On Friday night, I was hanging out with my Australian friend Andy and he told me he and a Colombian girl he was dating were going paragliding Sunday and invited me along. It was only 80,000 COP (~$45) and he showed me a video on his phone and it looked too cool to pass up.
The skydiving place is in San Felix, which is up in the mountains about an hour outside the city by taxi. The first thing I noticed when I arrived is that paragliding is actually terrifying. I was thinking about it as if it were a hot air balloon ride, but it felt like we were gearing up to go skydiving. In the videos, you’re thinking about how cool the view is but in person, you’re thinking, “Oh my god! Those people are thousands of feet in the air and seem like they will die instantly if they get an unlucky gust of wind.”
Obviously, we’re not going to come all this way and not do it, so we paid for our tickets and headed up to the launch area.
It’s a unique scene. There are a bunch of people hanging out at the top of the hill in the launch area, many in little tents. I asked Andy’s friend Caro what the deal was with the tents and she said people just come and hang out for the day to watch their friends paraglide. There are people selling barbecued meats and fried foods, people playing music. It’s like they’re tailgaiting paragliding.
Andy was called up first. The whole process is pretty quick. From the time they call you over to your guide to the moment you take off is about 5 minutes.
There’s very little the way of instructions. I got strapped to my guide and this was our only exchange before we got in the air:
Guide: ¿Entiendes español? [Do you understand Spanish?]
Me: Sí. [Yes.]
Guide: Bueno. Primero caminamos, entonces corremos, y cuando volemos, sientate. [Good. First we walk, then run, and when we’re flying, sit down.]
Me: Okay. [Okay.]
Takeoff went pretty much as planned, but I apparently didn’t understand the “sit down” part well enough. When we got into the air, I sat back onto this little pouch behind me and I thought my work was done. My guide started shouting at me, “¡Sientate!” [“Sit down!”]. I didn’t really know what to do since I was already sitting down, so I just tried to lean back more. He seemed to get more alarmed and started shouting, “¡Sientate más! ¡Sientate más!” [“Sit down more! Sit down more!”].
I couldn’t lean back any more since my back was already against his chest and I wasn’t sure how else to sit down “more.” I scooted back further in the seat-pouch-thing and this seemed to be what he wanted because he stopped yelling and when I asked, “Estoy bien?” [“Am I okay?”] he said, “Sí.”
Being in the air was really cool. You feel like you’re sitting on a swing suspended magically in the middle of the sky. I was also still pretty nervous. The whole thing feels so delicate and the wind so random, I kept expecting to fall out or get blown into a death spiral at any moment. My guide said I didn’t need to keep gripping the harness and I thought, “Oh, cool,” and let go. Then we swayed slightly because of the wind and I decided that holding onto the harness was nice, so I resumed doing that.
I asked if I could take my camera out of my jeans pocket for some photos and my guide said, “¡Claro!” [“Of course!”] (sidenote: I suspect this isn’t the answer I’d get in the US). Just taking out my camera and getting the settings right scared the crap out of me, but I knew I’d regret not taking some pictures.
This is a shot from mid-air. Medellin is directly in front of us. You can actually see my apartment in this picture. It’s the clay colored one.
I felt pretty excited for getting shots mid-air until Caro told me she kept her camera out the entire time and got her guide to do helicopters and downward spirals while she filmed it. She’s kind of nuts.
This is all of us post-gliding. Definitely turned out to be a good way to spend a Sunday.