I can't fly, but I can plummet rather slowly.

Merida Travel Blog

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The Para-Gliding takeoff point on top of Tierra Negra.

Hello All,

Well, I got about four hours of sleep last night.  I was pretty tired, but way too nervous about this mornings Paragliding adventure.  I signed up a few days ago, and have been trying not to think about it ever since.  Merida is a sort of adventure sports capital, and I guess that I didn't want to feel left out.  Forget the fact that no sport I've ever tried has been close to adventure.  Well, maybe scuba diving but maybe not.

I got the Fanny Tours at 8:30am and was introduced to Jose.  Jose would be the pilot of our tandem chute, and he and his wife own the tour company.  We jumped into the Land Cruiser to head east towards Tierra Negra.  It was about a 20km drive over a great road that went into a narrow valley.

Looking down from the edge. Jose said it was 1,000 meters down.
  Jose had some Ziggy Marley on the CD player, and we chit-chatted about sports a bit.  He said that baseball was more popular along the coast, but in the Andes football and cycling were the big ones.  We talked about cycling, and Jose told me to watch out for José Rujano in the mountains if his team lets him ride the Tour de France this year.

We stopped along the way to pick up a friend of his that was going to jump today also.  Shortly after we stopped just off of the highway to grab our chute, and pick up the guy that would drive the car back down to meet us.  We then took off on a side road.  First we crossed the Rio Chama on a narrow, but evidently pretty modern one lane bridge.  Then we proceded to to up a narrow, switchback road for about 15 minutes.

Jose setting up the massive tandem parachute for us.
  Along the way there were goats and iguana crossing the road, and scurrying into hiding.

We then turned onto a rocky trail for the last bit and parked on top of a large, flat area.  I looked to the north and could feel the elevation.  José claimed it was a 1,000 meter vertical drop, and I was not going to argue.  José and his buddy both started to unpack their chutes and harnesses.  The one we were using was, of course, much larger then the single chute his amigo had.  I weigh about 90kg, and that is within 10kg of the limit, so the more lift for us the longer the ride would be.

I took some pics while waiting, and another companies Four Runner arrived with a Swiss girl that was making a tandem jump as well.  I was fitted with the harness, which I am pretty familiar with because of my job.

It's hard to get a feeling of the height, but I did get my feet and the parachute shadow in this one.
  This one allowed you to stand up, but had a hard plastic seat that trailed behind you that, once airborne you can sit back into.  I was then given a quick instruction run through by José.  Run like crazy towards the edge until I tell you to stop, then sit back into the seat a quickly as you can.

I asked about taking my camera, and he said no problem.  It has a hand lanyard, but that is it, so I made a mental note to keep it wrapped around my wrist.  José then clipped my harness to the chute so I was positioned directly in front of him.  The chute was yanked a bit until it raised up, and before I could even think about it José said "Run!".  I ran like crazy, but only got about five steps before we were airborne.  It was a bit difficult to lift up and back into the seat with my camera taking up my right hand, but I managed awkwardly.

Another shot from the air. That's a long way down.

It was as easy as it could have been, and José did me a favor by keeping things short and sweet and then surprising me with the start command.  My being afraid of heights didn't even really enter into it.  I was actually more afraid on the drive up being so close to the edge on some of the switchbacks.  José said that the air was a bit soft today, but I didn't mind.  This being my first time, I just wanted to experience things for what they were.

The flight was amazing!  I could feel how José was turning and searching for thermal rises in the wind, and then when he found one he would work it for all it was worth.  Circling and zig-zagging along the side of the mountain we worked our way slowly downward.  I was glad that I had skipped breakfast this morning, and the last thing I ate was at 4pm the day before.

Looking up after landing. There's a small blue chute coming down shortly.
  It was a bit dizzying if I tried to focus too closely on an object, but it really was just a relaxing float.  There were a few small falcons that were saw on the way down, and I tried to follow the two other descending chutes as well.

All the while I was taking photos and videos on the way down.  We were getting pretty low now, and we crossed the river and headed for the landing area.  There was a small wind sock there, so I knew how we were going to approach.  Another short tutorial about landing and 30 seconds later we were on the ground.  It was a soft and perfect landing.  José positioned his controls to the left, and the chute collapsed neatly into a pile.  He loosened a few carabiners and I was free to walk the planet again.

Video taken while para-gliding from Tierra Negra near Merida, Venezuela.

I got the camera fired up again to take some pictures of the other chutes coming in.  It was amazing to see it from both angles, and I think we may have had the best landing.  We packed things up and headed back towards town.  We were cranking the Supertramp now, and I could not stop thinking about what I had just done.  I had a bit of a headache from the slight dizzyness, but I think it had more to do with  my lack of food then anything.

I never in a million years thought that I would do this as easily as I did, or even that I would do it at all.  I am a big fan of facing my fears, but c'mon, this is just insane!  What the hell am I gonna do next?

We passed a training Venezuelan cycling team along the way, which was very cool.

Hopping back into the Land Cruiser to head back to town.
  There are certainly some mountains to condition on in the area, although a few cyclists were cheating by hanging onto trucks along the way.

After getting back to the hotel, I grabbed a hamburger at Venezuelan hamburger chain, La Nota.  And then went back to the hotel room to catch up on some sleep.  I turned on the computer, and the Milwaukee Brewers baseball game was on.  So I watched the Brewers beat the Houston Astros before managing to doze off for a while.

I woke up to get some food later, and also went for my first walk at night around Merida.  It really is an inviting place, and great to walk around.  Things were pretty hopping for 8pm on a Thursday, and I felt safe almost everywhere I went.  My ankle had been bothering me for a few days, but is now feeling much better.

Cyclist hitches a ride for a bit. Well it was a long incline up back to town.
  I am tempted to stay here another day, but I think the need to move on will be too strong tomorrow.

I'm also worried about showing up in Ciudad Bolivar on a Sunday.  I hear the whole town shuts down at 6pm every night, and I can't imagine how lifeless it would be if I arrived on a Sunday after 6pm.  So I think I will take a four hour bus to Barinas as soon as they kick me out of my hotel tomorrow (1pm?), and then take a look aorund the town for a while.  Then I will try to grab a bus from there to Ciudad Bolivar.  I think that one is about 16 hours...  Oh boy.

Later, Phil

dmielke2 says:
Great pictures Phil. I can't believe you were able to hold onto the camara. Dad
Posted on: Jun 13, 2008
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The Para-Gliding takeoff point on …
The Para-Gliding takeoff point on…
Looking down from the edge.  Jose …
Looking down from the edge. Jose…
Jose setting up the massive tandem…
Jose setting up the massive tande…
Its hard to get a feeling of the …
It's hard to get a feeling of the…
Another shot from the air.  Thats…
Another shot from the air. That'…
Looking up after landing.  Theres…
Looking up after landing. There'…
Video taken while para-gliding fr…
Hopping back into the Land Cruiser…
Hopping back into the Land Cruise…
Cyclist hitches a ride for a bit. …
Cyclist hitches a ride for a bit.…
Huge moth outside my hotel room in…
Huge moth outside my hotel room i…
Merida
photo by: AndySD