La Paz’s Urban Rush Introduces Rap Jumping To South America

urban rushAustralia 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?la pazI 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 didurban rush 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 hotel presidenteFrancisco, 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]

White Collar Travel Extra: Abercrombie CEO grounded!

When you think about it, $71.8 million in total compensation just isn’t what it used to be. That’s what Abercrombie & Fitch Chairman and CEO Mike Jeffries raked in for 2008. Meanwhile, the company he was skippering showed a profit of $254,000. Basically, A&F as a company – with all the resources available to it – earned the decent salary of a lower-level executive. So, it’s no surprise that Jeffries had his wings clipped.

According to the Corporate Library, a watchdog group, Jeffries was one of the top five Highest Paid Worst Performers of 2008. Translation: never has one received so much for accomplishing so little. I don’t know if you can call it punishment – hell, it doesn’t even feel like a reality check- but A&F is putting the brakes on its contributions to the CEO’s personal travel cost. After $200,000, he has to pick up his own tab. Compare that to the 2008 personal travel bill he turned over to shareholders: $1.3 million.

Yeah, times have changed.

Now, I’m sure someone, somewhere, is about to shed a tear for Jeffries. After all, he’s losing a nice perk. Fortunately, he has found a way to compensate (well, be compensated) for the change in travel policy: A&F is kicking in a $4 million lump-sum payment.

I know it’s fashionable to hate greedy CEOs. Frankly, I’m fine with their making obscene amounts of money, as long as they’re creating kick-ass amounts of shareholder value – that’s really all that matters. Well, Jeffries hasn’t been delivering the goods, which means just about anything is “generous” at this point.

If it had to happen, at least, the cap on personal travel expenses came at the right time. Flights are still pretty cheap, and hotel rates aren’t likely to start recovering until next year.