“Mom, I’m just saying hi. I can’t talk now. I’m going to fly.” “Fly? Pooja, you know you’re flight is on Monday...” “No, I’m going to FLY. I’m going to hang glide. Talk to you later!”
So started my hang gliding adventures. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I fell in love with paragliding after floating over mountain tops in Merida, Venezuela and was determined to “fly” again in Brazil. A friend suggested that I paraglide in Rio de Janeiro. I thought, “What better way to end my trip than by by floating over one of my favorite cities?” I headed to a travel agent and requested parapente schedules. “Parapente?” the travel agent repeated snidely. I thought that was the word...that’s what it is in Spanish...and I even used the correct Portuguese pronunciation of “chi” for the last syllable. “What you want is Asa Delta,” he told me. “Whatever.”
The scheduled date arrived. After a week of rain, a morning of sunshine appeared on the horizon. I headed to São Conrado, a beautiful beach next to Leblon, the richest neighborhood in Brazil. The guests at the Sheraton Hotel share the beach with the neighboring favela (slum) dwellers (next to every rich area and famous beach in Rio, there is a slum). From the beach, my pilot and his assistant drove us to our point of take-off, the peak of mountain Pedro Bonita. Suddenly I realized what was the difference between parapente and Asa Delta. I would be hang gliding, not paragliding. It may not seem like a huge difference from the ground, but from the air it involves one crucial, nerve-wracking fact. When I paraglided, a strong gust of wind lifted my pilot and I off the ground and up into the air. When it came time to hang glide, my pilot asked me if I was ready to jump. “Jump? Jump where?” I asked fearfully. “There,” he said as he pointed to a wooden ramp that looked like it was going to collapse any moment. I thought it might be too late to mention to him that I have, had, a fear of falling from heights. We practiced running before getting into position. “Ready?” he asked. I shut my eyes tight and did not open them until I was already hanging in the air. As I cannot describe the incredible feeling of flying in the air, I will have to show you.
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