I hear Italy and think pizza, Roman colosseums, mopeds, grandpa’s smoking on steps as their wives beat tomatoes in the kitchen or sheets in the sun. Extreme sports are at odds with this laid-back country that takes its time to squeeze every tasty drop out of life.
But at the Valgadena Bungee Centre in North Italy, an hour and a half from Venice, Massimo and his team have been rebelling their sleepy roots for over 5 years.
The drive up to the centre was a test of bravery in itself. Famous for its 21 hairpin bends and sudden drops, the Via Val Franzela zig-zagged its way up the Dolomites with enough legal U-turns to make me regret my breakfast of biscuits.
We survived an oncoming christening party of cars and made it to the Valgadena, a 175m bridge that stretched between two sharp mountains and straddled a dusty valley of landslides and rock. The air was cool, clouds rumbled over distant hills bristling with spring-green pines. It was a dramatic setting.
We arrived before the Bungee Centre did. In true Italian fashion, Massimo and his team rocked up in a 4×4, all bandanas and beards, and erected a pop-up yellow tent in the middle of the bridge where the fence halved in size. Another canopy was set up as ‘the office’, where you were weighed and had to sign some paperwork – the language barrier leant a certain mystery to what you were committing to. Under the canopy, I spotted a few commemorative plaques on the side of the fence and went cold.
“Ah, you get jumpers here.” My friend said, looking sadly at the wilting flowers. “you know, the other kind of jumpers…”
I swallowed, feeling instantly morbid.
Before I could protest, I was ushered away from the office with its unique wall-hangings and was fitted into an all-body harness by one of the team members.
“When ay sayay treeee, you go, si?” He trilled. I stared blankly back.
“When he says three, you jump babe.” My friend translated.
He grinned and ushered me up the steps onto a diving board. I shuffled closer until my toes curled over the edge, and the reality hit. It was just me, an elastic band at my feet and a drop of 175 metres.
“One!” The Italian’s voice echoed off the mountains.
“Two!” Was this it? Would I be the freak accident splattered over the newspapers tomorrow? What if they used my Facebook profile for the photo? I’m in a cow onesie for god’s sake…
“THREE!” I jumped. Arms spread wide, I flew for 40 metres. I was hit by an instant weightlessness – like a can of baked bean in space, I could feel my organs bob about my body as I accelerated towards the ground at warp speed.
I could hear my screams and laughter pin-ball through the valley as I bounced back up. With adrenaline pulsing through my blood, the world was in HD, and I could see an upside-down valley springing to life in a spectrum of greens.
I finally spotted a team member standing next to the yellow landing mattress on the ground. He started saying instructions to me but I couldn’t hear them, so I just waved back. Understanding him might have saved us both the embarrassment of me landing at his feet, on my back, legs swinging in the air, as he frantically undid belts and buckles from my body. Awkward? Little bit.
But it was worth it. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my first Italian-style bungee experience – the team were experts, their relaxed attitude was a calming indicator of their experience. The setting was stunning, and the jump itself? Hard to describe in words. It’s just something you have to try for yourself…
Next jump: Queenstown, New Zealand