If I were to pick moments in my overseas trip that stood out, the skydiving experience would definitely be one of them. The sheer adrenaline and intensity encapsulated in that short jump were truly out of the ordinary. The scenery could barely be more spectacular. Lake Taupo is a spectacular place. The lake itself is the result of one of the most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions of all time. The rolling hills and placid lake make it yet another of New Zealand’s endless poster card paradises.
Having finally taken the plunge and booked the skydiving, there was no backing down. My hopes that the weather would be clear materialized and we were good to go. I got picked up by a van and taken to the airfield. Once there we were given a briefing of how to survive the jump. All of us were afraid of course but fortunately we would be jumping in tandem with highly experienced guides. Few human beings would have the balls to jump out of a plane flying at 15,000 feet as this totally defies basic human survival instinct.
The fear grew as the aircraft spiralled higher, and strapped in to our tandem partners, we could only wait for the inevitable. What madness had possessed us to do this. What if these seasoned veterans made a mistake? What if their countless jumps made them cocky or complacent? What if some screw or clip were left undone? Would the beautiful lake Taupo be the last thing my eyes would see and barely appreciate as I plunged to death with my body completely disintegrating on impact?
With bravado, the guides were joking among themselves. Their humour did not rub onto us lambs being led to the slaughter, a slaughter we had signed up for on our own free will. As we got to the designated height, with a crew member outside videotaping the whole thing, the tandems began their jumps. One by one, they disappeared into the cold New Zealand air. We were the last to jump. Relentlessly, my Swedish guide inched towards the plane’s door and then WHOOSH!
An indescribable feeling overtook me. A tremendous fear caused bedlam in the brain as screams failed to escape the mouth. For what seemed like an eternity, I was trundling towards the ground, soon to be turned into a pancake, a Maltese qassata perhaps. As it turned out and thankfully as it turns out on the overwhelmingly vast majority of cases, billowing strings of canvas were deployed as we stabilized and fought the relentless pull of gravity. Now instead of fear, there was elation, as the picturesque scenery became apparent. Everything on the lush green fields or in the lake was a mere ant as slowly but surely we approached the safety of the ground we call our domain.
As we got closer and closer, I was given the chance to steer but must have made a right hack of it, as the Swede said that “he will play a little now”. Deftly, he guided the pair of us towards the landing zone where the others were to be seen in various staged of landing. Some were watching from the sidelines, while others were just about recovering their composure. or unlatching their gear. As we got to within metres of the ground, I dug my feet into the ground as we lurched to a complete stop very much alive.
Back in the debriefing room, I was shocked to see that my hearing was gone. I couldn’t hear shit. Playing table soccer against unsuspecting victims did little to ease my concern. We were shuffled to a video room and shown footage of what had just taken place. For just under a hundred dollars the footage could be ours. I passed. Paying around 400$ for a jump is one thing, but I didn’t need to pay that much money just for a video. People who don’t want to believe I did the jump would be welcome to do so if they wish. I had done this for myself, and not for bragging rights.
As we were leaving the place, beaming with our certificates in hand, I said goodbye to my Swedish guide and thanked him for his support. He informed me that I had a running nose. Jumping with some congestion can do that to you but there was no way I was passing on skydiving and I’m so glad I did it. I didn’t have time to be too embarrassed though as the good old Svenski was already on his way to another jump. This job is perfect for adrenaline junkies. You get paid a shitload to do something really fun.
As for myself, I contemplated a second jump at reduced prices but decided that for the sake of my wallet and sanity, I had seen enough action for that day. The glow of the experience was with me for a good few days afterwards and the memories still give me a feeling of elation and trepidation. Perhaps I will do it again one day. I most certainly think that if you haven’t done it yet, you might want to give it a try!
