After we got mugged on a viewpoint in Valparaiso we returned to Santiago. We just didn’t feel safe in Valpo any longer. Fortunately we could stay in a nice house in Santiago with the lovely Luana and Juan Carlos which we met in Pucon.
We did some sightseeing in the city centre but most of the time we slept long, chilled by the pool in the morning and in the afternoons we went flying at the “Black’s Park” flying site that is near the city. It was very easy for us to get there. Just take the subway and then a bus then walk 500 meters and you are at the landing site. The site is private and you need to ask Mauricio the owner before you fly there. He makes tandem flights and is there almost every day. Sometimes we could go the 200 meters up to launch with him in his car, other times we walked.
The flying there is mostly soaring with very strong winds. You really need good groundhandling skills and need to be comfortable with top landings. Once in the air we could go along the hills for some kilometers in both directions. Most of the time we flew until after sunset and could enjoy the view of the city’s lights glowing before we landed, when the wind was getting weaker.
When we visited Pucon in January we were, like everyone else, joking daily about the infrequent siren tests of the volcano eruption warning system. There was no pattern. They just sounded once a day on different times. You only knew that nothing was happening when they stopped again. Actually we didn’t think a warning system could be very efficient when the volcano Villarrica is this near the City, but like everyone else we felt pretty secure. We couldn’t know then how fast the feeling of security that all people here felt would evaporate.
But first we climbed this active volcano!
Actually there are many tourists climbing the volcano every day. Then they slide down the snowy sides with little sledges. We rather wanted to fly down if the wind would allow it. That’s why we took all our paragliding gear with us. It’s nice that our pack with the KEA from Sky only weights around 8 kg. On the morning we started the smoke column over the Villarrica climbed straight in the air. That’s a good sign that there is no wind on top. But that can change very fast here. Because we wanted to be on top before the wind became too strong, we took an old ski lift for the first 300 meters. So we had only 1000 meters left to climb. In a single our little group of 3 Brazilians, our guide and us was climbing the steep slopes and slowly overtaking many groups. At first it was easy but after 2500 meters of altitude we could feel the air getting thinner and the climb became more strenuous. Nice that our paragliding equipment only weighs in at 8 Kg. Finally we arrived on top as one of the first groups, huffing and puffing but happy. There was no wind at all, so we could enjoy the views around and in the crater and have lunch before searching for the best option to launch.
There was now a light wind from the west and we found a nice spot with snow to lay out our gliders. Launching was easy, but unfortunately there was not enough wind for soaring. Together we flew in the direction of the beach of Pucon. It was a nice glide of 20 minutes, the views where spectacular, but then the wind from the lake became too strong and we had not enough height to cross the city. We found a nice field on the outskirts where we landed. From there it was an easy walk back to the city.
Two months after our visit and climb of the Villarrica, there was a volcano outbreak. A big pat of Pucon was evacuated and the Lava melted all the snow on Villarica. It’s a weird feeling thinking that we stood near this volcano crater that can destroy so much!
When we decided to go further south to Patagonia we knew it would not be easy to get some airtime there. If you search online flight databases you will find only few flights in this part of the world. Patagonia is known for strong, gusty winds and fast changing weather. Even in summertime temperatures at night can be freezing. As we are carrying our gear with us almost all the time we thought we could maybe get lucky once or twice, but on the only flyable day in four weeks we were hiking without our gliders.
We had left our flying gear in Puerto Natales and instead had stocked up on food and camping gear to hike the big loop of the Torres del Paine national park. The first three days we had encountered strong headwinds of more than 50 km/h and were happy that we only had to carry 18 kg of gear while hiking more or less 30 km a day on difficult terrain. That changed on the fourth day while we were hiking up John Gardner pass. There was no wind and we were thinking that we are in the lee of the mountains, but as we arrived at the pass there was only a lush wind coming perfectly frontal at the slope. Guidebooks described this part of the loop as the hardest, with hikers sometimes blown over by strong gusts at the pass, zero sight and often even blizzards. Not for us. The view down was amazing. We could see the whole stretch of the Grey glacier. As if to mock our decision to not take the gliders with us, two Condors appeared and soared the length of the ridge. Looking at them longingly we began the knee destroying 800 meter descent.
We were later told that a day like this, with no wind for more than some hours, doesn’t even happen once a month in summertime and never in winter. The remainder of our stay in Patagonia was as windy as before. On some days we took the gliders with us and even found several ridges that looked perfect, but in the end the wind gusts were just too strong to even think about flying.
When we finally thought we’d had seen enough of Patagonia we boarded a bus that brought us more than 1000 km north to El Bolson. There is a small community of Pilots in Bolson and even a paragliding hostel. When it’s a flyable day they drive to the launch together in pickups. It was really nice to fly along the ridge over Bolson and after some time to land directly in front of the hostel, or, when the wind was very strong, just next to the airport! On the designated landing field for paragliders. There also is some serious XC potential. The locals regularly fly the 100 km north to Bariloche and in the evenings they were discussing other possible lines. The rugged terrain with few landing options means you have to be an experienced pilot and they say you should always bring a sleeping bag, food and water because, depending on how far you fly, you could easily have to walk back to civilisation for some days.
Whereas back home we were kept from flying by all the preparations we had to do before leaving, it was now the landscape who killed our hopes to fly.
Our first stop, Miami, is not much of a flying site. It’s so flat everywhere and the whole coast is in private hands, or if not you can be sure that someone plantet palms on it. We distracted ourselves by visiting the Keys and doing some watersports. Finally on the campground in the Everglades National park we unpacked our gliders and did some grondhandling on a nice big field at the sea shore. Later that day we got to know that in the Everglades the most agressive animals were not the alligators but the moskitoes. As soon as the sun had set, they startet their merciless hunt after human blood. We fled into our tent and did not dare to sneak out the whole night.
After our next flight to Buenos Aires and some days to get to know the city, we were overdue for some nice flying sessions. We boarded a 11 hours overnight bus to La Cumbre, the nearest flying site we knew about. But as it often is in life, it would not be so easy for us to finally get some airtime.
When we arrived in La Cumbre, we learned that we just missed a nice flyable day where some pilots did distances up to 100 km. The weather forecast promissed us windy and wet weather for the next days. Instead of flying we checked out the region on foot and by bike. Heading up a valley alongside a little river was quite fun and made us feel like adventurers.
We really learned the art of parawaiting, but it never even got boring because of the good company and the big Asados, argentinian grill parties, we had in the evenings.
Finally the cold weather went away and the wind turned in the right direction. So off we drove to the flying site Cuchi Corral, that is located on the edge of a big plateau overlooking a big strech of wild land where the Rio Tionto flows trough.
It felt nice being lifted by the wind although the conditions were more like a rough sea than a plain lake. There were several birds of prey turning their circles with us. One was much bigger than the others. It floatet majestetically through the air. As I do not know to name all these birds, I did not realise, that we were flying with a Condor until the locals told me after landing.
By the way, landing is a pain here. From above it looks as if you could land everywhere. But after a closer look you will recognise that it is best when you stick rather to brown tinted surface than to juicy green. Like Allan the Australian Guy said: “If it’s green, it’s a thornbush. You’d probably bleed to death if you would land there”. So we try to go for brown surfaces or the green strips next to the road which are usually well maintained.
If the thermals are not strong enough, or for people who do not like to push their luck, there is alway the nice, big landing site on the board of the Rio Tinto, where it’s possible to pack ones wing on a lush green carpet of grass, then jump into the river or take a landing beer to fight against the heat, while waiting for the bus that brings you back up.
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