Learning to Fly

Not going to lie, the weather forecast wasn’t looking great as I prepared for my trip to Algodonales.

So why am I going to this tiny town in Spain? To learn to Paraglide!

Since visiting Gerlitzen a couple of years ago, I have wanted to travel Europe and learn to fly for myself, but having broken my wrist on the last day of my Canada trip I had to postpostpone for a year and refrain from snowboarding.
But here I am, in a rural backwater in Spain, where it is supposed to be lovely and calm and sunny but it is in fact windy and cold. I had 3 coats on this morning!

To try and make the most of the weather, we had got up before dawn to make sure we were out on the hill to put every inch of flyable weather to good use. We were then further hampered by the minibus battery dying, so it was sunny by the time we got to the bunny hill to learn how to set up the wing, so all the layers swiftly came off again.
We all got 2 runs in before the front started coming through around lunch time, the wind was really cold though so I would have liked to take another layer to the launch site rather than leaving it in the bus.

For those two runs we were forward launching and then staying in a straight line (theoretically) while Ross at the foot of the hill mimiced what we should do with our hands so we could copy.
Apparently my runs went pretty well, I even managed to turn around to drop it down when I finished the first time- I’ll be pro in no time I thought!

In the evening we went back out, waiting for the wind to die off again. This time we were planning on running a bit faster and actually getting some airtime. Some people took this opportunity to fall head over heels- with much hilarity- and others got loads of air. I was somewhere in the middle; I didn’t fall over but at the very most my toes were just skimming the ground. I think I just needed to be faster, but I was already running flat out so not sure how to improve that. Maybe it’ll come with time and practise…

Day 2 was a washout so we got all the theory work out of the way, the multiple choice test was easy enough provided we listened to the instructor during the lesson. Outside it was miserable, pouring with rain and horribly windy. While rain showers can be avoided, wind tends to encompass large swathes of a country, so this meant that none of the launch sites, even 2-3 hrs drive away, had suitable conditions for us to fly.

Day 3 was too windy all day, so we took a day trip to Jerez which is about an hour away, and went to the Hammam. Being a Wednesday we had the entire place to ourselves and it was a good way to relax and chat without it all needing to be “Parabolx”. The massage there was €10 for 15mins which did ankles to head including a little bit of a scalp massage. Having spent so much time walking back up the hillside on day 1 my calves really appreciated the attention!

Meanwhile some others in the group went for a Sherry Tour as it is a local speciality which they said was great- possibly because it included a tasting! We reconvened for a drink and some ice-cream near the town centre and they ordered some more sherry which we all tried. There was one particularly dark specimen that you could see stuck to the side of the glass, but sherry is not my drink of choice so I didn’t find any of them that tasty. While it was too windy to fly, it was nice to see the sunshine for a little while.

We returned to Algodonales at about 4.30, but there was still 4 or so hours of daylight, so I went with one of my fellow students for a hike up and around the crag behind the town. It was so steep on the way up that it definitely ruined all the good work by the masseuse, but the views from the top over the village were fantastic. We could see over to the reservoir in the next valley and while we were on the way up we were very well protected from the wind. At one point while we were at the top of the ridge there was a vulture thermalling up right next to us, it was massive and gaining height really quickly, which was really impressive to see. It was about a 5 mile route, I forgot to set my GPS off until half way up the slope, but you can see what I did record on my Strava. If we had gone the other direction we didn’t think we would have found it, as the route we came back down to the village wasn’t signposted, but on our way down we also didn’t see any other routes to get down, so perhaps we went the wrong way

https://www.strava.com/activities/1502686828/embed/4bc246b14a5dc536495d966fc1079aec6b9618c3

On a day where there was a complete washout, we went to visit Ronda. Because it was raining so heavily we mostly took shelter in a churros cafe, but before that we went to look at tge incrdible gorge that runs through the town and the bridges that cross them.

The next day we finally got another window. It was only a little one but it was enough for almost all of us to get 2 runs in and I finally got my feet off the ground! The weather next week for CP is also looking really good so I’m starting to get excited about progressing and flying off bigger hills and doing proper flights and top landing so hopefully there will be less time spent walking back up the hill!

With the weather finally working in our favour, we managed to bag 7 flights each from the top of our pet hillock on the last day. The sun finally came out and we all worked together laying out the wings so that we had a very smooth production line. This did however mean we were getting quite hot and doing lots of walking back up the hill, as the day wore on the number of people waiting at the top for their turn was starting to dwindle as we all started taking longer to make it back up.

Massive thanks to Jack, Ross and Theo for trying to find us all the weather opportunities and giving up days off to get us through the tasks!

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