One Stop Shop for Fixing a Fear of Heights: Peguyangan Waterfall (Nusa Penida Island, Indonesia)
I’m intimidated by a lot of things. People who are good at math, soccer, and SPSS to name a few. But, there’s only a few things I’m, without a doubt, terrified of. One of those is heights. I’m not sure where it started because there’s photos of me as old as five sitting atop the edge of a mountain with my mom, looking like I didn’t have a care in the world. Somewhere along the line, like most of us at some point I suppose, I got scared. The core memory I have is in the Toys R Us that once stood in Times Square. My dad would always take me there throughout my childhood, and there was this translucent, lengthy bridge that crossed over the chaos of the store. That bridge scared me more than most things in my young life. I’d sheepishly clutch the railing as toddlers passed me by without a care, like I might’ve at their age. Despite the fear, I crossed it every time. Mostly because my dad told me it was important to look fear in the eye. It never got less scary. Heights just formed a peach pit in my throat.
When I set off to Asia, I knew there’d be many activities that involved my greatest fear, but I wanted to do them. I wasn’t willing to miss the beauty. Throughout my travels, I did just that. I would never say no to something simply because it triggered that child-like fear of falling over the edge. Sometimes I’d still get that peach pit in my throat, but usually, some combination of the heat, exhaustion, and awe would put those feelings at bay.
By the time I reached my weeks of my adventures in Bali. I thought I’d just about mastered my fear of heights. Actually, no, I thought that I’d made it my bitch. After the hike up thousands of narrow, crumbling to Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi, nothing could make me feel that fear of ascending again. I was proved wrong.
Nusa Penida Island was a last minute plan. I’d met an Indonesian girl at the beach one day, and somewhere along our chatting she insisted that I had to check it out before I left Bali. She said, it’d be one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. I could see the possibility of her overselling it, but I went anyway. I had become a fan of recommendations. I often liked where they led. As soon as we arrived on Nusa Penida, after a decently grueling excursion to get there, I knew it was the exact place I was looking for.
Nusa Penida is much less developed and touristy than Bali. The roads are very sketchy. Unsuitable for anyone who doesn’t have extensive experience on a motorbike, and even then, it’s probably smarter to use a local driver. My friend and I opted not to do that. A decision we ended up regretting when it took us hours to find our way through foot deep potholes in torrential rain. There’s a few bars lining the small strip of main road. But mainly, it was locals and the sparse tourists buzzing around. It was perfect.
The sights on the island are endless. You could do absolutely nothing, and the few from your hotel would still make you drool. I only had a couple days on the island, and I definitely packed a lot into that time, but there was so much I didn’t get to do. I recommend spending as much time as you can. Luckily, one of the places I did make it to was Peguyangan Waterfall.
Waterfall is a bit of a confusing term. This spot is both a waterfall and a series of small natural pools created by the crashing waves of the ocean, formed into the side of an engulfing cliff. It’s the type of place you can’t quite understand until you see it with your own eyes. Doing that is no easy feat either.
As I mentioned, the ‘waterfall’ is naturally occurring at the base of this cliff, meeting the water. Getting to it, means climbing down some of the most daunting blue stairs in the universe. See, what’s so bone chilling about these stairs isn’t just that they’re literally built into the side of a mountain. Between each step was a gap. A smirking little gap that was just big enough for a leg to slip through. One that showed you just how high you were with every step downwards. Letting you know that below, there was only jagged rocks and monstrous currents to tear you apart. Plus, there was no consistently. Sometimes, they barely slanted downward, and others they were basically parallel. It was, my worst nightmare.
Every step down those stairs made my heart punch a little harder against my chest. Just like when I was a kid, people breezily walked around me. Giggling, smiling, encouraging. I clutched the railing, taking a paralyzing step once a minute. As much as I wanted to turn around, and say, FUCK IT, I’ve done more than enough things that scare me in the past few months. I’m going to get a beer and take a nap. I didn’t. I kept going, slowly but surely. And eventually, I reached the slippery surface of rocks that looked dangerous to walk on, leading us to the pools and waterfalls. The mouth of the cave surrounding us, spurts of water from wayward waves tickling our skin. It was beautiful. Maybe one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in my life. I think may have been made even more so by the nerves I conquered to see it. It made me feel powerful.
That sense of power lasted all of two hours, until we had to climb back up those torturous blue slits of stairs. I figured going down would’ve had to be the worst part, but heading back up was so much scarier. Now, I had the fear of falling boosting my adrenaline, plus how exhausting it was to climb. Every few minutes I’d have to stop out of struggling with the combo. I’m in fairly good shape, but that made me feel like a complete pansy. My friend cheered me on with pity as I kept fearfully looking downward towards blue. Eventually, giving up to practically drag me up the stairs as rain began trickling down. After what felt like a lifetime, I found myself crawling up the last few stairs. Quickly turning around to snap a picture of the beast I’d conquered to send to my mom.
The adventure of Peguyangan Waterfall was one of those things that I probably would’ve been too scared to do if I actually knew what it would be like. The hazy picture I had of the whole experience made it a little easier to take those first steps. I’m thankful for that. It would’ve been a big mistake to let something as silly as a few high stairs get in the way of such a breathtaking experience. Knowing that, alone, has quelled my fears for good.