The feeling was none other than we have experienced, total freedom like a bird, carefree and exhilarating.
After a combined total of over three weeks in Rio you would think we had seen the city from every different angle. Well that was not entirely true even though we had been on top of Sugar Loaf, Corcovoda and the Favela´s. There was still one vantage point we had not been to. This destination was apparent when lying on the beach in Ipanema and gazing up into the sky each day and seeing the many bird like creatures navigating the skies just above tujuca national park and the near by ´PRAIA´.
One day we were approached by walter a local tout pushing the various tours and activities in Rio. We declined most of them as we had virtually been there done that, however one of them was on the back of both of mind for the entire trip. Finance and Fear were the only obsticals in our way todate, well actually I think it was mainly the latter. Despite the sound reasoning we both had on our second last day in Rio we decided to take the plunge literally. So we tentatively called up Walter who had left us his calling card and booked ourselves a date in the clouds.
The couple of hours before the event was spent anxiously killing time on the sands of Ipanema and having a light snack and drink. Then 3.30 Pm approached and we were picked up by Marcello our Hip-Hop Loving taxi driver and dropped off at the Praia(Beach) where would be touching down. Our certified instructor´s Marcio and Popo greeted us here where we signed off our disclaimer and then swiftly drove us up the Tujuca forest to the take off point. During this trip we were briefed in safety procedures for take off and landing by the aid of a portable DVD. With the music in the background the production depicted a smooth flight and our nerves were slightly calmed.
When we reached the take off pad, which was in excess of 560 meters above the ground those same calm nerves started to increase, it did not help that Rio´s usually clear skies had started to fog up rapidly by the time we reached the top. There was a line of about 15 Tandoms already in front of us nervously waiting to depart the solid wooden base of the platform but due to the lack of visabilty had been waiting for over 2hours. This was all we needed more anxious moments of uncertainty to add to the drama. Our Instuctors explained to us that the skies usually cleared quickly and we had to be ready to jump and any time. However in the same breath they mentioned if it was not clear by 5.45pm we would have to attempt take off the next day. We did not know what was worse plunging into the unknown abyss or waiting for another 24hours in Limbo.
The platform was crowded with atleast 80-100 people which included participants,instructors, bystanders and alot of local experts it seemed. The platform was caotic, especially when the weather seemed to clear momentarily and the place became like wall street at the close of business. The experts would yell PRAIA! PRAIA ! PRAIA! PRAIA ! at the remote sign of the beach. The Instructor and participant first in Line would get set then pull out as the visability would change in an instant. We had not seen anything like it. Adrellin seemed to be pumping through everyone yet no one had seen a jump in hours.
The time ticked over to a few minutes past 5pm and we had pretty much circumed to the fact we would have to shut up shop and repeat the preparation tommorrow. All of sudden the wind experts yelled out PRAIA once again even though to the naked eye there was no sign of sand and water anywhere. The tentative next jumper in line who had been waiting for over three hours had no time to think as his instructor whisked both and him off the mountain into the unknown abyss beneath them after about a five step run up. The onlookers which included our previous roomates Danny and Adam who co-incidently happened to be plunging that day also looked in disbelief as the unpowered device with the passenger and instructor suspended beneath it dramatically sunk into the thick clouds. The preparation DVD we had seen in the trip up the mountain depicted a fairly small decent followed by rapid ascent, however all we saw on this inaugaral flight of the afternoon was plummiting. This did not do much for the nerves and we were hoping our instructor would call it a day.
