Medellin, Colombia generally isn’t known as an adrenaline sports haven (unless you count taking the public bus on busy streets), but there is one thrill-seeking activity that can’t be missed: paragliding. If you’re not familiar, paragliding is similar to skydiving, but instead of jumping out of a plane, you utilize the updraft off a mountainside to fly UP, rather than just down. Newbies are paired with an experienced pilot and you fly tandem. The mountains surrounding Medellin make a perfect launching point for paragliding.
I knew our stay here wouldn’t be complete without trying it. I tried to convince Jen (who has a notorious fear of heights) to try it too. Her response: “You want to strap me to a complete stranger, run off a cliff and hope that a cloth hankie hung over my head by threads will keep me from falling to my death? I don’t think so. But, you have fun!” She did, however, agree to come along and document my jump from the ground.
After a little online research, we scheduled our trip with Paraworld.co, which also runs a hostel in the El Poblado region. They picked us up near our apartment, and we climbed into the van, already filled with folks staying at the hostel. For the fifty minute ride, the van struggled up ever steeper and bumpier roads until we arrived at the staging area, where the packs with the chutes and harnesses were loaded. From here, we were able to see canopies flying over the valley. I have to admit, I began to get a little nervous — was I really going to do this? Then, we were bundled off to the launch pad.
The view from the top of the hill was spectacular, with all of Medellin spread below us. I didn’t get much time to sit and take it in, as they pointed to me as one of the first group to go. Now, Jen and I have both been working on our Spanish, but we’re nowhere near fluent. I hoped that the safety briefing would be in English — but, I didn’t need to worry. When my turn came, one of the team walked over to me with the harness, and without a word, strapped me in. He pointed to the seat-like contraption hanging behind my legs and said “when you take off, sit”. Safety briefing complete!
I was then led over to the canopy lying on the ground and attached to it. I introduced myself to Daniel, my tandem flight pilot, who was clipping in behind me. Trying to funny, I asked him if it was his first time flying. He didn’t skip a beat, and promptly answered, “Yep, my first time. You too?” Then the canopy was lifted into the air, the harness tugged me backwards, and the guys on either side of me yelled “Run!”
This was a surreal moment, being strapped to stranger making a mad dash towards a cliff, ignoring all of the warning bells going off in my head advising against it. Luckily I’m pretty well practiced at being unyielding to voices of reason. I ran. After a few steps, my feet were in the air. We were flying!
For thirty minutes, we flew over the valley, riding updrafts up hundreds of feet, soaring above houses, farms, and even birds and other paragliders. We even did some “tricks”, rocking back and forth until we were parallel to the canopy (not for the feint of heart!), before finally coasting in for to land where we took off. It was well worth the $40 price tag.
Jen even mentioned the next day that she had a tiny pang of regret that she didn’t try it. I don’t think that feeling lasted much past watching some bird’s eye video:
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