Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day 18 - Touching the Void

Pete just found out I'm his dad
Like Kanye West circa 2006, today Pete and I touch the sky. After 4-and-a-half glorious hours of sleep, we get a 9am wake-up call. We’re heading to Sao Conrado, Rio’s most southwesterly beach (and least populated), to go hang gliding from the summit to the shores. A battle-weary jeep straight off the set of “Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” picks us up at 10.
We jump from that roof ramp
A side note, all the tour books and research we did prior to going to Rio said hang-gliding would cost no less than $300R. If you ever do this, don’t book in advance. Those guys are free most of the time and you can easily get a better price by calling either the morning before or after. Plus, weather conditions can also change if you book too far in advance. The lesson here – forget planning! We booked the day before and noticed the prices kept getting lower. We paid around $250R. One bummer is many outfitters don’t take credit.
As Steve Miller said: fly like a pteranodon
Our pilot is Ricardo, who’s last name I forget. He’s been gliding for more than 30 years and done from altitudes high enough that you’re required to use an oxygen mask. He speaks a good deal of English and seems pretty fun-loving. I tell him I’ve gone paragliding before but never hang gliding. He smiles and quips, “Paragliding is for pussies.” Fair enough.
Before we take off, we need permits. Pete asks Ricardo how many hours it takes to become a guide, to our chagrin – he says – none! He explains that you have to be a level 3 pilot, and by going on our first flight – we are already level 1. Uh, come again? At level 2, you have to be able to fly with company in certain conditions. As I mentioned, Ricardo speaks a lot of English, so there wasn’t anything lost in translation – I’m merely hoping he yada yada’d some details. What kind of accelerated certification system is this? That’s probably why Rio is the Plastic Surgery Capital of the World. Level 1 of training is looking in a mirror. Level 2 is holding a knife with someone else in the room. Level 3 is Heidi Montag.

Higher than Charlie Sheen

Pete's nickname is Cpt. Hugglesworth
Near the summit of the mountain, Ricardo determines that I will go first, and after flying to the beach, we’ll head back up and Pete is off. After strapping up, I’m loosely attached to Ricardo at the waist, we do a quick run-thru. The key is to keep running off the ramp as opposed to jumping off. The faster you run, theoretically, the better the flight. So I'm practically sprinting during our run-thru. Noticing this, Ricardo tells me not to run faster than him. Who’s the pussy now?! F Ricardo! (That was just for joke – he’s cool!)
The sensation of running off the ramp into the void is exhilarating. You have something underneath you, then nothing. It’s spectacular to feel, to the one-zillionth degree, what a pterodactyl once did. No? Is pigeon the more comfortable comparison?
The flight circled over the mountains and beach, lasting just under 10 minutes. Ricardo was cool enough to let me snap pics and video with my camera (several other outfitters would not); and even though I had to put my hand in a certain spot, I was able to get our takeoff and bumpy landing. Apparently, the wind changed directions on him as we approached the beach, and instead of running along the beach to a stop – we just smacked the sand.
Here’s an edited video of the flight with multiple angles of the takeoff and landing:

After our landing, Ricardo convinces a group of young women to fly. This takes a little while, and Pete is chilling at the top of the mountain wondering if we’ve left him for good. Ricardo ends up swapping Pete’s flight for a young woman (don’t know if she’s old enough to read “Twilight”); and calls a buddy named Chico to fly with Pete. As far as we know, Chico could be a Level 2 guy! Thankfully, Pete doesn’t die.
In soccer voice: Skoooooooolllllll
By the time we’re done with all the gliding, it’s around 2-3 in the afternoon. We get a quick bite at Tropical Delirio, a buffet-style place where management had to come out and assist me with ordering, and head to Ipanema Beach. I have a couple more Brazilian beers, Skol and Antarctica, and pass out in the sun for about 30 minutes.
That's the sun

My vacation attitude is typically relentless. Do as much as you can, take it all in, because you never know if you’ll be there again. We’ve been going nonstop for the last few days (quite honestly – for more than two weeks since I left Mobile), and sitting on the beach doing nothing felt every bit as rewarding as any of the hikes or sightseeing we did previously.
A watershed moment against sandal racism

Who are these people?
There happens to be a professional Brazilian volleyball tournament near our hotel on the way back from Ipanema. So we swing by to watch some random v-ball. Neither of us know who the heck is who and where they’re actually from, but what I do know is that the announcer has a voice just like the uber-exuberant soccer announcers who make everything exciting. This reminds me of a store where I saw a can of Pringles, which were marketed as Pringoooooooooolllllllllls!
Wishes that was Capri Sun
For dinner we go to a popular local bar chain called Devassa. They have one of the best light beers I’ve ever had, but I don’t remember the name of it. The food is lackluster, and from here we head to a bar called Mudbugs. Many of the bars in Rio are strange when it comes to buying alcohol. When you enter, you get a card and must use this card to buy drinks. When you’re all done, you take it to a cashier who calculates how many drinks you’ve had, then you pay. It doesn’t seem very efficient. Also, if you lose your card, you have to pay some large amount of reals. At Mudbugs, we run into an attractive Canadian woman who met a Brazilian man and followed him south of the Equator. Pete’s looking to do the same. The bar seems to have an infatuation with “Staying Alive” (Bee Gees not Wyclef), as it runs on loop at the jukebox. Of course, gorgeous women are plentiful, but most of them are busy making out with random dudes. Pete is seething. 
As we walk back towards the hotel, we walk by an outdoor bar/restaurant called Mabs, where an elderly woman (read: prostitute) leaves her table and companions to approach us. She tries to engage us in conversation as we try to scurry off. But before we can, she manages to kiss us on the cheek. When we get back to our room, Pete applies Purell to his face! I can think of no better metaphor for our attitudes (or fear) toward the local women. Purell to the face. I leave with you that.

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