1975 Winner

Trip Start Feb 23, 2011
Trip End Nov 10, 2011

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Flag of Colombia  , Santander,
Friday, May 6, 2011

With Angel Falls in Venezuela the one last remaining destination before officially commencing the river trip, we decided for one more Colombian fling before parting ways with the Tasmanian - Eldershaw crew. In the last ten years a place called San Gil had become the adventure capital of Colombia and near to here is a colonial village called Barichara which in 1975 had been named Colombia's prettiest village and almost 40 years on still maintains this informal title. 
After much debate and research, an 8 hour overnight bus was taken to the south to Bucaramanga, home of the culinary 'fat arsed' ants, and then at dawn another 2.5 hour bus to San Gil which was absolutely spectacular. Featuring was the Chicamocha Canyon where the road followed the river cutting through the range and then climbed up, up, and up to San Gil on the other side. 
Years previously with Jan I'd been coming from Cucuta on the Colombian /Venezuelan border needing to get to Bogota quickly and so had taken a bus on an alternative route to Duitama, a town half way towards the capital. We passed through extremely high country with several military checkpoints and searches along the way and later I found out it was fertile ground for the FARC guerillas. Indeed, the police station had been attacked several times with any back up too many hours away to be of any help.
Now with the guerillas having been cleared from many parts of the country, the improved security means tourism services and infrastructure in general can be built and an impressive cablecar now descends and ascends the Chicamocha Canyon which we took on our way back to Bucaramanga.  
Ross & Co decided to stay in San Gil, a busy town offering more services including a vegetarian restaurant, so Angela and I took the 40 minute bus ride onto Barichara where we eventually found a hotel where the female manager looked at me and asked if Angela was of age. While Angela always get surprised looks when her age is revealed (it's part of the check in procedure) this one took the record. 
Barichara is quaint, peaceful and tuned more to Colombian tourism with higher end hotels, restaurants and shops. Its location on the ridge of an enormous valley, which eventually runs into the Chicamocha Canyon, makes for idea sunset beers and paragliding which is what we did.  
The takeoff pad was a bit crude and the instructions were simply to rundown the steep dirt embankment when told. Angela went first and 30 metres into the air was still peddling furiously until I yelled out that she could stop. When my turn came the extra weight must have counted against me, as instead of clearing the bushes I went through them and the prolonged lift off meant my bare toes ("Yes, that's fine that you wear sandals"), scraped along the rough ground.
Ideally you're meant to land at the same place where you take off which Angela's pilot did comfortably. However after some good flying time, mine lost height and as we descended towards rough country my pilot confirmed that we'd be landing there. Um...where exactly? The land around Barichara is very infertile and the whole area is covered in volcanic rocks covered over with harsh grasses that only the goats manage to eat.
There was one area which had been cleared of all wooded vegetation except for one very large thorn tree with an equally tall, multi pronged cactus next to it. As we approached the clearing it was obvious that instead of keeping clear of the mass of waiting thorns and needles, we were actually about to collide into them. As I was suspended slightly below and in front of the pilot I would take the brunt of the blow, but when we dropped to almost ground level I became aware of the massive rocks that could trip me up and catch one of my legs. So it was a choice of being impaled or snapping a leg. 
I guess my pilot made the decision for me as we came crashing down 10 metres before the thorn tree and to the left of the cactus. I went into a sort of face plant / army roll with the pilot landing on top of me and I was unable to budge from the scrub and rocks until he disengaged himself and rolled me over like a turtle stuck on its back.  
The paraglider had billowed neatly over the thorn tree and so we spent the next hour disentangling it in which time I got quite sunburnt. Both his fellow pilot and Angela had watched the whole episode so when we eventually walked out to a nearby farmhouse passing through ankle deep mud in the cattle yards, there were two motorbikes waiting to take us back to town.  
Back in town were Ross, Jacky and Paddy who had come up to spend a night so after some first aid from Nurse Angela it was off to walk along the Royal Path to a small village 2 hours away. We arrived after dark and as we'd missed the last bus the local shopkeeper agreed for a small charge to bring us back in his car. So he kicked out his two drunks, closed up shop and drove us back where that night Jackie, Angela and I went to a nice Italian restaurant to celebrate our last night together.      
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