You wouldn’t know it at home, where I’m a slightly obsessive compulsive Virgo with a penchant for over-thinking – but when I’m on the road, I tend to fly by the seat of my pants.
I’ve been in San Gil for less than 48 hours and already, I’ve flown.
This is especially easy to do so when spending time in countries where you often don’t have a clue what’s going on. My time in Colombia has been full of miscommunications and confusion as I grapple with my limited Spanish and agree to almost anything I don’t understand. I’ve found this pattern almost always works out — or at least ends in a good story.
Like yesterday, when a meeting to speak with a paragliding operator suddenly turned into a car ride to the top of a mountain that I’d be instructed to run off of.
San Gil is known as the capital of adventure sports in Colombia.
The charming, scrappy little town is tucked into the mountainous heart of the country. A patterned skyline of white buildings with red clay roofs framed by endless mountains of cacti and thick forest creates a Colorado meets New Mexico vibe that I immediately loved.
Paragliding is a popular activity in San Gil, as well as rafting, rappelling, caving, and bungee jumping.
I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to adventure sports. Don’t place bets on bunjee jumping or sky diving ever making an appearance on this blog. But its not heights so much that scare me — its the act of jumping and/or falling off of heights that makes my stomach turn inside out. Paragliding has always seemed like a milder alternative to stepping out of a plane so I figured it was worth a shot.
Freddy of Nativox Adventure Sports, had asked me to meet him at his office to discuss a sponsored post to cover paragliding. I wouldn’t typically include this business exchange portion of my activities, but on this occasion it all became part of the story.
I arrived between errands with a grumbling stomach and a bag full of veggies I’d make for lunch after our meeting. I had a lengthy list of errands to run and assumed I’d just pop in to schedule my flight.
The young man at the desk didn’t speak English and asked me to wait for Freddy. Freddy also doesn’t speak English, but had kindly been communicating through what I assumed was Google Translate in our emails thus far.
About twenty minutes later I was being ushered outside.
“Is Freddy not coming?”
“You go in car.”
“But I’m waiting for Freddy…”
“Freddy in car.”
Freddy hung out the window with a giant smile on his face.
“Britany! Nice to meet you! Let’s go!”
“We’re going now?? I didn’t realize…”
“Yes, yes, you go now.”
“But my clothes?” I said this with a pathetic lift of my sundress while simultaneously pointing at my flip flops.
“You’re good! Let’s go!”
So I hopped into the back of Freddy’s truck with two other paragliders and off we went, driving about forty five minutes into the mountains where I quickly envied the long sleeves that others had known to bring. I rummaged through my bag, past the veggies that would have to wait, and was relieved to at least discover my iPhone, although sadly I was without my proper camera.
Soon enough we hopped out of the truck to a commanding view of the countryside. Freddy approached the skyline with an enthusiastic bear hug, demonstrating the expanse of tobacco fields that would spread beneath us in the coming months. I could see Freddy’s love for his country as he stood there taking it all in, just as a tourist would, seeing it for the very first time.
Before there was time to look around and understand how this was going to work, I heard a “You! Up first!” and hesitantly approached the peak of our hill.
Three guys were suddenly snapping and buckling and squeezing a helmet on my head as I juggled my iPhone while struggling to keep my completely inappropriate paraglide-wear in place under my my harness. My tandem guide was secured behind me and gave me a big thumbs up when I held up my phone for permission to bring it along.
There had yet to be any instruction but as I felt our chute fill with air and tug at our shoulders, it was obvious that none was needed on my part, except…
My legs were already lifting off the ground, only allowing for a quick little Tinkerbell jog towards the edge of our hill and off we went into the sky, lurching upwards with a gust that carried us across effortlessly through the air.
The feeling of soaring through the sky like a bird is one that’s hard to match. I felt so light with my legs swinging below and nothing in my line of vision but tree line and endless sky.
We swayed and soared, dipped, and lifted for about fifteen minutes, at which point my stomach began to feel the effects of all this swaying and soaring. Before I felt it necessary to tell him of my discomfort, we were coming in for our landing.
My ride was fifteen minutes long (60,000 COP or about $30 USD) and I felt it was the perfect amount of time. There’s another option (170,000 COP or about $90 USD) that lasts 45 minutes and I’ve heard its great but if you’re prone to motion sickness, fifteen is just right.
The girl that went after me had a more “thrilling experience.” I’m hesitant to include this bit as I don’t think it reflects on the company or the instructor as inexperienced or irresponsible… but there was a minor mis-landing into some trees when the wind unexpectedly died. She got a little scratched up on the way down but was fully refunded for her trip and returned to the take off site laughing at the absurdity of it all — happy to be safe on the ground and not particularly motivated to try it again.
Paragliding in San Gil was just so perfectly reflective of what my time in Colombia has been like. There’s a “go with the flow” mentality here that I think a lot of of people could benefit from experiencing and its already rubbed off on me in the best way possible. For me to thoroughly enjoy a day after unexpectedly missing lunch — that’s saying a lot. Everyone working at Nativox was so friendly and accommodating, even over language barriers. Everyone took the day in stride and despite unexpected scheduling and even a minor crash landing, we all left still smiling and satisfied with the experiences and stories we were taking away from the mountain as we drove back to San Gil.
I was able to let go of my plans and expectations for the day because Colombia has taught me that the best day is full of unexpected surprises.
Do you find the travel allows you to be more spontaneous?
Let’s hear about it!
This post was sponsored by Nativox Adventure Sports but all opinions are of course, my own.