#18

Our last morning in La Cumbre, I was lying in bed reading when there was a knock on the door. It was Cristian, the great guy who runs the hostel where we were staying. “Wanna fly?” he asked. I was thrilled. “Really!? We can go?” “Today’s the day. Be ready at 10:30.” Knowing we’d finally get to go paragliding made all the less-than-stellar weather and waiting around worth it. None of our complaining mattered anymore; the less-than-perfect moments of the week were erased in a heartbeat. Even though there was still a possibility that conditions would change out at the launch site, I was optimistic—and a little nervous on the ride there.

At the launch site, Cuchi Corral, people were gathering to enjoy the view, watch the paragliders, and drink mate. We were the only novices who were there to fly. As we watched the first paraglider take off on his own, a guy who was there with his kids looked over and said, “Refacil, no?“—really easy, right? We laughed anxiously, watching the paraglider circle out over the valley. He was on the ground less than ten minutes later, it seemed, and I hoped my ride would last longer. My pilot and I talked to an older man who said his daughter had done it and loved it, and he seemed curious himself but not exactly scrambling to sign up. I sipped the mate he offered, hoping it would help fortify me for the adventure ahead.

After watching Carolynn take off with her pilot, Toti, without a hitch, I couldn’t wait to get in the air. My pilot, Fecho, gave me a quick rundown on how the take-off would go, and it was our turn. Luckily, there wasn’t much time to think about it or get scared—once the wind is right, you just gotta go, and you want to give it your all so it goes smoothly. Fecho shouted “Vamos! Corre! Corre!” and I started running. Thankfully, the wind picked us up before we ran out of ground for running, so it didn’t really feel like jumping off a mountain!

I’m in the orange one on the right:

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Once we were airborne, I settled back into my seat and stared beyond my feet, dangling so high above the earth. It was hard to believe there was nothing but the wind holding me up, and I did occasionally feel just a little nervous about that. Now and then I took some pictures or video (my camera was attached to a tether so I didn’t have to worry about losing it), but mostly I tried to concentrate on every sound and sensation, wanting so much to live in the moment, which I often have a hard time doing. The wind roared in my ears, yet it felt completely quiet and still at the same time. As I felt the wind carry us in one direction, then another, or as Fecho caught a thermal to draw us higher, slowly spiraling, I imagined what it must be like to be a bird, tuning into the wind, angling its wings just so, keeping an eye out for food (or in my case, just noticing interesting clouds and a waterfall I couldn’t see from the launch site). Pretty incredible!

Airborne:

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I really didn’t want it to end, and luckily we did get quite a long flight—I think we were in the air about half an hour. Fecho didn’t tell me we were landing, though, and as we came in close to the hillside below the launch site I wasn’t sure whether it was on purpose—I thought maybe we would start climbing again—then the ropes on my right hit the stick holding the weathervane, my seat was scraping along the dry, dusty hill, and I wasn’t sure whether to keep my feet up or use them to help us stop! In a few seconds we came to a standstill, and the parachute crashed down behind us. Fecho made sure I was okay, asking, as he pointed to my left, “You didn’t hit that rock, did you?” My leg was right next to a boulder about two feet across. Yikes! Close one. He unhooked me, and I staggered up the hill to meet Carolynn, feeling a slight headache and nausea set in. We whooped it up, talking about our flights, taking pictures of other paragliders and a circling condor, and enjoying an adrenaline high that lasted at least until the next day. We’re already talking about going again—possibly in Chile in November. Whoo!

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2 Responses to “#18”

  1. rebecca Says:

    WOW! that’s exciting. so you’re gonna do it again and again, right?

  2. santoki Says:

    My dearest Al! What a phenomenal post! There aren’t enough exclamation marks to express my amazement!

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