There we all were - Simon, Florian, Julius, three Dominican lads, a mule, two tandem paragliders and myself - on top of a 1,300-meter mountain in the heart of the Cordillera Central. To the uninitiated ear and eye, the conditions seemed to be perfect: clear, quiet and still. My heart started to beat a little faster as the moment drew nearer: the moment when I would run like a maniac off the top of a mountain, launch myself into the air - and fly. My hands were sweating and the butterflies were causing a riot in my stomach. I was playing on the edge - not only of a mountain, but also my nerves. Then Simon, the paragliding expert, dropped a bombshell: 'The wind's not right; we can't fly today.' My heart sank.
Other Paraglide Files:
Paragliding can be like that. Such is the extreme nature of the sport and its potential risks, that the conditions have to be just right. On this occasion the wind was too strong (20kmph is about the maximum wind speed for takeoffs), blowing in the wrong direction (to get airborne, you run into the wind for maximum lift), and an awkward mixture of dynamic and thermal air. Although disappointed, we all respected Simon's good judgement. When you have dragged clients to the top of a mountain, there must be considerable pressure to fly no matter what. Lesser instructors might have given in, but not Simon and his partner, Florian.
Simon Vacher, originally from the French Alps, and Florian Reiser, originally from the Swiss Alps, are the men behind Sky Vision, the only company operating paragliding courses and tandem flights in the Dominican Alps. Their knowledge of the sport is second to none, and their enthusiasm is infectious. 'When I was in Switzerland, I used to spend my Sunday afternoons in the mountains,' reminisced Florian, as we trudged back down the mountain. 'I'd pack a picnic and fly from one peak to another until I found somewhere nice to relax. Sometimes I'd bring a girl I was try to impress, other times my grandmother would want to come, but more often than not I'd be alone - just me and the birds. What freedom! Don't worry, the wind will be better this evening - if you want to come back and try again.' Just let him try stopping me!