It had been a long time since I first dreamed of paragliding and accomplishing that ancient dream owned by all men of flying as a bird. I could make it come true when Juan Fernández invited me to go with him. He is the only person to practise paragliding with tourists in the zone. I was lucky, when I called to fix a day to go on the excursion, I was told " Dress with lose clothes and I will pick you up in ten minutes to go to the " Pampita " runway ( plain). Juan came soon and waited for me outside , inside his red van. Mario and Sebastián were with him. They were also tourists and wanted to try the experience of paragliding for the first time. After introducing each other, we took Koessler Avenue and departed to a neighbourhood called " Faldeos del Chapelco" which is located 5 kilometers away from the city center.
On the way , adrenalin could be smelt. Mario - from Cipolletti- was a musician in a cover band that used to play every weekend in a different Patagonian pub whereas Sebastián - from Capital Federal- was a lawyer and said he had decided to spend his holidays away from the concrete and daily noise of the big city. Three different souls together with Juan´s . We decided to enjoy thoroughly the same pasion - to fly. The day was great, there was a huge sun shining and no clouds at all. We could infer that we were going to have good thermal rising winds behind us granting exceptional flights.
Once at the " Faldeos", we started to climb up the hill along a gravel road to the "Pampita" runway which was approximately 150 mts away.
We got off the van (called " chata" by Juan ) and on the top of the Hill Micaela was waiting for us. Micaela was Juan´s wife who was going to pick us up at the landing area. At the back of the van : the paragliding carefully folded, the helmets, the harness, two chairs to go on double flights, emergency parachutes and the rest of the equipment we were going to use. Meanwhile Micaela was taking all the equipment off the van, Juan started with the safety chat.
Juan Fernandez is a person with a great experience in paragliding. He first experienced a flight in the mountains in 1991 in Merlo City ,San Luis Province. He has been practising in Patagonian winds for 10 years. Due to all these reasons , I paid attention to each and every word he said before taking off. The companion must make specific movements that will allow the guide to control the paragliding. The instructor will be behind the person and he , with a foot ahead , will have to be alert to the instructions to let the glide blow up and get the flight position.
It is important to remember that you must know very well about the circulation of the wind, the type and shape of clouds as well as to observe the horizon in order to predict what may be on the way. Due to these facts, unlike in other places, in San Martín you can only fly 30% of the days in a season, that is every 100 days, only 30 are ideal to practise these extreme sports.
There are no restrictions regarding sex or age in Paragliding. It is completely safe but the weather , the fitness and psychological conditions of the person at the moment of flying are decisive.
Eager for adventure, I started to put the equipment on. First , the chair which fits anatomically to your body and then, the helmet.
Before getting in front of Juan, I took some minutes to enjoy the magnificence of the landscape I was about to overfly. I made an attempt to be brave and did straightaway what the guide had told us to do. Countdown. We had to wait for a breeze of hot air to blow the paraglide up.
Run, run, run !, shouted Juan and 10 meters were enough for the paraglide to blow up at its best. The " pampita" was behind and without realizing I was in the air... flying!! Spectacular. There are no metaphors to explain the sensation of being like the birds - in the air. Up in the air, I started experiencing a self satisfaction never felt before- tranquility, serenity, just the breeze gently caressing my forehead. I swear I never felt fear and, what is more, I was astonished by the view from up there.
I observed each detail of the landscape surrounding me. I could see the area of Villa Vega Maipú and Villa Vega San Martín, Curruhuinca Hill , Colorado Hill with its conical shape and redish colour, all the area of Caleuche neighbourhood and most of the valley where San Martín de los Andes is located. I also observed farms and snowed mountains.
Torta Hill , in Chapelco Range , acted as a backcloth adding beauty to this already attractive view. Once you have taken off, you enjoy the rest of the journey in a chair with a back that lets you enjoy , in a comfortable way , the incredible view from the air. The average speed you reach goes from 15 to 25 kilometers per hour allowing you to enjoy the view without disturbance.
Suddenly, another current of thermic wind caused by the heat from the sun on the land, gives us some more seconds of height. Dizziness! Juan's experience helps him catch another gust going up the slope that causes more pressure against the sail of the paragliding. It slows down and moves on its own axle marking a difference in altitude that rises us up considerably. Peace and tranquility, just the air whispering in your ears. Slowly, the force of gravity worked and we landed on a green "mallín" ( swamp) located in the extense valley between the runway and Curruhuinca Hill. It was real fun to see the cows and horses which were in the prairie frighten and run away as we were getting nearer.
As you land, almost everything becomes real again. I turned around and saw Juan's face with a huge smile: " Did you like it?", he asked. I didn't answer. Silence was enough to express my astonishment. Micaela came to pick us up. Mario and Sebastián still had to experience the adventure. I decided not to go back to the "pampita". I wanted to contemplate the next flights from the valley and, thus, welcome them there as they landed.