DIVING INTO THE DEPTHS OF SOUTH AFRICA
I looked into Richard's dark eyes. They were as clear and bright as an icy Coke. I heard myself say the words before I knew what I was going to say. "I love you Richard. Do you love me?" Poor Richard. Who knew what sort of confessions he'd heard at the edge of this ancient cliff.
Trussed up and connected to a long cable, I was poised to jump into South Africa's Oribi Gorge. We were 120-kilometers south of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Moments before, I had whispered a silent apology to my husband back home, as I filled out the in-case-of-an-emergency details on the indemnity form.
Although I'd met Richard only moments before, he assured me that he really, really loved me too, that I would be thrilled to have done this, and to just please jump.
Instead, I asked him to check my harness. Once again, he checked the already-checked straps. He said, "I will count three-two-one and then you jump, alright?"
I inched forward, positioned my feet on the yellow shoe prints painted at the very edge of the abyss and asked myself for the zillionth time why I thought it necessary to fling myself into a 300 metre deep gorge while tethered onto a 100 metre rope.
I backed away from the cliff, sure I was going to throw up.
"I'm too afraid."
My heart seemed visible as it flung itself like an insane rabbit against my ribcage. "I can't," I said, "this is crazy." My legs were wobbly. I backed up slowly and sank next to Richard on the 365 million year old sandstone. Mere inches from my Nikes, the cliff dropped away over 300 meters.
Later, I realized I must have wanted 'I love you' to be my last words before I threw myself into a freefall, a dive that would fling me into the gorge below, and would only stop me (I hoped) when the rope came to its end.
But right now, my fibrillating heart reminded me of another question, "What if I die of a heart attack Richard?"
"I promise you won't die. Don't think about it. Just jump." His voice was strangely soothing and hypnotic, especially considering he was telling me to fling myself off a cliff.
I had seen him push the others; ones like me who couldn't find the will to do it themselves. "I know I told you that I didn't want you to push me," I said, "but I think you're going to have to...okay?"
This gorgeous, and very patient man, who had recently declared his love for me, nodded. I shuffled my feet to the very edge of the cliff. The fear rose in my throat as my heart pounded in my belly. I could not look down.
I did not die. And. With one fell swoop my brief fling with Richard was over.
But my love affair with South Africa grew deeper every day.
I came home dreaming of that ephemeral moment when the pink and gold warmth of the sunrise pushed back the pre-dawn dark while we floated up, up, up in our hot air balloon, until we hung suspended, silent and bathed in perfect light over the ancient Blyde River Canyon.
I remember too, those three-days spent at Kapama Private Game Reserve where crazy-luxury met the wild kingdom, like the sudden nighttime stop as our guide's spotlight revealed thirteen lions, faces bright with blood as they ripped into the belly of a warthog. The next day, that same pack lolled in the hot dust, grooming themselves back to a pretty innocence - fluffy and furry-soft like super-large toys strewn on a child's bed.
I want to go back again to see the shamans with their incredible piles of bark and magic potions in the heart of the cosmopolitan city of Durban.
Or to linger once more in my new favourite hotel, The Oyster Box, with bedside views over the Indian Ocean...
It won't matter if you choose to fling yourself into the Oribi Gorge or opt for something a little less adrenalin-invoking on your own journey into the heart of South Africa...whatever you do, or wherever you find yourself, I guarantee your heart will be pounding and you will find yourself head over heels in love.
IF YOU GO:
For more info: www.southafrica.net
Photos: by Colleen Friesen unless otherwise indicated
1. Gorge Swing - Colleen Jumps: Photo credit David DiGregorio
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