Before the lightning and threat of death became more real.
The hostel in Mendoza offered paragliding for around 40 USD, I’ll happily skip a few meals if it means I get to jump off a mountain. I signed up immediately. The day we went to go it was just me and another guy from the UK, and we hopped in the back of an old Ford Bronco and set up off the mountain. The other guy jumping was pretty nervous, but I was feeling fine. I knew that this was plenty safe, I had probably done more statistically dangerous things in the last twenty-four hours than paragliding (but that’s another story). We stopped at an abandoned paintball park to pick up our parachutes and the other two guys who would be going with us, then we headed up the mountain. I felt good all the way until the last twenty yards, which follows a ledge and you look down 5,000 feet. I realized then that I would be jumping off that ledge with what amounted to a giant Target bag on my back, but fuck it, I’m already up here. We got all strapped in before the guide I was supposed to jump with called a stop.
“There’s no wind, probably not a good idea to jump.”
Well that made sense. I would happily wait as long as necessary to make sure I had wind when I jumped off the mountain. We waited 30 minutes and it started to get dark, it was around 6:00 after all. At around 6:30, after the smallest possible gust of wind, my guide said we would be fine because he wanted to make sure we did this tonight.
I thought that I’d be totally fine postponing or canceling if there was no wind, but he clearly was fine going ahead. Not wanting to be labeled a coward I decided not to bring up either the lack of wind or the ominous clouds coming in behind us.
He told me to run and jump when I got to the edge. Simple enough stuff. The first 5 minutes were amazing, just floating 5,000 feet above the valleys in Mendoza. The problems started after the first raindrops started to fall.
“Hey”, I yelled back, “is that rain going to be a problems”
“I don’t know, I hope not. ” I heard yelled back, “I’ve only done this 3 times.”
Well that’s not good. At this point I am pretty ready to get down the mountain, but unfortunately we are still 4,000 feet up. I am feeling a weird mix of adrenaline, enjoyment, and fear. He then asks if I want to try out some tricks he learned.
In for a penny in for a pound I guess.
We spend the rest of the time doing barrel rolls and spinning around super quickly. At one point I am upside-down looking at the ground through the parachute. All while the rain continues.
We finally skidded into a landing. After untangling myself I looked back and asked,
“So have you really only done that 3 times.”
“Of course not.” he laughed back, “I’ve been paragliding for 17 years.”
“That makes a lot of sense. Wish I had known that before the rain came, that was pretty scary.” I replied.
His smile faltered a bit, “yeah man, I’m just glad you didn’t see the lightning behind us. That’s not something you want to see while you’re up there.”
I didn’t know how to feel about that conversation. On the one hand, this guy clearly knew what he was doing. On the other, paragliding in a lightning storm is probably not the best idea.
In hindsight, I’d do it again.
Me and my UK paragliding partner (he did not enjoy the news of lightning any more than me.)