Never is a strong word, but it’s not unbreakable.
In my drunken stupor the night before, I had glossed over the fact that this morning we would be bringing our dinner leftovers to a local classroom of students age 7 or 8 and teaching them a lesson. To me this seemed strange thing to do for a tour company, but upon further reflection it was a good way to give back to the community and learn more about the locals.
We entered the classroom and the kids did a greeting Haka dance for us and tried to be as passionate and fierce as they could by shouting and stomping their feet, but honestly they just looked pretty adorable. Afterwards there was a worksheet to fill out. The A-Z of World countries. We were all to pair up with a child from the class and teach them about places around the world that would satisfy the worksheet.
Sitting in a circle, we do a quick round of introductions and also say where we are from. Then the teacher calls out for everyone to pair up. There were only 4 girls in the class, and one had been eyeing me intently, but even with a gaze of confirmation I get a burst of childhood insecurity. “What if no one wants to be partners with me?”
Just barely a second after I had that thought, a little hand takes hold of mine and leads me to a table with two chairs. A young boy by the name of Brooklyn reintroduces himself to me and hands me the worksheet. I smile at him and look around the room, while others are still trying to figure out who to be partners with, this kid picked me first. I might just be glowing at this point, but I don’t think anyone else noticed.
Slowly we work through our sheet, until completed and then Brooklyn wants to read a book. We end up reading it together, since he is having trouble with the words. I desperately want to capture this moment for my 100 days project, but when I suggest taking a photo of him, below is the closest I would come to getting photo.
Ha. While everyone else is taking selfies with their kids, I get the very decisive but photo shy youngster. Very fitting considering I’m the same way.
After everyone is complete with their worksheets, it’s time to say goodbye. Brooklyn gives me a hug and I stand up to walk towards the door not realizing that my legs would get hug attacked from the other children in the class. It was the most wonderful feeling. Kids are not bound by the rules of adults, they are honest with their feelings, open, and give love and affection freely. Just as I’m starting to get choked up I notice a little girl latched herself onto both my legs a little longer than the rest. I reach down to give her a hug and say hello, when she spies my necklace.
Me: Yeah it’s a Wonder Woman necklace.
Her: Can I have it?
Me: I’m afraid not, it’s mine.
Her: (She reaches up and puts her tiny fingers around it) What if I just… (does a light imaginary yanking action)
Me: (I laugh) Well… then I’d have to… TICKLE ATTACK!!!!
Her: (She releases the necklace while giggling and slowly backing away) Ok ok!
One last hug for her and she’s back into the crowd as we exit, I turn back to look at our group and see everyone is either trying to take selfies with Sue Ling, or all the boys have dog piled onto Cid. We make our way out finally and outside of the classroom everyone we’re all smiles. We piled into our tour bus and bid our hostess a cheery goodbye.
Next stop. Lake Taupo. Activity? Sky Diving.
Months before this trip Latika asked me if I was going to go skydiving in New Zealand, she said it was one of the best things she’s done there. I was vehement in saying no, it was not on my bucket list, nor was it ever going to be. She asked me again later when we were walking over this overpass in Japantown SF where I was clutching her arm, trying not to look down, and the answer was still no.
A fear of heights also reminds me about the one time that an ex and I decided to go on this open air carnival ferris wheel, where we basically sat in the middle scared shitless while it swung. Yeah um no. No skydiving for moi.
Then my birthday happened and I had a mini-midlife crisis.
I just felt like after talking to so many people prior to this trip, everyone used their 20s to adventure. They saw the world on a budget, partied, and lived life. Me? I spent most of my early 20s working insane hours and hating vacation.
That’s right, I hated vacation. At the time I just didn’t realize that you had to have similar travel philosophies with friends you were going to travel with, or could travel alone. Each vacation would lead into a hostile fight and make things just not seem worth it or enjoyable. On vacation I longed to be home in my cosy apartment and missed my coworkers so much that I would pay ridiculous amounts to access the internets just to chat them and feel grounded. While I don’t regret that time spent because to this day I still adore those coworkers, I sometimes wonder…
Now all those friends who partied and lived life are all settled, engaged, or married with or without kids. Here I’m starting to step outside of my comfort zone and realizing I’m not ready to be settled. I worry that I haven’t lived fully, and it’s time to make that commitment to myself. So on my birthday, I renewed my promise to myself from earlier this year “Take more risks in everything.” Or more simply, all the all the things, and step one in a life fully lived? Falling out of a plane in one of the most breathtaking places on Earth.
Seagull drove us to the parking lot where Skydive Taupo would be picking us up in a pink limo. Swanky. With me in todays adventure was Marscha, Ian, Inessa and Lucy. We boarded the limo happily and chatted on the way there, Lucy was still in a state of nervous terror. The bus driver joked that at least we’d all get a chance to be strapped to a handsome young man today, to which Ian mockingly voiced his feigned excitement at that possibility with a polite and girly sounding “Tee hee.”
Once we arrived at the dive location we watched a couple intro videos, signed away our lives and decided what package to get. I decided on the highest elevation of 15000 ft, since well it’s ‘the value’. I mean we’re up there anyway, what’s the difference other than price? Besides, as I mentioned before, the exchange rate was excellent for USD at the time. Decided also on getting the go-pro hand cam to document my experience as you could hear more of what’s going on vs just having the free fall photos.
By the time most of us have signed away our lives for the day, Lucy has officially backed out of partaking in this adventure. We all cheered her on in her decision.
