06 Nov 2006

Batu Ferringhi, Penang

'Hold your arms in the air', the big guy says, 'and run towards the water.'

'Run fast', adds the timid voice in my head, 'or the harness will cut you in half'.

I'm not much of a runner, so while the boss is dropping crushed leaves from his hand to gauge the wind direction, I'm eying the ten metres of soft sand to the water. Twenty metres further on, attached to my waist by a rope, lies a small speedboat crewed by a local and co-piloted by a Swedish girl who's along for the ride.

The boss comes back and ties a red ribbon to the right-hand side of the parachute harness. On his word, I'm to pull on it. As he switches it to the left side, then back to the right, citing changes in wind direction, I have a look at the straps.

I'm a climber. I know what good rope looks like, and this isn't it. I also know ways to tie ropes to shackles securely, so that you don't have to use a little plastic cable tie to prevent slippage. Distantly, I wonder if I should provide some instruction.

But there's no time. The boat takes off, and I start running. Within a few steps I'm airborne, the parasail lifting me smoothly into the air with absolutely no spine-snapping jerk whatsoever. From there on it's plain sailing. The boat driver's control is so good that when he lowers me to sea level for the optional "dunk", only my ankles end up in the warm green water.

There's barely any sway, so I can enjoy the view without experiencing the nausea that marred my skydiving excursion. Directly underneath is a small fishing boat, the owner's broad-brimmed hat nearly completely concealing him. Foreigner's Rock, for which Batu Ferringhi is named, is a couple of kilometers ahead. It's tantalisingly close to shore - evidently too close, because someone has carved an enormous love heart, no doubt including two sets of initials, on the side.

The boat circles back to the start point, and I haul on the rope marked by the ribbon. Evidently it's on the correct side after all, because I swerve in for a fairly gentle landing on the sand.

Honour restored, I hand over the fifty ringgit and head across the road to get my pack.