Our day began with what (we thought) was going to be a leisurely stroll along the sea cliffs of Lima.
We had heard about the veil –the Garúa — that hangs over the city, a veil that makes it seem that rain is always impending even though it literally never does rain. So we were pleasantly surprised at the beautiful blue day ahead of us.
Reaching the cliffs, the first thing we noticed was not the view, but the paragliders sailing high above the sea. Surprisingly, it was me, not David, who began the “I dare yous.”
David was not biting. Even when I triple-dog-dare him, he insisted he’d be more valuable “filming me safely from below.”
Right. I was on my own on this one.
After inquiring at the ticket booth, I was handed the most incredibly scary waiver I’d ever seen. In a nutshell, it read:
If you die, we are not to be held responsible. By signing this you agree that you were not coerced in any way to do this terrible thing.
Feeling it was too late to turn back – I had already goaded David too much and I had face to save – I signed my name and got in line.
The waiting was the hardest part. I watched the launching/landing area with rising fear. Most of the launches were as smooth as Mary Poppins’ sensible-shoes-and-umbrella takeoffs, but it was windy enough that some of the parachutes would prematurely catch air, causing some disturbing (and painful looking) backwards pulling action.
I was starting to panic. (People do this every day and do not die, people do this…)
It’s getting harder and harder to faze them.
Decibel’s text provided the comic relief I needed to calm down. I turned to share it with David and lo, there was Triple-dog-dare Boy next to me in line. He had caved! Yes!
As I always do, I insisted on going first. I KNEW if anything went off the rails with David’s takeoff, I would never have the guts to get off the ground.
I persistently peppered the pilot and prep team with questions while they harnessed me in.
What is this strap for?
Did you double check the buckle?
Why is this so loose?
How am I attached to the pilot?
What keeps me from going upside-down?
And the kicker:
To my pilot: You’re going to be holding on to me, right?
Pilot Jorge: No, I will be steering.
It was no wonder that, with all of my questions, David ended up taking off before me. And it was as bad as I had imagined it.
I don’t know much about the science behind paragliding, but it looked as though his parachute prematurely caught the wind and that intense, rapid counteraction proved necessary.
RUN! Yelled his pilot. RUN!
But David’s feet were no longer on the ground. Not having a language in common with his pilot, he did the only thing he could (RUN!), in a very Wile E. Coyote-off- the-side-of-a-mountain fashion.
He was RUN!ing like a maniac in mid-air with two guys hanging on to his harness trying desperately to pull him back to Earth!
His feet touched the ground just long enough to run right off the cliff.
My breath caught in my throat as I imagined him cartwheeling down the cliffs attached to a stranger, stopping only for those brief moments when his parachute needed to untangle itself from the occasional twig. I couldn’t shake the Looney Tunes imagery.
Then, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, first the parachute, then David rose into view. Sweet relief was quickly followed by blinding fear.
To my pilot: I don’t want to do this anymore. Let me go back to the line.
Pilot Jorge: We already fly Berrrrronica.
My feet were firmly off the ground.
It was amazing. Lima spread out before me in a way that could only be seen by paraglider.
Or seagull, I suppose.
I can’t say I ever fully relaxed (my legs were sticking stiffly straight in front of me the entire ride), but it was easily one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.
Everything I experienced up in the air was the exact opposite than I expected (leading to more persistent peppering of questions to my pilot); the faster we went, the smoother the ride.
The higher we went, the safer I felt.
It was actually quite tranquil up there.
The landing, however, was everything I expected.
Pilot Jorge, now catching on to my fear level (you can watch this all go down in the video above): We will be landing now. All you have to do is standing.
Me: So I don’t do anything, I just stand up.
Pilot Jorge: Yes. And we will be okay.
Me: I feel like we’re sideways, are we sideways?
Pilot Jorge: No. We are okay. We are going very slow.
Me: What? It doesn’t feel slow. (petrified laugh) No. Ayhhhhhh!
Ground crew: (something really fast in Spanish)
Me: Do you have me? Ayhhhhhh! (to myself): STAND UP! I can’t stand up!
Pilot Jorge: Is okay, is okay.
Me: THAT WAS SO FUN!
YOUR TURN: How’d I do? Are you ready to give paragliding a go?