Soaring With Condors...
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
We did it!! My 20 year old and I paraglided with Condors in the mountains of Argentina!
The day was magical.... even though it was precluded by a bus strike which almost put a wrench in our outing. The entire country came to a standstill as the unions organized the biggest strike to date to demand that the government deal with the soaring inflation (38%) and crashing economy. Food prices are increasing weekly while the common wages remain flat creating incredible instability and reduced purchasing power for the common laborer. Fortunately the Argentinians are resilient and a happy people regardless of the economic climate!
For us the strike meant we had to go to plan B and push back our adventure by a day and into questionable weather. The conditions were iffy the morning of our proposed flight and our start time was delayed by several hours. The delay was actually appreciated by my two paragliding partners (my daughter and a new friend from Australia) as they rolled into bed around 5am that morning... The night life literally starts at 2am here in Argentina. I can’t quite get my head, let alone my body, into it. Lol!
We took a two hour bus ride north to La Cumbre (“the summit”) located in the Sierras de Córdoba mountain range to meet one of our pilots at the bus station. We waited for an additional hour with the hopes that the clouds would clear before jumping into an old pick up truck and weaving our way up a curvy, pot holed, rocky dirt road towards the famous paragliding point of Cuchi Corral. We slowly made our way up the mountain around free roaming horses and mountain bikers spinning up the dirt road.
It was cloudy when we arrived, and we were greeted by two additional pilots and given a warning that we still needed to wait and see how the day would unfold. The six of us surveyed the valley below from the launching point and saw slivers of blue sky off in the distance. I talked with Pedro who was a wiry middle aged guy who clearly loved his job. We sat on the side of the mountain and I was mesmerized as he shared the secrets of the wind and birds... We watched the valley open up before our eyes as the sun burned through the clouds and a line of light moved its way across the hills. He pointed to the small birds that were beginning to soar as the ground was being warmed and the air currents started to flow. He told me the pilots watched the birds as they told them when it was time to fly... What a fascinating profession that remains connected to nature...
Pedro then asked if I knew how clouds formed; I sheepishly shook my head no.
He began to explain that as the sun heats the earth, the air at the earths surface begins to warm. Warm air is lighter than the cool air and it begins to rise. As the warm air rises, it looses its warmth but picks up moisture. At some point the temperature and moisture levels balance out at an altitude which creates clouds... (Now I must admit I haven’t confirmed this simple science lesson, but the logic seemed sound!)
He explained that rising air creates thermals, and just as he was describing its formation, he pointed to four condors that had glided into view on newly formed thermals created between the mountains. At that moment the breeze started to pick up and Pedro jumped to his feet; the three pilots quickly scurried into action and began unfurling the kites and readying the paragliders for flight. The weather had broke - in our favor!!
I remember thinking about the quote, “When you leap, the net will appear.” Love living the metaphors...
We were quickly strapped into the harnesses (which doubles as a seat), given some simple instructions to lean forward and run hard. Soon each one of us had run off the edge of the mountain and were gently lifted to the sky... The vastness of the view was more than amazing; the world looks so perfect from afar. What a physical reminder that being the observer brings a sense of peace and when we get pulled back down to earth, into the fray, is when we find and experience suffering. And I was shocked that I wasn’t quaking in my boots as I have a fear of heights. For some reason the gentle glide felt safe and serene. I trusted my pilot and the large kite overhead, and we soared for almost 20 minutes as the winds guided our path.
Pedro expertly flew us to amazing heights and again pointed out the condors that were in our line of sight. He flew the paraglider so that we could literally follow their flight path, and they led us in tight circles as we climbed the thermal to 3,000 feet... It was so quiet that we carried on a conversation in normal tones, and he told me he had started to paraglide over 20 years ago. He laughed when he talked about the lack of regulations and the kind of gear they used back then. They were true cowboys by every sense of the word! And he jokingly let me know that they were legally required to pack a parachute and claimed he never had to use it even though he accidentally landed in a tree one time. I thought of a million questions about that tree landing after we parted - lol!
He then put my hands on the straps and I got to pilot the paraglider! Leaning and pulling and feeling the movement of the air in the big ole’ kite overhead transmitted through my hands was truly a once in a lifetime experience!
Pedro gleefully said that, “Paragliding was the best thing you could do with your clothes on.” We both laughed as we soared over the mountain... I think he’s right.
It was a good day.