Thursday, November 03, 2005

Northern Argentina V: When a man falls (and for a good reason)

Half a second after leaving the need for more commentary here


Even before I knew what my travel destination was, I knew I am going to Skydive where ever it will be. About 4 hours ago I have done so, and in this entry you will get my way of experiencing such a unique experience. Pour yourself a drink, sit down comfortably and start reading...

Around a year and a bit ago...
Skydiving for me was not only about enjoying or dealing with the most basic fear a human feels. As my father was a paratrooper himself in his past, and almost fifty years ago, at the 31st of october 1956, he participated in the single large scale operative airborne deployment over the Sinai desert, I felt that there is some kind of closing a circle. Unfortunately, my father past away two years ago, and since then I planned to jump and to "connect" with him, even if partially, at this adjacent point of life.

Around a month ago...
While I and Lee where staying in Salta, she asked when is my birthday and what am I planning to do. At first I didn't had any good idea, but then, when I saw how the time flows and where I was, it suddenly dawned on me that I can combine the skydiving I planned to do in Cordoba with my birthday. Once in a life time you are 28 years old on the date 28th of October, right? So, that was settled! I am gonna jump on my birthday!

Plans are God’s amusement
Well, as you well know by now, I have arrived to Cordoba a week and a half ago, plenty of time before the scheduled jump. However, not only the weather was bad, there was another problem: the plane was being repaired, and for my big disappointment, it was not ready on my birthday. I have called the parachuting club almost everyday, asking about the possibility of jumping, but every time they told me, call later, it is still under repair. And even after I have completed with the fact that I wont jump on my Birthday, I was still on a hold and postponed several times, sometimes also due to bad weather. Finally, the club called my hostel and left a message for me, that today, Thursday, the 3rd of November, 2005, around 6:30 am (!) I will perform the jump. FINALLY!

Things you should know before you go jumping out of an aeroplane...
For the past five days, I accompanied two great Israeli guys here in Cordoba, Alon and Aviran, both at age 23, and both paratroopers (of the same regiment my father belong too, by the way).
Yesterday, after seeing the movie “The Skeleton Key” (I think), we walked back to the hostel and we talked about the upcoming jump. “It is such a frightening experience,” Aviran told me “that there is the smell of fear in the air while going airborne with airplane”. He also told me some stories he heard about past events that happened while performing military parachuting, which is different then skydiving. While military parachuting is performed at 400 meters above ground, in Skydiving it is possible to reach very high altitudes, in the case of this jump, a little above 2500 meters. Also, the military jump is more risky and of course, much scarier, as you have to push yourself out of the plane while in Tandem Skydiving, the instructor actually pushes both of you out of the plane. “Even so, " Aviran continued “it is scary as hell for me to jump, even now after I have parachuted 7 times and under much riskier conditions and parachuting profile”. It didn't encouraged me too much, even though I must say, I didn't think about it too much and I was eager to “finish with it” as I was waiting for this jump for more than a year!
When we returned to the hostel, I got a message from the club that invited me to come at 6:30 for the jump. Fantastic, finally it will happen! We went outside to eat some junk food and then went to celebrate an Israeli guy’s birthday at a bar. As I had to get up at 5:30 am (!), I left the bar after one hour, and half of a drink. I slept like a baby!

