Overland miles: 6083 Bus hours: 182 Empanadar: 6
Jovian and I aren’t generally outward bound types; the most we stretch to is a hearty walk that generally ends in a country pub, and the idea of sleeping under canvas is pretty anathema to us. However, maybe it was being cooped up on a boat for 120 hours, or the stifling few days we spent getting our land legs back in hot and humid Cartagena, but we needed a break from coastal living. So, we decided to eschew the more popular gringo route of Colombia’s Caribbean coast and the mystery of the lost city trek (Colombia’s answer to Macchu Pichu) for a few days exploring the Colombian highlands around the Andean city of San Gil, which has something of a reputation for adventure sports.
White water rafting is the main draw for visitors to San Gil, but after watching a YouTube video of tourists being hurled around in a tiny raft, paddling furiously to narrowly avoid dangerous looking rocks and getting soaking wet in the process, we decided it wasn’t an experience we wanted to part with our hard earned cash for. Instead, we opted for a paragliding trip that looked it offered the right level of excitement with little danger of ending up in a freezing cold river.
I have to admit to being a little apprehensive at this point as I’m not a big fan of heights but decided to give it a go and just hope that they had some vaguely adequate safety precautions. And so, early the next afternoon we found ourselves being bounced around the countryside and up into the mountains in a four wheel drive with no seatbelts, with our instructor and assistant, both sporting Mohawks (the ubiquitous hair style for any fashionable Colombian under the age of 30) and wrap around shades. After about thirty minutes reckless driving, with my health and safety fears still not allayed, we found ourselves at the take off point and also the point of no return…
After unloading the gear the Colombians paced around, looking mysteriously at the sky. After quite a lot of pensive staring at the clouds, as if waiting for some kind of holy sign, they explained that we needed to wait for the wind to pick up before we could take off. About ten minutes later, after some more monitoring of the sky and sticking of fingers in the air, the wind was deemed sufficient. I swiftly found myself stepping into a harness that was then strapped to the instructor and his parachute, and after a few running steps, the wind caught the parachute and we floated gently above the mountains.
Once we were up in the air, I was too busy looking at the views below us to remember any of my earlier fears. After the endless miles of jungle and banana plantations of Central America, the scenery of the Andes was a welcome respite for the eyes. When viewed from above, the rippled mountains brought to life all those GCSE geography lessons about plate tectonics and valley formation [What lessons were those? – Jovian]. The instructor guided the parachute gradually higher until we were 200 metres above the ground then suggested we did some tricks. This was when it did get a little scary as we performed dives and twists high above the rugged peaks. Thankfully, this bit only lasted for a few minutes and the harness kept me strapped in safely, but it definitely increased the adrenaline levels!
And then, before I knew it, it was time to come back down to earth, and let Jovian take his turn in the skies.
For those of you that want an armchair view of what it´s like, here´s a video of Jovian up in the skies (if the video doesn´t play in your browser then just hit the download button).