Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Aborted Attempt at Flight

Sept 16 to 24th

Bucaramanga is supposed to be a great city - the incredibly friendly locals, the bustling street markets, the night life....

Wouldn't know.... I just spent five days in bed groaning with liquid insides.

The only thing I saw.... apart from the bathroom (which is not a nice photo for the blog) is this view from my window....


South America is not being kind to me so far. Contrast 2 bouts of illness and three punctures in just three weeks on this trip with zero illnesses and zero punctures in six months on my last trip. I must have offended the cycle gods somehow, but I know not what I have done. I resolve to clean my bike... grease some bearings, lubricate all cables and sprinkle copious amounts of holy water on my tyres.... if only I could just stop running to the bathroom for long enough.

Time is awasting and after five days staring at the walls, I am strong enough to ride again.

We still haven't managed to get the hang of all this Spanish signage as we head out on the motorway....


The lost days are a real shame as we had arranged to meet two couples from the Stahlratte crew for a para-gliding course on the outskirts of Bucaramanga. They are travelling much more sensibly than us using the internal combustion engine and so, arrived days in advance of us. After my malingering they are now almost finished. Only the legendary inefficiency of South American countries and a badly organised course has delayed them sufficiently for us to meet them at all!

The paragliding school is located at the top of a steep climb.... obviously! You need a steep sided hill to get airborne, otherwise the whole thing just becomes some silly running around with a big kite. I climb the hill on weak rubbery legs, but the views back over the city are well worth the effort....


As we near the summit we can see distant paragliding wings in the air. A couple of soaring birds seem to confer and debate over clumsy human efforts to ride the airways that they master so effortlessly....


By the time we finally arrive Robert, Madeline and Mark have over 20 flights under their belts and are really getting the hang of the tricky launches and landings. They are becoming expert flyers and are close to qualifying. Robert might have been better taking a basic course in knots though....


Watching them inflate these big wings and launch themselves towards the sheer edge is stirring stuff....


Legs pumping the colourful sails bulge and inflate, then begin to gain loft; suddenly they are running on air as they float and then soar off the ground with the stunning cityscape as a backdrop....


We sign up for a tandem flight to whet our appetite before taking the course and watch the experts until late in the day....


The school has accommodation right by the launch zone and it's a perfect place to hang out and catch up with friends. It's still very much the rainy season in Colombia but it's warm enough to hang out on the balcony. The evenings sound slick with the fizz of water on leaves.

All that rain makes the ground heavy with mud and a beer and food run in Mark's car turns into a fiasco when the car bogs down. Luckily, with extra muscle power on hand, we manage to push the car clear, but Sue needs to make a note not to stand behind spinning wheels....


Unfortunately we do quite a lot of hanging about.... Inexplicably it takes two days to get our tandem flights as instructors promise to arrive at 9am which in Colombia translates to 1pm and there is no chance to get our flights in.

Sue kills time in 'The Nest'....


While I check out the local wildlife. A two inch deadly looking waspy-anty thing that apparently packs a mean punch with that nasty stinger....


Even worse is this viper that hides in the grass. We only spot it when we see the resident cat stalking and stamping with it foreleg trying to draw it out. Brave cat - there is only one winner in that fight. He's coiled, agitated - ready to strike and does so as we crowd round to look. Fortunately no-one gets bitten....


Moving onto safer pursuits, Sue finally does get airborne....


When in South America you have to lose that western mania for efficient organisation and time keeping. These are just false expectations and lead to increases in stress levels. Nah... you just have to chillax and roll with that whole 'maƱana' thing. Things are definitely done differently here.... I get that. but here it's taken to the extreme!

The course should include transportation - a small matter of getting yourself and a now useless wing thing back up that big hill after landing. Sadly the van has not been purchased yet and the guys are hitching rides with locals or taking taxis which can waste a couple of hours a day. On one of the days, only a single instructor turns up and he mans the landing site, meaning there is no-one at the top to check equipment before launch. Inexperienced students are forced to check each other's safety harnesses and gear. Given that a rooky crashed into a tree the previous day it would have been nice for some extra tuition and reassurance before his next flight!!

Sadly I cannot recommend the school - there are just too many safety concerns and the lack of organisation was taking it's toll on the guys who were promised a 10 day course which was now running up to three weeks due to delays. My tandem pilot was taking a phone call during my launch and only noticed my harness was not attached properly when I asked him to check it. He was clipping me in and preparing to launch at the time!!

Shame 'cos the flight was awesome and I cannot think of a better location to fly....


It's a local beauty spot attracting loads of Colombians to enjoy the view....


At night, it really really takes your breath away....


It was great catching up with the guys from the boat, but I think we will leave the para-gliding for somewhere else. Tomorrow we head on to San Gil - another extreme sports destination and maybe we can find some thing dangerous to do there....

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