Day 235 - Rio de Janeiro (hang gliding)

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End May 01, 2008

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

We were really excited about going hang-gliding this morning.
We were also really nervous when we got out of bed and walked outside to look at the sky!

PLEASE be clear with some wind, PRETTY PLEASE WITH A CHERRY ON TOP...

It was... absolutely PERFECT, we were lucky!

We wolfed down our breakfast, put on our hiking boots for one last time (we didn't think that flip flops were very well suited to gliding hundreds of feet above the ground) and got ready for our 09:30 collection.

We had to move rooms today, so we finished our packing, put our bags in storage and then learnt (belatedly) that the instructor had called reception to say that he'd be about 15 minutes late.

The witch on reception had kindly not bothered to inform us, but we managed to jump on the internet upstairs until they arrived so it wasn't a big deal.

Our lift buzzed the front gate and we went outside; I assumed it was the mini bus full of young tourists and Katie laughed when I knocked on the window and it turned out to be completely the wrong tour!

Katie then tried to open the door to the big black car parked next to the mini bus, but it was locked. She tried again and was a bit frustrated when the driver still didn't unlock the door.

So she then tried the front door, to ask him to unlock the back door, but that one was also locked! 

Frustrated, she stood there pulling on the door handle, gesturing for the guy to unlock the other door, wondering what the hell his problem was, when the taxi BEHIND the black car honks the horn and waves at us!

Katie then realised to her horror that she also have tried the wrong car and even worse must have scared the living daylights out of the poor driver who must have thought she was going to car jack him or something! HAHAHAHA

He who laughs last... ;)

So it transpired that our instructor simply sent a taxi to collect us, rather than doing it himself. What's the betting that he also told that to the cow on reception?!

When we got inside the taxi it sped north east through Ipanema and Leblon, around the corner of the bay where a very nice Sheraton hotel sits and then another 10 minutes along the next beach.

It was a lovely day and a very nice ride, but I could see Katie was beginning to think about the fact that we were just about to chuck ourselves off the top of a mountain attached to a glorified fabricated coat hanger!

Katie doesn't like heights and had perhaps forgotten this in the excitement of booking the activity. DOH! 

When the taxi stopped we were motioned to walk to an office on the sea front, which happened to be the official hang-gliding control centre or some such rubbish.

Predictably we had to sign a form waiving any responsibility for the people controlling our ability to live through the day, plus we had to pay another 10 Reals each for the priviledge. Everyone wants a slice of the tourists!
With the paperwork completed we were asked to stand on the promenade and wait for our instructor.

The mountain

We had to wait 10 minutes (it could have been worse) and then a handsome tanned chap bounced over to us, introduced himself as "Hia" (?!) in perfect English and generally proceded to charm the pants off us.

As soon as he stopped talking, Katie turned towards me and asked "Please can I go with him?".

I nodded and hoped that she meant hang-gliding ;)
This was the view down the beach, which was apparently where we would be landing!

Beach (landing site)

Checking landing site

We were joined a few minutes later by our other tandem pilot, called Klaus, who was taller, fitter, just as frustratingly handsome, but thankfully German. Well, he couldn't have it all, right?! 
We jumped into the main instructor's 4x4 and started the long winding climb up the mountain. 

All the paths that led us there were winding,
And all the lights that led the way were blinding.
Or something!
It turned out that both of our 'pilots' used to be lawyers (one of them was apparently the Intelectual Property lawyer for Microsoft Brazil?!) but they both decided to jack in the rigeurs of a very stressful job when they fell in love with hang-gliding and realised that they could make a living from it. 

We'll probably find that they've invented romantic back stories and they were actually pizza delivery boys! 
Seriously, all the kit is EXTREMELY expensive, so I believe the lawyer thing ;)

They talked us through how high their costs were, how the break-even point of their business was very high and generally tried to convince us that the exorbitant price we were paying was only just keeping them out of the gutter. Mmmmm, riiiiiiight.... 
On a laptop they showed us a video of the take-off, flight and landing and it looked amazing; we couldn't wait!

The road up the mountain was really steep and the last 5 minutes involved booting up a narrow one-way road, entirely in first gear!

The 4x4 strained and wheezed but just about reached the top, where a team of support minions miraculously appeared, removed the hang-gliders off the top of the jeep and started assembling them at the launch site. 
The launch site was a couple of minutes walk through the trees from the car park, which felt a bit like the walk to the guilotine!

Walk up 

We weren't the only people ready to take off, there were a bunch of fellow maniacs about to throw themselves off the high mountain!


Fair play, our pilots were both really nice guys, very smart, with amazing lifestyles, of which we were both extremely jealous even before we took to the air.

It was impossible not to like them, even if I was dreading discovering the price of the photos and video they were no doubt about to offer us. 
When we reached the ramp (launch site) we saw that it had incredible views over the beach area below us.

Katie walked out to the edge, looked over and wondered what the hell she was doing.

I really couldn't wait to get out there, it was even more scenic than our paragliding in Queenstown.

Katie view 

It was cool to think that in a few minutes we'd be leaping off this wooden ramp, gliding around and then landing on the beach in the distance!

View from ramp

While we were being prepped for the take off they told us the prices of photos and video, which were even more ridiculous than I'd expected, but we decided that we really couldn't do this without at least getting some photos of the experience.

They quoted us 25 photos each for 60 Reals, but we didn't want to pay an extra 120 Real each for the video, it was much too expensive. I really don't know how they can justify that, considering all they have to do is push a different button on the same camera?! Jokers.

Anyway, the guys put us into our harness suits, strapped against our instructors, then walked us through the launch, flight and landing procedures.

Here's Katie practicising her take off!

