Bandile looks around the platform that holds us far above the forest floor, with a serious expression across his usually merry face. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now at the longest and fastest slide on this canopy tour through the Tsitsikamma forest. Instead of looking for Pandora’s wave to apply your “˜hand brake’ – your signal to stop will be when you see the white of her eyes. That’s when you brake HARD.”
By this stage – 7 slides into the 10 slide course – our little group is pretty confident of handling the slide. Even I, the one who made sure the guides understood that I am really, really bad with heights, have not only survived but enjoyed the experience so far. But just as I am grinning companionably at my fellow sliders, looking forward to this make-or-break slide, I feel Pandora’s eyes on me. And she isn’t smiling.
“Kate,” she begins. (I have gotten used to having a lot of names on this trip. So far I’ve also been Lisa and Sarah. Today I seem to be Kate. I don’t know why but Joy doesn’t seem to register with a lot of people).
Pandora sighs and shakes her head. “Kate, I’ve been watching you this whole tour so far. And you always brake too hard and stop short of the platform. And I always have to help you up onto the platform.”
“Ja?” I feel about 2 cm tall; like I’m being told off by my mom. It’s not my fault I weigh less than anyone else and that no matter how I try I can’t go as fast as the others. Even if I keep my “˜hand brake’ right off the cable. Why is she making an example of me? I thought she liked me!
“This slide is different. If you apply the brake AT ALL you are not going to make it across. You will get stuck half way and we can’t help you.”
“So you’re telling me that while all the others need to brake like their lives depend on it, you want me to not brake AT ALL? Are you INSANE?” Ok I don’t say the last bit but I sure as hell think it.
I decide she’s just being a bully and turn to Bandile for support but he is nodding in vigorous agreement. “No brake, Kate. No brake.”
I am happy to report that while my heart stayed on the launching platform long after I left its safety and went whizzing along at top speed, I managed to ignore my survival instinct which at 30 feet above the forest floor is pretty darn strong, and landed right on the next platform like a pro. And it was exhilarating! I wanted to do it all again right away. Not bad for someone with a height issue.
The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is an incredible experience, but more than that it is run by yet another company with its heart in the right place – that place being with the community.
Stormsriver Adventure became the first FTTSA accredited adventure company in the WORLD in 2003 and has been committed to the community and environment ever since. As Bandile explained in the pre-tour talk, they are actively involved in initiatives that reduce their carbon footprint in a variety of ways, and in various community projects such as clothing distribution to the poor, Aids awareness and counseling, a school feeding scheme and animal welfare education.
Both our guides told me they are working towards their FGASA (Field Guide Association of South Africa) Level One certificate – Pandora has been working at Stormsriver for 3 years and Bandile for just a year, but they are both professional, great with people and very knowledgeable about the natural environment through which we swung like monkeys. Bandile clearly enjoys his job, and his regular shouts of “WHOOOOPAAAA!” rang out throughout the day as he encouraged us to let ourselves go (while holding on!) and really enjoy the experience.
I definitely want to repeat this experience again one day soon.
Find out more:
Stormsriver Adventure Company