Disclaimer: photo is from internet and not my own. I have no photos of videos of the experience. They’re all stored in my brain 🙂
We’ve all been following the news to some extent. Indeed, we’re pretty much sick and tired of the debates, polls, “expert opinions”, and all that jazz. It was pretty much accepted fact that Hilary Clinton was the favourite in this race and Donald Trump was destined for a bitter defeat. The first black president was to be followed by the first female POTUS. It all seemed scripted. It all seemed too big to fail.
The media hounded Trump at every opportunity, snapping at his heels and laying bare his failing and hypocrisy, fact checking his lies, dispelling the myths. Then came the video tape scandal, timed to cause maximum damage to a campaign already reeling from poor debate performances.
In the end, none of this mattered as he steamed home to a close victory. Nevertheless, winning by a mile or a yard, is winning nonetheless. He got the vaunted “W” and we got grabbed by the crotch. The demagogue with seemingly no grasp whatsoever on various key issues got catapulted into power, carried to victory by millions upon millions of disgrunted voters whom Hilary had insultingly and perhaps decisively labelled as a “basket of deplorables”.
Now we move on to what really matters. How does the reality of a Trump victory affect you and me, and the rest of the world, for affect us it will without a shadow of doubt. When the most powerful country in the world sneezes, we all catch a cold whether it be on economic, military or political issues. Let’s try to analyze how this might affect different countries and regions as well as the planet as a whole.
A Trump victory seems like an overall bad thing for Europeans. Not only has he suggested that NATO countries are not doing enough to secure their own borders, he seems to be advocating an isolationist policy that would see America retreat from Europe and turn its back to a security agreement that preserved peace. This will likely only strengthen Russia’s hand.
A Russia reeling with sanctions and the falling rouble might receive a boost from this. Trump has spoken in glowing terms of Vladimir Putin, but the latter will only feel emboldened to carry out his own plans in the sure knowledge that Trump will not exact further punishment on him for this. Where Barack Obama came across as weak, Donald Trump may come across as indifferent or even supportive.
A Trump victory is downright dangerous for Ukraine. In the past, Trump has suggested he might recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and territories in the Donbass region. It’s fair to say that whereas Putin has a firm grasp of foreign affairs from the Russian perspective, as well as over a decade of experience, Trump is a former TV star with no experience whatsover. It is likely that Putin will be able to play trump like a violin, and the net result is not good for Ukraine.
4. Syria and Iraq
Trump has said he would go after ISIS, but to what extent and in what manner remains unclear. One will say anything to get elected. It remains to be seen whether Trump will have the wisdom to avoid repeating the errors of the past that got us into this mess. With the United States already involved in bombing campaigns in seven countries, one hopes that a Trump presidency will not add fuel to the fire.
5. South East Asia, Japan and South Korea
Suggesting that they fork out more cash to the US in return for security guarantees, Trump has rattled nerves across the region. Longtime allies South Korea and Japan will await nervously to see whether this rhetoric will translate into policy.
During the bitter presidential campaign, Trump ripped into China, accusing it of manipulating the yuan and beating America on trade. We all know that China undervalues the yuan but it will be interesting to see what Donald Trump does about that. In spite of everything, China will continue growing but may have to adapt to a more belligerent approach to its meddling with currency.
7. Mexico and South America
While wall building is unlikely to materialize, Trumps’ comments about Mexicans are unlikely to win him any friends in this region. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.
Justin Trudeau’s Canada will clearly be affected by this, probably with record numbers of Americans trying to escape the US. Canada could perhaps use this to its advantage somehow.
No worries mate, toss another snag on the barbie! Actually, if Trump pivots away from Asia and turns a blind eye to Chinese claims to South China Sea territories, this could weaken Australia’s hand.
Tiny Malta lives in a world of its own and yet ripples in the financial markets will find their way here too and could affect certain areas. In reality though, Malta’s economy has weathered past storms and could even benefit in terms of passport sales to Americans fleeing the States. In reality, Malta’s real battle is against land speculators and environmental desecration, which brings us to our last point.
