Adam Coss sits barefooted on the bridge railing, watching intently as straps are secured around his ankles by jumpmaster Gabriel Headley of Tropical Bungee. Both men hail from Seattle, Wash., but they have never met before this dramatic encounter on the old Colorado bridge, a few miles outside the town of Naranjo.
Adam has just completed the first bungee jump of his life a half hour ago, plunging headfirst into the gorge 265 feet below where the Colorado River whips through wild vegetation and rocky terrain. A jumper drops 220 of those 265 feet in about five seconds, while an expandable cord attached to his ankle straps catches him, swinging him back and forth under the bridge. Rescue comes in the form of another rope lowered to him, which he then hooks to his body. A winch winds him back up to safety on the 80 year-old bridge which has long ago been closed to public traffic.
"It was so terrifying the first time, I can´t describe it," recounts Adam, who now prepares for his second adrenaline rush of the day. "I´m just as scared this time, but I want that crazy thrill again. And I´m doing it backwards for an even more exciting experience."
What he is attempting is the "elevator jump" where he falls backward off the steel-beam gangplank with the bungee cord attached to his ankles as well as to a hook at the front of his waist. This time, his descent will not be head down, but in a splayed posture of arms and legs, like a rag doll hurled into the air. In the head-first jump, the cord is attached only to the ankle straps.
Although Tropical Bungee takes videos for the jumpers to keep, Adam has his own video camera attached to his wrist. He steps out to the edge of the gangplank facing forward at first, perhaps playing for time, and photographs the chasm below. Now he turns around, working up his nerve to begin the backward plunge. For about five minutes, Adam stares straight ahead of him toward the bridge, taking deep breaths and blowing the air out forcibly, in order to calm himself.
Suddenly, his arms spread above him, and he leans back gently, surrendering himself into space. His descent is soundless, so different from his first leap where he pierced the skies with a primal scream.
Spectators on the bridge dash from one railing to another, keeping sight of Adam as he swings back and forth underneath the structure. When the pendulum motion slows, the pulley cord is dropped from the winch for him to catch and attach to his waist harness. The ecstatic looking jumper is hauled back up into the midst of the onlookers, who bombard him with questions in hopes of vicariously sharing the thrill.
"Incredible! Fantastic!" he said over and over.
"And this time I could see what was all around me.
The first time, it was just one big blur of terror."
There´s no point in asking him if he intends to jump again. By the look in his eyes, he´s becoming what the bungee jumpers call the adrenaline addict.
Bungee jumping in Costa Rica; Safety is principal concern
Strange as it may seem, there are two bungee companies occupying that Puente Viejo del Colorado, the Old Colorado Bridge near Naranjo. Along one railing is the above-mentioned Tropical Bungee, while camped on the other side is the operation known as Costa Rica Bungee Jumping. Stranger yet, the two competitors get along very well, and look out for the safety and comfort of each other´s customers.
"This is a self-regulatory business," explains Pablo Ross of Costa Rica Bungee, who is about to take his 177th jump that day. "We cooperate in making sure that each other´s equipment is in top condition and that the people who come to jump for sport are in good hands."
Both companies charge $45 for the first jump, offering a discount for the second one that same day. Likewise, both provide videos of the occasion. Costa Rica Bungee is run by Carlos Alfaro, 29, whose family owns the surrounding land. Carlos is a veteran of 680 jumps and has taken part in the X-Games competition in the United States in 1996. Another company member is Alexander Araya, who along with Pablo, speaks both English and Spanish.
Pablo said that a bungee cord expands against the weight of the falling person it catches. The cord is used for six months or 500 jumps, whichever comes first. Although the cords are manufactured to resist 1,800 jumps, they won´t be used more than 500 times, as an added safety precaution.
The 21-year old jumpmaster is a student pilot and a member of the Red Cross, specializing in Search and Rescue around bridges and mountains. He was part of the team that rescued five survivors from the wreckage of a light plane in the jungle near Quepos several months ago. Pablo still finds it difficult to talk about that tragedy, as the dead included his good friend, Carlos Lacoya, the 25 year-old co-pilot.
"I knew he was in the plane, and I could hear the screams of the survivors as we approached the crash site. I was sure I heard Carlos´ voice among them, and believed he was still alive. But no. His voice was only in my head…..wishful thinking……"
Pablo quickly returns to the topic of bungee jumping. While the average male jumper is between 20 and 30, females seem to get a head start in the 15 to 25 age range, and constitute at least half the clientele, he said. They have had jumpers from age 7 to 71, but in the case of a child or anyone not weighing more than 90 lbs., the jumpmaster has to take them with him on the leap, secured to his body.
Bungee jumping in on the Old Colorado Bridge goes on every weekend between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., as well, bungee jumping as a nighttime activity can be booked through either of the two companies. "This is a really special kind of thrill at night," Pablo said.
"We can floodlight the canyon below so that you can see where you´re falling, or else turn the lights off and give you the sensation of sinking into the darkness . . . . Would you like to be our guest and try it?"
Both companies also offer rappelling at the Colorado Bridge site or other locations in Costa Rica. Canopy tours are yet another activity. Additional information may be obtained through the following: Costa Rica Bungee, 494-5102 for Spanish and 393-3249 for English. Tropical Bungee, tel/fax 248-2212, cellular 383-9724.
"Well, here I go," says Pablo, "into jump number 177." He finishes checking his equipment, and goes over the bridge railing onto the gangplank. "Will you count me down from five, please? I still get butterflies in my stomach before each jump, and having someone count me down is like a little push."
Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Geronimo!