the wild

If you’re afraid of heights and speed, another adventure option is available: a “game drive” in a vehicle to see wild animals among reserves spanning thousands of hectares. There are many such locations in South Africa. I chose Kariega, a 1.5-hour drive away from Elizabeth Port (Eastern Cape). Kariega stretches over 10,000 hectares and is divided into three zones separated with barbed wire. Benign hebivorous animals are typically seen in zones 1 and 2, while in zone 3, you are much more likely to encounter lions, cheetahs or rhinos.

Vehicles for the game drive were open-top jeeps with elevated seats. Wayne, 28, who boasts 10 years of experience in these adventurous drives, was our driver and tour guide. Waking up at 4:30am, our group was ready for the morning game drive that lasted three hours. We all wished to encounter the “king of the jungle” – a lion. The main instructions we were given were simple: always obey Wayne and never rise or get out of the jeep. If you stand up, lions might jump at you. Just sit still, look around and take photos.

As the sun rose, Wayne tracked the footprints of a pride of lions after the rain last night, and fortunately we encountered the pride, which had five lions: 2 males and 3 females. They idly wandered and sought out spacious areas to lounge and play around. Jeep stopped nearby, absolutely still, as the only sounds heard were camera shutters as they crossed. My fear spiked as they walked past and looked at me from head to toe. The moment they walked past us was enough to make my heart skip beat after beat, the same as my bungee jump. However, this time, there was no jumping or movement at all – I stayed perfectly still so as not to awaken any wild instincts from these incredible predators.

Story: Giang Le

Photos: Tran Viet Dung

Story: Giang Le

Photos: Tran Viet Dung

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