Though I was planning to leave Lima and travel south to the Paracas-Ica-Nazca area today, I suddenly decided to go paragliding off the cliffs which separate Lima from the Pacific Ocean. I had picked up a pamphlet about risk-free, tandem hang-gliding with a licensed instructor with seventeen years of experience in giving these rides to rank amateur tourists. Forty dollars for fifteen minutes. Better do it while I have a chance. Besides, maybe I could catch that one great action photograph that I could use for my book cover.
So, my hostel made a call and I was booked for pickup at noon. The whole experience was lovely and fun in a mild, calm way. The moment of truth, when your feet leave the earth and you actually begin to soar, is so brief that there is no time to think about the fact that you are stepping off of the top of a sheer cliff. Again, I was reminded that any expectation that something bad is about to happen, usually never materializes….not even the heart-in-the-mouth natural reaction to dizzying heights….not even when two macho guys at the hostel breakfast table greet your announced intentions with 1. careful questions about the current state of my medical insurance, and 2. a horror story about a friend who was paralyzed in such a flight. I think he was the pilot and admitted that he had done something stupid.
Thanks guys! You cannot scare me!
Our takeoff point was a grassy cliffside park a few miles from the main Miraflores oceanfront beach. It was cloudy, which was perfect for good wind conditions, as heat calms the air. Naturally, this was to be a tandem glide with Michael, the company owner and qualified pilot behind me. We had cloth harness slings and he was cozily pressed against my back so I felt very secure and in no danger of falling.
Launch is preceded by some vigorous pushing and pulling done by Christine, wife and assistant, using my front harness straps as her grip. First, she pulled us towards her after the sail is fully deployed above us. Then, she pushed us backwards a few feet and, in a moment, our four feet were running towards the edge of the earth. Michael cautioned me not to sit down just yet and shift my weight onto the sail until we had left the ground. I noticed later that the riders frequently disappeared below the grassy lip once the weight is being carried by line and kite sail.
As a matter of fact, I was still fiddling with my camera when we actually left the ground behind, so when I looked up, there we were, calmly floating over the morning glories, short green trees, and winding traffic beside the beach at the base of our high cliff. There was the wide Pacific Ocean but we were not going to leave our little edge of the world. We were simply going to soar back and forth, back and forth, for the $40 fifteen minutes of famous soft adventure.
I made a few attempts to turn the camera back on myself – in yellow crash helmet and big sunglasses, in the wild hope that this would make a fine book cover shot. Heaven knows what I actually captured with that or the video that I was shooting.
Then, I just quietly tried to feel like a bird in flight, deciding that they have a great life doing this all day. Surely though, birds must think no more of this than we do walking, and it is only when you can not do it at will that you value the ability. I also realized that, even though I absolutely loved this experience, that I would soon become bored with the sport, unless of course, I became a parasail pilot myself and had to pay critical attention to winds and wings. For passengers, the ease of operation soon becomes a bit repetitive.
On our last zig-zag, Michael asked how much I weighed. I came up blank, not having thought about it for a long time. He guessed a hundred and twenty and that was close enough, as I have lost a few pounds. Maybe he calibrates landing speed or sail set to match to total weight involved. As we approached the top of the cliff and headed towards the grassy edge, Michael instructed me to stand up when he told me to. Hmmmm. I wondered how it would be possible not to run with the forward motion and just to stand up. I was still contemplating this question when my feet touched down and so did my knee. I crumpled instead of standing, but it was still okay. Nothing got hurt and we stopped anyway.
Weight matters, apparently, to paragliding because one lovely, slightly chubby, American girl was told that she must wait a bit until the wind became stronger as she was too heavy for the decreasing breeze. Poor thing. Her slimmer Peruvian cousin had just overcome her fears and had a successful flight and a twiggy Japanese girl was being chosen in her stead. Her mother told me about a flight she had heard of forced to land on the highway because the wind suddenly gave out, so she did not mind that her daughter had to wait.
The plan to diet was already in the future, apparently, because when Daddy appeared with a handful of ice cream cones, I heard her comment that if she was too fat to fly, then she should certainly not be eating ice cream. Happily, she got to have her cone and eat it too, because the wind perked back up and she had a very successful flight after all.