Russell's Colombian Paragliding Tour Journal
January 17th - February 22nd, 2006

Landed in Bogota after a fairly uneventful flight. Miami was the worst. Bogota is warm and sunny. neat airport. with 8 million people the view from the air was amazing. Urban density. I got through the airport without having to know spanish.

I can tell already that I am going to have a great time. Even if I beat my bags here. I hope they show up tomorrow. The people are friendly and willing to deal with my first day culture shock (how to dial a phone, how much money to pay, etc.). The flights were very close together so I knew it would be a miracle if my luggage trailed me to Bogota. What a trip. The people were nice. It was just another world to me.

Richi and Annie met me at the gate in Bucaramanga with a cervesa and a smile. I like the beer. They have a 6.5% beer called Brava that I like. Everyone pretty much drives how ever they want. Any speed limits or even lines in the road are considered recommended. Traffic flows pretty smoothly using this method. Everything is very cheap here unless it is an import. Most imports are comparable to U.S. prices.

The hype about Colombia is just that. We are so far away from the war and crime. Bucaramanga is one of the most advanced cities in South America. It is old news about the kidnappings and such. You may have your mean person here and there but that is no different from the US. Since their new president was elected, the army has kept the peace here for 10 years. There are 3 major factions. The Army of Colombia, the Para Military (PM) and the Guerrillas (Gs). The PMs are organized locals that live closer to the Gs. They have resorted to more extreme measures than the Army is willing to allow. So they are fighting for lands. The Guerrillas want to steal the money from the rich. So the local PMs organized their drug money and built up a strong defense and would sometimes wipe out whole families of Gs. The current president is the best administration they have ever had according to the local Bucaramangans. He is organizing and fighting both the PMs and the Gs. There are private police that guard the only roads that lead to the mesa. then there are Army checkpoints along the way. None of them ever stop you. They are mostly there to show that they have the guns and the radios and if you are a thief or anything, they will find you. So it is great. No hastle with checkpoints and a feeling of safety that has endured for 10 years.

The country is blossoming on the brink of a succesful economic and political step into a bigger world. The president is talking about free education. The children here are so much more mature than your typical american. They are very respectful and working at 5 years old.

Bucaramanga is great. The most popular things appear to be motorcycles and cell phones. The city if very modern and rich in culture. Too late to fly today but we did visit one of the sites. The air in the LZ was very mild. Sunset was underway as I felt the air start rushing up the mountain. Glass Off we pilots call it. It is the mellowest (boaty) time to fly. Away from the city there is fresh air and quiet. I'm meeting tons of friendly people. We drove to the Ruitoque landing zone and watched people fly. Then we stopped at the parapente (colombian paragliding) hang out. beer is plentiful and cheap.

The view of Bucaramanga from the airport. The airport sits on a high plateau.

Richi and Annie say they are staying in Colombia, bought property and plan to build a house. They do look forward to visiting Alaska in the summers but that's about it for the US. With a launch into the flying canyon. So the trip dates have changed. I managed to arrive a week or two before the next group. So we are home free to do some great flying adventures! When I pick up my bags! Others have related to the story and say that they too have had bags arrive a day late.

We ate some dinner and went to a paraglider club meeting. I don't know what they are saying, but I look like I am taking notes on my laptop. ;)

We made it home to the ranch around 10pm and proceeded to crash after a brief tour. What a nice place.

January 18th,

We went to the Hotel Campestre today to eat empanadas and use the wireless internet. What a fantastic place to land and jump in the pool or even play golf. Great news! Richi made some phone calls and we will have my bags today! In the meantime we are going downtown to see about getting a new rack for the SUV.

We picked up the bags at the airport. The explanation was that they did not make it on the Seattle to Miami flight. I had to run to catch that plane and there was a brutal storm raging outside. Everything made it! I am good to go! We went to a huge grocery store and stocked up for the week then made the 45 minute drive out to the ranch. It is so nice out there. Away from the traffic and exhaust. It is at a high altitude so the temps are just right and the plant life is very diverse. The entire surrounding community is gated and a house with a family has the job of gatekeeper and guard. There are a series of gates with friendly locals to open them for you.

January 19th,

We started the day with some authentic Colombian scrambled eggs. The maid cooked and served them with fresh squeezed OJ.

We loaded up and went back to Bucaramanga to visit Richi's sister Christina at the bank. Richi and Annie are purchasing some land next to the other Americans that bought last week.

We went to Ruitoque and flew the rest of the afternoon until sunset. What a great place with plenty of top landings. Thermic mornings and dynamic afternoons make this site the most popular around. From there you can cross the city and back. This place rocks. After sunset we stop off at the pilots hangout and order cervesa's and a snack to tide over for diner. It is fun hanging out with all the spanish speaking people.

January 20th

I made the biggest smoothie ever. The mangos and papayas are gigantic here. We hired a driver to retrieve us and drove to the new property on the mesa with a launch into Chicamocha Canyon. The launch is that little patch of dirt on the far left. Next to the right is another California Pilots property the next is a French man's house, below that is another CA pilot's property, the last property that is in the right corner is Richi and Annie's.

The vertical distance from the ridge to the river below is approximately 6,200'!

The flight was so amazing. After launching from the new property, Richi radioed me and said "look down". I was staring straight down the cliff wall pictured above. The birds marked the lift. I was flying with local eagles as well as with Annie and Richi.

We went for a swim after because it is so hot on the canyon floor. Fun in the sun in a fresh water spring pool. We stopped for chorizos (little tasty sausages). We then had a serene afternoon at the ranch with music and hammocks.

Thanks to Richi for the photos.

Next adventure is a bike ride and hike to a secret nearby waterfall with lush plant life. Richi says to wear your swimming trunks. After biking around the canyon (see yellow ranch house in upper right), we hiked down to the bottom past a herd of cows and and sat in the falls. Impressive plant life.



This hand built rock table looks like it
grew out of the wall.

After biking home to the ranch we drove back to the property and looked around. We stop by little stands all the time. We picked up some Aguardiente. It is the tequila for Colombians. It is made out of some kind of sugar cane. There are different brands from every state of Colombia. I had a few shots. Its like Black licorice. The acoustics inside the ranch house are amazing. Would like to try a guitar here. We are always talking about how awesome it is here.

January 17th - February 22nd, 2006

See Full Details at Richi's Web site...