As I approached the ledge, I passed a painted wooden sign tied to a tree trunk. It read, ‘Never try, never know…Test your adrenaline!’ Before I could reconsider, I bounded forwards. The guide stopped me, telling me I had to do a standing jump rather than a running leap. The stone underfoot was cold and wet. My toes curled instinctively over the ledge as Kroya waterfall spat a frothy stream towards me. “Three…two…one…”
Our driver Wayan 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 relatively close to the secret waterfalls, but for now we were stranded.
We understood his frustration. As we drove past the misty shadow of Mt. Agung, Wayan 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. This was back in December 2017, and the volcano continues to erupt with an evacuation zone of up to 9km.
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 that feared the repercussions of lost trade through lower numbers of tourists, 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.
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. Counting me down to an anticlimax. Expecting me to jump.
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, at 10m and 15m respectively.
Morale was slipping. I caught sight of a man clambering down the slippery craggy path from the road. It was Wayan, our driver, who had managed to repair the tyre on his car and was rushing to join us.
I pulled the strap of my 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, not wanting to let Wayan down.
Next, the guide held me in the stream and my legs flopped before me uncontrollably. I was dangling at the top of Kroya waterfall, 12m high. The life jacket buffeted my head as the water tried to dislodge me from the safety of his grip. I tried to make sense of what he was saying, but the deluge of water was all I could hear.
Before I could take a breath, I was spitting out 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, before being promptly spat out. I found myself in the serene pool once more, floating downriver to the next waterfall.
The next jump made the first look like child’s play. At 10m high, you could count a clear second or two before your body hit the water. The cliff edge was decorated with pebble dash which made the launch spot uneven underfoot. I watched my partner Tom jump and reemerge around 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, trying not to overthink it this time. Just head to the edge and go. Never try, never know. 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, not even away from the edge. 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, glanced down, then was gone. He 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 there was to jump.
After resigning myself to the fact that this one was simply too high, I was surprised to find that I was hurtling downwards. Shrieking, I crashed into the water and my bottom was slapped hard. I had forgotten to straighten 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 left a big impression on me (quite literally, my bum cheeks were bruised). This jump was fifty percent bigger. From up here, time would be suspended for a good three seconds as you plunged downwards.
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 shock 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 launched 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. The Secret Waterfall tour includes transportation. See website for prices and details.