Friday, April 21, 2006

Skydiving in Zimbabwe

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about one of the stupidest things I have ever done….

During my spring break trip to Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe we had two days in Zambia near Zambezi River and Victoria Falls and thus near Zimbabwe. While we were there we had tons of activities to choose from and my group of friends and travel-buddies wanted to go skydiving.

Now there are a couple of reasons why I wish that I hadn’t done this. The first was that we were advised by the United States government not to visit Zimbabwe because of the political unrest… but eh wateves! The second and more important reason was that skydiving was going to take up one whole entire day and I had already done it a couple of times and there were other things that I’ve never done before that I wish I had taken advantage of (like microlighting over Victoria Falls).

But I decided to go with my friends to Zimbabwe to skydive. Now, in order to do this, we first had to cross the boarder from Zambia into Zimbabwe. And on our way in, what do we see?? The currency black market! Very bizarre! Basically, its a bunch of people with tons of various other country's money trading it back and forth. This is necessary because Zimbabwean currency is not recognized by the World Bank. So, everyone has to trade currency on the black market. Even my Zimbabwean friends who were going to school in South Africa had to trade on the black market to get South African Rand to pay for tuition. The situation there is quite dire. While we were in Zimbabwe, I got a $50,000 bill (worth a couple bucks or something) and it had an expatriation date on it! For like December 2003. It was crazy.

So anyway, we cross the boarder and are on our way to go skydiving. Here are some things I should have been thinking about: in a country with political unrest, staggering inflation and unemployment, and a completely useless currency, what type of safety regulations do they have on running a skydiving business and how are they enforced!? Yeah.. ok as I said, this was not the smartest thing I ever did.

Do we get to the airport and there is a TINY plane that can only fit three people: the piolet, Gary, the owner and tandem partner, and the customer (me or one of my friends). Since only one person can go at a time and there are 5 of us, we have to take 5 individual flights for us each to get a dive in, which was very frustrating.

Finally, after a couple of my friends go, its my turn. Gary comes to get me and takes me to the plane where one of his workers is filling up the gas take. Before we get in the plane, Gary checks the fuel and realizes that the guy had put regular gas (like for a car) in the left tank and not aviation gas!!! So what does he do? He siphons out the regular gas so that he can put the proper aviation gas in the tank. So lets think about this… The guy who I’m about to strap myself to and jump out of a plane with is huffing gasoline! Brilliant!

Then he says ‘ok we’ll just do the take off with the right gas tank and then when we get to about1,500 feet well switch to the left one and burn off the petrol.’ So I’m terrified because if this plane goes down, no one is surviving. On the way up, there was a lot of turbulence and all I can think to myself is that if I die in this plane my dad is going to kill me (yes I know that doesn't make any sense). And then, as I’m thinking that I’m about to die, I realize that the person who just screwed up the gasoline is the same guy who packed my parachute!!! Awesome, I have put my life in the hands of a careless minimum-wage worker and someone who is huffing gasoline… But at this point there was no turning back. So, I jumped out of the plane!

The view was pretty incredible. We could see Victoria falls off in the distance and the gorge that the river makes after the falls is massive and pretty inspiring. But, while it was a nice dive, if I had to rate the beauty of the view it would be 3rd on my list of 3 dives…. O well at least I'm alive and I got to go skydiving in Zimbabwe… I guess I can’t complain