As I approached the ledge, I passed a painted wooden sign tied to a thin tree trunk. It read, “Never try, never know…Test your adrenaline!” Before I could reconsider, I began to bound forwards. The guide stopped me short. I’d have to do this as a standing jump rather than take a running leap. The stone underfoot was cold and wet. I stepped forward again, this time with false bravado as my little sister was watching me. I found myself on the edge. My toes curled over instinctively as Kroya waterfall spat a frothy stream towards me. “Three…two…one…”
Our driver was visibly distraught. After a long three hour journey winding our way north, we had suffered a burst tyre and were now sat beside a paddy field, far from the last town. We were not far from the secret waterfalls, but for now we were stranded.
We understood his frustration. As we drove past the misty shadow of Mt. Agung, he described how his family, who lived within 6km of the volcano, had been evacuated months before. Living in a shelter with his wife and two children, he explained the difficulties of trying to sleep and continue living while the threat of an eruption loomed over them all.
He had tried to return to his house to collect some belongings, but officials had turned him away empty handed. In contrast to the media reports, he told us that the locals were praying for the volcano to erupt. Waiting in limbo was more of a punishment than losing everything and having to rebuild their lives.
My knees bent and sprung up quickly. Outstretched arms, carrying momentum, propelled me upwards and away. My legs cycled briefly in midair before extending down, ankles together. My hands lowered as I tucked in the elbows. My eyes squeezed shut as toes hit the water.
Only I hadn’t jumped. I stood on the ledge, willing my legs to move. They were now planted stiffly. An uncomfortable tingle had lodged itself in the crux behind my knees and in the space between my fingers. A queue had formed behind me. Expecting me to jump. Counting me down to an anticlimax. I had failed.
As I weakly stumbled back towards the safety of the rocks, I looked up at my family. They had signed up for a whole day of waterfall adventures, and this was only the first jump at 5m. The rest were much higher. Morale was slipping. I caught sight of a man clambering down the slippery craggy path from the road. It was our driver, who had managed to repair the tyre on his car and was rushing to join us.
I pulled the strap of my oversized life jacket and turned round. I strode up to the edge and looked over briefly to qualm my fear of braining myself on the rocks below. The young guide began to tentatively count me down. I moved my weight from my back leg forwards, then fell through the air.
My legs flopped before me uncontrollably as the guide held me in the stream. I was dangling at the top of Kroya waterfall, 12m high. The life jacket buffetted my head as the water tried to dislodge me from the safety of his grip. I tried to hear what he was saying, but the deluge of water overpowered my senses.
Before I could breathe in, I was spitting out a rush of water. My body was in free flow over the edge. My eyes were open but all I could see was spray. I was temporarily held under by an impressive force, before being promptly spat out. I found myself in the serene pool once more, floating downriver to the next dangerous waterfall.
The next large jump made the first look like child’s play. At 10m high, you could count a clear second before your body hit the water. The cliff edge was decorated with pebble dash which made the launch spot uneven underfoot. I watched Tom jump and reemerge round the bend. The grey shadows of rocks could be seen below, so this needed to be a confident jump outwards to clear them.
I psyched myself up and told myself not to overthink it this time. Just head to the edge and go. Never try, never know. Just as I was preparing to jump, a crippling fear overcame my legs. I spun and held onto the guide’s forearms for support. I was laughing but my knuckles were white. I could not move away from the edge. I was paralysed. I looked at my family again, who had already decided they were out. I asked Tom to go again.
He didn’t even blink. He casually walked past me, peeked down, then he was gone. He made no sound going down, and resurfaced with a big grin on his face. While he was in the pool below, I would join him, I decided. The only way down was to jump.
After resigning myself to the fact that this one was simply too high, my brain was surprised to find that I was hurtling downwards. I had time to scream. I crashed into the water and my bottom was slapped hard. I had not straightened my legs for impact. I clumsily pawed my way over to Tom, my life jacket bobbing around my neck.
The final jump gives me toe cramp just thinking about it. The last waterfall was 15m high, only accessible using a flimsy dog-chewed rope across the fast river. The undergrowth hid the jagged edge of the rocks leading to the abyss below. The guide did not demonstrate this jump. Our gaze followed the water down. It surged forward with a new urgency, dissipating into vapour as it struck a large pool, inky black in its depths.
I did not even entertain the idea of conquering this fall. The last had nearly broken me, and this was fifty percent bigger. From up here, time would be suspended for a good three seconds as you plunged down.
Yet Tom lined himself up and reassured himself of the landing spot. He glanced sideways at me then leapt past the scratchy undergrowth and just out of reach of the hissing water. He screamed this time, before disappearing into a shockwave of water.
We craned our necks to see over the side. He had not surfaced in the still lagoon yet. Then, with the power of a champagne cork, he bobbed up in triumph. “How many people complete this last jump?” I asked the guide as we walked down to join him.
“Not many. Not many are that stupid.”
In the final part of our journey, we walked back upstream and followed a thin snaking path. The sound of pounding water found us before we set eyes on the Aling Aling waterfall. At 35m high, it was a force to be reckoned with. Spray erupted and hung in the air like mist as the thunderous sound grew deafening. This was a jump that even Tom would not attempt.
Tour company – Pink Gorillaz. Secret Waterfall tour includes transportation. See website for prices and details.