For another 25 minutes it was yet another gridlock with no one taking off after that first guinea pig whom no one knew what happened to. However as Marcio had advised before the wheather was unpredicatable here and all of a sudden we were blessed with a bit of sunshine. Once again the wall street buzz was back in the mountain. Tandoms took off rapidly one by one like the airtraffic at Heathrow. Marcio and Popo quickly took harsh and myself through a training run through and strapped us into our harness. Marcio unfortunately advised Harsh she could not take her personal camera with her and promoted his on board cam which came at an additional cost. Popo on the other hand let me zip up my cam into the chest pocket of the harness. Oh there is slight bit of incorrect info there it was not my camera it was Mum´s. We were just about to take off when nature called for me, Popo was not happy at all when I asked politely like kindergarden kid ´may i go to the toilet´. I did not really take to well to his tone and went anyway. It did not help that there was a queue for the toilet, Popo in my absence was grilling Harsh about what was taking me so long. I had to make a quick decision should I wait for this queue, go back and plunge on a full bladder or use the natural toilet. I correctly opted for door no 3. Then rushed back to Popo who by now had a smile on his face and told me he was abrupt because he was worried the weather would not hold. By now Harsh was first in line, I tried to take a few take off shots of her but Popo was signalling me to get in line to test my harness, which took only about 10 secs. A quick clip on then a test dangle a foot off the ground. Apparently that was all that was needed to ensure we would not plummet away from the instructor when we were half a kilometer up in the air.
Well no time to think about it anymore as quick as the safety test was we were whisked on to the launch pad, which was a ten meter by ten meter wooden platform on a slight decline. The instructions were to simply hold on to the are respective intructors and just run, Dont stop!! Dont! Jump!! and try and run in sync. Easier said than done when you are running off a perfectly safe mountain for no apparent reason. Our minds began to fill with anticipation,anxiousness,excitement and uncertainty. The heart pounded rapidly, and the body was filled with butterflies as if we were just about to step on stage. Firstly Harsh began here 10 step run up followed by myself a minute after. Both of us put our trust in Marcio and Popo and simply ran straight as directed. The initial leap was amazing, just like the video quick drop of about 2 seconds then a instant ascent when the wind caught the hanglider, like a paper plane you throw downwards which picks up flight immediately. Both of us looked at our intructor´s straight after the take off and felt like louise lane when she asked superman ´You have got me, but who has got you?´. The feeling was none other than we have experienced, total freedom Like a bird, carefree and exhilarating.
Harsh looked like a natural Legs slightly crossed even before Marcio had to instruct her, myself on the other hand took a little long to get comfortable but once the wind picked up it felt quite safe and secure. Rio was an excellent backdrop to do your maiden voyage. The beautiful view of the beach, with the back drop of the forest. The favela´s in the distance, unfortanetly Cristo was not visible due to the weather today but you could see Corcovoda Mountain. All the hours of waiting was worth it. Both Popo and Marceo made us feel safe whislt they navigated the device with precision,sometimes toying with us and pretending to flying head first in to the mountains.
Harsh who usually loves a photo opportunity was so engrossed in the AWE of the scenery that even she forgot Marcio was remotely taking photo´s whilst fyling, resulting in only a couple of camera facing photo´s. Myself on the other hand was aware of Popo´s camera, however got caught up in trying to take Mum´s camera out during the flight. This was a bit harder than expected as only my right hand was able to reach the pocket. This meant I had to unzipp the chest pocket and remove the camera and strap the camera on to my wrist with my non preferred hand. There was a few anxious moments where I felt Mums cam would end up floating off the coast of Rio.
The Flight itself took between 8-10 Minutes I think. It would have gone for a bit longer if there was more wind. But despite being a bit shorter in duration than anticipated it felt enough. We got to fly over the forest and then hover over the beach. I never though when we were laying on the beach last week looking at those bird like creatures that we would be those creatures one day. Well this day we were.
The landing was smooth both instuctors seemlessly unstrapped our legs about 200 meters before the beach and we descended rapidly yet safely just like a bird of prey approached it´s captive. The mixed feelings of relief, happiness and ´Ohh I did not want this to end´ crossed our minds as set foot on the sand. Harsh reached first and was eagerly waiting my arrival. It was a good opportnity for her to capture my landing, it was not hard to spot which glider was me. No it was not the buldging biceps that gave it a way or Popo´s name on the glider, it was those unmistakable Sri Lankan Ankles.
Wooww what a trip I think we have done Rio Justice. It was very hard to say good bye to Ipanema our home for the last 2 and a half weeks.
Next stop Buenos F&cking Aires!!!!