I felt, the other day, what it’s like to fly. I ran off the edge of a mountain and soared, feeling the cold mountain wind directly on my face. After about five minutes, I landed in a tea plantation. Crash-landed, actually. But it didn’t hurt. I just laughed and laughed.
It was an amazing feeling, and if weren’t for the fact that the weather completely changed minutes after my take-off, I’d’ve gone up the mountain, paid another $30 and done it again.
Paragliding was one of the most amazing experiences: simply sitting in a harness, looking at the valley below with its tea plantations and the rows of traffic snaking their way over and around the mountains, some villages, and umpteen shades of green covered the hills. And in the sky was just a splash of blue from my paraglider plus a spot of yellow—my pilot’s jacket.
See, the week before, friends from church had mentioned that they had paraglided during their Easter break.
“I want to do that, too!” I blurted out.
“Oh, we can go again,” someone said.
“OK, how about next weekend?” I wondered out loud. There’s no point in wasting time when you only have a few weekends left in a country, is there?
Others piped in, a short discussion ensued, and before our ways parted minutes later, we had all agreed that we’d go to Puncak the very next weekend.
So, last weekend, after our Saturday night small group, we all squeezed into Diane’s van and headed to Sentul (a town in the mountains an hour or two outside Jakarta where the core group of adventurers live). We spent the night there and decided that the eight of us will head out earlyish the next morning, packed onto four motorbikes.
It was still foggy when we crossed the mountains, inadvertently joining some large bikers club. Helmets and motorbikes despite, you could spot the bules (/’boo-lays/, or foreigners) a mile away with some very, very white arms standing out in the crowd… (Rest assured, I wore my heavyish brown winter jacket for protection. I’ve seen too many scooter accidents!)
We fought our way through the Sunday migration of city folk going to the mountains, and we killed some time close to our destination, waiting for the fog to lift.
When that seemed to be starting to happen, we headed farther up the mountain, disappointed to find that no flights were happening. Not yet, at least. We spent another hour or so sipping Indonesian clove tea at a mountainside warung (kiosk).
Finally, we decided to give up and head back down past the ever-growing snake of cars making their way back to the city. But then I felt it: My phone was ringing in my pocket, and Mr. Pilot Dude announced that the weather had changed, and we’d be able to fly.
“Shall we go back?” I asked my seven friends.
“Why not? We’re not too far!” our lone Aussie, Sally, suggested. The four bikes turned right around and wiggled our way through back up the mountain, only to find that it was once again shrouded in a thick fog.
Some members of the group decided to take on the zip line as a fun second option. (Having had an unforgettable zip line experience just 3 months prior, I decided to forego.) But then, as quickly as the mountain had hidden in the clouds, she lifted her veil once more.
“Let’s fly!” the pilot exclaimed. “Who is first?” The group graciously agreed that Sally and I should go first, seeing that we were the ones leaving Indonesia the soonest.
I strapped in and only then I got a few butterflies. It’s a bit crazy running off a mountain, I thought to myself. What if the chute doesn’t open?
Not that that’s an issue. You don’t run first and hope it opens. You stand on the mountain and some guys lift two corners. The wind does the rest. It fills the chute and almost immediately lifts you off the ground. At the same time, the pilot, who’s strapped in tandem behind you, says, “Walk!” Soon after, he’s supposed to say, “Run.” I was told not to jump under any circumstances. Just walk and run.
Except things didn’t work like that at first. A side wind twisted the chute right away, and the crew jumped to let out all the air and straighten the ropes again. I’ll admit that I felt a bit queasy right then again, wondering if this were really a safe adventure.
Moments later, the chute once again filled with air, and we may have only run three steps
before my feet were off the ground. We made several sharp turns to get into the wind well, diving hither and thither, bringing some of the same thoughts back to surface of whether or not this really was a safe thing to do… Those thoughts instantly dissipated when we straightened into a glide and sat mid-air, the verdant valley spread below us.
It was incredible.
After a flight of close to a very long and leisurely five minutes, we approached the tea plantation with the landing strip, and I noticed a couple and their toddler walking right in the narrow pathway.
“Lift!” the pilot shouted. This was the signal to lift my legs straight forward. The next command was supposed to be, “Run!” But that one never came. We were approaching the narrow path fast, and the family below just kept walking slowly until the pilot shouted, in Indonesian, “Get out of the way!” Or so I assume, at least, judging by how fast they dived off into the tea fields to the right, and we crashed into the tea bushes to the left.
I just laughed and laughed. “You should’ve run, not sit!” the yellow-jacketed-pilot dude said with a smile, pulling me up. (I didn’t succumb to the temptation to tell him that he never told me to run like he said he would, and that I’d have proof since I had my camera rolling all the way.) I just smiled and said, “That was AMAZING!”
And then I photographed Sally coming in for her landing right behind us. Their landing was a smooth one with no obstacles on the strip.
We were relieved of our harnesses, and told to wait patiently until we were able to drive back up the mountain. “Sorry,” yellow-jacketed-pilot dude said. “Right now, the cars can only come down the mountain. We have to wait an hour or so before our car can take you up.” Which made me extra thankful that we had come on motorbikes in the first place, since there are no weekend travel restrictions for those. The traffic-in-one-direction arrangement on the mountain is to help with flow.
Sally and I played around in the tea fields, sorry to hear that none of our friends would be able to fly after all. The wind had become too erratic. When our friends pulled up on their bikes some time later, they all assured us that they were OK with only us having flown. Everyone had had a fun day, after all, and they were determined to make the same trip back in a few weeks.
Would I paraglide Puncak again if I had the chance? You bet I would! Though there were moments when I was a bit scared, it was nothing compared to the many times my life flashed before my eyes as we weaved through oncoming traffic!
The experience was somewhat akin to when I scuba dive. Though the sound and the touch of the wind on my face was different from the sound of bubbles and cold water on my face, it’s also very similar: It’s the exhilaration of seeing the world from a completely new angle.
It’s about fresh perspective.
And that, I like.