Choose Your City
Change City

Facing up to fear at Batoka Gorge

<p>Legs bound, stomach queasy, it was too late to chicken out. Standing on the ledge of a deep gorge, tied to ropes and harnesses, I summoned the nerve to jump.<br /></p>

julia dimon/for metro toronto

The Gorge Swing, an extreme activity unique to Zambia, is similar to bungee jumping — but with the Batoka Gorge’s drastic drop in the background.

Legs bound, stomach queasy, it was too late to chicken out. Standing on the ledge of a deep gorge, tied to ropes and harnesses, I summoned the nerve to jump.

This was the Zambezi Swing, an extreme activity similar to bungee jumping. Adventurers are outfitted in gear, secured to a wire and led to a platform. They free-fall 50 metres and finish with a pendulum swing over a dry gorge.

Sounds crazy, but, when visiting the quaint town of Livingstone, adrenaline-soaked activities are a must. An adventure hot spot located in the southern tip of Zambia, Livingstone is the place to be for thrill-seekers. It draws young travellers keen on testing their nerves and their bladder control.

Local tour operators offer all kinds of activities, but it was the Gorge Swing that piqued my interest. I definitely don’t like heights, but, since Zambia is one of the only places in the world that offers the Gorge Swing experience, I thought I should give it a try.

Strapped in harnesses and carabiners, a traveller summons her courage to jump out over Batoka Gorge.

Early morning, I found myself at Batoka Gorge. Though the scenery was beautiful — orange rock-faces, lush trees and a view of the Zambezi River — the drop was drastic. I was expected to jump off a 70-metre platform into a pit 170 metres wide.

“Insane,” I thought to myself as staff tightened thick straps and clipped on metal carabiners to my harness.

Emmanuel, my buff instructor, offered a quick lesson. “Bend your knees. Keep your head down and tuck in your chin,” he said, binding my feet together with an elasticized rope.

There was the option of going solo or tandem; falling face-first or backwards. I chose to go solo and backwards so I couldn’t see the ground as I plummeted toward it.

Taking baby steps backwards, I inched my way closer to the edge, catching one last glimpse at the drop that awaited me.

My heart was pounding. I was having some major second thoughts. I’m the type of girl who likes the comfort and certainty of terra firma. Heights just aren’t my thing. I scurried away from the edge and asked a patient Emmanuel to go over the safety rules one last time.

“Don’t think about it, just do it,” he said with the gusto of a motivational speaker.

I remembered the company’s impeccable safety record: seven years, 50,000 jumps, no fatalities. Gaining control of my fear, I accepted the task and got into position. Emmanuel grabbed hold of my harness, dangled me backwards over the canyon’s edge and waited for my word of approval. “Don’t let me go until I’m ready,” I commanded, taking a few deep breaths before whispering a meek “Ready.”

It’s counterintuitive to plummet backwards off a cliff, but that’s exactly what I did. The instructor let go and I free-fell backwards into the gorge. Speeding toward the Earth, a deep sound escaped my belly. It took a few seconds to realize that the monstrous, echoing moan was coming from my own lips. It was the sound of raw, uncensored fear.

The rope sprang back and I swung on the string like a human yo-yo. Alive and well, dangling in mid-air, I could finally enjoy the scenery. “Woo hoo! It’s beautiful,” I yelled.

Finding the courage to step off that ledge was terrifying, but, once the free-fall was over and the swinging motion took effect, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and relief.

Still buzzing from the drop, I was ready for more. Breathless and exhilarated, I trekked through the gorge, back up to the top, slipped into a harness and prepared for another jump.

Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie, an online magazine for independent travellers. She can be reached at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.

julia’s tips

The Zambezi Swing offers half-day ($65 US) and full-day ($95 US) gorge swings. The full-day option is the best value and includes lunch, beverages, a Zambian visa and transfers. You can swing as many times as you like (on average, three to five jumps) and, at no additional charge, you can try abseiling, highwiring and rap jumping. Visit www.thezambeziswing.comfor more information.