I say, Jump, Jump, you go, Jump, Jump!!
Waking up was not that difficult, and I could feel myself excited. Fear? Well, I was more excited about it than the fear of doing it. I was also very curious as what is it like being up there, falling like a huge lump of stone.
I dressed quickly, took some money (around 150 USD...a shit load of money!) and went down to the reception to order a taxi. Driving there was fast, as the city was just waking up (it was even before 6 am..) and the sun spread some stray of first light rays across the dark blue sky. It was a beautiful morning with clear-clear skies, without any clouds. A perfect day for skydiving!
The club was also just coming into life when I came and quickly the man in charge showed me the paper of withdrawing any legal suites against the club if something tragic will happen...I read it while thinking this is a waste a time for me, as I will do it no matter what I am suppose to sign. Yeah, people can die from it, so?
Another three people came, Israelis also, as I talked with them, and after I got dressed with the suit the instructor, a fifty year old cool guy, lead the way to the little Cessna that was parked outside the hanger. The little Cessna cockpit was a narrow and short square of space, barely possible to hold three paratroopers and one pilot at the seat. “Three important things you should remember,” he told me and the other guy that was alos jumping “One, when you pull yourself from the sitting position, dont touch the Pilot’s chair. Second, when outside of the plane, cross your arms and lower your legs beyond the landing gear. Once falling, arc your knees backward till your legs hit your buttocks and on my signal spread your hands wide. Third, and the most important, when landing, bend your knees toward your chest so we wont tumble down and crash our legs.” Now, after hearing these precautions, I felt a reminder of the thing I am about to do! Damn, it is serious, isn't it? I asked my self as we walked back to the hanger, waiting for the pilot. A bit before 7 am the guy appeared, talking on the phone, and the instructor called me so he could dress me up with the harness that would attach me to him (I remind you that this is a tandem jump...). While I was dressed, the cameraman was shooting the video and as I don't like being photographed or filmed, I preoccupied myself with the harness adjustments that the instructor kept on pushing, pulling and tightening. In the background Moby was singing his great song "We Are all Made of Stars", a song that fit so well with the situation, and I knew this is the song I am gonna ask them to put in the background of the video. As so many Israelis are doing this skydiving, the instructor knew a few useful words in Hebrew: “Sababa-Egozim” (Cool), “Beizim left, Beizim right” (Move your balls to the right or left...), “Matos” (Aeroplane), “Yalla Kadima” (let`s go) and so on. Finally, the time has come to climb the plane. We moved out of the hangar to the already propelling plane, and while the instructor climbed into the tiny cabin, I felt the fast wind of the propeller whip at my face and hair and I glanced inside and then backward, to see the cameraman smiles and filming me. I thought about something to say, stopped my self and then decided to say it, hoping people will hear it in the video over the roar of the idling engine. “It is a shame dad can not be with me now, I wished he could” and with that, I climbed into the cabin sitting between the instructor legs, waiting for the takeoff.
The cameraman climbed also, closed the door, and the pilot taxied toward the little strip of grass that was the runway. After five minutes waiting for clearance, we were granted, and the cameraman filmed the takeoff and me and the instructor with the famous “Thumb-up” gesture, both grinning. I was of course very excited, as this was almost it, and as the plane rushed down the runway I thought about my father, and how he would have liked to jump with me, and to close almost 50 years since his combat deployment back in the fifties, when he was younger than me, and full with adventures spirit.
The plane rose with the motor at full speed (by the sound of the engine whining) and little by little we gained altitude and good view over the whole surrounding area, and of course, of the grand city, Cordoba. We had a decent visibility today, and I could see for km’s away, all the city spread underneath. I was keeping on plodding through myself, looking for fear or excitement, but surprised to find more excitement then any real and paralyzing fear. I enjoyed the flight very much (well, I like flying) and the scenery that beckoned me out of the small windows.
As we neared the altitude of deployment, the plane was already heading back toward the airstrip and I saw that both the cameraman and the instructor were organizing themselves. Suddenly the instructor told me to sit on him so he could attach me to his harness.
Even now I can feel the excitement rising in me, similar to the feeling I had in the plane, amazing!
As I sat on him, and he attached the required buckles, the Cameraman came to aid and said/asked with a grin that I am very relaxed and if everything is OK. I said, of course I am OK, look at the beautiful view outside the plane! (or something like that with my poor Spanish).
Then the time has REALLY come: The cameraman opened the door and a burst of wind rushed into the cabin, playing with my hair and carrying with her the howl of the roaring engine and wind. Suddenly, when nothing screened or blocked the landscape, everything became real and evident. YES, YOU GONNA JUMP AND FALL FROM 8000 FEET, CHEN! THIS IS FUCKN HAPPENING!!!
And, before I could absorb this moment, the instructor already signalled me to pull my way toward the open door, where the cameraman was standing just a moment ago and now was holding himself against the wind, standing on top of the landing gear.

