Travelers Roundtable

Actual photo of the inside of Robert Bundy’s head as he prepares to jump off Macau Tower. (Illustration ©Rich Sparks)

A young woman stands on the ledge of the high building, tears welling in her eyes, shaking with fear—is she going to jump? I try to catch her eye, waving to get her attention, and finally she looks my way. Ignoring the looks of disapproval from other onlookers, I encourage her to leap. A moment later, despite her palpable fear, she leans into the empty air and drops like a stone toward the city below. “YES!” I shout with an enthusiastic first-pump—she went through with it! As her body plummets toward the ground, I hear her scream echoing out below me: “OHMIGOD! WOO-HOO!”

Macau Tower, home to the highest commercial bungie jump in the world. Photo ©Robert Bundy

Over the next few minutes, as she yo-yos up and down on the end of the thick bungee cord attached to her body harness, she continues to scream variations on the general theme of “WOO-HOO!” I grin as I listen to her carry on, glad for her that she pushed herself to do this, to jump from the top of the 1,109-foot-tall Macau Tower. Though it took a nudge or three to get her to this point.

What’s a Little Torture Amongst Friends?
It’s a few days earlier, and we’re touring Macau with some fellow travel writers. Our guide points to the looming Macau Tower, a symbol of the city since 2001, and tells us that it features the highest commercial bungie jump in the world. I immediately state my intention to experience it, and the young woman, my friend and fellow travel writer Kelly Lewis, quickly chimes in that she’s interested, too. But almost immediately she pulls back. She’s not sure. She wants to do it, she says, but she’s scared. She’s backpedaling away from her initial impulse, and starting to talk herself out of it right in front of me.

I know that feeling well, and I want to help, so I get after her like a border collie targeting a wayward sheep. I encourage, I joke, I cajole, I emphasize what an amazing opportunity this is for both of us. I go so far as to invoke the dreaded Triple-Dog Dare to try to get her off the dime. But she’s still uncertain, and plainly rattled as she looks at the soaring tower overhead. Several of our other traveling companions scold me, telling me to leave her alone, she doesn’t have to do it if she doesn’t want to. So I back off. For the moment. If I’m genially torturing her, it’s only because it’s exactly what I would want someone to do to me if I was in her situation. Because I have been in her shoes—many times—and those roads not taken are my greatest regrets as a traveler.

It’s said that when you die, it’s not what you did that you most regret, it’s what you didn’t do. I’m sometimes haunted by those missed opportunities; the castle I skipped at the end of a long day in Bavaria; the unexpected invitation to attend a local wedding in Turkey that I refused because it would disrupt my carefully planned itinerary; that time I turned down the chance to serve as a last-minute substitute for a sick picador and face a Miura fighting bull in the ring at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid because I had lunch plans… okay, so I made that last one up but the point is that these lost opportunities can gnaw at you forever. And now I see my friend in danger of making the same mistake.

High atop Macau Tower, Kelly Lewis attempts a fake smile before her rendezvous with destiny.

So I persist. I ignore the admonitions of our over-protective traveling companions, and eventually coax her up to the top of that huge tower on the day in question. I keep the jokes coming fast and furious as she struggles with yet another change of heart, until finally she stands there on the ledge with me while two men strap her in and get her ready to dive into Macau.

Kelly Takes the Plunge
I want her to go first so I can make sure she doesn’t bail on it. That turns out to be a good idea. She stands shivering, trying to gather her courage. Her lower lip trembles. She seems right on the verge of crying. In a rush of words, I hear her tell the two operators, “I can’t do this! I can’t do this! No!” I call to her over the high wind, “You can do it, Kelly!” The two men also work to soothe her, reassuring her that all will be well. Finally, she steps out onto the projecting beam and, after one final hesitation, makes herself take the plunge.

WOO-HOO!
As she falls, safely rebounds, and is gently lowered onto the broad trampoline waiting below, she hollers with relief and exhilaration at the release of all that fear that had nearly held her back. She yells her dang head off. God is mentioned at least twice. She laughs more, and then circles back for a few more WOO-HOOs. I’m so happy for her. Once the operators are sure she’s clear of the trampoline, they come over to me where I’m sitting. Perhaps to congratulate me for my unfailing support for my friend? Nope, in fact, they’re leading me out to the edge of the precipice to follow her down. 

OH, CRAP.
I’ve been so intent on rooting for Kelly to conquer her fear that I had momentarily forgotten that I was jumping, too. Because my focus was on helping her, I hadn’t mentally prepared to make the jump myself. And I sure as hell can’t back out now. I was the big talker who made her do it, despite the fact that I have never bungie jumped, and now here I am atop the highest one in the world.

The fear center of my brain. ©Rich Sparks

No Backing Out Now
I plaster a big, fake grin on my face as the men tighten my harness and prep me for the jump, but I’m almost petrified with fear. Unbidden, the fear center of my brain wakes up and frantically fires off a flurry of dissents: 

“Hey, maybe we should take a closer look at some of Kelly’s previous protests before we rush into anything, huh? Say, is it always this windy up here? Do they ever call it off on account of high wind, winds like these for instance? How good are these guys at their jobs? I know that no one has ever died doing this here, but they didn’t say whether or not there is a huge hospital nearby full of unlucky jumpers now in vegetative states and only kept alive by machines. And who can I ask about that? As Kelly took so long, will they now try to make up for lost time by rushing the next guy—me—to make their quota, and forget some key detail? LIKE THE BUNGIE CORD?!”

