My feet left the ground and started running on air. And then I was being carried–pushed–forward. It was as if I was riding a conveyor belt going 30 mph, except that I was standing on nothing. Between me and the cows munching on grass in the field below was 300 feet of wide open space. All I could hear was the soft, but insistent, whistle of the wind. And there was screaming, too, which I eventually realized was coming from me.
To fly (outside of an airplane) was something I’d always wanted to do.
See, in the bowels of the storage shed at home is a small pink Hello Kitty backpack filled with all the things a little girl would hold dear. For example: a wooden tea set whose cups are as small as a baby’s fingertips, a dried rice stalk harvested from the Banaue rice terraces, a dirty white t-shirt covered with notes in ink from my friends in grade school.
But the most interesting of all those odd objects is a piece of brown paper, folded and unfolded many times. It’s the bucket list I wrote when I just started high school and referred to all through college. The list has some un-checked items that are a little difficult to do–“Drive an 18-wheeler truck.” “Ride to the sunset and touch the sun.”
And until a week ago, “Go hang-gliding” also stood un-checked. (I know hang-gliding is not paragliding but I’m willing to be flexible with the prefixes.)
Early on Sunday morning, The Hub and I packed the kids into the car and drove to Carmona, Cavite–easily a 40-minute drive from Manila without traffic–to the fly site of Airsports Adventure Philippines. The Hub was going to shoot them doing their cool thing while the kids and I hung out with the cows. The One with the Toilet Humor wanted close contact with the animals (“If I flick that cow’s butt, do you think he’ll kick me?”) and The Manipulator practiced his math (“There are 17 cow poops in this field”).
After half an hour of that, Buko and Albert–the main men of Airsports Adventure Philippines–came by in a truck to bring us up to the jump-off point at the top of a hill. There was no shortage of trees at the top. About 50 feet away from the edge of the grassy summit, under the shade of trees, was a small hut that served as the pre-departure area. Sitting on the bamboo benches, we had front-row seats. We watched Buko, Rolly–another paragliding enthusiast–and others from their group one by one lay out their paragliders, wait for the right wind conditions, get into the harness and strap their radio on, and run off the edge and into the wind. Albert–who The Hub dubbed The Wind Whisperer–stood by with his radio, murmuring instructions for whoever was in the air (“Veer left.” “Now swing around, it’s carrying you away.”) From the hut, we could hear the strong whoosh each glider made as it caught the wind and rose up, carrying the pilot away with it. It was exhilarating even to just watch.
After a filling lunch of pork chops and rice, it was my turn. I was riding tandem with Buko, who, incidentally, is an award-winning paraglider. Albert was giving me instructions while strapping me in but all I could think of was how high we’d be flying. Once the glider caught the wind, Buko and I took several running steps before we swooped off the hill. I felt like we were riding a giant swing that suddenly decided to take off from the playground. We steadily rose and all I could see were treetops and then, just sky and clouds. It was all so beautiful that I felt like crying.
We went in wide sweeps over the field and twice, went low enough to “walk” on the trees by the jump-off point. And for maybe 10 minutes, we were still. I have no idea how Buko did it, but we didn’t move–we were suspended in mid-air. We could have been watching TV, but 300 feet from the ground.
From where we were hovering, I could see the Makati skyline, a horse racetrack, rows of houses, grazing cows, our shadow on the field–all in dollhouse proportions. And, of course, I could see the sun. I guess birds didn’t want to have anything to do with this strange flying contraption so they stayed away. I was hoping to go eye-to-eye with them mid-flight.
I felt completely safe with Buko that several times, I let go of the straps and let my hands skim the wind. And there was no noise. The wind flapped in my ears but that was it. Everything else that made useless sound was far away. With a world like that, eagles must be the happiest creatures on earth.
All too soon, after about 20 minutes of euphoria, we were descending. We hit the ground running and the second we stopped moving, I got the urge to go up again. Paragliding took my breath away and right then, I wanted to hug everyone I could see and laugh until I cried. I felt so giddy with happiness.
Now, to find an 18-wheeler truck to drive.
*Huge thanks are in order for Buko, Rolly, and Albert and all of Airsports Adventure Philippines for this truly unforgettable experience. I will be back!