Paragliding in the Andes

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Dec 16, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Friday, September 19, 2008

Today's adventure was paragliding in the Andes.

Paragliding is a combination of hang gliding and sky diving.  The glider looks like a big parachute but has the agility, speed, and flight ability of a hang-glider.  And since it is a parachute, it is (supposedly) safer than hang gliding. 

We took a 4x4 1,600 feet up a switch-backed service road to the ridge of an amazing Andean valley.  My outfitter was passionate about paragliding - so much so, that it really didn't feel like a tour.  The group was myself, the two owners of the company, and 4 of their paragliding friends - so I was the only tourist in the group.  

At the takeoff point, everyon unpacked and inspected their gliders and tested all the electronic gear (altimeters, barometers, long-range radios). 

After donning a ping-pong ball helmet, I was lashed intowhat looked like a combination of backpack and jet-fighter seat then clipped to my instructor with our blue glider spread out on the ground behind us.

"When I say forward - take big steps forward.  Big, strong steps."  Gonzolo, my instructor told me.

"Forward" he said and we only had to take two steps before the glider filled with wind, shot straight up and began pulling back with surprising force. 

"Forward - STRONG!" Gonzolo yelled.

And with two more steps, we were lifted into the air.

Lifted!  Intuitively it seemed like we should fall down the hill - but we climbed!  With 5 minutes of circling we were another 1,000 feet above the takeoff point!

And then he took us out over the valley.

The glider was surprisingly maneuverable - we dove, climbed, spiraled left and right.  It was a spectacular scene - 6 paragliders, all vividly colored  (red, blue, yellow, orange, green) diving and banking over the green backdrop of the Andes.

After about 30 minutes in the air, my instructor landed where we took off! 

"Someone has to drive the truck back down and pick everyone else up" he said.

In all, it was an amazing trip - not only for the experience of gliding, but because it was authentic.  These guys just went out to go paragliding and I got to tag along.

"If you like this - you should try Kite Boarding" my instructor said.  "We take little versions of these gliders out to the salt flats with buggies and off-road skate boards and fly across the salt."

So that's my next adventure...

Click the video on the left to see a glider take off - it's amazing!

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