Katie prep 

After that photo was taken we watched one other guy take off and then it was my turn!

I was a bit surprised that we were off so quickly (when we paraglided over Queenstown it seemed to take ages for us to make the jump) but literally seconds later Hia & I were sprinting off the end of the ramp, trying NOT to jump off the edge, which apparently loses momentum and plunges you downwards!

Three, two, one, go go go go go!!!

 Random off

The sensation as we left the top of the mountain was absolutely incredible; it was faster and more exhilarating than paragliding (which is essentially falling slowly with a parachute) and therefore also much more exciting. What a rush!

Random off 2

Unfortunately neither of us managed to catch a strong thermal which would have taken us up, up and away, but at least we were able to maintain height rather than plummeting downwards!

This is a photo taken by a camera on the wing of Katie's glider, cool eh?


This was a photo I took on my own camera, showing the guy who took off before me, as he circled around towards the beach. It helped to see roughly what we had ahead of us.

Al air 1

We managed to catch another thermal to lift us upwards for a few minutes and then headed out over the high-rise hotels, over the beach and then out over the sea.

Here's another one of Katie from her onboard camera, with a great shot of a mountain behind her.


The beach still seemed miles away - I just tried to enjoy the flight and not think about the landing!

Al air 2 

Here's Katie waving to the camera, as opposed to the first two shots where she was clearly hanging on for dear life!


This is one from the camera on my glider, notice my far superior technique, natch ;)


Soon we were both heading over the hotels and out towards the Atlantic Ocean!


Just before we started preparing our landing run we were both told to turn around and face the camera... I LOVE these photos!

Perfect for Facebook profile images methinks...


Look, no hands!


As we drifted further out over the sea, Hia told me that sometimes you could see sting rays in the ocean below, so we looked for them and then began our descent...

It felt a lot quicker than the 20 minutes that we'd been promised, but I guess we should have expected that by now, one thing we've definitely learnt is to never believe what you're told BEFORE you've paid!

Now we really started to home in on the beach below, with the huge white surf narrowing our landing area...

Al air 3 

The views all around us were equal parts beautiful and terrifying!

Al air 5 

I think that's my finger below, I'm probably saying "What?! We're landing THERE?!"

Al air 4 

I was really surprised how far out to sea we went before turning back in a smooth turn. I wonder how far out to sea you could go on one of these things...

We started down to earth with some gentle corkscrew turns and a few minutes later we were coming down to land on the beach. 

My landing wasn't great, the sand was much softer than I expected so my feet just sunk in, but we made it down in one piece and I was able to turn and watch Katie land behind me.
Here she comes...

KT landing 


KT landing 2

She walked back up to meet me, gave me a big hug and was smiling like a little kid on Christmas morning! 

We'd both loved every single second of it.

I like this photo of Katie walking off the beach and up to the promenade, it reminds me of Top Gun for some reason...

KT landed

When we got back to the promenade, we were shown the photos from our gliders (I only had 8 photos and Katie had 13 - so much for "25 photos each"!) but there were a few really good ones so we handed over the money, paid the balance to our instructors and got back in the taxi for the ride back to our hostel along the coast.

During the flight, Hia told me that he believed he was the most experienced hang-glider in the world, with more registered flights than anyone else on the planet.

I'm not sure why he would make that up, but it helped me feel that I was in safe hands!

It probably sounds like he was bragging, but it wasn't like that at all; he was very modest and relaxed, a really nice guy.

Al & Hia

We'd really enjoyed the perfect conditions for hang-gliding, we knew we were very lucky and it was an absolutely incredible experience.

When we got back to the hostel, we changed into our beach gear and walked a block down to Ipanema beach, where we sat in the sun for a couple of hours to unwind after all the excitement!

Ipanema 1 

It was nice to have an uncrowded beach again after the public holiday yesterday.

Ipanema 2

While Katie worked on her tan, I watched a pretty competitive game of football, pining from a distance and making a very eager ball boy anytime the ball game anywhere near me!

Again, the level of skill on display was phenomenal considering this was just a bunch of guys on a beach, on a week day afternoon...

Ipanema 3

When I started to get bored I wandered off to get us some refreshments (some Ašai for me and some frozen yoghurt for KT), which got me out of the blazing sun for a while.

Soon the sun was coming down behind the hotels so we headed back to the hostel.

We chilled out back in the room before finding a nice cheap Italian place around the corner for dinner. We've spunked a relative fortune since arriving in Rio, so we needed to be a bit more sensible tonight!

We ordered a bottle of Brazilian wine (surprisingly good) and really enjoyed our pasta.


On the way home we had our usual frozen yoghurt desert and realised how sad we were to be leaving Rio tomorrow.

Like a lot of places it's a completely different city when the sun is shining, we've definitely both fallen in love with it.

The difference between here and nearly everywhere else we've ever been is the incredible variety of beaches, views, lakes & mountains, all around the city. It's an incredible location and a gorgeous climate. We've also loved living in the laid-back vibe of Ipanema, good choice Mrs Fey! x

When we got back to the hostel we confirmed our 4:30am taxi early tomorrow morning (ouch), so that we can catch the 5:20am bus to the ferry port from the central bus station, to catch the connecting early ferry to Ilha Grande.

Ilha Grande ("big island") is about 150km from Rio and is famous for its beautiful beaches, fabulous forests - let's just hope we get lots of sensational sun to enjoy it properly!

When we get back from the island we'll have one last night in Rio before our flight on Wednesday, so we've booked another room in the same hostel for that final night.

When making the booking we tried our best not to think about our forthcoming LAST NIGHT OF OUR TRIP OF A LIFETIME!!!! 

lots of love,

Al & Katie xx  
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