“Floracita, you are ok?”
I grinned, gulped, and nodded my head. The moustachioed man with the round clip-on sunglasses looked at me quizzically, a slight smile playing on his lips.
“Aha, Floracita! Now you are no longer ‘la lora’!”
Unable to contain himself, he and his wife fell about laughing on the steep bank of grass.
Lora means parrot in Spanish. Within two weeks of arriving in Ecuador, I had been dubbed the ‘lora’ of the group, on account of just how much I speak. Except in that moment on the hill, when I’d gone strangely silent. Because I was actually rather nervous.
I looked out to the valley that lay in front of us. In the distance, a lone figure glided above the treetops, suspended from a collection of multicoloured strings and a long strip of ballooned fabric. He looked a bit like a puppet.
A slight breeze lifted the pale fabric lying on the hill beside me.
Why exactly did I choose to paraglide again?
Deciding not to talk
I wasn’t expecting to become part of a family so speedily in Ecuador. But after just a week, our hosts had been so welcoming that I’d decided to trust their family friend, a champion paraglider, with my life.
We stood on the side of our now-familiar mountain, watching other paragliders ricochet off the ground and into the air without a moment’s thought – except, of course, I had more than enough thoughts to go around.
What if I fell down the hill when I started running? What if I got tangled up in the wires and things all went wrong?
Over thinking is something I often have to face, particularly when it involves the dreaded stomach lurch. I have a fear of heights, I’m not too keen on flying, and despite jumping out of planes twice in my life – voluntarily – it was the fear of the unknown with this particular adventure sport that had me worried.
So, although I do try to be the brave one from time to time, I was a little too scared to volunteer myself for the first set of take offs. I chose instead to sit back in the sun and watch three of my fellow volunteers allow themselves to be flung off the side of the mountain and into the air.
We watched them go, we whooped and cheered, we squinted into the bright sky and pointed to the black specks they became in no time at all.
And then we waited.
Turns out it takes quite a long time to glide across a city, execute a suitable landing, pack up all your gear, get in a car and drive back up the mountain to the launch site again. Which meant that, amazingly, the nervous feeling in my stomach dissipated almost as soon as I realised how long it would be until my turn.
Professionals at work
We spent the wait watching the more experienced gliders jettisoning off from the hillside. Sometimes the wind would lift the hollow fabric wing in the wrong direction, and it was clearly a frustrating moment for the pilots.
But once conditions were right, it took no time at all for them to spin smartly around on the spot, tug on their suspension lines, lean forward into the hill as the wind lifted their wing, and push their feet off the ground in an elegant launch.
And within seconds, they were high above us, legs tucked up neatly, soaring over Quito. It was incredible to watch, and even more fascinating to think about; these men who spent their Saturdays with parachute silk and taut ropes and a healthy sense of adventure, launching themselves into nothingness.
Practicing how to fly.
Time to get airborne
Just when the sun had crisped my neck up nicely and I was starting to worry that the parting in my hair would start to burn, the first group of paragliders clambered noisily through the undergrowth and descended on our little camp.
Joyous comments of “it was amazing!” and “I want to go again!” were of little comfort to me as I stood with two sets of buckles around my thighs, patiently waiting for Bacho to strap me in tightly to the unfamiliar contraption. He didn’t.
“It needs to be a little loose,” he said, casually, while I demonstrated said looseness by sticking my arm in between the strap and my leg.
“…right then,” came my hesitant reply, wobbling slightly on the uneven ground as we shuffled further down the hill.
Bacho pointed me in the direction of a row of houses, far in the distance, and explained how to behave when I felt the tug of the wing filling with air.
“When I say run, you run. Ok?”
The breeze had picked up considerably as we stood on the mountain. From behind me, I could hear my friends talking. One of them said something about crashing. It didn’t help.
“Um, I’m not quite sure I get it…”
But there was no time to start backtracking. I felt the escalating wind begin to creep across the fabric wing behind me; the slight sound of movement as the strings tensed; the unmistakable sense of urgency mixed with a sudden rush of adrenaline as my feet began to leave the ground.
“Go! Go! Run now!”
From the little group of spectators I heard a faint cry.
“Flora, I love youuu!!”
And all of a sudden, we were flying.