Off to Ecuador for nine days of paragliding and other fun.
First stop was Ft. Lauderdale for a long layover that included several hours on the beach and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately none of us had sunscreen because the airlines won’t let anyone carry that big of bottles on board. So, Charles and I ended up with a nice base sunburn to start the week off right.
Uber back to the airport in time to catch the flight to Ecuador. We landed in Guayaquil after midnight where we were picked up by our friend and former student Lenin. Lenin brought along his paragliding buddy Sabastian, better known as Yuka to be our driver and guide. Yuka has been Paragliding in Ecuador for over 20 years and has established many of the flying sights down there.
Yuka’s local knowledge was invaluable. Not only has Yuka flown all the sights but knows the weather patterns at each site as well as the recommended times to be there and the conditions best suited for every site. His experience meant we were able to fly every day and most days we flew several times and sometimes multiple sites in the same day! Thanks Yuka!!
The first few nights we stayed at the lovely Cuna Luna Hosteria on the beach just north of Montanita. Atlantic Ocean yesterday, now we get to swim in the Pacific Ocean. Two oceans in less then 24 hours, awesome!
This is a surfer destination. The waves were a blast. Mariyan and I spent several hours boogie boarding during our stay there.
While we were on the coast we ridge soared at Playa Bruja and the cliffs at San Pedro. The warm breeze off the ocean was steady and predictable. The view of the ocean as we quietly flew up and down the beach was spectacular.
We chased thermals at the Puerto Lopez launch one day until it got too windy to hold our ground. Then we pushed the speed bars and glided the one kilometer to the beach. So much fun!
Beach time done, it was an early Thursday morning departure for the Andes mountains. We stopped and flew from the mountain at Cochancay on the western slope as we made our way over to the eastern side of the Andes.
Cochancay is a new site that was opened just a few months ago. A mountain top launch out over a green valley with the landing zone adjacent to the the little river at its base. Following the local birds helped locate the thermals and they made for wonderful flying companions. Mariyan apparently had a stare down with one until it dove off and caught lift Mariyan couldn’t stick too.
Then it was back into our trusty little van to complete the crossing of the Andes. Our route took us through the Cajas National Park. This otherworldly place is made up of cloud covered green mountains filled with little lakes. Well above tree line the views were unobstructed and insanely beautiful. I would have spent the entire trip here happily but we were headed to the Pan-American Paragliding Accuracy landing contest in Paute and needed to continue on.
We spent Thursday evening in the historic center of Cuenca. Cuenca is the wealthiest city in Ecuador and home to over 7000 people from the United States. This week happened to be Carnaval which meant there were concerts and people everywhere. Carnaval is a huge country wide celebration that seems to be like a giant water fight. Everywhere we went people were throwing cups and buckets of water at each other and us. They were also spraying foam from cans made specifically for this purpose. No one was off limits. Little kids, teenagers, grandparents were all in on the action. I took a nice shot of foam to the back of the head while ordering food from a street vendor. All good natured fun.
Friday we were off to Paute, the location of the contest. Being the last training day we took full advantage of the time we had and immediately jumped into the shuttle truck upon arrival. After a 15 minute ride to the top in the back of a four-wheel-drive truck we made our first run from the top of the mountain.
The target was an easy 10 minute glide down the river valley from there. We practiced until noon and then chased some food. We made more practice runs in the afternoon.
Saturday morning was an early start to the contest. I wasn’t competing but volunteered to be the wind dummy. Which means I went first to ensure the conditions were favorable for the contest. There were teams from Korea, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile as well as the United States and France. Mariyan did pretty well that day.
I had so much fun being a wind dummy that I decided to talk to the organizers and sign up to compete the next day. My intent was to compete in the recreational division but through a communication error, something was lost in translation, I ended up in the pro division with Mariyan.
Mariyan ended up 10th overall. Which, considering that the field included the current world champion, was pretty impressive. Had I been scored in the recreational division as requested I would’ve taken third in that group and would have brought home a trophy. However, since I was put in the pro division I ended up near the bottom of the ranking. No big deal, I was just doing it for fun anyway.
Monday we snuck in one more flight before heading back to the airport to return home. The only ride we could find was a little yellow taxi cab. I didn’t think it would make it to the top, Mariyan did, so we made a bet. Whoever was right didn’t have to pay for the cab. We got close but Mariyan had to pay for the ride as we ended up walking the final pitch to the launch site.
Then was back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to meet Edwin, our ride to the airport. Traversing the Andes again in his van, 5+ hours later we were back at the Guayaquil airport.
So many new friends, so much new knowledge and experience. If you get a chance to go to Ecuador, do it!
Great sunset flight with Reon last night. We took off from the field at his house. The sky was so beautiful and smooth we wanted to stay up for hours but it was getting dark and we were running out of time. So it was back to the house to warm up and have a couple post flight beers. Thanks Reon!
Today is more prop repairs. This time it’s Adam’s Helix that he clipped the crusty snow with. The ice removed the innards but left some of the outer carbon fiber sheet for me to work with.. The big time consumer is the epoxy’s cure time, 24 hours +. Should be good to go by tomorrow .
So much happening this past week, some highlights include:
Lake City Winterfest was attended by Ken, Mariyan and myself along with a big group of hang gliders, paragliders and paramotor pilots from Minnesota. The Mississippi River was frozen solid where it slows down and spreads out by Lake City so that was our tow road for the day. Simply plow a path through the snow the same direction as the wind and start towing, perfect. Mariyan took the accuracy landing contest seriously and was impressive. I think he’s ready for the international competition in Ecuador this month. We flew all day, made some new friends and overall had a great time.
Wednesday I met Josh in New Glaris with plans to fly past the brewery and Jack’s Links and other local landmarks. Unfortunately, Josh forgot to put his goggles down before launch. So, the propeller decided to eat the goggles on climb out, destroying his goggles and the prop before Josh was even 10’ off the field. Oops! So it was off to the hanger for me to grab a spare prop for Josh. An hour later Josh and I met Matt at the Verona Airport. We slapped the brand new prop on Josh’s miniplane and he was up and flying around the area with Matt.
Matt is also a rated mini wing pilot and has an 18 meter Ozone Firefly. He’s flown this wing many times but never with a motor. He wanted to give it a try but was nervous about how it would behave under power. He asked if I would give it a test flight first. More than a little interested to see how it flew myself I rigged up and gave it a shot. It’s like someone throwing you the keys to their sports car, of course you were going to take it for a spin. Wow, this thing is agile! The short lines and high speed made it very responsive. I could see myself going crazy with this little rocket once I get some more experience with it. Thanks Matt!
Thursday I repaired and balanced a couple props. No, Josh’s was not repairable. That one is headed to the wall of shame.
Friday I met Adam and Sean in Monroe for some midwinter flying. Sean had fun playing with the steam coming out of the stack at the cheese factory. It was super cool to see the clouds spin as his prop and wing created vortices in the mist. Then we all headed west. Low and slow was the theme. The wide open fields and nice headwind made for low flying fun.
Saturday I met Glenn and Shell at a nearby park to begin Glenn’s wing handling lessons. He did great! We covered wing inspection, hooking in forward and reversed, launch forward and reverse and kiting in both directions too. After lunch it was back to the hanger for a couple hours running drills in the simulator. Next up for Glenn is a trip to the sledding hill. This is so much fun!
Owner of MadCity Paragliding and Adventure Addict