December 1, 2005
I wanted to try something unique today, so I asked around and found out about paragliding. Iquique is on the ocean and near a windy hill, making it the perfect location for the sport. The owner of my hostel made a few phone calls and arranged a tandem trip for me at 5:00 in the afternoon.
I had a few hours to kill, so I took a walk downtown. As expected, there was a large central square for people to meet and congregate at. There was also a museum that featured lots of animal and human bones. I walked around a bit more and headed back to the hostel, eager to fly.
At 5:00, I was picked up and driven to the top of the hill overlooking the city. Paco, the man who would do the flying, explained how it would work. He would be behind me controlling the parachute, we would have to run off the edge of the hill to get lifted into the air, and he would do the flying. It sounded exciting, but there was too much wind for us to take off safely.
While waiting for the wind to die down, another paraglider flew over us. Paco informed me that he was the best paraglider in the world, and he started today's flight in the morning 250 KM south of Iquique! I had no idea it was possible to fly so far or with so much control.
Later, a group of five Scandinavian men showed up at the top of the hill and got ready to take off. They were part of a club that had been paragliding in the area for over a month. Iquique was truly a mecca for the sport.
Finally, after waiting on the hill for about two hours, the wind died down enough for us to take off. Leaving the ground was very easy. We jogged a few steps and suddenly, we were in the air. We circled around the area for a few minutes, then began flying toward the city. About the same time, the others took off as well. They seemed to fly dangerously close to each other, but they also flew with precision. It didn't feel dangerous because everyone in the air was very experienced.
Eventually, we flew over the city and began our descent. After we passed over the main road, we were near the beach. There were buildings, trees, and people nearby, but Paco was so good that he easily landed us in the sand between all of them. It was like landing on a pillow.
The paragliding experience was a lot of fun, but it wasn't what I had expected. I thought it would be a huge adrenaline rush from start to finish, but it was actually quite relaxing. I was a little nervous before we took off, but as soon as we were in the air, I just sat back and took in the scenery that surrounded me. I'm sure it would've been more exciting if I had been the one doing the flying, but the tandem flight was very enjoyable nonetheless.
Not much happened at the hostel tonight. Everyone was too tired from last night's festivities to do much. Tomorrow should be a lot of fun because we are planning to have another barbecue. I get the feeling that a barbecue happens every other night here.
The photo album for this entry is here.