Just when I thought I’d done it all in Granada – skiing, snowboarding, hiking, snorkeling, cliff-jumping, paint-balling and quad-biking (to name a few) – along came an opportunity like this.
I’m not sure why paragliding in Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains had never occurred to me before; I love adrenaline-pumping sports/activities and I’m pretty sure I’d seen paragliders hovering in the distance on several occasions. But I never felt inspired to actually do it.
Not until a couple of weeks ago anyway, as a friend and I drove for miles (in a convertible!) through the rolling Granadino countryside on the way to a farmhouse for a gut-busting beer and barbecue party.
We passed countless vineyards, olive groves and massive boulders. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Deep greens and blues offset the sandy colour of the rocks to create the most spectacular scenery. And up there, in the distance, were two paragliders, undoubtedly enjoying an even better view than ours.
“They’ve got the right idea” one of us said. “Yeah. Let’s go next week?” the other suggested. “Yes. Let’s”. And that was that.
We needed a pilot. After a bit of searching and a couple of friend-of-a-friend recommendations, I found Roman, a French guy who’s been doing tandem paragliding (‘parapente’ in Spanish) and living in Cenes de la Vega (a small town 10km outside of Granada towards the Sierra Nevada) since 2007. We picked a day and just had to hope the weather would hold out – hardly unlikely in southern Spain at this time of year!
Sure enough, the weather was perfect the day three of us drove up to Cenes. Roman met us at a nearby petrol station and led us to the ‘drop-off zone’ (a bit militant sounding don’t you think?), where we boarded a van and were driven to what I assume is called the ‘take-off zone’, at about 1300m. It was a short ride from Cenes, which has an elevation of around 750m.
We were among a large group of pilots and other clients, all just as excited as we were. Unfortunately, when we arrived the wind was a little too strong. But waiting it out wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing – we could amble over to the peak of the mountain and take in the unbelievable panoramic views.
Have I ever mentioned I am prone to having irrational fears?
Probably not, but there we are.
After 15 minutes we heard Roman calling us to come back. The wind had died down. Showtime.
I was first. Helmet and jacket on (it can get cold up there even in summer), strapped in and I was ready to go. The rules were simple: once the chute was up, I would walk a couple of paces and start running when Roman said so.
And I’m pleased to report that is exactly what happened, despite one of my testicles being painfully squished against the safety belt in the process.
With one great swoosh we were launched into the air. Thankfully my wronged bollock managed to right itself pretty quickly, but the rush of adrenaline had an adverse effect on my comprehension of Spanish, as I struggled to understand Roman´s very simple instructions of how to sit properly. Eventually I got it, without resorting to English (which Roman speaks very well).
Predictably, our sweeping bird’s-eye view was absolutely incredible. To the left was the Sierra Nevada – slithers of white still occupying its highest creases – dead ahead was Granada in all her glory, Cenes tumbled down the hill towards the city to our right and behind us were vast swathes of beautiful countryside stretching as far as the eye could see.
For 10 minutes we glided at about 100m. Things were going swimmingly until Roman asked how my stomach was doing. Until that point I’d felt fine, but suddenly I was feeling very queasy. The problem was how we increased our height by spinning around in circles to catch the wind current. This triggered lots of stomach sloshing.
I desperately tried to ignore the increasingly burning need to puke, but after another 10 minutes I couldn’t think about anything else and had stopped enjoying the experience. Also I really didn’t fancy decorating Roman’s equipment (and potentially his face) with a regurgitated tapa lunch. It was time to come down.
Landing was easy; keeping the vom down wasn’t. But I managed it. After a quick high five I calmly walked over to the bags, sank to the ground, buried my head between knees and remained very still for about an hour. It was hardly an encouraging sight for my friends who were next up, but minutes after I’d touched down the wind picked up again.