Hang-glid­ing over Rio land­scape ex­hil­a­rates

Townsville Bulletin - - Weekend Extra / Travel - By JAMES TEM­PLE

HANG-

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

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