Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Change in Perspective

I felt, the other day, what it’s like to fly. I ran off the edge of a mountain and soared, feeling the cold mountain wind directly on my face. After about five minutes, I landed in a tea plantation. Crash-landed, actually. But it didn’t hurt. I just laughed and laughed.

It was an amazing feeling, and if weren’t for the fact that the weather completely changed minutes after my take-off, I’d’ve gone up the mountain, paid another $30 and done it again.

Paragliding was one of the most amazing experiences: simply sitting in a harness, looking at the valley below with its tea plantations and the rows of traffic snaking their way over and around the mountains, some villages, and umpteen shades of green covered the hills. And in the sky was just a splash of blue from my paraglider plus a spot of yellow—my pilot’s jacket.

See, the week before, friends from church had mentioned that they had paraglided during their Easter break.

“I want to do that, too!” I blurted out.

“Oh, we can go again,” someone said.

“OK, how about next weekend?” I wondered out loud. There’s no point in wasting time when you only have a few weekends left in a country, is there?

Others piped in, a short discussion ensued, and before our ways parted minutes later, we had all agreed that we’d go to Puncak the very next weekend.

So, last weekend, after our Saturday night small group, we all squeezed into Diane’s van and headed to Sentul (a town in the mountains an hour or two outside Jakarta where the core group of adventurers live). We spent the night there and decided that the eight of us will head out earlyish the next morning, packed onto four motorbikes.

Stopping halfway to our destination to stretch our legs
Some fruit stalls on the side of the road
It was still foggy when we crossed the mountains, inadvertently joining some large bikers club. Helmets and motorbikes despite, you could spot the bules (/’boo-lays/, or foreigners) a mile away with some very, very white arms standing out in the crowd… (Rest assured, I wore my heavyish brown winter jacket for protection. I’ve seen too many scooter accidents!)

Spot the foreigners...
We fought our way through the Sunday migration of city folk going to the mountains, and we killed some time close to our destination, waiting for the fog to lift.

We killed some time by taking a side road toward Taman Safari, an outdoor safari park.
All the vendors on the side of the road sell bananas and carrots for people to feed the animals
A vendor at a tourist spot where we stopped
Just looking at all the tourist stuff
Kiptoo checked out some of the bamboo balls...
... and hung out under some of the bonsai trees
Then we went to a little tea house/restaurant. Kiptoo wanted to pose with the napkin holder,
since Sinarmas Pulp and Paper is the company that owns the school where I work...
Enjoying some jokes over our snacks.. Katie is also leaving Indonesia soon.
She's not laughing because she's happy to leave. She's laughing at the very immodest drink stirrer,
which is a very odd thing to see in this very modest country...
Sally, we discovered, has a very odd habit of putting ketchup on individual fries... Is it an Aussie thing?

When that seemed to be starting to happen, we headed farther up the mountain, disappointed to find that no flights were happening. Not yet, at least. We spent another hour or so sipping Indonesian clove tea at a mountainside warung (kiosk).

Finally on the mountain. But as you can see, it's way foggy. So foggy that you cannot even see Diane in the picture!
Why's Diane hiding behind Brittney and Tara??
Fun conversations over some clove tea while waiting patiently for the fog to lift
We tried some steamed bananas. It is served with chocolate and grated cheese. Kiptoo and I decided that
a) bananas should never be steamed
b) one should never put chocolate and cheese in the same dish, especially not on steamed bananas!
Brittney, Lisa, Adele and Tara. And 99 bottles of soda on the wall...
Finally, we decided to give up and head back down past the ever-growing snake of cars making their way back to the city. But then I felt it: My phone was ringing in my pocket, and Mr. Pilot Dude announced that the weather had changed, and we’d be able to fly.
“Shall we go back?” I asked my seven friends.

“Why not? We’re not too far!” our lone Aussie, Sally, suggested. The four bikes turned right around and wiggled our way through back up the mountain, only to find that it was once again shrouded in a thick fog.

I didn't want to risk losing my camera in the crazy traffic down,
so no photos of the ride down and then back up the hill...
Back at the place, we headed up the hill once more
following these guys who had been hauling building sand up the hill for hours
and kept doing so... What a job. What a life!
Some members of the group decided to take on the zip line as a fun second option. (Having had an unforgettable zip line experience just 3 months prior, I decided to forego.) But then, as quickly as the mountain had hidden in the clouds, she lifted her veil once more.

Killing time once again by enjoying the zip line. You can see how foggy it still is!
Tara and Katie, coming in for a landing...
And it's a safe landing!
Who's next?
Coming closer...
It's Sally...
... and Lisa, happy to be back on the ground again
“Let’s fly!” the pilot exclaimed. “Who is first?” The group graciously agreed that Sally and I should go first, seeing that we were the ones leaving Indonesia the soonest.

