Day 77: Hanging Around (Part 2)

Mon. 29th October 2012

I had a great view, all the way back to SucreAfter yesterday’s bike and hike, it was time for paragliding – at least for me (Dave). Its not something that I have done before and we were assured that our pilot(?) was really good and that he had been dispatched from Cochabamba, some 8 hours away on a bus, especially for us. We couldn’t really say no – well, apart from Janet that is!

At 8am, 8 of us were ready and waiting outside of Joyride’s office. The pilot arrived and we marched off to the waiting cars. One of the two cars was the same Toyota (SUV) truck with naturally, air-conditioned tent on the back that we had had yesterday. I had learned my lesson though and climbed into the back seat of the main cab!

Its a long way downOnce again, we stopped on the ridge of one of the mountains an hour or so outside of Sucre. This time the setup was on a steepish slope right on the edge of a sharp drop down into the valley a long way below. As with yesterday, there was a thin stream running along the sandy valley floor, but this time we could see green, tended fields in the distance. Juspa, our pilot, explained that Plan A was to catch a thermal, and land back at or behind the take-off point; Plan B was to catch smaller thermals and land in a field a little further along (and down) the ridge of the hill and that Plan C was to land in the valley floor by the river.

Controlling the parachute, ready for take-offHe then very quickly got the parachute (parasail?) out – larger and more wing-like than a parachute; made of ‘cells’ or pockets that inflated in the wind; and the overall chute / wing curved overhead when inflated – and made sure that all the rigging lines were straight and not tangled. And then we were ready to go – one by one for our flights! Definitely better to go sooner rather than let the nerves build up – however, Juspa wanted the lighter people first so I had to wait, eagerly questioning the people who had gone before.

Too late to back out now!When it was my turn, I was strapped into a harness which had a big baggy back-pack which turned out to be a seat for us to use when airborne. Once the parachute was laid out behind us and all the rigging lines straight, Juspa stepped into his harness and then attached the rigging lines first to his own harness, and then to mine so we were both locked together. He could then turn round, ducking under one set of lines, to control the inflation of the chute.

Houston, we have lift off!With the wind blowing up the side of the hill into our faces, but gusting and veering quite strongly on occasions, this took some experience and judgement – one of many reasons we weren’t going to do this in less experienced hands (let alone solo). When he felt the wind was right, he would pull on the lines attached to the leading edge, to let the pockets start to inflate and be ready to go. He could hold the chute ready like this for minutes waiting for the wind to be just right then, with a final tug, the chute would fully catch the wind and rise up above our heads. See the video below for how it should be done – thanks, JessD!

In theory (and, in practice, for most of us) it was then simply a matter of running off the edge of the cliff (cliffiche, to use an old skiing term!). However, I either didn’t start running quickly enough or the chute got caught by gust of wind and I was blown on to my bum and we had to do a restart.

Off into the distanceIt turned out that take off was by far the trickiest part of the whole operation and that once airborne, it was a matter of sitting down and back in the harness, letting Juspa do his stuff and just admiring the view. Almost all of us did catch thermals of some sort, and for my turn we were soaring high above our start point waving at the stick like figures on the ground below. We were promised a 5 – 8min flight but in practice we almost all had 15 – 20 minute flights. The views were incredible and the overall flight was less bumpy than some of the gliders or small aircraft that I have been in. Exhilarating, definitely – scary, not so much (once you were in the air) we all agreed.

Touch downEven for the landing, the hardest part seemed to be to go down as we circled over the landing field two or three times before finally Juspa said “get ready”. I slid out of the seat and dangled in my harness, ready to start running at Juspa’s command. However, his control was so good, that we came almost to a complete halt just before touching down and then we were on the ground with the chute collapsed behind us. I suspect it takes real skill and lots of practice to be able to do this! After that, he carefully gathered the rigging lines up and we bundled the chute, our harnesses and ourselves into the truck that had driven down to meet us at the Plan B landing site and off to get set up for the next person.

A really great experience – and we definitely deserved the free beer that was waiting for us back in Sucre!

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