I was in a speeding car with three other people, careening toward the Orlando Towers — a decommissioned-power-station-turned-entertainment/adventure-center — in Soweto.
“I wonder if they’re going to make us bungee?” someone asked.
“There’s no way I’m doing that,” said Meruschka, as she wove in and out of traffic in our Volkswagen rental.
“Me neither,” said Jenna.
“I don’t want to do it,” said Paul.
I sat in the back seat, trying not to feel carsick, only half paying attention to the conversation. “I’ll do it,” I said, not really thinking I’d have to.
The Orlando cooling towers in May 2014. I didn’t have time to take proper photos during my most recent visit. (Read about the history of the Orlando Power Station.)
View from the top of the Orlando Towers in September 2015, when I took photos with a group of bloggers during the Soweto Wine Festival. (We didn’t jump that day.) The narrow walkway in the middle is the part that you bungee from.
Meruschka had invited me and two other friends to participate in an Amazing-Race-type treasure hunt around Joburg called KnowJozi, sponsored by Bidvest Car Rental. There were eight teams of four people, each team armed with a Bidvest rental car and a series of clues to lead us around the city. None of us had any idea what we would be doing (in fact we didn’t even know who the sponsor was) until we arrived at the Soweto Theatre at 9:00 that morning.
I agreed to participate in KnowJozi because: 1) I hadn’t had the chance to hang out with Meruschka for a while; and 2) I’m always up for the challenge of proving that I know Jozi. I didn’t think there was any way that the people organizing the event would ask us to dive 100 meters off a giant cooling tower with no time to physically or emotionally prepare ourselves.
I was wrong.
When we arrived at the Orlando Towers, we found out that one member of each team must jump. (Well I guess we didn’t HAVE to jump. But we certainly didn’t want to look like wusses in the eyes of the other teams.)
I had already volunteered, so…I jumped.
Jumping off Soweto’s Orlando Towers
Unlike the last time I bungee-jumped, off the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa’s Western Cape, I didn’t have a go-pro and we weren’t allowed to take phones or cameras to the top of the tower with us. But my team did record a few video clips from below, and I put together an 18-second film. Enjoy.
[On an unrelated note: The advertising rights to the Orlando Towers, previously owned by FNB bank, have been purchased by Vodacom. I assume that both towers will eventually be repainted, but right now one of the towers is only partially finished and the other hasn’t been started yet. So far, I think the new design is hideous — let’s hope it improves.]
After my bungee, we ran back to our car and spent the rest of the morning racing around town doing various things. I can’t remember much of it, as I was carsick and in a post-bungee daze. But it was fun.
I enjoy bungee-jumping. I never expected I would and it’s still not necessarily an experience that I would seek out if it weren’t presented to me. But I like that terrifying feeling of diving head first into thin air and then hanging there, suspended, looking at the world upside down. It’s strangely beautiful. Also, I thought that the Orlando bungee-jump might seem anti-climactic after the Bloukrans jump, which is the highest commercial bungee-jump in the world. But it wasn’t. Upside-down Soweto is every bit as beautiful as upside-down Bloukrans — just in a different way.
Saturday’s experience got me thinking about how cool it is that Soweto, South Africa’s largest township, has become a haven for adrenaline junkies. In addition to bungee-jumping from the Orlando Towers, you can free-fall inside one of the towers (I found this idea terrifying, but my friend Adriaan did it this weekend during the Bidvest thing and said it wasn’t so bad), as well as abseiling, base-jumping, and paint-ball. Soweto Outdoor Adventures, also located on the grounds of the Orlando Towers, offers quad-biking tours, go-karting, camping, and various other adventurous activities.
Then there are the bicycle tours offered by Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, which are not strictly adrenaline-inducing but still super-fun and — at the very least — a great workout.
One of my favorite photos of all time, which I shot during a bicycle tour with Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers in December 2013.
I’ve said this before, but tourism in Soweto isn’t all about history and the legacy of apartheid. It’s also about food and culture and adventure and fun. The history brought me to Soweto in the first place, but the fun keeps me coming back.
Who knows…maybe I’ll bungee over Soweto again someday. I might even free-fall.
My Orlando Tower bungee-jump was complimentary. Opinions expressed are my own.