I strapped in and only then I got a few butterflies. It’s a bit crazy running off a mountain, I thought to myself. What if the chute doesn’t open?
Suddenly, the fog lifted and we were called to gear up
We're excited to fly. Can you tell?
Here, I think I was starting to wonder if I were nuts for wanting to run off a mountain...
Sally and I, both ready to fly

Not that that’s an issue. You don’t run first and hope it opens. You stand on the mountain and some guys lift two corners. The wind does the rest. It fills the chute and almost immediately lifts you off the ground. At the same time, the pilot, who’s strapped in tandem behind you, says, “Walk!” Soon after, he’s supposed to say, “Run.” I was told not to jump under any circumstances. Just walk and run.

Except things didn’t work like that at first. A side wind twisted the chute right away, and the crew jumped to let out all the air and straighten the ropes again. I’ll admit that I felt a bit queasy right then again, wondering if this were really a safe adventure.
Here, the corners of the chute is being lifted so it can catch some air.
We're standing in the exact spot where we girls had posed early on, when you couldn't see a thing behind us
My pilot dude is fixing the ropes after they got twisted by a side wind.
Notice I'm looking less excited over there. I'm wondering if this is a good idea...
And we're almost ready to run!
Moments later, the chute once again filled with air, and we may have only run three steps before my feet were off the ground. We made several sharp turns to get into the wind well, diving hither and thither, bringing some of the same thoughts back to surface of whether or not this really was a safe thing to do… Those thoughts instantly dissipated when we straightened into a glide and sat mid-air, the verdant valley spread below us.
Off we go! We had to make several sharp turns and maneuvers to get into the wind...

It was incredible.

After a flight of close to a very long and leisurely five minutes, we approached the tea plantation with the landing strip, and I noticed a couple and their toddler walking right in the narrow pathway.

“Lift!” the pilot shouted. This was the signal to lift my legs straight forward. The next command was supposed to be, “Run!” But that one never came. We were approaching the narrow path fast, and the family below just kept walking slowly until the pilot shouted, in Indonesian, “Get out of the way!” Or so I assume, at least, judging by how fast they dived off into the tea fields to the right, and we crashed into the tea bushes to the left.

I just laughed and laughed. “You should’ve run, not sit!” the yellow-jacketed-pilot dude said with a smile, pulling me up. (I didn’t succumb to the temptation to tell him that he never told me to run like he said he would, and that I’d have proof since I had my camera rolling all the way.) I just smiled and said, “That was AMAZING!”

And then I photographed Sally coming in for her landing right behind us. Their landing was a smooth one with no obstacles on the strip.
Sally coming in for a landing
Some kids from the local village help to fold all the gear after the jumps
We were relieved of our harnesses, and told to wait patiently until we were able to drive back up the mountain. “Sorry,” yellow-jacketed-pilot dude said. “Right now, the cars can only come down the mountain. We have to wait an hour or so before our car can take you up.” Which made me extra thankful that we had come on motorbikes in the first place, since there are no weekend travel restrictions for those. The traffic-in-one-direction arrangement on the mountain is to help with flow.

Sally and I played around in the tea fields, sorry to hear that none of our friends would be able to fly after all. The wind had become too erratic. When our friends pulled up on their bikes some time later, they all assured us that they were OK with only us having flown. Everyone had had a fun day, after all, and they were determined to make the same trip back in a few weeks.
Sally's pointing out the spot where we flew from
... while I am ready to fly again!
Marlboro Dog came to check out what the crazy bule girls are doing in his field...
When we headed back to the road to be picked up by the rest of the group, I spotted a Land Rover almost like my old TDi
and decided to take a photo like I've done on some safaris in Kenya...

The hill from which we flew, from a different angle
Some of the traffic passing by. By this time, the traffic had calmed down a LOT!
We finally got picked up and then headed straight to Cimory, a famous restaurant in the area
... and then we headed back over another mountain, back to Sentul. The sunset was spectalar! I took these shots on the fly,
so pardon the wires in the frame. The colors are too good not to share them, though.
I really miss seeing amazing sunsets in Jakarta!
More of the sunset
By this time, my behind was more than ready to get off the motorbike. Diane (you see only her helmet on the right)
is an excellent driver, though. I'm glad I got to ride with her. :)
At Brittney and Leanne's house. Leanne (on the couch) couldn't join us since she had been sick all week.
You can tell how tired we are of being on motorbikes for such a long trip!
Would I paraglide Puncak again if I had the chance? You bet I would! Though there were moments when I was a bit scared, it was nothing compared to the many times my life flashed before my eyes as we weaved through oncoming traffic!

The experience was somewhat akin to when I scuba dive. Though the sound and the touch of the wind on my face was different from the sound of bubbles and cold water on my face, it’s also very similar: It’s the exhilaration of seeing the world from a completely new angle.

It’s about fresh perspective.

And that, I like.

1 comment:

  1. This is a most amazing blog in the most amazing life of the most amazing Adele!