Thursday, March 20, 2008


“How did it go?” asked Tim Harbour, the hostel owner where I was staying in Salento. He was inquiring about my paragliding trip. I was surprised by his question. Although he had owned The Plantation House for four years, I was the first person he had known who had gone paragliding, or parapente. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I arrived in Armenia this morning my guide asked me how I had found out about paragliding. I told him I asked my hostel owner. The irony of paragliding in Colombia is that it is available almost anywhere in the country not including the amazon. The country’s tall mountain peaks and temperate climate make it ideal for paragliding year-round. However, the adventure sports companies that provide paragliding lessons and trips don’t advertise. The company I used, Quindio Aventurero, has an internet site with nothing on it. So those who go paragliding either are locals in the know, or are like me and ask one of these locals.

I took a bus from Salento to Armenia this morning where I met my guide, Mauricio, at a meeting point. It was just the two of us. It was a two-hour drive to the place where we went paragliding. Mauricio was bilingual, the same age as me, and interesting to talk to. A Bogotá native, he had spent the past two years working on a charter boat in the Caribbean. He seemed to know a lot about everything. He even knew about my Nikon D300 camera. He had once been a scuba instructor and had taken photos for his clients. Mauricio had just returned to Colombia and was living in Armenia, the same town as his mother. Two years on the boat had burned him out, no social life, just work. While assimilating back into normal society, he was learning how to paraglide. He had taken the course, which only takes five or six days, and had made done 10 flights. Thirty flights are necessary to become a certified instructor. Luckily for me, I would be going with an instructor who had been paragliding for seven years. Mauricio was just providing the ride for me, and it was a chance for him to get some more flights under his belt. He was the one who had found this “launch site,” which was near a small town (I forgot the name) near Cartago in the Valle del Cauca, and not far from the Pacific Ocean. The weather in this area is always warm as can be seen by the tan skin of the locals. Rain is also rare. About 95% of the time the conditions are good for paragliding. Before I knew this, I was a bit concerned, having woken up and seen dark clouds in Salento. However, the climate can change from town to town in Colombia, even within the same city. For instance, where I live in Bogotá it often is cloudy and rains for a bit in the afternoon. But in the western and southern regions of Bogotá it rains much less and is a bit warmer. The weather got better and warmer the farther we drove.

When we arrived in this small town at the bottom of a big green mountain, Mauricio had to ask for directions to the top. There was a small group of Colombians standing around when we arrived at the peak. There was a concession stand and bathroom and a few benches, not much else. Though nothing else was needed. The view was spectacular and the weather was partly cloudy and pleasant. I met the instructor who would be taking me. He asked me how much I weighed. Mauricio talked to him as well and told me that the instructor was going to wait until the conditions were best and then he’d take me. The best conditions are usually at midday, when it is hot and there is a slight breeze. Too much wind is no good, and no wind is also not good. The worst part of my day was waiting, and as I did more people arrived. I think I was the only non-Colombian there. I got a little pissed because people who had arrived after me were all going for rides while I sat around.

About four hours later the instructor gave me the green light. He hooked me into a harness and handed me a helmet. “Just keep running,” he said. “Don’t sit down and don’t try and jump. Just keep running.” I wasn’t really nervous at all. Mauricio had told me it is a much safer sport than most people think and considering that we are flying like birds, it is very safe. The instructor was in back of me as I ran toward the edge of the mountain. I began running in air and sat back in the seat that was connected to my harness. It was instant fun, flying like a bird high above the valley and small town below. In fact, my instructor told me to look for birds since they are the best way to find and use the air currents which lift the parachute, or canopy, and extend the flight. It was relaxing and exciting at the same time. Because I was sitting down and the instructor was controlling our flight, I didn’t have to do anything accept enjoy it. I spotted a few birds not far in the distance and we drifted that way. Other than downhill skiing or scuba diving, paragliding is the most pure fun you can have outside of the bedroom.

About 20 minutes later we did a few fast dive-bombs in circles as we ascended closer to the town. I landed on my behind on a small hill near the town. The landing felt like I was in slow motion and wouldn’t have hurt an elderly person. There was a bunch of local kids to greet us and help out with the equipment. Upon landing I felt like I wanted to do it again, and that I was ready for a bigger challenge. I asked my instructor about skydiving, a much less popular sport in Colombia and quite expensive (about $300). I thanked him and chatted with a local man until Mauricio picked me up. If I was going to live in Colombia permanently, I would definitely get my paragliding certificate.


Rebekah said...

Your pictures are amazing…Just wanted to give a thumbs up! :)
Found your site while browsing...I saw all the pics then I went back and viewed your profile and saw that you are a pro photog and I said to myself "No wonder they are so good!"


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Anonymous said...

Fantastic picks and exp mate! Ravichandra, Bogota DC

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