So I spent today jumping off a cliff.

Before I go into that, may I just point out that Livingstone has a significantly higher bug quotient than Lusaka? Creepy crawlies everywhere. I’ve got a room at Gecko’s Guesthouse, a hostel on the southern edge of the city that targets older and family backpackers — they market themselves as a quieter alternative to Jolly Boys and Fawlty Towers, the two mega-backpacker places (and Chachacha equivalents) in Livingstone.

Nice place, and there’s even a fan in my room (major bonus points there). But bugs all over. Not just bugs — stupid bugs. Bugs that look like flies (they have wings!) but for some reason appear interested only in walking. Try to squish them and they can’t seem to get properly motivated for evasive maneuvers.

I’m lying in bed right now, and every 90 seconds or so, there’s another one on me. I take my time to make visual confirmation (yes, that is a bug), evaluate the situation (this bug is a nuisance to me), and create a plan of attack (I do believe I shall crush this bug). I could calculate pi to 100 digits, run a 5K, and issue a press release announcing my intention to end this stupid bug’s stupid life, and it still would not have moved. It gets crushed (no resistance) and swept away, only to make way for his stupid little friend 90 seconds away.

They’re not even bugs I can have a proper respect for. Stupid bugs.

Anyway: As mentioned a couple days ago, I’m in Livingstone now to write about the adrenaline sports industry that’s popped up here in the shadow (in the spray?) of Victoria Falls. The highlight for me was the package offered by Abseil Zambia, which runs the Zambezi Swing. For $95, you spend the whole day knocking yourself out on their four activities:

1. Rappelling down the Batoka Gorge, a vertical drop of around 160 feet.
2. The rap-jump, which is just like rappelling except you’re facing down at the ground, sort of running down the cliff.
3. Flying Superman-style across a high wire spanning the gorge (about 400 feet or so)
4. The gorge swing.

Rappelling’s fun and all, and the high wire rocked. But the star power here is clearly the gorge swing, one of only two of its kind in the world (the other’s in South Africa). The company has strung a high-tension wire across the gorge and suspended some sort of anchor from the wire’s center. From that anchor hangs a looooong rope (of the rock-climbing variety, not the bungee variety). You stand on one side of the gorge, attach the rope to your harness, and jump off.

You freefall for about 160 feet (twice as far as the Vic Falls bungee, which is one of the world’s tallest). Then the freefall becomes the world’s largest tree swing, sending you at about 90 mph across the gorge, back and forth. It’s awesome.

As proof, I offer the first video (4.1MB) in history, of me making my first gorge swing. Luckily for both of us, you won’t be able to make out what I’m screaming right after the leap.

It’s really a wonderful sensation. The freefall is exhilarating (and noisy, between your screams and the rush of the wind). Then comes the swing, which is completely silent — your speed slows enough that the wind noise drops away and you’re left with a beautiful calm suspended in the middle of the gorge.

I should point out this was only the first of my three swings. For the second, I fell off the platform backwards. The third was the scariest of them all: stepping off the platform backwards, so for the entire freefall, you’re staring at the cliff’s rock face only about 10 feet away. If I can surmount some technical difficulties (sidenote: anyone know what it means when DV plays back poorly and the words “16 bit” flash on the video screen?), you may someday soon see videos of those other jumps here, too.

Only two things could damper the day’s happiness. The first was the fact that each jump meant a lengthy, arduous climb back out of the gorge. The first 15 minutes of that climb were perfectly pleasant; the last 15 were thigh killers, rock scrambling up a roughly 35-degree incline. Making that climb five times (three times after swings and twice after rappelling) made me yearn for the introduction of escalator technology to the bush.

The other downside was figuring out the economics. The place had around 20 customers today, which means about $2,000 in revenues. All the jumps are run by a staff of 22 young Zambian men. I chatted one of them up, and he said Abseil Zambia pays them each $1 a day. $1 a day! Scarily enough, that’s actually above the Zambian average income (barely), but it’s absolutely pathetic that the company’s labor costs were only $22 today. (There is one other employee — a woman who manages the operation and doesn’t seem to do much other than sit around all day. She’s also white, and I’m damned sure she makes more than $1 a day.)

Abseil Zambia is a South African-owned company, and a couple of the workers said SAf companies never pay well. I guess they’re used to artificially cheap black labor. I hope Abseil figures out some way to better share the profits of their excellent product.

28 October 2003


28 October | 18:46  |  karen

dear. lord.

I'd be terrified - I can't believe you did that! For most of the video you're just a teeny little dot...scary.

30 October | 7:18  |  griff


i'm sure ANSI makes daily visits to inspect the ropes, gear, and other safty standards.

30 October | 8:22  |  sarah

I'd like to see you promote the bug killing 5k. Funny, funny post. Especially the bugs. Cracked me up.

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