We moved to get suited up, and I met my instructor, an older gentleman who looked like current day David Caruso. While he was helping me get ready I played the NYPD Blue intro credits briefly in my head. Yes yes, I watched a lot of tv growing up ok?
The odd thing about fearful situations for me is I’m able to completely compartmentalize the event into distinct pieces and ignore the things that I don’t want to deal with right away. For instance, signing a waiver didn’t mean jumping out of a plane, nor did suiting up, nor did getting on the plane and taking off. Everything was a step towards the eventual skydiving experience, but broken down into the individual steps, and taking things one logical event at a time makes stressful events seem less scary.
Boarded the plane first, then Marscha, Ian and Inessa board with their instructors. I am a bit concerned that my instructor hasn’t instructed me on anything yet, but when I ask him how many tandem dives he’s done, he replies proudly eighteen thousand. After that proclamation I’m feeling ok with this, as he’s pointing out the view out of the plane for me to take in. Taupo on a beautiful clear day is a sight to behold with it’s deep blue waters and snow capped mountains. Drinking in the view I lament to myself how I wish they would let us bring our camera phones, alas…
We level out at 12000 ft and it’s a startling bounce feeling since I’ve never flown in a small plane before. Inessa, having skydived before has decided she just wanted to take in the view at the most affordable option, she choose the 12000 ft skydive only package ie. sans video. They open the door and I’m still feeling fine and then suddenly poof. She’s not on the plane anymore and the plane does a bit of leveling for the loss of their weight.
INESSA IS NOT ON THE PLANE ANYMORE. HOLY SHIT.
Things got real and I could not sustain the compartmentalizing anymore. I erupt in a fit of coughs, which is what I do when I’m stressed. David asks me if I’m doing ok, and I give him a thumbs up through watery eyes.
Him: I’m still going to push you out of the plane, ok?
Me: Yes ok. (I choke back a couple last gag coughs)
We continue to climb to 15000 ft and David places an air mask on me. I try to breath through it methodically, in 2, 3, out 2, 3. Repeating to myself: I will not choke while falling out of a plane.
Once my breathing was even keeled again we were at our altitude. Ian and his team go next and he’s super gung ho about it, after all he is military. He pops out of the plane with completely carefree with the aura of a rockstar. Ian’s departure from the plane hit me less hard than Inessa, but now I was next. David moved me to the edge and to help me quell the fear I decided not to look down out of the window. I leaned my head against his shoulder and looked up, just as I’m getting used to my feet dangling out the door and the wind kissing my face, David yells “Go!”. We’re falling out of the sky.
We did 3 barrel rolls before he leveled us out. I’m trying to scream, but it’s that roller coaster feeling, where you want to but just can’t. There’s no stomach dropping here however, it’s pure adrenaline. In my head all I can hear is “Ahhhhhhh!” until I catch hold of my consciousness and realize “Oh, I should be trying to take in the view let me try looking around. Ooooh pretty views.” Then comes the “Oh shit, I’m drooling, this go-pro video is going to be shit-tastic. Close your mouth Jessica, close… wait that’s not working it feels uncomfortable. I’m just going to let the drool flow and never show anyone this video that I paid for. I mean it’s just for me right?”
More attempted screaming happens and David asks me how I am, I give the thumbs up and a minute later he’s pulled the parachute. Oooph. Did not like the parachute choking up on the harness I’m sitting in. Then he does a cork screw, which gets us down faster but I alert him that it was making me nauseated and he stopped. Then he hands me the controls and I briefly panic imagining what would happen if I let them go by mistake. I don’t actually let them go, but I can’t seem to control the chute with my muscle strength, whereby he just taps my bicep and is able to control my arms. Ha.
Having more time to look around in the harness as we glide down I realize Taupo is so beautiful.
David points out different places to me as well as the landing site and gives me instructions on how to lift my legs so I land on my butt. We come in for a super smooth landing. After Marscha lands behind me we unload our gear enter the building still in a lucid state of euphoria and retrieve our belongings from the lockers. Then we head into the video editing area and await our films. They all are hilarious and wonderful except for Ian’s which looks more badass than usual since he only ordered the free fall cam. Pick up our t-shirts and thumb drives at the door and Lucy takes a wonderful snap for us before we all get into a state of free wifi trance while waiting for Seagull and the bus.
Once on the bus we tell tall tales of our adventures and the fun, until Cid mentions that he managed to get Seagull to take them off normal plan to this hot springs waterfall that he had been told about. WTF?!?! I missed a hot waterfall? Cry. I have always wanted to hike to a natural warm spring, and here they are soaking in a hot waterfall in New Zealand. UGH. At least I fell at the earth today.
Next stop was our only 2 day overnight stay, so first, we’d need to go grocery shopping since on the second day food wouldn’t be provided. I grabbed another steak and mushroom pie for lunch (I eats ALL THE PIES in NZ) and then bought a bunch of sandwich making materials since I didn’t want to cook or wash dishes. Seagull had also mentioned that we should get double the supplies of what our normal per night drinking regimen is. So I got 4 beers. Hahahaha. Yup that’s double.
Beautiful scenery awaited us on the way to our next stop, including a great view of Mount Doom.
Once we arrived at our next hostel, Blue Duck station we started with unpacking food and getting room assignments. I’d be splitting with Sonja, Lisa and Cid again. Then separated from them as they were cooking to have lasagna dinner in the main room which was not bad. Then we all managed to hang out by the fire outside, drink beer and listen to music. Ended up wanting to do some blogging so I camped out in the warmth of the common room, before heading to bed.