By Di Brown (The Roaming Giraffe)
“Look straight ahead and just take a step forward,” says Aliocha, our guide. I am about to obey and then time slows down… My legs turn to jelly and my mind screams, “Are you flippen insane?” I am standing on a slippery rock next to a waterfall that drops for way too many metres before it hits the pool below in a fury of white water. Above me green cliffs soar towards the heavens, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and I am in paradise.
I am also absolutely petrified and unable to move. For days I have been mentally preparing myself for this jump of eight meters. It is mind over matter. It will be over in seconds. You can do it. Right – tell that to my body, because as much as I really want to jump, I just can’t seem to take that one little step. I decide to start again. I take a step back and foolishly look down. A swear word escapes from my lips.
Right, I am afraid of heights and today I am going to face my fear. I make the decision, step forward, look forward and so begins the longest hesitation… For thirty endless seconds I stand like a fool saying out loud, “I am going to do this, I want to do this, I can do this.”
I hyperventilate. And then I just jump. It is not pretty, it is nowhere near graceful, but it is exhilarating. I free fall and hit the water like a bullet, my body goes underwater while the life jacket rockets up to my ears and pops me back above the surface. Laughing and gasping for breath, I look up to where I was standing just a few seconds ago. It looks so far away; I can’t believe I just jumped from way up there. I feel like a ninja. I am a flippen ninja.
Welcome to the ultimate experience on Reunion Island. This is Aqua Hiking, and if I can do it, anyone can do it. The first challenge of aqua hiking starts after a winding, uphill drive from the coastal town of Saint Benoit to a small informal car park alongside the Langevin River. The guide Aliocha, (just call me Yosh) presents me with my outfit for the day. Stripped down to my bathing costume I start the long and arduous process of putting on a full body wetsuit. This involves a lot of grunting, rolling, stretching and pushing flesh into rubbery corners until finally it is on and I am exhausted.
Then come the socks, takkies, life jacket and helmet and the final flourish is a heavy duty Prussian blue piece of plastic that fits like a nappy. Not styling this look at all, and sweating profusely in this attractive getup, I start the 200 metre uphill walk to the official starting point. The views from the start are spectacular and a good excuse for a quick rest. A group in front of me is ziplining into the pool below, but our route involves climbing, slithering and slipping down black mossy rocks, over boulders into eight-degree water. A few practice jumps off a meter high rock and I am oozing confidence. Bring it on.
I realise that this water flows pretty fast and so I concentrate on the instructions given by Yosh. He tells me to lie on my back and use my feet and hands to avoid crashing into large rocks. OK then. Yosh is incredibly fit, softly spoken and really calm. This is a good thing as freaking out was definitely an option on hearing these instructions, “Lie down, I am going to push you underwater. You must go under this rock, but don’t worry, you will come up on the other side.” Whaaat? I can’t even see the other side. Somehow I obey, and don’t drown. I swirl along a few more gentle rapids, taking the line Yosh indicates and probably due to brain freeze, I trust everything that he says. Mostly it works out fine and then this happened.
I have been slipping and sliding over rocks, wading through shallow pools and climbing up and down embankments around trees, when I am told to sit down on a flat rock waist deep in water. “Move to the left and lie down in the channel. Look up, cross your arms over your chest, I am going to push you, and keep to the left of the waterfall. Just trust me, ” he says. What the……. ?
I am sliding, no I am airborne and I am hurtling down a waterfall, inhaling most of it as I go. Once again the life jacket hits my ears and spluttering, choking and laughing, I hang onto a rock to catch my breath. A swim to the rocky wall and I am behind a waterfall. Oh my soul, this is too much. I stand there grinning like a maniac trying to take it all in. The noise of the water rushing to meet the pool overwhelms all other senses and for a moment I am completely in awe of the power of nature. It is raw, unbridled energy. Crouched down, I use everything I have to launch myself and I dive right through the waterfall and into the white water. I roll onto my back and float with the current.
I have never felt so alive.
All too soon it is over and I wade through a few more pools before the short walk up and along the embankment to the car park. The adventure ends with an ice cold beer and the long process of getting out of wet-suits, helmets and all the rest and back into regular clothes. I felt like I could conquer the world. The next day, I could barely walk and sported an impressive collection of scrapes and bruises. But I feel like a ninja. I am a flippen ninja.I would do it again without a second thought. Next time, I’m choosing the full day option.
Need to Know:
To book an Aqua Hike contact www.Runaventures.com
Air Austral flies between Johannesburg and Reunion Island on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Photo Credits: Hannelie Diedericks.
Disclosure: Di’s visit to Reunion Island was as a guest of Reunion Tourism. Opinions are her own.
Read more about Di Brown’s adventures on: The Roaming Giraffe.