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Locarno, Switzerland

From the moment we re-entered Switzerland we instantly noticed a change in driving habits. People actually follow road rules here, and they know what an indicator is. There are almost no scooters. It's a nice change to feel safe on the roads again. 

 

On our drive we passed by the beautiful Lake Lugano. Framing the lake were deep green hills rising straight out of the water, with houses scattered across the rolling slopes. We would have stopped to explore the area, but time was against us so we continued on.

Arriving in Locarno, we parked for the night near Lake Maggiore, which wasn't nearly as picturesque as Lake Lugano but how can you complain about a lakeside setting? As our final farewell of Italy, Danny cooked up the ricotta and basil ravioli we had bought earlier in the day. It was a perfect meal for the cold night - it felt as though we had gone from summer to winter in just one day. 

The following morning a fog hung low over the water, causing the surrounding scenery to appear grey and lifeless. We strolled along the drab lake, the only colour arising from the yellow autumn trees bordering the water. Leaving the lake we wandered through the centre of town, and climbed a long, steep hill to a church that offered sweeping views over the Locarno. Unfortunately, because of the weather, the landscape blended into one large patch of silver. There was almost no one around – I'm guessing it was probably more of a summer vacation spot than an autumn/winter one. Back down the bottom we found the main piazza, where the monotony was broken by a ring of colourful buildings, but it too was empty. That was the extent of our stay in Locarno.

There was only one reason we returned to Switzerland, and that was for another adrenaline rush. I had been waiting for this day all year: the 220 metre Goldeneye bungee jump off Verzasca Dam, just outside Locarno. It is the highest bungee jump in Europe, and not far off the tallest in the world. It was made famous in the opening scene of the James Bond film GoldenEye (not that I've seen it), but I was there for the thrill rather than the movie reference.

 

All day I had been fairly calm about the upcoming adventure, while Danny had been a nervous wreck. All that changed when I arrived at the dam. On one side of the wall was sparkling blue water surrounded by trees, and on the other, nothing. Just a humungous drop down to the ground, where a dried-up creek bed could be spotted far below. I watched a couple of people jump off the platform and plummet downwards at an alarming speed that seemed to last forever. That was when my hands started sweating.

 

We arrived half an hour before my allotted time, giving me plenty of opportunities to watch others ahead of me. Oddly, everyone I saw that day (before and after me) were male – not one other female was up there jumping. Before I knew it, it was time to gear up. Thankfully, everyone spoke English and liked to joke around, putting me slightly at ease (I was called Mrs Bond several times). Next, I climbed up to the platform and ran through the process with the instructor. At this stage I was still feeling confident. It wasn't until I was directed to walk out onto a minuscule platform hovering over nothing but empty space, with no rails to cling on to, that my heart rate shot up. I was standing alone in the wind, feeling certain that I was going to tip over the edge involuntarily (at this stage I didn't know that the instructor was still holding on to me). Then I was told to place my toes over the edge of the metal grate; it seemed to take me an eternity to inch my way forward to the correct position. All of a sudden a countdown commenced, and when they reached 'one' I didn't think, but just leapt as far I could physically push myself. 

For the first couple of seconds I gave some sort of half scream, half shout in an attempt to release the nervous energy. I quickly realised that my eyes were closed, and all I could think was, "Open your eyes!" My eyelids eventually heard the message and popped open, and I immediately saw the ground rushing towards me. Suddenly, the cord around my legs tightened and I felt a yanking sensation, dramatically reducing my falling speed. Long before I was anywhere near the ground I was pulled skywards, and I was sure I flew higher than most of the others ahead of me (Danny later agreed with me). Just as I was getting comfortable travelling in this direction, I was sent hurtling downwards again, spinning as I went. This yo-yo pattern repeated several times. Before I even registered that I had jumped it was all over, but the surging adrenaline and thumping heart were going to last much longer than the few seconds of free fall.

Once I had regained enough of my senses, I pulled myself into a sitting position and called for the rope to be sent down. I clipped on and was slowly pulled back up to the top (a little different to how it was done in Latvia). When I arrived back at the platform I had to wait there until the next person jumped – he looked more nervous than I did (or at least I hope I didn't look that petrified). Then I could finally put my feet back onto solid ground, remove my safety gear and run over to Danny to recount the whole experience, who had filmed the entire thing and didn't really need my narrative but I gave it to him anyway. The organiser gave me a certificate for my efforts. 

A German TV crew happened to be at the dam that day, filming for a science-based TV show. They spent a great deal of time focussing on me – the preparation, the jump and my reflections afterwards. I wondered if it was because I was the only female there that day, or if it was because I had come from all the way from Australia. Either way, I'll never know if I made it onto German TV, but I'm definitely telling everyone that I did.