The unpleasant licorice-flavored spirit is all I can taste in my cotton mouth as I awake to a blaring 7am alarm. Blips of the night before play in my mind like a stomach-twisting drama as I attempt to figure out why I need to be up so early: dancing around in the DJ booth, mixed shots, an enormous plate of chicharron and…paragliding!
Today would be my first experience hurling myself off a cliff over Colombia’s second-largest metropolis, Medellin.
The thought alone is enough to jolt me out of my stupor.
I throw on some warm clothes, shove a slice of toast into my mouth and run to hail a taxi over Medellin’s tourist-popular El Poblado neighborhood. You can show up any morning there at 8am to sign up for the day’s paragliding with Aeroclub, although I’d recommend confirming the day before. I pay 80 COP (about $40 USD) for the flight, and then wait for their driver to pick me up (70 COP/about $35 USD split between everyone in the car).
I am happy when I’m told the driver will arrive in 40 minutes, as it gave me time to take a much-needed hammock nap. Even without, however, my adrenaline and sweaty palms are enough to keep me going.
Once the driver arrives we set off, rolling through the city until we begin heading up into the countryside, driving along a scenic finca (small farm) trail. We twist and turn along the mountain, my anticipation growing quickly. Signs boast fresh vegetables and fruit juices, until we finally reach our destination.
After filling out the necessary forms and renting a GoPro (about $15 USD for the renal + $15 USD for the memory card), I’m instructed to climb a steep staircase to the actual takeoff point. The aerial view from the Aeroclub office is dizzying in itself, and I cann’t imagine what it will be like at the top.
At the summit the ambiance is like a fairytale — complete with flying humans. People sunbathe on the green grass watching the colorful parachutes launch, while others do yoga or pose on the cliffside for spectacular (and somewhat terrifying) photos. Gazing out over the city and surrounding mountains, with giant black birds gliding in front of a background of lush green dotted with colorful specs, my anxiety about the experience dissipates into complete calm.
My guide for the day, Antonio, runs over to me with a bag of water as he sees me huffing and puffing from the hike up. From there, everything happens at rapid pace. One second he’s tying a GoPro to my arm, the next he’s strapping me into a parachute. And then, without more warning than Antonio shouting the word “Run!” I am suddenly propelling myself off of a cliff 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) in the air, just missing my death as the parachute opens and lifts me into the sky.
Despite having gone skydiving, bungy jumping and canyoning numerous times, I can’t help but feel my Aguardiente coming up. Luckily, Antonio plays house music to distract me, and also helps me practice my Spanish. Once I settle down, we lift higher into the clouds, and I’m able to concentrate on trying to capture great video and photos of the experience. As you may be able to tell from the photos, it’s my first time using a selfie stick.
The trees, which seem so tall on the ground, look like the broccoli on a dinner plate from above. Actually, a dinner bowl, with the city’s surrounding greenery resting on the edges, gently swooping down into the base where houses resemble multi-colored beans. Wavy mountain and hill textures enhance the scene.
At times, the clouds envelope me so I can’t even see the rainbow bright parachute. At other times, the swing seat wiggles — sometimes even tilting so much I am sure I will fall out. In my mind the straps don’t feel tight enough, the swing secure enough. But, in the end I have a thrilling (and safe!) adventure.
Either way, this instantly became a major highlight of my trip to Colombia, and I highly recommend it to all of you.
Tip: Wear a shirt or pants with a zipper pocket so you can bring a small camera or your phone to use after the flight. Once you’re done they’ll need to take the GoPro back, and you’ll definitely want to grab photos from the top of the hill. Feel free to get creative. My friends and I took yoga pose photos, cartwheel photos, sitting-on-the-fence photos, looking-out-over-the-valley photos and more.
Have you ever gone paragliding in Colombia or anywhere for that matter? Please share your experiences in the comments below.