Here’s a man who said that global warming is a Chinese hoax, a man whose sons are proud trophy hunters. With a world creaking and groaning under the feet of almost 7.5 billion people, we are desperately in need of leadership on environmental issues. China seems to be improving in this regard, but the election of Trump may spell bad news for us all in terms of further desecration of the biosphere that sustains us all. This may well be the beginning of the end, as the real fight for survival is not against terrorists, important as that particular challenge may be, but against the greed that threatens to pull the rug from under our very existence. In this regard, the election of Trump may well turn out to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
The people have chosen. Democracy has once again as in Brexit delivered a huge “Fuck You” to the system and our expectations. We’ll just have to pick ourselves up and carry on, doing our best to do our best in a world that may change radically in front of our unbelieving eyes, or that might end up not changing all that much at all, in the hope that the orange tide now enveloping us does not rob us and incredulous future generations of the chance to build a better world.
With some help from my Indonesian friend Nassran, I ended up in Jakarta at the start of my second visa. Things got off to a shaky start as a communication misunderstanding meant that I lingered in the paradise that is Lake Toba, in the false belief that my flight was not due until later. As it turned out, Nassran who had kindly organized everything, had sent me the wrong information via text. This was a genuine error and I have absolutely no beef with him about it. It did mean that I arrived rather stressed back on the mainland and made a rush to Medan airport.
Saying goodbye to my host’s wife and children who had been so kind as to host me, I rushed into the street. While I normally avoided becaks due to their tendency to try and rip me off, this time I had no choice. Every minute of travel seemed to last for hours and I feared I would lose the flight. In this hectic state of mind, I wasn’t thinking clearly or logically, and unscrupulous people took advantage of that. The becak driver dropped me off at the airport entrance and rattled off something in bahasa(Indonesian) to a motorbike taxi driver. I paid the becak driver and rode for literally less than a minute. It turns out that the two had conspired to wring out as many rupiahs as possible by making me take a second, utterly useless taxi. All that mattered now though was getting this damn flight.
Fortunately in Indonesia, connections matter big time. Nassran is a respected member of the community, and he’d arranged to have my flights changed for a relatively low fee. As the plane overcame gravity and we soared into the air, I was grateful to be finally heading off to Java, even if this meant leaving Sumatra behind. The flight was short as one would expect, but the night was to be a long one.
In the chaos of the whole operation, I hadn’t had time or internet access to sort things out properly. As a result, I ended up in a colossal airport with no clue in the world where to go. As it was some ungodly hour in the morning, I didn’t want to wake Nassran up. To compound matters further, Jakarta is a metropolis and not the safest one in the world. I had no choice but to try to while away the wee hours of the morning, awaiting sunrise in order to go hunting for a hostel. I tried juggling, meditating, exercising, reading and other activities until finally, the body clock decided it was time to sleep. Beep! Wrong decision bro! Airport staff shuffled everyone out. I couldn’t understand how a massive airport like that one would seemingly close at night but there you have it. I was out on the streets.
It had been a long day and yet, I couldn’t risk falling asleep outside the airport among all the people there. It was too easy for someone to just go through my belongings. All around me, sitting and lying on the floor were tired people who like me had been kicked out of the airport. I wrestled with the desire to sleep and finally succumbed. To ensure security, I tied my backpacks tight to my limbs so that anyone trying to do a runner with them would encounter an irate Mediterranean man with murderous intentions. I also slept against a wall to minimize the number of angles that a thief could use.
It was thus that I slept for a few hours and woke up surprisingly refreshed in spite of having slept literally on the pavement. All my belongings were safe and sound and the warmth of the sun lifted my spirits. I was in Jakarta and could finally find a place to sleep properly. As things turned out, sleeping on the pavement outside the airport would in hindsight not be such a bad thing after all given the harrowing experience which I was to endure the next time I tried to sleep in Indonesia.
Lake Toba – I left here to go to Jakarta. Why!!???!? In the name of moving on