Falling like a stone, soaring like a bird
Approaching the edge of the cabin, I could see the ground moving slowly underneath, all the details merge together into a perfect billion pieces of puzzle made of brown, green and yellow colors. The Cameraman was filming already and seeing it, I acknowledged with a grin. I crossed my hands and as the instructor pushed his legs across the open door, I was already half sitting in midair, and could not see the edge of the plane. This moment, this very moment, I felt fear coming up and seizes me like a watch dog bursting out of his chain viciously and grabbing his target lethally. Yes, it was a paralyzing moment, a moment but not more than that. That is, because a nod passed between my two companions, on the count of less than two the Cameraman loosed his hands on the edge of the door openings, and before I could grasp the amazing speed he was going down, I felt gravity pulling me in an amazing and accelerating speed and force, such a force, I felt my stomach bouncing up into my throat.
Shouting of partial joy, partial of inconvenience, I could count maybe a second before that feeling stabilized into nothingness and at that I suddenly saw that my hands were already flung in the air, and the wide world spread in front of me without nothing beneath. NOTHING!!!! Just an almost infinite number of gas molecules and a decreasing 8000 feet separated me from the heavenly place I was falling from to the earthly place I should have been in the first place.
Looking up, I found the Cameraman looking at me, grinning like a little devil with a white helmet, gesturing like as if asking me to do something. Well, I just grinned, thumbs-up, roaring with genuine mixture of joy, excitement and adrenaline rush at this amazing experience!
Similarly to what I have imagined, the mind could not perceive what the eye was keeping on sending back like a frenzy little worker, doing it`s job at a tremendous work flow but with no partner on the other side of the factory. Thus, I looked everywhere, at all directions, looking to absorb and to keep those 20 or 30 seconds of physical freedom inside me, inside my head, inside my heart. The wind that whips at you at an amazing 200 km/h speed, the sight of nature, nothing BUT nature surrounds you, the joyful helpless feeling like a stone falling from a high rising building and which can not avert or defy the most basic and strongest forces of nature, gravity itself.
Suddenly, sooner than I thought and in complete defiant to the above saying but not as instantaneously, it was over. I felt a light “hand” pulling me by my torso, holding short gravity like a giant Genie coming out of the great blue, and pulling me and the instructor back in a gentle but sustained pull. The Cameraman was there for a second and as time continues on his routine and unstoppable journey, he was out of my sight, falling like a giant white stone toward earth with a great grin spread on his face.
Suddenly, the mind and the senses returned to normal speed and synchronization, and all laid almost as still as my photographs. The sound of the passing wind subsided in my ears and only the sound of the flapping parachute continually dominated over the silence. Peace spread in me like water flowing through a net of pipes, after all that adrenaline rush, only a couple of seconds and some hundreds of meters before. I took a breath of relief. I TOTALY DID IT!!!
The instructor pulled on the strings and we turned sharply to the right or to the left, feeling like a bird with the cool air flowing through the gaps between my fingers, legs and hands. Flying was never easier than at those moments of descend, when the houses near the strip were getting closer and closer, and I offered the instructor that we can land in a swimming pool and take a swim…
Finally, we came to the final manoeuvre, and the instructor turned into the wind approach, while the ground neared faster than I thought. I bent my legs as instructed before and as he aimed toward the V marking the landing spot, I could see the cameraman filming and I gave another grin and Thumbs up. As the land rushed underneath us fast, we glided almost horizontally as the instructor body rubbed the smooth grass and my torso was leaning on him. And, at that, everything came to a full stop. Earth and life returned to normal at an instant.
Damn, that was fast!

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