The rational side of my brain.©Rich Sparks

Just as I’m about to tell the guys that I think I left the iron on back in my hotel room and have to beg off, the analytical side of my brain decides to air an opposing view:

“Relax. It’s not like you answered a Craigslist ad from a guy named “Hoka-Dave” running a company called “Lucky Bungie” out of an unmarked van who agrees to meet you at a public bridge during the security guard shift change (still glad you passed on that one.) Instead, you’re in the good hands of AJ Hackett, a world-class bungee operator who has safely guided jumpers for decades. Everything you’ve seen confirms that they are a thoroughly professional, well-oiled machine, and they have a perfect safety record. Come now, you’re not seriously considering backing out at this point—not after haranguing Kelly for days to do this—why, you’d never live it down—ever. And besides, you’ve already paid for the souvenir t-shirt…

In the end, that’s what it comes down to; I’ve already bought the t-shirt. That, and the shameful fact that I would rather die plummeting to my death than die of embarrassment.

OH, CRAP II: The Crappening
Desperately hanging onto the frozen smile masking my fear, I step out onto the very edge of the platform. One of the operators tells me that he’s going to now let go of the heavy cord shackled to my ankles, and I tell him okay. It’s a lot heavier than I expect, though, and when it falls away beneath me and goes taut, for one terrifying moment I feel as though the weight of it is going to yank my feet out from under me and slam me into the narrow girder beneath me. But it doesn’t. I draw in a ragged breath and steady myself. I’ve done tandem skydives before accompanied by a pro but for this I’m alone, and I feel it. Despite the operator’s insistence that I keep my eyes on the sky, I look down anyway.

Kelly did it, I think. And it sounds like she enjoyed it. Maybe I should go down there and ask her, y’know, just to make sure. It’ll only take a minute.

I allow myself one last look at the spectacular view of the city of Macau below me, spread my arms, and stand poised to dive off the top of the 61-story building to go meet my friend. But I don’t just allow myself to fall forward. As if to compensate for my cowardly internal battle with my fear, in a tiny act of empty bravado, I force myself, instead, to leap.

Taking the plunge.

Eight Seconds of Clarity
I fall.

And then I keep falling.

Later, I’m still falling.

It’s a long way down.

Still falling.

I don’t scream “WOO-HOO!” as I fall, as Kelly had. Not at first. Instead, I’m weirdly calm. Not out of bravery–please. I mean, let’s face it, falling at 100mph toward the ground, I’m frankly out of options. For whatever reason, however, my fear seems to leave me as I fall. After a lifetime with my feet mostly on the ground, it’s curious to not be physically attached to the world by the force of gravity, even as I feel it relentlessly working to reunite me with the earth.

For the eight long seconds of free fall, every trivial thought in my head vanishes. I’m mercifully no longer thinking about myself. All of my attention is now instead extended into the world around me. I’m not thinking of the previous moment, or the next one, I’m just wholly immersed in the now and strangely, wonderfully at peace with it. The moment of falling from so far, for so long, alone, is what I imagine the moment before death will be like; a serene moment of perfect clarity. As the late Steve Jobs so eloquently put it, “Oh, wow.”

Halfway down and still alive.

Then the half-mile-long cord catches me, stretches what feels like the length of a football field, and then sends me flying hundreds of feet back the way I came. As I shoot skyward back up the side of the tower, my internal dam breaks and my own cry of exhilaration and relief roars out of me. From below, I hear Kelly cheering “WOO-HOO!” back to me in answer. I can hear the smile in her voice. We didn’t die, of course we didn’t, we were safe all along. But we did authentically face our fears, however unfounded they were. We dove into the unknown, and came out the other side just a tiny bit different than we were before. And isn’t that what travel is really all about?

As my feet touch down onto the ground, I think of an inspirational quote written on one of the huge windows of the observation deck we just jumped from:

“Every day, do something that reminds you you’re still alive.”

Today, together, we did.

Preparing to jump from Macao Tower.

WHEN YOU GO

Fly with EVA Airways. The airline connects with Macau by way of Taipei from New York City, Chicago, Houston, and Seattle, and is an excellent choice for a long-haul flight to Asia; the seats are comfortable, the food is good and varied, they offer solid in-air entertainment options, and families traveling with children will be grateful for the many little kid-friendly options. EVA Airways boasts one of the most modern fleets in the world, and was recently named the 2018 Travelers Choice airline by TripAdvisor.

Stay at The Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel, Cotai Central.  This world-class, luxury hotel  offers posh accommodations, serene rooftop pools, lush gardens with fountains, a wealth of entertainment options, a lively casino, great dining destinations, and luxurious spa treatments.

Jump! Get tickets for AJ Hackett’s Macao Tower BUNGY JUMP.

Explore other AJ Hackett attractions at Macau Tower including their SKYWALK, SKYJUMP, and TOWERCLIMB, all of which also frighten me. (Now through September 30th, 2018, get a free SKYWALK ticket when you purchase a full package SKYJUMP. See their website for details.)

EXPERIENCE MACAO Get details on more great activities and experiences in Macao, and start planning your own Macanese adventure today.

 

Brush with Greatness: Whale-watching Along the Dominican Republic
Robert Bundy

Robert Bundy

Robert Bundy has visited more than 300 cities and 32 countries in the last ten years and still gets a charge out of getting his passport stamped. He convenes The Travelers' Roundtable is part of Lake Effect with host Mitch Teich for WUWM 89.7 Public Radio Milwaukee.

FEEDBACK