Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Today was my last day in Rio and to end my trip I decided to try hang gliding! Instead of booking through a travel agent, I went direct to the source. I took a cab to the São Conrado neighborhood of Rio where they have a hang-glider pilots club. In the parking lot I yelled out, “Falla Inglesh?” (Speak English?) and after a moment, Pablo, a tall, 40ish Brazilian guy popped his head out of his tiny car and said, “I do!” Five minutes later after negotiating a discounted price of R$250 ($150 USD) we went inside the club house to prepare the paperwork.
On the ride up to our mountain top launching point I felt like a Mexican piñata. Pablo was more like a high-speed race car driver than a pilot. The tires were screeching, and the g-force of the zigs and zags were physically throwing me left and right. It seemed like at any moment his car would lose control and we’d be tumbling off the mountain. Pablo kept the race car pace up for 10 more minutes until we hit the final roadway to the top. First gear was all the car could manage up the very steep 45 degree angle road as Pablo honked the car’s horn over and over, all the way up.
Up top, I observed ~20 hang-gliders, spectators, pilots and co-pilots that ranged in emotion from elated to petrified. I was in the right place. My first steps towards the edge of the mountain opened up a view of Rio de Janeiro that can only be described as breathtaking. I was really going to jump off this cliff. Incredible!
Ok, “Now, run, run run!” Pablo and I now securely strapped into the glider made a mad dash off the side of the mountain. As the ground left my feet and we soared into the air a feeling of awe came over me. Flying in a commercial airliner is neat and being in a small plane (like a Cessna) is really cool, but nothing compares to the incredible – open to the elements – feeling you have in a hang glider.
Towards the end of the ride our glider crested over the beach and ocean. Pablo skillfully turned our glider towards final approach much higher than a glider that had gone before us. As we were over the beach, the first glider below was still out over the ocean. It looked like they were dropping way too fast and all of a sudden I watched their feet and legs dragging in the ocean waves! Lucky for them, they caught a small wind and were able to land on the beach. Their landing though was not too smooth and they both ended up with their heads planted in the sand like ostriches. Ouch!
Luckily for me, my pilot with 17 years of experience effortlessly landed our glider right on target. Our ride was over way too fast, 10 minutes of exhilarating flight felt as though it had been compressed down to 30 seconds. Just like a kid at Disneyland, all I could think was, “I want to go again!”