World Hang Gliding Championships
This past weekend commenced the beginning of the 20th F.A.I World Hang Gliding Championships.Hang gliding is an air sport where a pilot flies a non-motorized aircraft called a hang glider. The pilot is suspended from the glider using a harness and directs the aircraft by shifting body weight and using flight control systems. With modern technology, pilots can fly for hours, advancing hundreds of kilometers and ascending thousands of meters in altitude.
Every two years, pilots from over 20 countries gather together and compete for the top spot as World Hang Gliding Champion. 😀 This year Mexico hosted the competition and I was not going to miss out on the opportunity to witness the event!
Here is a short promo video for the competition. 🙂
On Saturday, I left for the quaint Pueblo Mágico of Valle de Bravo to take part in the event, and experience a little adrenaline rush of my own. 😛
Valle de Bravo lays peacefully in the mountains of central Mexico, where white stucco houses topped with red clay tiles line narrow cobblestone streets and surround a majestic deep blue lake. Valle de Bravo or Valley of the Brave is a popular weekend spot for fishing, boating, and its’ beautiful landscape and ideal weather conditions make it the prime location to practice free flying.
I arrived in Valle de Bravo around 8 AM and decided to go for a coffee at a nearby cafe.
The coffee shop was adorable and owned by a sweet woman from Heidelberg, Germany. As I sat in the shop I noticed many foreigners popping in for a quick pick-me-up. Everyone was getting ready for the big competition, which would begin with a grand parade through the town. 🙂
As I walked to the main plaza, I saw many countries represented, including the good ol’ USA. 🙂
The locals were very welcoming as they cheered on all the countries, and proudly waved their flags!
Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!
At some point while hanging out in the plaza, I was sort of snatched up by a bunch of Australian pilots. Hah. 😛
They invited me to march in the parade with them and how could I say no to those faces? 🙂We gleefully shouted, “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” as we marched through the town.
After the parade, we all gathered to watch a few traditional dance performances and listen to keynote speakers, including government officials. Here is a clip of their impressive choreography and colorful dress. Amazing!
After hanging with the crew all morning, they declared me an honorary Aussie for the weekend and I was invited over to relax at their pad. 🙂 They found this place using Airbnb, which is one of my favorite sites for short-term accommodation, since Airbnb gives you the option of staying in traditional Mexican homes. They’re more authentic than any hotel, and are usually full of cool knick-knacks. This house in particular had an old record player, a beautiful stone fireplace, hundreds of collectibles lining the shelves, and their balcony offered a breathtaking view of Valle de Bravo.
Anyway, I figured I would have to pass some sort of initiation upon joining their crew, but I wasn’t sure what it would entail. Not surprisingly, it involved tasting a bit of Vegemite or black gold as they call it. 😛 Vegemite is a dark brown edible paste made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract, popular in Australian cuisine. I passed with flying colors. 🙂Honestly, as I twisted off the lid, the smell reminded me of Milwaukee during the years of Miller Brewing Company, when you were able to smell the yeast wafting from the lakefront. I felt at home and I’d be happy to eat a few spoonfuls on toast any day. 🙂
Anyway, the whole crew was very sweet and friendly! Frankly, I would have been happy to just sit there at the house and listen to them talk all afternoon.
There is just something about those Australian accents…drool. 😉
However, their manager went above and beyond by making us all a delicious plate of homemade guacamole served with fresh tortillas, which were eaten while gazing out at the beautiful Valle de Bravo skyline. Incredible!
For dinner, I was invited to dine at this cute little Italian joint where I enjoyed a tasty seafood pasta made with crab, shrimp and octopus. The dish was topped with salty Parmesan and a spicy chili paste sure to knock you on your butt! Hah. 😛On Sunday, I was also invited to watch their practice run at El Peñón del Diablo.
They began by setting up their gliders on the side of the mountain.
One of the Aussie pilots is being sponsored by Red Bull, so I gave one a try to show my support. It’s pretty tasty and after one, I had the jolt I needed to watch their take off. 🙂
The starting point was on top of a cliff, which overlooked El Peñón del Diablo or the Devil’s Rock. Absolutely stunning!
While hanging with the crew, I learned so much about hang gliding. It’s not all fun and games floating above the clouds. For the next 10 days, these pilots will endure an extremely arduous journey. Each day they are given a task, which includes course route and distance. These pilots can be flying hundreds of kilometers, and around 5-7 hours each day! Amazing!
Valle de Bravo or Valley of the Brave is also appropriately named due to the somewhat dangerous and rapidly changing winds that can challenge the pilots safety. Roughly 30% of pilots will not finish the competition for this reason. They prepare for these extreme conditions with multiple navigational devices, as well as, appropriate gear to protect them from the sun and the freezing temperatures found at high altitudes.
This year the competition will be tracked live, meaning you can follow the pilots each day as they complete the course. Here is the link if you want to check it out!
These hang glider pilots obviously love the adrenaline and challenge of the sport, but also get to experience some of the most incredible views while soaring above clouds.
After learning so much about free-flying and watching everyone from the competition, I was ready for an adrenaline rush of my own. 😀
I signed up for paragliding with Alas del Hombre. Paragliding differs from hang gliding in that the hang gliders are heavy aircrafts typically made of aluminium, whereas paragliders are lightweight and constructed without a rigid structure. Alas del Hombre is a very reputable company in Valle de Bravo, and they offer jumps for around $125. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for. I felt extremely safe and trusted my instructor who took me on my first tandem jump. Tandem means that some is strapped to you for the whole jump, which is recommended for any first timer. They do all of the steering, and I get to just sit back and enjoy the ride. 🙂
We jumped from Monte Alto, which is a nature reserve in Valle de Bravo full of beautiful pine trees. The panoramic view from the top was priceless. For the jump we were given a GoPro camera. I had never operated one before, so I was a bit confused at first. Hah. 😛
I soon discovered the GoPro was pre-programmed to take pictures every 5 seconds, so all I would have to do is hold the camera and smile. 🙂
Not going to lie, this amounted to over 140 selfies by the time I had landed and I honestly ran out of things to do in front of the camera, but at least it gave me plenty of options. 😀 Here were some of the highlights!
Getting ready to jump.
Soaring in the air.
Feeling the rush of adrenaline. 😛
Preparing to land.
We made it!
I found paragliding to be exhilarating, and this location offered unbeatable views of both the land and sea. We made a gradual descent to our landing zone and I landed feeling on top of the world. 😀 I would highly recommend it anyone!
To recap, this weekend I was able to soar above the clouds and experience a bit of the land down under with the Aussies. 😛 I had no expectations for the weekend, but I always try to live in the moment and take any opportunity that presents itself. Again, taking chances and stepping outside of my comfort zone seems to never disappoint. They say the sky is the limit, but I’m learning that’s not true.
Reach for the sky, and when you get there, keep climbing. 🙂
Until the next adventure.