Camel Waidatt is a paragliding instructor at Cuesta Vieja, located half an hour from the city of Chilecito
. He started all the arrangements for our flight and was driving while his companion, without any previous experience, just enjoyed the landscape.
After adjusting the harnesses properly and putting on our helmets, we remained waiting for the right wind to dive into the precipice.
At the beginning, we tried to advance over the abyss with the sail spread out, but the wind would push us backwards with all its strength. The take-off was on a kind of very large venturí
. That means that there were mountain ranges both to our left and to our right. In this way, a sort of street was formed in front of us along which the wind would blow at high speed.
At our third attempt, we managed to break the gusts of wind and before we had reached the cliff, we felt a pull upwards. We were already flying. Suddenly, we were floating in the air, with our feet swinging softly six hundred meters up in the sky. We flew above the mountains amidst an absolute silence and, as we looked down, we discovered that the vegetation had become a series of tiny green dots.
At the beginning, we did not go either forwards or backwards. The instructor was studying the thermic and dynamic hot-air currents that dwelled the void and allowed us to remain in the air. We could not deny that the experience caused a certain fear, especially if we thought that our lives would depend on very thin... but resistant threads.
The tension dropped when we discovered that flying is relaxing and slow.
Once the first fright had passed, Camel made the paraglide move ahead and make "U" turns. A zonda wind helped us gain height and we started to tour, from all angles, above a valley secluded between two mountains.
The view from this air perspective did not compare to any other. We could see the Velasco Mountain Range and a thread that infinitely crossed the whole valley: that was the famous Route 40, the longest road in the country. In the middle of the valley, which gives origin to countless hot-air currents, the pilot's skill plays an important role to remain longer in the air.
During the flight, talking can be held without any problem. The instructor comments that Cuesta Vieja (old slope) is the name given to the take-off area, discovered in 1996. The name refers to a slope along which horses go and which, years ago, the chasqui would cross in order to go from the city of Famatina to the small town called Antinaco, forty kilometers away.
The take-off site is located five-hundred and fifty meters over sea level. Its height in relation to the Antinaco Valley is six hundred meters and it is facing East, which allows us to leave the ground, gain height and travel without any trouble.
Sometimes, some condor joins the same hot-air current that raises the paraglide and flies at about twenty meters from us. Half an hour later, we resolved to go back to the same point from where we had left, making a promise to come back the following afternoon to go on a night flight.
At dusk, we dared to make a night flight. With the last sunbeams percolating from behind Mount Famatina, and a thirty-kilometer-per-hour wind, we succeded in going up nine hundred meters over the valley. We flew during forty-five minutes approximately. At that height, the star brightness and the moon glow would lighten the mountain ridges quite clearly.
The experience of flying at night is significantly different from day flight due to the absence of hot-air current. Therefore, flights are softer. What is really important is to make good calculations about the transitions -changes in the wind direction- as there are no hot-air currents to hang on to.
Our goal was to fly until midnight, but as there was not enough hot air, it was not enough to keep us gliding, so we decided to start our way back some hours before the stipulated time.
In the middle of the desert, the sparkling stars and an endless silence were our only companions, and when everything was over, a strange extasis invaded us: the sensation of having been hanging from moonlight for a few seconds.
Duration: from 20 to 40 minutes.
How to get here: From the city of La Rioja, you can go to Chilecito by bus or van. They leave everyday at various timetables.The ticket ranges from 8 to 10 pesos.Escuela de Parapentes Cuesta Vieja. Joaquín V. González 467. 5360 Chilecito. La Rioja. Argentina.
Bear in mind: Twin flights may be done without taking the course. It is not necessary to have previous experience and there is no age limit.Instructor CamelIn Waidatt provides shuttle services, assistance and twin flights.