'If there's one thing in life I hate, that's jumping into water.' An honest enough statement, perhaps, but not one you'd really want to hear at the start of a cascading adventure. Helga made this confession as we lagged behind the rest of the group, which, having caught the scent of water, was hot on its trail like a pack of hounds. 'Don't worry,' I said sympathetically, 'apparently there's nothing over 15 meters.'
Other Cascade Files:
'Oh my God! I want to go back.'
And she probably would have done so had I not quickly changed my estimate to a rather more digestible, 'five meters - if that' (it was an honest mistake: 'fünf' and 'fünfzehn' sound pretty similar to an Englishman who is trying to impress a girl with his phony mastery of the German language).
'Are you sure? That's still pretty high.'
'I'll hold your hand if you like.'
'You are kind. Okay, let's catch up with the rest.'
Markus, another German, was our guide; and if there was one thing in life he loved, it was jumping into water. Just as well, for this is what cascading is all about. We were at a place known as the Cascades of Imbert (Imbert is a town 20km west of Puerto Plata), where there is a canyon with no less than 28 water jumps from start to finish. While 'jeep safaris', the tourist trap par excellence of the Dominican Republic, take truck-loads of tourists to the cascades to picnic next to a large waterfall and splash about in the lower part of the canyon, a decent cascading trip will take in all 28 jumps, finishing with a dramatic leap from the very waterfall where the jeep safari is munching its sandwiches. Indeed, cascading is not dissimilar to canyoning: the essential difference is that cascading emphasizes the jumping (bad luck, Helga!), while canyoning is as much about hiking, climbing and abseiling. Suffice it to say that the stunning scenery and unique atmosphere of a canyon in the Dominican Republic - the sense that this is the world and you and your group are the only people in it - can be enjoyed on both a cascading and a canyoning adventure.
Not that Helga spent much time looking at anything other than the pools of water into which she was continually being implored to jump. For despite the modest height of all but the final jump - and notwithstanding my offer to hold her hand - she remained resolutely earth-bound, opting instead to slide down the canyon on her bottom. The others, meanwhile, grew in confidence with each jump. In the early stages, the main concern was getting safely from A (the ledge) to B (the pool). When it became apparent, however, that Markus knew where he was going and that the pools of water were deep enough for an Acapulco diver, people gradually started to express themselves. Someone at the front of the line started it all off by raising his arms and shouting the word 'suck' - or something like that - as he performed what must have been about the tenth jump of the trip. This triggered off a chain-reaction. Splayed legs, pirouettes, belly-flops (most of them unintentional), and new vocabulary were introduced to the group's jumping repertoire; and even Helga started to use her buttocks more as a sliding mat than a suction pad as she gained confidence on the slippery rock.
Signs of life began to reappear the further down the canyon we progressed; and as we swam through a maze of narrow waterways lined on either side by steep, limestone walls, we started to meet people wearing multi-colored wristbands coming in the opposite direction. Then we heard the chaotic jumble of assorted merengue music pumping from several dozen private radios, the high-pitched screams of people being splashed with water, the roar of the waterfall, the distant and terrifying sound of cars beeping their horns, and we all realized that soon we would be jumping - or sliding - quite literally back into reality.