Hang-gliding over Rio landscape exhilarates
GLIDING over the awesome Rio de Janeiro landscape from a 700m-high mountain named Pedra Bonita in Brazil would be the experience of a lifetime, my mate had promised.
With the jump-off point now a short drive away, experiencing a lifetime seemed the more compelling option. But male pride, and no small amount of peer pressure, prevented me from reneging on my decision to try it.
We sped west by taxi toward the twinpeaked granite cliff that punctuates Rio’s frowning crescent of white southern beaches: Arpoador, Ipanema, Leblon. At Pepino we exited the cab and our hang-gliding guide Ricardo Hamond stepped forward and introduced himself. A receptionist handed me a sheet of paper absolving the guide, association and country of any responsibility in the event of my death, paralysis or dismemberment. I slumped forward and signed it. Paulo Celani, with whom I would be flying tandem, carefully walked me through the instructions. After pulling a potato-sacklike pouch over my torso and squeezing on a helmet, we practised our takeoff.
The only thing I had to do was run — and run hard — down the ramp.
If I slowed down or stopped, it seems, we would tumble over the edge and, well, test the dubious utility of those helmets. ‘‘The fear should make you run,’’ Paulo said. ‘‘The only danger is not running.’’
My legs swung out from under me. A wall of wind collided with my face and whistled past my ears.
I opened my eyes; fear became exhilaration.
Strapped to that hang-glider, lying horizontal and looking down, I felt like I was flying. I’ll admit it — an image from Supermanflashed in my head. There was no metal cockpit, no balloon and basket, nothing between me and the world below. Except the wind.
My idyllic moment ended as the wind dropped out momentarily and we fell. I don’t know by how much, maybe at least 6km.
Once we stabilised, which is to say two seconds later, Paulo assured me: ‘‘It’s common, no big deal.’’
But my fantasy was over. I was on my guard again, only too aware that we were floating hundreds of metres above ground, with nothing between me and the world below.
We wound around in a wide arc. To the right were the beaches and the ocean beyond, the water clear enough that I could see patterns on its floor. The famous statue of Christ that towers over Rio was in front of us, a few kilometres away.
We soared in wide circles, from above the ocean to above the trees and edging lower with each pass.
Bravery, I thought, isn’t not being afraid, but doing something in spite of being afraid.
UP, UP AND AWAY . . . an exciting way to experience Rio de Janeiro is from the air