Australia and New Zealand are generally accepted as having cornered the market on bizarre adventure activities, especially in urban areas. Unsurprising, then, that Alistair Matthew, the Kiwi founder of La Paz’s ginormously successful, groundbreaking Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, has brought a bit of the Antipodes to Bolivia’s capital city.
A year ago, inspired by a similar enterprise in Melbourne, Matthew launched Urban Rush. The sport, also known as rap jumping, entails rappelling – preferably face-first – down the side of a 17-story building in central La Paz (the view, FYI, is spectacular; it’s across the street from the colonial stunner that is the San Francisco Church), and provides views of the tenaciously perched brick houses of El Alto. The kicker, however, is that the final six stories are in free fall (that’s me, above, about five stories before taking the plunge).
It’s not as sketchy as it sounds. In addition to your own power (meaning you have a brake and a guide hand), there’s an experienced guide belaying you from below, and another controlling you from the top. So even if you were to let go completely, you’ve got two ropes as backup.
The aforementioned building is the Hotel Presidente, La Paz’s finest. That only makes for more fun, as costume-clad, thrill-seeking, dirtbag backpackers traipse through the stylish 15th floor restaurant and bar in order to access the small penthouse space where suiting up and training take place.
Costumes? Si. In addition to the standard bright orange jumpsuits, you can leap out of the hotel dressed as Spiderman, Captain America, Santa Claus or Cat Woman, masks included. Why? Who cares?I serendipitously found myself watching a Spiderman launch himself out of the penthouse yesterday afternoon, while out with Gravity’s office manager, Jill Benton. She had a hunch this would be right up my alley, and sure enough, I soon found myself zipping up a jumpsuit (no heroic attire; I just wanted to survive the experience; the view from the top, at right).
In all seriousness, Gravity’s guide/instructors are experienced employees and the equipment is all top-of-the-line. I’ve done a bit of climbing and abseiling, but never have I contemplated a face-first rappel, let alone in the middle of a bustling city. In fact, I have a deathly fear of jumping off of or out of things in urban areas (because, you know, death hurts less when you’re out in nature).
After strapping on my helmet and having my harnesses fitted, instructor Andrea did some practice maneuvers, first on the ground and then on a six-foot wall (right). When I felt ready to bail out that window, it was at first tentatively, and not very gracefully. Having hundreds of spectators on the ground didn’t do much to increase my performance anxiety.
While my technique may have been a Fail (I weigh just under 100 pounds, and that made it difficult for me to hop my way down, rather than roll), it was a total blast. The free fall was definitely one of my adventure activity lifetime highlights: few things can beat plummeting at warp speed upon the Easter shoppers of La Paz.
A half-hour later, still trembling with adrenalin (which is why my photo of the hotel, below, is crooked), I was headed back to my hostel across Plaza San Francisco, an uncontrollable smile on my face. Bolivia certainly has no shortage of outdoor adventure sports, but should you find yourself with a little afternoon downtime in La Paz, you’d be simply crazy not to take a flying leap out of the Hotel Presidente.
Urban Rush, 1-5 p.m., daily; book in advance or just drop by the hotel, at Potosí St., 920. It’s just $20 for one drop, $30 for two (note that due to fluctuating exchange rates these prices may change).
[Photo credits: Jill Benton/Laurel Miller]