Flying without wings
Thrill seekers can get their fix in the southern beaches of
Rio, where tandem hang gliding and paragliding
can be enjoyed with some of the city's most experienced flyers.
There is a rivalry between the two sports, so it might pay
to be diplomatic when you approach the guys drinking coffee
a block back from the beach; hang gliders tend to look down
on paragliders with contempt, and para gliders look down their
noses at hang gliders with their fixed wing crafts.
Compared to the restriction of 80 kilos for most tandem hang
gliders, the lack of weight restrictions for paragliding might
decide which sport you try. Weekends tend to be more expensive;
prices can be cheaper by up to 30% for weekdays. Bargain hard,
especially with groups of two or more, and pick your pilot
carefully if it's your first time.
After arranging the fee and pilot, you will drive to the
top of the Sao Conrado where a wooden platform at the
top is the launching point for hang gliders, and underneath
the is a rocky area for paragliders. As you suit up, the pilot
will be testing the winds, its general direction and speed,
and you'll be coached on how to launch off the limestone mountain.
If you hang glide, the launch is a bit more sedate, with the
pilot right next to you as you run down a wooden deck as fast
as you can before hurtling off the edge. If you are paragliding,
the pilot is behind you, and you must stand in front and run
straight off the edge of the rocky cliff with no guarantee
that the winds are going to catch the parachute that's stretched
out behind you! You might find the pilot shouting at you in
Portuguese to go faster and faster as you frantically try
not to look down at the limestone rock that drops 1000 feet
Whichever sport you chose, the first instant after you leap
off the edge is a sudden rush of air, followed by the smooth
sensation of falling gently into a spiral that rapidly takes
you away from the mountain and out above the rainforest and
luxury villas below.
As the pilot manoeuvres the parachute or hang glider, the
descent becomes slower and he catches the rising up-currents
of air that rise up off the Atlantic Ocean. By heading
out to sea, the ocean waves crash far below you and the surfers
look like tiny ants riding the waves. Its common to see birds
fly right up to you to see the curious sight of two humans
strapped to a flimsy cloth device! If you request it, a lot
of the pilots will tie your camera to a special string so
you can take a photo of yourself and the pilot; the surrounding
green forests and the stunning coastline south of Ipanema
make beautiful photographic subjects too.
For twenty minutes the pilot will implement longer and larger
turns to preserve the altitude, but soon it will be time to
land on the beach. With a few swift moves the pilot brings
the parachute around and shouts at you to prepare your feet
for landing (no tray tables here to stow!) and then the sand
rushes up and boom! You're back on terra firma.
Though it is expensive, the ride is amazing and shouldn't
be missed; there aren't many more places on earth more scenic
or spectacular to see from the air than Rio De Janiero.