By Justin Jones
I was about an hour’s drive south of Haifa, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit and nestled awkwardly between the legs of a large Israeli man. We were rumbling down an isolated airstrip in a cranky old prop plane and I was unapologetically freaked out about the whole situation. The engines whirred disconcertingly and wheezed hard as the plane struggled to reach its take-off speed. The clanks and rattles seemed to reach a comical pitch and I watched the banana plantations and desert dunes shrink and fade away below me.
This was to be my first skydive and I was jumping, more-or-less against my will. I was on a press trip covering adventure tourism in Israel. When I signed up for the gig, I knew I’d be hiking and biking through the desert, but no one mentioned anything about jumping out of a plane. Not that I would have turned down the opportunity had I known, but when the possibility of death-by-user-error is a factor, I like to make sure I’m fully mentally prepared – preferably with a pre-jump bottle of whiskey to calm the old nerves.
And you can be sure that the old nerves were raging away as our plane reached its planned jump altitude of 11,000 feet. My throat was so dry, I could barely swallow. I tried to focus on my breathing to clear my mind, but I kept thinking of poorly packed parachutes and malfunctioning airplane engines. I started to think that this whole thing might have been a bad decision. But it’s not like I had much of a choice in the matter – we were on assignment researching adventure tourism, and none of my grey-haired compatriots would even consider the jump so it was up to me and my journalistic integrity.
Had I known that I’d be skydiving in a country known more for its complicated and often deadly political climate than its extreme sports, I probably would have researched statistics on Israeli skydiving accidents and freaked myself out even further. But it was too late for all that. The door was open, the wind was roaring through the hull of the plane and I was sitting with my legs dangling over the edge of oblivion.
A strange sense of calm came over me up there. The distance to the ground was too far to really comprehend. I’d felt much more vertigo while repelling down 40 ft cliffs in the Negev Desert than I did staring down at the Earth from 11,000 feet. Below me was the shimmering Mediterranean coastline, to the north was the city of Haifa, and beyond that were the borders with Lebanon and Syria. On a clear day, you could probably see all the way to Jordan. It all looked so small, and so peaceful. Arbitrary political boundaries, bloody battles with Palestine, and the never ending skirmishes meant nothing up here. From the perspective of the clouds, all was right in the world.
And it was with these naïve thoughts rolling around in my altitude-addled mind, that I jumped. And for a brief and glories moment, I left my nervousness and anxiety and terror and all my preconceived notions about a culture and a country behind, on the ledge of that airplane. I was freefalling, and I was free.
There is nothing quite like watching surface of the Earth rush towards you at 120 miles per hour. It causes a special kind of exhilarating terror that does wonders to wash away delusions of world peace. My mind quickly snapped back into survival mode and I thought for a moment that I would surely die. Then the cord was pulled, the chute deployed, and I found myself floating slowly back to Israeli soil.
And that was the only time I felt like I might die while I was in Israel, which I think it pretty good for a country that is so often in the news for bombings and military action. I finally did get to calm my nerves with a glass of whiskey at a bar back in Tel Aviv, surrounded by friendly locals, happy to share cheers and laughter with foreign journalists and tourists alike.
“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” — E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web)
Writer’s Bio: Justin Jones is a travel writer and blogger, based in San Francisco, CA. You can read more about his trip to Israel in Student Traveler Magazine and see what other mischief Justin is getting himself into at www.JustinWasHere.com.